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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

Obituary of Dr Finbarr Livesey 1972-2019

Dr Finbarr Livesey tribute



Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies & Fellow of Magdalene College 

As this tribute is posted, we know that many different people will be feeling immense sadness at the untimely loss of our friend and colleague Dr Finbarr Livesey who died of cancer on 2nd September 2019.

Yet grief is also a collective experience, and is alleviated a little if we recognise the uniqueness and achievements of the person we have lost. And it is in that spirit that this tribute seeks to honour Finbarr and celebrate the gifts he brought to his colleagues, his students, and to the world of public policy scholarship.

It is hard to come to terms with Finbarr passing away in part because he was a larger-than-life figure. To start with, there was his voice. It had both a timbre and volume that filled not just a single room but resonated through an entire building. As he jokingly reflected on many occasions, he would have made a hopeless secret agent because he could never say anything without everyone hearing within a mile radius.

And what a wonderful voice it was. Full of life, humour and intelligence – and occasional outrage at the state of the world. His students will no doubt remember that voice fondly – even when it was being used to explain a finer point about statistical methods.

Finbarr was integral to the development of the M.Phil in Public Policy (MPP) programme at Cambridge University which started in 2013. He served first as its deputy director, working with the inaugural head Professor David Howarth, and then became director himself when the programme was in its infancy, playing a foundational role as it became one of the leading programmes of its kind within the UK, and indeed globally.  Its distinctive composition and signature features – teaching students high-level statistics as well as policy analysis, political science and ethics, requiring them to complete a work placement, and ensuring that entrants were in possession of professional experience as well as outstanding academic credentials – reflected his own thinking about the skill-set of a twenty-first century policy-maker. And Finbarr gave himself entirely to the programme’s mission and ethos. He loved working with students, debating public policy questions, and testing theories about how policy works. His own training at the Kennedy School infused the thinking vision which he brought to the MPP.

This is a legacy that will not fade. It is carried forward by every alumnus of the MPP programme – past and future – who is applying the skills they were taught at Cambridge in governments and organisations in different parts of the world.

Finbarr was also a fine scholar. Most recently, he completed a major monograph – From Global to Local: The Making of Things and the End of Globalisation. This advanced an  original and important argument, showing that economic globalisation does not inevitably lead to things being made elsewhere, because technological changes tend gradually to restore the rationale for local manufacturing. The book showcases the huge breadth of knowledge and expertise which he brought to his research. His final publication was a working paper he published with the Bennett Institute which offers a fascinating analysis of the potential for publicly owned genomic databases linked to health records.

Before joining POLIS Finbarr had worked for a number years at the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge, where he also completed his doctorate on value chains. He remained deeply interested in the challenges posed by technological transformation and considered public policy not just in its technical senses, but also in terms of the economic and political forces which shaped and limited its development.

Finbarr was above all things a devoted colleague and friend. He loved working in POLIS and engaging with academics from the various disciplinary fields within it. He will be greatly missed by colleagues here, and at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy which he was delighted to see come to fruition, having himself been an active proponent of a major inter-disciplinary centre of this kind at Cambridge.

None of us will forget his ready smile, infectious enthusiasm, booming corridor greetings, and readiness to offer support and lend a hand. These qualities underlie the many memories of him that we shall cherish.

We are grateful to have had the chance to know Finbarr as friend and colleague. He made an enormous contribution to public policy at Cambridge and to POLIS, and his endeavours will not be forgotten.

Our heartfelt condolences go to Finbarr’s family.


Dennis Grube and Michael Kenny


University of Cambridge 



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