Martin Barker obituary

My father, Martin Barker, who has died aged 76, was an academic, an anti-racism and anti-censorship campaigner and a leader in the field of media and cultural studies.

Martin’s early work focused on media racism, and he coined the phrase “the new racism” in 1981 in the context of public discourse about immigration under the government of Margaret Thatcher. Later work explored “video nasties”, bringing him into conflict with the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association and its leader, Mary Whitehouse.

A strong debater, he stood his ground in televised discussions and documentaries, and helped shape thinking around the issue of “copycat violence”, for example in his 2013 book, Ill Effects, which he edited with Julian Petley. His many published works included A Haunt of Fears, about the 1950s campaigns against “horror comics”, and Action: the story of a violent comic.

Later, his research interests led him to audience and reception studies, and he directed collaborative, international, groundbreaking work looking at how viewers responded to blockbuster films and TV such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

In the cultural studies field, he had executive roles in the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association and its predecessor organisation, the Standing Conference on Cultural, Communication and Media Studies. In 2003 he co-founded Participations, an online open-access journal to share and celebrate audience research.

Born in Ilford, then in Essex, to Edith (nee Veitch) and Fred Barker, a technical glass designer, Martin attended Bancrofts school in Woodford Green. From there he went to Liverpool University, where he gained a first-class degree in philosophy and met Judith Thomas, whom he married a week after graduating in 1967.

After university, he taught cultural studies at Bristol Polytechnic (now the University of the West of England) for 29 years before moving to the University of Sussex as a reader in media studies. He finished his career at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he was professor of film and television studies until retiring in 2011 as emeritus professor.

Martin’s students remember him as a passionate teacher who made an impact through his lecturing style, creation of methodologies, research, insistence on high standards and kindness. He was especially supportive of early-career researchers.

Politically active both in his work and his personal life, Martin was a lifelong socialist, a passionate Bristol Rovers fan, a lover of music and a performance poet. Earlier this year, he and Judith self-published a book of Martin’s poems and Judith’s textile art for friends and family. He was a marathon runner and the family’s go-to person for identifying random birds.

Martin is survived by Judith, his children, Rik and me, his four grandchildren, Alice, Oscar, Owen and Riley, and his sister, Linda.