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In memoriam: UCLA sociologist Ralph Turner

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Ralph Turner
Courtesy of Turner family

Ralph Turner

Ralph H. Turner, a UCLA sociologist who played a founding role in the development of the field of collective behavior and social movements, died April 5 in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

He published widely on a variety of substantive sociological topics, while also contributing to the understanding of race and ethnic relations, the social psychology of self and identity, role theory and role conflict, the family and socialization, and the social dimensions of disasters. He was elected president of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 1968 and helped guide the organization through the turbulent years of protest in the 1960s. He was a recipient of many academic honors, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Turner took a leading role in academic governance as chair of the UCLA Academic Senate and the systemwide Academic Council. He also served as a member of the UC Board of Regents as a faculty representative.

Turner attended Pasadena Junior College before earning his B.A. degree in sociology at the University of Southern California, where he met his wife, Christine, in a sociology class. He earned his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin. He then enlisted in the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Lexington aircraft carrier. After the war, he completed a Ph.D. in sociology in 1948 at the University of Chicago.

He came to the joint Anthropology/Sociology Department at UCLA in 1948 as a lecturer. He was one of seven sociologists in the joint department and played a key role in the development of a separate sociology department, becoming its first chair from 1963-68. Under his leadership, the department grew to become one of the most prominent programs in the country. He co-authored a 1950s textbook that became required reading for students of collective behavior.

Retiring in 1990, Turner served as president of the UCLA Emeriti Association and chair of its systemwide counterpart. He was honored with the UCLA Emeritus of the Year award in 1997 and the Panunzio Distinguished Emeriti Award in 2002.

Throughout his life, he was an avid hiker and an accomplished wildlife photographer. 

Widowed in 2001, he is survived by his son, Lowell of Ithaca, New York; his daughter, Cheryl Raven of Silver City, New Mexico; and grandchildren Forest, Eric and Jennifer.

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