Michael Moerman, a professor emeritus of anthropology who during his long career at UCLA shifted his research specialty from Thai culture to sociolinguistics, has died. He was 85.
Moerman, who died Aug. 22, 2020, came to UCLA in 1964 as lecturer in the anthropology department after having taught at American University in Washington, D.C. The next year, Moerman became an assistant professor. He was promoted to professor in 1974 and remained in the anthropology department until his retirement in 1993.
Early in his career Moerman specialized in the culture of the Thai-Lue minority in northern Thailand, and he lived in Thailand for six years. His work included the book “Agricultural Change and Peasant Choice in a Thai Village” (1968), and numerous articles on Thai and Thai-Lue rituals, agriculture, kinship and ethnicity.
Later in his career he became an expert in sociolinguistics, uniting the fields of ethnography and conversation analysis, and published the seminal work “Talking Culture: Ethnography and Conversation Analysis” (1987), which received numerous honors. In 1990, reviewer Niko Besnier wrote that the book was “the first attempt by an ethnographer to apply tools of conversation analysis to conversational data from a non-Western language and culture in a monograph-length work.” Moerman also taught courses in ethnographic film at UCLA.
Moerman was born in 1934 in the Bronx in New York City. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Columbia University in 1956 and his doctorate in anthropology from Yale University in 1964, studying under the famed ethnoscientist Harold Conklin.
Following his retirement from UCLA, Moerman shifted gears yet again to begin a career in acting. His professional career began in San Diego and continued for 20 years. A longtime member of We Players, he also regularly participated in plays performed at the Boxcar Theatre, Tennessee Williams Festival and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, among many other venues.
Moerman is survived by his wife, Patricia Miller; his sister, Sharon Grodner; his three children: Maxine Moerman, Max Moerman and Ben Moerman; two stepchildren, Erik Painter and Kirsten Painter; and seven grandchildren.