Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Roy Turner (1928 to 2017): A Preliminary Appreciation

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Roy Turner (1928 to 2017): A Preliminary Appreciation

Article excerpt

ROY TURNER (Ph.D. Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 1968; M.A. Theory and Research in Planning, Chicago, 1956) was a sociology professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of British Columbia from 1965 to 1993 when he retired and moved to Toronto. There he continued to teach on contract and supervise graduate students in sociology as Adjunct Professor at York University until the early-to-mid 2000s. He was born in Croydon in the United Kingdom on October 16, 1928. He died in Toronto on April 15, 2017. A festschrift to honor his work is in preparation. In the meantime, the following short essay is offered as a preliminary (and somewhat personal) appreciation of his work. It is revised from a paper presented at the 11th international conference of the International Institute for Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis at Wilfrid Laurier University on August 6, 2013.

In various writings, deeply considered and carefully honed, from the late 1980s through the first decade of the twenty-first century Roy Turner makes a case for considering disciplined inquiry as, in a fundamental sense, conversational in character. Thus, in deconstructing the notion of the "field" in fieldwork, he writes that his suggestion that

the ethnographer does not (cannot) cease to be ethnocentric as he confronts the lifeworld of the other, but that his obligation is to put his prejudices at risk ... has [it goes without saying] the status of "arguing with one's fellows," and hence invites the reader, not to reiterate the platitudes of sociological fieldwork, but to continue and develop the argument. (Turner 1989:27-28; emphasis in original)


to say that the canon is discursive is to say that the canon, though it has a history, is always a discourse of the present, and hence is not to be identified with the philistine insistence on the fixed and unreflective. Both philistine and contemporary appear to hate reasoned conversation. (Turner 1990:247)

Furthermore, "doesn't the constancy of social change--you can't step into the same society twice--ensure that there will always need to be a sociological conversation, without closure?" (Turner 2004:6). Most recently he said that his move away from ethnomethodology (EM) in the 1980s was in the service of "re-affirming the discourse of everyday life" (Turner 2011). Ironically, Turner spent the first half of his career as a student of conversation as an empirical object of inquiry in the footsteps of Harvey Sacks and, behind him, Harold Garfinkel (see, e.g., Turner 1972, 1976). Not wanting to go on "writing footnotes to Sacks" (personal communication), he then made a significant switch in mid-career from practicing EM and conversation analysis (CA) to a more philosophical line of inquiry informed initially by the "Analysis" school of Alan Blum and Peter McHugh, subsequently by Jacques Derrida and then by Hannah Arendt. I believe, however, that one may detect some continuities in his approach to inquiry that transcend the otherwise sharp switch from EM/CA to what might be called a "critical hermeneutics." The following is a brief sketch of those continuities, followed by an equally brief consideration of the vision of the intellectual citizen implicated by them.


In a 2011 paper titled "After Ethnomethodology: Re-Affirming the Discourse of Everyday Life," Turner criticizes the view that the discourse of everyday life, or common sense, is flawed, and that science and philosophy are sources of correction of these flaws (Turner 2011). He develops the critique by way of consideration of some characteristic claims of experimental philosophy and experimental social psychology via the writings of Paul Churchland, Gilbert Harman, and Anthony Appiah (cf. Coulter and Sharrock 2007). Their claims have it, for example, that things said about physical or mental objects in the conduct of everyday life can be represented as constituting a "folk physics" or a "folk psychology," the claims of which it turns out cannot withstand the critical scrutiny of science proper. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.