John Turner, 1947-2011

September 1, 2011

John Turner is remembered as a scholar who focused on the big questions and the things that mattered and who always completed tasks to the best of his ability.

Born in London in 1947, Professor Turner studied psychology at the University of Sussex and went on to complete a doctorate in the subject at the University of Bristol. He stayed on at Bristol as a research associate and then co-director of a social science research programme on the social psychology of intergroup relations.

In 1976, he became lecturer in psychology at Bristol and, in 1982, gained his first experience of teaching in Australia as a visiting lecturer in psychology at the University of New South Wales.

He taught for a year at Princeton University in the US before returning to Australia in 1983 to join the faculty at Macquarie University as a lecturer in psychology. He remained at the institution for seven years, rising to become senior lecturer and then associate professor in psychology.

In 1990, he joined the Australian National University as professor of psychology. Between 1991 and 1994 and again between 1997 and 1999, he served as head of the Division of Psychology at the institution; from 1994 to 1996, he was dean of the Faculty of Science. From 2003 to 2007, he was an Australian Research Council Australian professorial Fellow. His final position at the university was as professor emeritus of psychology.

Professor Turner was best known for his research into social identity and self-categorisation theories, and was described in one tribute as "one of very few individuals who have shaped the character of the modern field" and an academic who had made "fundamental, transforming contributions to basic theory".

Kate Reynolds, Australian research Fellow and associate professor in psychology at ANU, said that Professor Turner was never diverted by "increasing pressures for the trivial and mundane".

"John was passionate about ideas and the power of social psychology to understand the world," she said. "For him, ideas mattered and were worth fighting for and about. He felt that academics needed freedom and space to think for themselves and be creative.

"It was essential, in his view, to have the courage to stand up against those who assault academic freedoms to think and challenge - be they politicians, bureaucrats or the academic mainstream seeking to drive conformity."

She added: "This drive for excellence, at times, could make John difficult to work with - you always felt compelled to do your work better."

Professor Turner died on 24 July 2011. He is survived by his daughters Jane and Isobel.

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