Victor Turner

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For other people named Victor Turner, see Victor Turner (disambiguation).

Victor Witter Turner (May 28, 1920 – December 18, 1983) was a British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage. His work, along with that of Clifford Geertz and others, is often referred to as symbolic and interpretive anthropology.

Early life[edit]

Victor Turner was born in Glasgow, Scotland, son to Norman and Violet Turner. His father was an electrical engineer and his mother a repertory actress who founded the Scottish National Players. Turner initially studied poetry and classics at the University College London. In 1941, Turner was drafted into World War II, and served as a noncombatant until 1944. During his three years of service he met and married Edith Turner; their children include scientist Robert Turner, poet Frederick Turner, Goucher College anthropology professor Rory Turner and Alexander Turner, an existentialist who, at the age of 21, resembled David Byrne of the Talking Heads. He returned to University College in 1946 with a new focus on anthropology. He later pursued graduate studies in anthropology at Manchester University.[1][2]


Turner worked as research officer for the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute. It was through the position that Turner started his lifelong study of the Ndembu tribe of Zambia. He completed his PhD in 1955. Like many of the Manchester anthropologists of his time, he also became concerned with conflict, and created the new concept of social drama in order to account for the symbolism of conflict and crisis resolution among Ndembu villagers. Turner spent his career exploring rituals. As a professor at the University of Chicago, Turner began to apply his study of rituals and rites of passage to world religions and the lives of religious heroes. He and his wife converted to Catholicism in 1958.[3][4]

Turner explored Arnold van Gennep's threefold structure of rites of passage and expanding theories on the liminal phase. Van Gennep's structure consisted of a pre-liminal phase (separation), a liminal phase (transition), and a post-liminal phase (reincorporation). Turner noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were "betwixt and between": they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of and they were not yet reincorporated into that society. Liminality is a limbo, an ambiguous period characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity, and communitas.[2]

Turner was also a committed ethnographer and produced work on ritual. [example needed]


Turner died on December 18, 1983 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After his death, his widow Edith Turner embarked on her own career as an anthropologist. She developed upon Victor's "anthropology of experience" with a publication on communitas.[5]


Author Chuck Palahniuk was quoted in The Believer as saying, "So often what I’m doing is dramatizing the writings of Victor Turner, who wrote a lot about liminal and liminoid events."[6]


  • The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (1967), Cornell University Press 1970 paperback: ISBN 0-8014-9101-0
  • Schism and Continuity in an African Society (1968), Manchester University Press
  • The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (1969), Aldine Transaction 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-202-01190-9
  • Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (1974), Cornell University Press 1975 paperback: ISBN 0-8014-9151-7
  • Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (1978), Edith L. B. Turner (coauthor), Columbia University Press 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-231-04287-6
  • From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (1982), PAJ Publications paperback: ISBN 0-933826-17-6
  • Liminality, Kabbalah, and the Media (1985), Academic Press
  • The Anthropology of Performance (1986), PAJ Publications paperback: ISBN 1-55554-001-5
  • The Anthropology of Experience (1986), University of Illinois Press 2001 paperback: ISBN 0-252-01249-6


  1. ^ Turner, Edith (1990). "The Literary Roots of Victor Turner's Anthropology". In Kathleen M. Ashley. Victor Turner and the Construction of Cultural Criticism. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. pp. 163–169. 
  2. ^ a b Moore, Jerry D. (2012). "Victor Turner: Symbols, Pilgrims, and Drama". Visions of Culture. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. pp. 224–234. 
  3. ^ Timothy Larsen (28 August 2014). The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith. OUP Oxford. pp. 182–198. ISBN 978-0-19-163205-1. 
  4. ^ Bjørn Thomassen (6 May 2016). Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between. Routledge. pp. 78–80. ISBN 978-1-317-10504-6. 
  5. ^ Turner, Edith (December 2011). Communitas: The Anthropology of Collective Joy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 
  6. ^

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