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It is with great sadness that we announce that David Turton passed away on Saturday, 9 December 2023.

David was second director of the Refugee Studies Centre, taking over from the founding director Barbara Harrell-Bond and in many ways presiding over the transformation of what was previously known as the Refugee Studies Programme into the academic centre we see today.

Under the four years of his leadership, between 1997 and 2001, the RSC put in place its Master’s degree programme; expanded and professionalised the ongoing Summer School; gained financial security; and created the current model which put academic research at the heart of the Centre’s activities.

David made his career as an eminent anthropologist, conducting pathbreaking research among the Mursi in southwestern Ethiopia from the late 1960s. His work focused on the impact of long-term ecological change on human displacement and on the relationship between warfare, ethnicity and political identity. Before coming to lead the RSC, he worked for twenty years in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester.

David served as editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the journal Disasters as well as making six films for television on the Mursi with the documentary director, Leslie Woodhead. He wrote widely on other topics relating to forced migration, including warfare, minorities in Europe, ethnographic film and Ethiopian federalism.

David spent much of his retirement advocating in various ways for the rights of the Mursi people. The highlight of his last year of life was a return trip to Ethiopia and an emotional visit, with his family, to the Mursi.

The Refugee Studies Centre marks the loss of a kind, influential and committed scholar.

He is survived by his wife Pat; a son, Danny, and daughter in law, Lisa; and two grandchildren, Zed and Asa.   

More tributes to David Turton will be posted on our website in the coming weeks.

Related information

A celebration of the life of David Turton

RSC Online School bursaries to be renamed the David Turton Awards