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Official Obituary of

Norman K. Denzin PhD

March 24, 1941 ~ August 6, 2023 (age 82) 82 Years Old

Norman Denzin PhD Obituary

Norman K. Denzin, Ph.D., 82, of Urbana, Illinois, passed away peacefully and in the comfort of his family on Sunday, August 6, 2023. Norman was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He is survived by his spouse, Katherine Ryan, as well as his daughters, Johanna Denzin (Steve) and Rachel Denzin (Craig). His four grandchildren include Sylvia, Naomi, Max, and Owen. He also leaves one stepson, Nathan Summers (Karen), and three step-grandchildren, Katie, Tara, and Orion. He will be missed by many.

As a boy, he cheered for Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees, and he and his brother Mark visited his grandparents on the farm. He loved telling his children and grandchildren that he rode a horse named “Sunny” to school. He lettered in multiple sports in high school and then went on to attend the University of Iowa. There he immersed himself in the humanities and social sciences, taking a triple major in English, philosophy, and sociology, earning a Bachelor’s degree in 1963 and -- influenced by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills as well his engagements with existentialist philosophy and post-World War II literature -- a PhD in sociology in 1966.

After teaching at the University of Illinois and the University of California-Berkeley from 1966-1970, he returned to the University of Illinois in 1971, where he remained until his retirement in 2012. During that time, he established himself as one of the world’s foremost authorities on qualitative research, starting with his first book, The Research Act: A Theoretical Introduction to Sociological Methods (1970), which was an attempt to understand what happens if you look at methodologies from a particular or competing theoretical framework. Thereafter, he made major contributions to the fields of symbolic interactionism, social psychology, poststructuralism, and postmodernism with a range of books, including On Understanding Emotion (1984), Interpretive Interactionism (1989), and Images of Postmodern Society (1991).

In the mid-1990s, his work on research methods resulted in the publication of the groundbreaking Handbook of Qualitative Research (1994), which he co-edited with Yvonna Lincoln, and which radically changed the face of qualitative research throughout the world; the 6th edition of this Handbook was published earlier this year. He subsequently founded a number of scholarly journals, such as Qualitative Inquiry and International Review of Qualitative Research, for which he served as editor until his passing.

In 2005, he founded the Illinois Institute of Qualitative Inquiry, and served for nearly two decades as the Director of its International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (an annual conference held at the University of Illinois that draws more than 1,000 attendees). Over the next 18 years, he co-edited more than 20 books with his frequent writing partner, Michael Giardina, all on the broad topic of qualitative inquiry. At the same time, he wrote a trilogy of books on the American West, including Searching for Yellowstone: Race, Gender, Family, and Memory in the Postmodern West (2008), as well as interventions into performance studies with books on performance ethnography and autoethnography. At the time of his passing, Norman was still actively engaged in research and writing.

Norman was a dreamer, a visionary, a utopian. For all of his scholarly achievements, he didn’t define himself in such terms. As he wrote in one of his books, he saw himself as an ancestor, husband, grandson, uncle, father, grandfather, friend, colleague, co-worker, community member, mentor, justice activist, antiracist, inclusive global citizen, and more. If you were to call Norman at his office, he would likely answer with soft jazz music playing in the background. If you saw him on campus, he was likely riding his bicycle to and from the office—even on the coldest of days. His likely attire? A black short-sleeved button-down shirt, tan cargo shorts, and Birkenstock sandals—an absolutely iconic look to all who knew him. His one-word emails carried the weight of the lengthiest of notes, a simple “lovely” or an “Onward!” bringing a smile to those who received them. And he loved conversations about research, politics, movies, sports, and family over cups of chili at Potbelly’s, warm goat cheese salads at his favorite restaurant (Timpone’s), or coffee on his backyard deck.

A tribute wall can be found at for anyone wishing to leave a note or remembrance. A public celebration of his life will be held at the next International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry in May, 2024.

A private family memorial will be held on August 12, 2023; Norman’s ashes will be scattered in Montana, where he frequently vacationed with his family at their cabin in Red Lodge, and where he will rest forever in peace among the streams he fished with his grandchildren and the trails he hiked.

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