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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.
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 and poet Frederick Turner. He returned to University College in 1946 with a new focus on anthropology. He later pursued graduate studies in anthropology at Manchester University.[non-primary source needed]
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.
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.
Turner was also a committed ethnographer and produced work on ritual.