No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Barry A. Turner

Barry A. Turner (1937-1995) was a pioneering scholar in the field of Organization Studies who made significant contributions to theory and practice in the organizational domain. His academic journey began at the age of 29 when he graduated with honors in Sociology from Birmingham University, marking the start of his scientific career.

During his tenure at Imperial College from 1966 to 1969, Turner laid the groundwork for his future work in the areas of organizing, complexity, and qualitative research. This early period started off his innovative research and interdisciplinary collaborations.

One of Turner's notable works, "Exploring the Industrial Subculture" (1971), stands out as an important contribution to the field. This work integrated insights from various disciplines, foreshadowing his later development of the concept of Organizational Symbolism.

It was his groundbreaking book, "Man-Made Disasters" (1978), that settled his reputation as a thought leader in the field of organization. In this work, Turner revealed common patterns in large-scale accidents, reshaping the prevailing understanding of risk within complex organizations. His research challenged the conventional wisdom of the time and paved the way for a more nuanced perspective on organizational failure.

In 1990, Turner took on the role of Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Middlesex University Business School. Despite facing health challenges, he continued to publish. He dedicated himself to revising the second edition of 'Man-Made Disasters' in collaboration with Nick Pidgeon before his untimely passing in 1995.

Turner's scientific legacy includes a focus on situational accounts, pattern recognition, and the moderation of order to prevent failure. Central to Turner's work were principles of open communication about mistakes, the role of regulatory environments, and the cultivation of safety culture. These principles have had a lasting impact on various industries, influencing practices and policies aimed at preventing accidents.

Turner's pioneering work on the socio-technical organizational model, focus on social elements, shift from viewing accidents as random to preventable, multidisciplinary approach, emphasis on organizational culture and hierarchy, systems thinking, development of safety culture, and acknowledgment of the contingent nature of accidents continue to shape the field of Organization Studies, and show his enduring influence.


Bills, K., Costello, L, Cattani, M. (2023), Barry Turner: The Under-Acknowledged Safety Pioneer, in: Safety 2023, 9, 68. 

Jeffcutt, P. (1995), Obituary for Barry A. Turner

Weick, K.E. (1998), Foresights of Failure: An Appreciation of Barry Turner, in: Journal of Contingencies and Crisis ManagementVolume 6, Issue 2 p. 72-75

By clicking the buttons below, you can read summaries of Turner's papers.