Ted Robert Gurr, Palme Professor – In Memoriam

Professor Ted R. Gurr, the well-known and esteemed social scientist, died on November 25. He was born in 1936. He was a dear friend of our Department and we had the great pleasure of hosting him as the Olof Palme Visiting Professor in 1996-97. Gurr’s 1970 work Why Men Rebel, developed from his dissertation, is a classic reading in peace research, as it raised the issues of rebellion, uprising and protest. His explanation for these behaviors (sometimes violent, sometimes not) was the experience of “relative deprivation.” That sparked much research and further investigations. Looking back at this work 40 years later, Gurr remarked that the “core of the Why Men Rebel model remains valid but is incomplete.” For instance, he would now rather refer to “grievance” and “sense of injustice” as drivers of collective action.

From the 1980s until his retirement Gurr taught at the University of Maryland. His major projects were the collection of data on minorities (Minorities at Risk) and political regimes (Polity III). These efforts have been continued, further developed and updated. The outcomes of these undertakings were central in our Department’s decision to invite him to spend an academic year in Uppsala. It became a major event, particularly as his wife Professor Barbara Harff, a respected political scientist in her own right, joined in. During that time both were heavily engaged in issues of ethnic discrimination and genocide with students and colleagues. Gurr also completed his eminent States vs. People: Minorities at Risk in the New Century (published in 2000), which in turn led him to write an optimistic article in Foreign Affairs May/June 2000 entitled “Ethnic Warfare on the Wane.”

During the early 2000s, Gurr and Harff were deeply involved in the initiative of the Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson in his project about the Prevention of Genocide, resulting in a series of major conferences in Stockholm.

It was always a pleasure to interact with Dr. Gurr. In February 2017, at the International Studies Association’s annual convention in Baltimore, Professor Michael Stohl released the book States and Peoples in Conflict. Transformations of Conflict Studies prepared in Gurr’s honor. This volume contains a challenging concluding chapter by Gurr. It also clearly documented Gurr’s stimulating effect on generations of scholars. Many of us already miss him. His life and work remain an inspiration.

Peter Wallensteen
Professor, Former Head of Department
Department of Peace and Conflict Research
Uppsala University