Obituary for Doug Benson

who died in 2006 of a heart attack.

Doug studied for his honours degree at the University of Exeter from 1966 to 1969. There he met John Hughes who was lecturing in Sociology, and when John moved to the University of Lancaster in 1970 Doug followed him to pursue post graduate studies. While at Lancaster he was appointed to the post of Research Assistant to an ESSRC research project run by Max Atkinson and, upon Max's appointment to the University of Manchester in 1973, Doug moved with him, coinciding with Harold Garfinkel's period as The Simon Visiting Professor. In 1974 he was appointed to the position of Lecture in Sociology at the University of Plymouth where he remained until taking ill-health retirement a few years before his death.

Within the extended world of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis Doug will probably be best known for one of the first introductions to ethnomethodology The Perspective of Ethnomethodology (Longmans 1983) which he co-authored with John Hughes. Publication, however, was not a priority for him; instead he favoured discussion with his students and colleagues who will remember him as a powerful intellectual influence. Many have underestimated Doug, and bear the scars of their mistake. Indeed, it was a delight to witness him deflate an empty, yet grandiosely, put argument.

Doug was one of the original wave of Sociologists in the UK to understand the importance of ethnomethodology for the Human Sciences. Those who worked with him will remember his no-nonsense analytic approach, and methodological dexterity. Looking over my own notes there are sections that capture many collaborations with Doug. There are six worked up chapters we did together in 1975 on a planned book on Conversation Analysis, which never saw the light of day, and drafts of a number of articles, which we did not finish. These remind me of turbulent discussions which we often settled in the pub before moving onto another argument.

Doug was one of those 'larger than life' characters. He could, and often did, charm the pants of the very many he met. As testimony to this, the chapel of Efford Crematorium was packed and many over-flowed into the car park where they listened via loudspeakers to the secular service delivered by his closest friends in the driving Plymouth rain.

Four daughters and countless friends survive Doug. His friends would appreciate the poignancy of the question asked by one of their wives when overhearing the news being broken of his death enquired: "whose dog's dead?"

Graham Button


Benson, Doug (1993) ‘The police and information technology’. In: Graham Button, ed. Technology in working order: studies of work, interaction and technology. London: Routledge: 81-97

Benson, Doug, Paul Drew (1978) ‘”Was there firing in Sandy Row that night?” Some features of the organisation of disputes about recorded facts’, Sociological Inquiry 48: 89-100

Benson, Doug, John A. Hughes (1983) The perspective of ethnomethodology. London: Longmans

Benson, Doug, John Hughes (1991) ‘Method: evidence and inference – evidence and inference for ethnomethodology’. In: Button, Graham, ed., Ethnomethodology and the human sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 109-36

Back to Ethno/CA News: People