Orgar Owen 1927 – 2024: Sociologist, university leader and global citizen

Orgar Owen 1927 – 2024: Sociologist, university leader and global citizen

The former dean of the University of Bergen, sociologist Orgar Owen, died on March 2 at the age of 97. He was a formative force who shaped a generation of Norwegian sociologists, a great builder of institutions at home and abroad – and an exceptionally likeable colleague.

Gudmund Hernes (TV) and Sigmund Grønmo write about Orgar Owain.
picture: NTB/Rydon Forest

Orgar Owain grew up in Bronwy, as the eldest child in a group of five siblings. The father, Torvald Owen, was a teacher and headmaster at the primary school in Crookness, and the family lived in a flat in the school building. Orgar eventually went out into the world and became a global citizen, but throughout his life he maintained a strong connection to his village. When the centralization of the school eventually led to the closure of the smaller schools, the Owen family took over the entire school building, and Orgar continued to return here, especially during the summer. He was always well informed about what was happening in his neighborhood, the neighborhood, the community and the region.

At this school, Orgar was not just one of his father's primary school students. Here also his further education began. At Mother Helga's kitchen table, he attended correspondence courses and read the syllabus for many subjects in the gymnasium. After taking some exams as a private practitioner in Brønnøysund and Mosjøen, he completed the artium exam in one year in Eidsvoll. National High School. He then followed in his father's footsteps and took teacher training at NISNA. Teachers' School, but during a year as a primary school teacher in Glomfjord, it became increasingly clear to him that he wanted to learn more about community and social conditions. In the fall of 1949, he became one of the first students in the new sociology course at the University of Oslo. Here he became involved early in a larger social science project on Mo i Rana, which included studies of development in the city and region after the establishment of the Iron and Steel Agency in 1946. Among other things, there were many who moved from farming and fishing in Sør Helgeland to become industrial workers on Monday.

Meetings with visiting American researchers in Oslo inspired Orjar to continue his studies in the United States. On a Fulbright scholarship, he went to the University of Washington in Seattle, where the subject of sociology was more established and where there was a more professional environment. Here it was picked up and raised by imaginative and empirically oriented sociologists such as Georg Lundberg, Stuart Dodd, Calvin Schmid and Otto Larsen. In the United States, he also met several relatives who were descendants of early immigrants from Norway.

Two years later, he returned to Oslo with strong quantitative training and a master's degree, and immediately became a scientific assistant to Norway's only sociology professor, Sverre Holm. He was a key figure in the development of the Department of Sociology – also by assuming the less prestigious roles of Head of Studies, Lecturer and Superintendent.

From 1960 to 1962, he returned to Seattle, where he earned a doctorate in sociology. In doing so, Þorjar Owen positioned himself as one of the first professional sociologists in Norway, with a strong education in the subject and with strong prerequisites for further empirical research. He has published a number of research contributions, with systematic analyzes of, among others, information diffusion, processes of social change, social stratification and mobility. Many of the publications were related to population and demographic issues. In addition, it contributed to the discussion and clarification of key methodological issues. In recent years, he has been particularly interested in topics of research ethics, which seem to have become increasingly important. Together with his life partner, folklorist Bente Gulvig Alvear (1941-2020), he published a number of works on research ethics, both nationally and internationally.

After Orgar Owen returned from Seattle, he worked as a university lecturer at the University of Oslo for a few years, but from 1968 he was appointed professor of sociology at the University of Bergen. There he joined other founders of the social sciences: Professors Frederik Barth (social anthropology), Stein Rokkan (comparative politics), Knut Dahl Jacobsen (public administration), and Björn Christiansen (psychology). Owen became an anchor and source of inspiration for what was called Bergen sociology: studies with an empirical orientation, also in new areas such as living conditions and power. Orgar Owen gave the young teachers and students who flocked to him space to research and fly, but they always insisted on integrity: on the evidence of theses and adherence to interpretations.

Orgar Owen continued as Professor of Sociology at the University of Bergen until he reached retirement age in 1997, and also as Professor Emeritus who was in the institute's office every day – long after he was ninety. He was often afraid of losing his office, but the university administration removed this anxiety by naming the Sociology Building “Orgar Owain House” – as a mark of his 85th birthday. In recent years, it has contributed significantly to the continuity and further development of the social environment. His office door was always open, especially to young colleagues and new employees at the institute.

Whether formally or informally, Orgar Owen had central and pioneering roles in the development of both the subject of sociology and the social sciences as well as the entire University of Bergen. Not only was he at the forefront of developing the Department of Sociology and establishing sociology as a university course. He was also one of the founders of a separate college of social sciences, and was the first dean of the college (1971-1973).

For two terms (1978-1983), Orgar Owen was Rector of the University. At a time of great challenges facing the University, in relation to both growth and change, Rector Owen established, among other things, important principles for governance and management at various levels and for the organization of research at the University.

Owen has been an important player in international research and university collaboration, partly as a visiting professor at several foreign universities, and partly as a member and leader of a number of international committees, boards and councils. During the Cold War, he was interested in developing East-West cooperation, and did much to promote views on development and North-South cooperation in both research and higher education. He was president of the council European Coordinating Center for Research and Documentation in the Social Sciences In Vienna 1988-1991, and from 1971 he was at the head of construction and development For the inter-university center In Dubrovnik, Croatia. Here he became the first president of the council, and later became director and honorary member. The island takes much credit for its survival of the hostilities in Croatia in the 1990s.

Þorjar Owen received an honorary award from the Norwegian Sociological Society President's Award, Western Society of CriminologyHe was an honorary citizen of Washington State. He was appointed Commander of the Order of St. Olav in 1988, and was awarded the Croatian Star (Red Danis Hrvatsky com Rodera Boskovica) In 2005.

Orgar Owain was a friendly seal – a fellow that people liked to approach. It will always come up in conversation when they meet – their bond is part of his life's work.

Orgar learned to play the home organ at the teachers' school – so much so that on visits to his home in Brunwy he could literally take the place of the church organist. While studying in the USA, he also achieved great success as a jazz pianist, with his very distinctive style. It is said that one time during the summer holidays in Brunoy he was asked to play at a wedding. But the couple who would marry would prefer something other than Mendelssohn's wedding march. So as the happy couple walked onto the church floor, jazz pianist Orgar played a raucous, hallowed version of Gershwin's famous “Ma'am Be Good.”

Although he became a global citizen, he continued to live on the island until the end. He has written a wonderful autobiographical book about his younger years there, “Langsetter vegen: djørn opvekst og ungdom” (2019), and the previous year with Bente Alver an autobiography about his grandmother, “Letter from ho Besta på Øyen”.

Orgar Owen will be buried in Bergen on March 14. In the summer, the children will place his urn on Trælnes in Brønnøy – from the land where he came and there to the land where he will remain.

Sigmund Gronemo

Gudmund Hernes

An important professor and dean of Bronwy died

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Dalila Awolowo

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