Honoring Ralph B. Brown


Ralph B. Brown, Rural sociology


At many points in his life journey, Ralph B. Brown made lasting contributions to students, colleagues, and friends as well as to rural sociology. In this essay, I would like to remember and honor some of these contributions. To begin with a few memories, in his last lecture (December 13, 2013), Ralph discussed a number of principles that guided his life. Fundamental among these were his love of learning, critical thinking, and a search for truth that embraced the paradoxes he found to be replete in social life. For Ralph, learning involved not only constant reading but also looking for new ways to expand his thinking and break down the “epistemic closure” that created barriers to greater understanding. Another important avenue of learning for Ralph was traveling the world, which typically involved learning new languages and interacting with new people in cultures that offered different ideas and ways of knowing. His preferred way of exploring these new places was on a bike. Consequently, on his frequent trips to Southeast Asia, he went in search of the perfect bike. In his last summer, he found that bike and traveled once again to many of his favorite places as well as new ones. In these places, through talking with friends and colleagues, sharing many meals, learning from and working alongside them, Ralph established lasting relationships that he treasured. This experience, which is something Ralph also wanted for his students, is illustrated well by his advice to the American students who traveled with him. As he told this story, when students complained about the need to bargain in local markets in the countries they visited, Ralph responded that they should love bargaining; it was a wonderful way to connect and establish relationships with the people in the markets. To their surprise and amazement, as the students approached this practice with Ralph's advice in mind, they quickly learned that bargaining brought them closer to people, not further away. Thus, they learned exactly what Ralph hoped: to look beyond their own frame of reference and embrace the world of the “other.” In many ways, this approach was central to Ralph's view that “life is in the journey” and involves pushing ourselves to venture out of the familiar worlds we live in to learn more about the social realities of other peoples.

Original Publication Citation

Honoring Ralph B. Brown, Carol Ward, Rural Sociology, 80 (1) 2015: 1-5.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Rural Sociology




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor