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Prominent UW-Madison sociologist Stephen Bunker dies at 61

July 21, 2005

Stephen G. Bunker, a professor of sociology and rural sociology at UW–Madison, died Tuesday, July 19, at his home in Hollandale, Wis. He was 61.

A longtime professor who joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1989, Bunker was known as a skilled and dynamic instructor who taught courses that explored the links between economics and ecology, says colleague Dean Bakopoulos, executive director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council. He was also a prolific author whose research and writing focused on economic change and development, as well as environmental and resource sociology.

In 2002, UW–Madison sponsored an international conference entitled “Nature, Raw Materials, and Political Economy,” which celebrated Bunker’s significant contribution to sociology. This fall, two new books written by Bunker will be published: “Globalization and the Race for Resources” (John Hopkins University Press) and “The Snake with Golden Braids: Society, Nature, and Technology in Andean Irrigation” (Lexington Books).

The Chicago native earned his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1975 and, over his career, conducted extensive travels and field work in Uganda, Brazil, Peru, and Guatemala, which led to the publication of influential books on economic hardships in Uganda and development in the Amazon.

Along with his wife, Dena Wortzel, Bunker trained and rode thoroughbred horses and worked to convert unused cropland to natural prairie at Birch Run, his farm in Hollandale.

“(Bunker) found inspiration for his writing and teaching through his love of horses and the land, ” says Bakopoulos. “His later academic work focused on the intense connection human communities have to landscape, and his daily life reflected his deep belief in the spiritual side of the natural world.”

A private memorial service is planned at Birch Run. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Stephen G. Bunker Memorial Fund, Bank of Mora, Mora, NM 87732. Donations will be used to fund environmental education initiatives for rural youth.

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