MICHAEL H. AGAR In His Own Words: Michael H. Agar was born in Chicago right around the time of the German surrender at the end of WWII in 1945. After an uneventful childhood of dirt clod wars at housing construction sites and memorized recitations of the Baltimore catechism, he was forcibly relocated to Livermore, California, in 1956, when his father took a job at the new Lawrence Radiation Lab. He always considered it his hometown, strange mix of cowboys and science that it was. Since he was particularly good at multiple-choice tests, he was able to attend Stanford, courtesy of the then abundant - and now endangered - concept of financial aid, graduating with a degree in anthropology in 1967. While there, he arranged his own year abroad program with the help of a crypto-anarchist dean and anthropology professor Alan Beals. Mike worked in a small village in South India and then returned to enjoy the shift from beer to marijuana that had occurred in his absence. He had turned into an internationalist - and, therefore, in the eyes of many of his friends' parents, a communist - with his experiences during high school as an exchange student in Austria and as a fieldworker in South India. Off he went to grad school at the Language Behavior Research Lab at Berkeley, leaving with a PhD in 1971. Life changed with the Vietnam War when he gratefully accepted a commission in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service during graduate school. Instead of becoming a South Asianist, with the help of his graduate advisor, Paul Kay, he turned into a lifelong drug expert, an ironic career for a 60's Berkeley student. He taught at several universities, foreign and domestic, the most noteworthy of the foreign gigs being two stints in linguistics at the University of Vienna and several at the Intercultural Management Institute at the Kepler University in Linz. His most extensive domestic position was in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland where he helped develop and run a program to train practitioners, rather than academic researchers. By the mid-90's he set off on his own as Ethknoworks, and, in fact, will be available as a ghost for a while on the home page ethknoworks.com. He wrote a lot - son of a journalist and a photographer - and considered himself a craftsman who worked with ideas rather than materials. His main reward was when a student came up after a talk and thanked him for help in solving a problem in the student's own work. His concept of "languaculture," modified from Friedrich's original "linguaculture," had a major impact in applied linguistics, and his article on the crack cocaine epidemic helped change discriminatory drug laws. His first book, Ripping and Running, opened new directions in ethnography and helped start the field of cognitive science. The Professional Stranger served as a resource for many students embarking on their first fieldwork. There were other books - Independents Declared, Speaking of Ethnography, and Dope Double Agent, to name a few. His last was a book called The Lively Science, an attempt to show how human social research was a different kind of science. Mike also left behind a draft manuscript behind called Culture: How to Make It Work in a World of Hybrids. He received an award here and there, but those never mattered much to him, except for the Career Award from the National Institutes for Health (NIH), which bought cash to free him from faculty meetings for several years. He sought work that passed the "trinity test" - intellectually interesting, with moral value, which paid the rent. He was grateful that so much of life was filled with work that met those conditions. Mike will miss his life partner of many years, who recently became his wife, Ellen Taylor, his sister, Mary Elizabeth Agar, his brother and sister-in-law, Tom Agar and Helene Diament-Agar, his nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews, a few friends who endured over the years, and the birds and animals who still drop by the acre of New Mexican desert that he and Ellen called home for food and water. Mike died peacefully in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on May 20, 2017. At Mike's request, there will be no funeral service. He would be honored by any donations in his memory to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, La Familia Medical Center, or any Santa Fe-based animal rights organization or sanctuary.
Published by Santa Fe New Mexican from May 24 to May 28, 2017.
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19 Entries
Mike was an indelible mentor, friend and older brother who was always inspired me and was there for me when I had some choices to make. At a Chinese dinner with Mike and Nick Kozel before a Langston Hughes jazz night in DC, Mike hooked me up with my forever colleague and student of Mike's, Linda Kaljee, that led to a few decades of international research on vaccines, believable it or not, on vaccine hesitancy, before it ever became a household word. There's nobody in the world I rather have had a beer with than Mike, and that's saying something among rag-tag street ethnographers. For sure, Mike's spirit and wisdom will always be in my heart.
Al Pach
May 18, 2021
Mike even in death you continue to teach me the true reach of friendship and now the depth of sorrow. The happy days are gone but well remembered.
Erve Chambers
October 7, 2018
My sincere condolences to family and other friends.
Eleni Kavvadia
March 14, 2018
Ellen, so sorry to hear of Mike's passing; so glad for the love you shared.
Nancy Sweeney
July 28, 2017
Michael certainly fulfilled our high school yearbook proficy of being the 'most likely to succeed'. He was obviously a bright and talented man who was also down to earth. It was great see him at our 50th reunion 4 years ago. Ruth Ann Todd (Luvermore, CA)
June 28, 2017
I first met Mike in the 5th grade at St. Michael's School in Livermore and was so impressed with his intelligence.
We never maintained contact following high school but did reconnect at our 50 year class reunion. Of course, he remained the brainiac I remembered. So sorry to hear about his passing. Heartfelt condolences to his family & friends. You will be missed at our 55th. Rest in peace, fellow student & friend.
barbara torrison
June 19, 2017
I met Mike as a recent PhD grad [from Univ of CO, 1997, in Nursing] at the International Institute for Qualitative Methods [IIQM], up in Alberta, Canada. For a decade or so he was a faculty presenter on ethnography & complexity theory at the annual IIQM methods workshops held at Banff. He became a mentor and friend to me there, and consulted on every grant application I wrote. His whimsical, accessible way of inspiring amateur ethnographers like me was beyond compare. He & Ellen also stayed in touch through the years with emails, holiday greetings, & an occasional meal at Albuquerque's El Pinto Restaurant. I was deeply saddened & surprised when Ellen called recently to inform me Mike was gone--I never knew he was ill. Blessings, thanks & peace to you, Mike--I so appreciate all that you taught me, & that I have kept teaching my own doctoral students at UNM. I know you are flying free in those azure skies and wild places that are dear to all of us who love the planet....Jennifer Averill 6-14-17
Jennifer Averill
June 14, 2017
I remember Mike fondly from our stint together at Stanford in the Grove House. He reached out to those of us who were new to the campus and his intellectual curiosity and rough and ready insights taught us that intellectual endeavors, when pursued in their own right, nevertheless could serve ordinary men and women. Mike was one of a kind and I miss him very much.
Scott Davis
June 12, 2017
I met Mike late in 2014 after he gave a talk on water at the Santa Fe Instutite. As a journalist he thought I knew stuff but he knew a lot more and was a good friend to meet for coffee. I viewed him as a shoe leather reporter, getting deeply into something to write about. He said he'd have loved to to do an "Aikenfield"sociological project living in New Mexican hamlets for year and getting the locals rich family histories. A shock to learn he just died only a few miles away. Irreplaceable loss!
bob dowling
June 11, 2017
Very sad news indeed,

Mike will be very much missed in the international applied linguistics community to which he has contributed so much. Heartfelt condolences to his family, colleages and friends
Patrick John Coppock
June 11, 2017
Mike was a good friend and colleague. He was the first anthropologist I ever met, and he taught me so much over the years. I am sad purely out of selfishness that I will no longer be able to bounce ideas with Mike and enjoy the benefit of his amazing ability to make the complex more understandable.
Tom Hilton
June 6, 2017
With great appreciation for your friendship and massive intellectual legacy. I'm so grateful that you re-invented anthropology. You live on in your work and in the people who remember you.
Barbara Little
June 3, 2017
I'm so sorry to hear about the passing of Michael, in whom I had the pleasure to meet and get to know a little about his exciting life. (in my eyes) May the fond memories of your Michael bring you comfort during this hard time in your life Ellen, My heart and prayers go out to you, and his family and friends.
At this trying period in your life, I pray that God will grant you the serenity and peace that you need to get through this. Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
May 31, 2017
Really didn't know you Mike like I should have but with you and my cousin living so far away we only saw each other for family gatherings. God Bless you and rest in peace. Fly with the angels. You will be missed. With much love, Sue and Bobby Denney
Sue and Bobby Denney
May 31, 2017
Diana Caldwell
May 29, 2017
Diana Caldwell
May 29, 2017
Mike Agar was one of my college professors before he became cherished partner and husband to my cousin, Ellen Taylor. Life is a chain of relationships, and in his loss, Mike leaves a broken link in that chain, one that can never be repaired. Still, fond memories of this exceptional person will sustain his family and friends for many years to come. Resquieat in pace, my friend.
Dena Dale Crain
May 29, 2017
Michael Agar's book The Professional Stranger was my first introduction to qualitative research methods as a medical student back in 1995. I still keep the book around and use it when I teach or am looking for a simple clear explanation of something about this research method.
Louise Davies
May 27, 2017
Dearest Mike, colleague in the drug war, mentor and dear, beloved friend and big brother, you are and will always be in my heart and an influence on all I do that has any hint of intellectual, moral or practical effect on the real world. I can't describe how much I now and always will miss you.
Al Pach
May 26, 2017
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