My research and teaching career has been dedicated to “public sociology”– a sociology that raises public awareness about social issues and seeks to impact policy and practice in service of social justice. For me, this has meant crossing the borders of social science research and the humanities to offer people – most especially children and young people who are often missing from public debate — an active role in representing their worlds, as they understand them.
Ever since 1975, when I co-founded the Community Women’s Education Project (CWEP) in a Philadelphia neighborhood suffering from economic disinvestment, I have focused on community assets, advocacy, and creative collaborations. This commitment has guided my work in rural and urban communities – whether in residence at the Highlander Education and Research Center in New Market, TN, where I collaborated with grassroots leaders and community organizers to develop community-based economics education materials through storytelling, or in diverse urban public school sites (Philadelphia, Durham, Boston, and Worcester) where I have found arts-infused research most effective in working with teachers, children and young people.
My research focuses on how gender, race, class and sexuality-based systems of inequality get internalized, especially in school settings where exclusion, entitlement, constraint, and possibility take root in student’s own self-evaluations and actions. These dynamics are explored in my two books: School-smart and Mother-wise: Working-Class Women’s Identity and Schooling (1997) winner of the Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award, American Sociological Association in 1998; and Pregnant Bodies, Fertile Minds: Gender, Race and the Schooling of Pregnant Teens (2003), winner of the Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship Award, American Sociological Association, Section on Race, Class and Gender in 2005.
Since 2003 my longitudinal research, Children Framing Childhoods and Looking Back, has explored the shaping role of gender, race and immigrant status in how children represent themselves and their perspectives on immigration, social and cultural differences, and family-school relationships through photography and video. This project has generated a treasure trove of youth-generated audio-visual materials which challenge dominant (mis)representations of children and youth growing up in urban, culturally diverse, poor and working-class communities, and compel us, as adults, to re-think our evaluations of their capacities and desires.
I am privileged to be a Professor of Urban Education, Sociology, and Critical Social/Personality Psychology at the Graduate Center (GC) of the City University of New York, an institution dedicated to scholarship that serves the public interest. At the GC, I am a member of (In)equality Matters promoting interdisciplinary research about inequality at the Graduate Center, the New Media Lab; and co-founder of the Collaborative Seeing Studio to support the next generation of scholars using innovative visual methods. Before joining the GC faculty, I held the Nancy Pforzheimer Aronson Chair in Human Development and Education (1999-2009), and before that I taught in the Sociology and Cultural Anthropology Departments at Duke University and co-founded the Duke Center for Teaching and Learning (1988-1999).
My publishing record reflects my commitment to public sociology as I have sought to reach multiple audiences – whether through my academic publications; writing adult literacy curriculum; designing teacher professional development materials (e.g. Project ASSERT (Accessing Strengths and Supporting Resistance in Teaching); conducting evaluations and compiling research reports; writing exhibition catalogues; or preparing the volume, Qualitative Research in Education: Readings in Reflexive Methodology and Transformative Practice (2010).
In previous years I have benefitted from fellowships including the Rockefeller Foundation (1998-1999); American Council of Learned Societies (1994); Spencer Foundation (2000-2001), a Marie Curie Fellowship at University College of Dublin (2009); and research awards from Duke University Arts and Science Research Council (1995); William F. Milton Fund Award, Harvard University (2007) and Professional Staff Council-City University of New York awards in 2011 and 2012.