Beth Roy (1985)

Therapist, Writer and Occasional Professor, UC, Berkeley

Having gotten my BA in mathematics in 1961 (from Brandeis), I made my way by loops and by-ways to a doctorate in sociology at UC exactly thirty years later. In between I lived in India for seven years, publishing two books, Bullock Carts and Motor Bikes: Ancient India on a New Road in 1972, and On a Tree of Trouble: Tribes of India in Crisis in 1974.

In 1972, I returned to the US, with a small son, a militant set of principles about child-rearing, few ideas about earning a living, and good friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the latter, I began a lay practice in an alternative approach to psychotherapy, work grounded in a social theory of alienation and a practice focused on community-building, including group therapy and conflict resolution. We taught workshops in mediation and trained therapists and mediators in long-term apprenticeships.

After some fourteen years, as my son considered where he wanted to go to college, I began enviously to long for a contemplative space in which to explore more deeply, and more theoretically, the ideas on which my practice was based. I applied to the sociology department at Berkeley and was accepted.

The faculty afforded me precisely the forum I wanted, to talk, to read, to write about the questions that occupied me, both in my therapist persona and as an activist. I saw academia as a way to bring together my attachments in South Asia to my more recent wanderings in the intersection of psyche and society. Under the tutelage of Bob Blauner, Sandy Freitag, and others, I returned to the subcontinent to study Hindu-Muslim conflict. In 1992 UC Press published Some Trouble with Cows: Making Sense of Social Conflict, an analysis of a riot in a Bangladeshi village, based only on the oral accounts of the villagers.

While continuing my therapy practice, I've gone on since then talking with people about moments of intense social conflict they've lived, and trying to draw from those oral histories sociological theory with a social justice bent. Bitters in the Honey: Tales of Hope and Disappointment across Divides of Race and Time was published in 1999 by University of Arkansas Press, a study of white racism in the context of working people's problems; the study derives from interviews with people from Little Rock, Arkansas, whose lives were touched by the crisis there when Central High School was desegregated in 1957. Currently, I'm talking with people around the country about the police killing of Amadou Diallo in New York to explore wide circles of social issues.

From time to time, I also teach at UC Berkeley in the Peace and Conflict Studies program and the Sociology Department.

Dissertation Title: 
Some Trouble with Cows: Making Sense of Social Conflict
Dissertation Book Title: 
Some trouble with cows : making sense of social conflict