Elaine Kaplan (1977)

Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Southern California

I grew up in Harlem, or as it was called at that time, The Ghetto. By the time I was 15, I was a mother and a school dropout. After spending a few years working in factories and offices, I decided to return to school. I arrived at Berkeley in the summer of 1979, eager to learn more about people like me and to learn from people like Blumer and Blauner. There were so few students and faculty of color in the sociology department that I began to feel lonely and frustrated. That sense of alienation forced me to become actively involved in organizing the Women of Color Collective study group (our resolve to bring about change was strengthened by the activist environment at Berkeley). I also read, and was moved by, the works of Sennet and Cobb, Rubin, Goffman, and especially by Mills' Sociological Imagination. I learned from Hochshild, Duster, Edwards, Blauner and Burawoy. All of these experiences helped shape my ideas about race, class and gender inequalities. I left there in 1988 to work at Temple University. While at Temple, I began working to turn my dissertation that examines black teenage motherhood using a race, gender and class analysis, into an ethnography. After two years, I moved onto San Jose State University, finally landing at USC where I teach social justice issues including social inequality and race/ethnic relations from both American and global perspectives. Currently, I am teaching and researching in the area of Visual sociology, with a focus on the inner-city experiences of minority teenagers. Hochschild's mentorship and her work on the sociology of emotion have greatly influenced my thinking about how people experience their environment. What I learned from the Berkeley experience (and lessons I try to pass on to my students), is to appreciate the complexity of people's lived experiences and to present only the most thoughtful and nuanced analysis of those lives.

Dissertation Title: 
The Lure of Motherhood: A Study of Black Teenage Mothers.
Dissertation Book Title: 
Not our kind of girl : unraveling the myths of Black teenage motherhood