Kathryn Fox (1986)

Associate Professor, University of Vermont

I was greatly influenced by the graduate student and local political culture of Berkeley. So I am happy to have ended up in a Progressive city and state. The lifestyle is sublime here. My department, for the most part, sees itself as political, leftist, feminist, and sociologically ecumenical. 'Berkeley sociology' is appreciated here. This makes my life easier as a scholar, teacher, citizen, and mother, although in another biography I would not list my identities in that order.

I came to Berkeley from the Midwest to work with David Matza, at a time when few people studied deviance anymore. After conducting field research on AIDS outreach to injection drug users on the streets of a West Coast city, I entertained grand ideas (which were later dashed) of doing applied ethnography. But I took a job in academia after all; I figured one could leave the tenure track after a time easier than one could jump onto the track after a time. But I'm still here! Strangely, I wound up at the ideal place for me, the University of Vermont (in Burlington, sometimes described as Berkeley's sister city), where I am an associate professor of sociology. And now, two kids later and more gray hairs, I do field work in rather circumscribed settings, such as prisons.

I came to Berkeley with some vague idea that I was a symbolic interactionist and ethnographer. I left a Burawoyian ethnographer, with a focus on the less visible constraints that actors resist. My work now focuses on discourses of discipline and resistance. Insofar as my interactionist/constructionist bent has been modified, I try to address one of the fundamental weaknesses of interactionism by squarely tackling the role of power in discursive practices. Since Berkeley, I have come to enjoy and incorporate the works of Foucault and Dorothy Smith and the like.

As a student of (and former participant in) deviant behavior, I have been disenchanted with the elitism and humorlessness of (most) academic work. I still struggle with the value of the kind of academic research I enjoy doing. I could scarcely write this bio because I was so daunted by the question of how my sociology has changed the world! A list of my publications would not answer that question. Like frightfully many sociologists, a handful of people read my work, some like it. My work on prison therapy contributes a dissenting view from the traditional corrections literature which is uncritical of its own discursive/disciplinary techniques. Because so much of the research on prisons is of the what works variety, the Berkeley-ness of my sociology comes through in its theoretical flavor. What these publications change beyond my job security is anybody's guess, but it is fun stuff to think about. What I continue to enjoy about sociology is the intellectual play, which Berkeley gave me a taste for. And let's face it: academia provides a very nice life (despite all of our whining). Where else can one get paid to think, read and write? And the autonomy! But I suspect the people who are really changing the world are the ones who quit grad school or avoided academia.

I still feel like an ethnographer, even in/of academia, participating successfully enough, but still observing, scratching my head and taking notes?

Dissertation Title: 
The Micro-Politics of Expert Knowledge: An Ethnography of Structure and Ideology in the West Coast AIDS Project