Andrea Press (1977)

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Media Studies and Sociology, University of Virginia

I came to Berkeley after being inspired in my undergraduate education (at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges) by some brilliant sociologists and dedicated teachers in sociology and anthropology. The Berkeley program was sufficiently interdisciplinary, and permitted such a degree of intellectual freedom, that it enabled me to learn enough about critical thinking (and a basic amount about research) to allow me to pursue projects that I hope will make a difference in people's lives. I think the program is tough but also more rewarding than most (if you survive), precisely because of the demanding degree of freedom students have, and because the emphasis on innovative scholarship that matters places an enormous responsibility on students to produce work that is not only politically meaningful but also methodologically innovative, challenging categories accepted in the profession. After teaching and mentoring graduate students at several other universities (University of Michigan, University of Illinois, and now University of Virginia) I see that most graduate programs are extremely different in precisely these respects, and I've come to value my experience at Berkeley enormously.

In my own work I have used ethnographic and interpretive methods to study media and culture in the U.S., and comparatively, from a feminist perspective. Studying with Todd Gitlin, Michael Burawoy, Arlie Hochschild, and Robin Lakoff, and taking courses in several other fields, allowed by the flexibility of our program (philosophy, anthropology, comp lit, French, German), prepared me to use this kind of methodology in an interdisciplinary way. I am now employed 75% in a new “Media Studies” Department, a new department I was privileged to “found,” while retaining a 25% appointment in Sociology where I continue to mentor graduate students. My work focuses on examining communities of women and how they use popular culture to make sense of their lives.  My dissertation book, Women Watching Television, looked at media in women's lives generally, and my next book, Speaking of Abortion, examined their interpretive practices around the issue of abortion; I’m currently planning a follow-up to ideas developed there about politically conservative women consulting “alternative” scientific authorities. Both emphasize social class and generational comparisons. Recently I looked at adolescents and the media they use, with an emphasis on internet practices (The New Media Environment), and also at sexuality and social class in Hollywood film (my collection Media and Class).  I continue to write on media audience research (Feminist Reception Studies in a Post Audience Age) and on feminism from an interdisciplinary perspective (The Handbook of Contemporary Feminism, Media Ready Feminism and Everyday Sexism).  At Virginia I have been Executive Director of the Virginia Film Festival and at Illinois Producer of the Roger Ebert Festival of Overlooked Films. I don’t think any other sociology department would have given me the flexibility to learn film as part of my studies, and I am profoundly grateful to Berkeley Sociology for that, and for its unusual openness to interdisciplinarity.

Dissertation Title
Deconstructing the Female Audience: Class Differences in Women's Identification with Television Narrative and Characters
Dissertation Book Title
Women watching television : gender, class, and generation in the American television experience
Entry Year