American Sociological Association

Esther Ngan-ling Chow

Esther Ngan-ling Chow, American University (co-recipient)

Esther Ngan-ling Chow, Emerita Professor of Sociology at the American University, has offered groundbreaking sociological analyses of intersectionality to the understanding of women of color, including Asian and Asian American women. Chow pioneered the intersectional analysis of race, class, and gender in studying Asian American women. Early in-depth studies (1982, 1987) examined how past and current social circumstances have structurally and culturally affected dynamic processes developing and transforming feminist consciousness among Asian American women. A follow-up study (1989) explains how gender, race, and class in an Asia-U.S. cultural context influenced the relative lack of political visibility, power, and participation of Asian American women in the second-wave women’s movement.

Chow collaborated with Doris Wilkinson and Maxine Baca Zinn on a special issue “Race, Class and Gender” in Gender & Society (1992) and an anthology Common Bonds, Different Voices (1996). Offering case studies of sexually diverse African American, Latina, and Asian-American women, Chow and her collaborators reveal how multiple forms of domination and oppression result in individuals in disadvantaged social locations, thus perpetuating discrimination, inequality, and injustice in society.

Chow was also among the first to bring intersectional analyses to globalizing and transnational contexts, as her books Women, the Family, and Policy: A Global Perspective (with Catherine White Berheide, 1994) and Transforming Gender and Development in East Asia (2002) demonstrate. Her edited special issue “Gender, Globalization and Social Change in the 21st Century” in International Sociology (2003) brought this scholarship into sharp focus. Chow systematically investigated the ways transnational migration patterns, labor market, and organizational structures influence precarious work, household dynamics, self-identity and reality negotiation among Chinese/Asian American women in the United States and Chinese factory women in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. Her Fulbright project explored intersectionality in women’s migration process during China’s recent economic crisis (2011). Widely acclaimed by professional societies in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Japan, her work was recognized with a Distinguished Faculty Award (2002) from the American University (2002) and two achievement and career awards (2001, 2006) from the DC Sociological Society.

Many students and colleagues consider Chow an inspirational teacher and mentor who exemplifies the importance of sociological ideals and social research as the basis for positive social change. Chow published three articles in Teaching Sociology (1985, 1988, 2003) on critical feminist pedagogy and gendered curriculum transformation. Over the course of her career, Chow chaired 30 dissertations, four of which were published as books. Recently, she published a book on intersectionality with Marcia Texker Segal in 2012. Chow’s devotion to teaching earned her the 2000 Mentoring Award from Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) and ASA Asia and Asian America section’s Outstanding Teaching Award in 2007. In 2010, SWS honored Chow, along with African American sociologist Mary Joyce Green, by establishing the Chow-Green dissertation scholarship.

Chow held many elected positions in the ASA, Eastern Sociological Society, and International Sociological Association. She received the SWS Feminist Activism Award in recognition of efforts in using feminist knowledge production to inform policy and translate sociological ideas into public understanding and praxis. Her book on global family policy, and her services as scholar-in-residence on U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as state policy consultant, and as official representative of SWS to the UN World Conference on Women, enlarged her research foci to encompass domestic and global politics, policy formation, and advancement of global feminisms.

As a prolific author, devoted mentor, committed feminist intellectual, and ardent activist, Chow embraces Jessie Bernard’s advocacy of feminist imagination to transform scholarship on women and gender to global societies.