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American Sociological Association: Barbara Ehrenreich Award Statement
Barbara Ehrenreich, ASA’s 2009 recipient of the Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues Award, is a renowned author and activist who has consistently pushed for social change throughout the second half of the 20th century. This award recognizes the contributions of an individual who has been especially effective in disseminating sociological perspectives and research, a description that perfectly suits the work of Barbara Ehrenreich. She has dedicated her life to informing the general public of social injustices and has consequently furthered sociology as a discipline tremendously.
After receiving her PhD in cell biology, Ehrenreich opted for a career path of exposing societal inequalities, ranging from sexism in health care to economic justice for all Americans. She published two books in 1969, a scientific monograph and a commentary on the student movement. Luckily for us, she followed political activism rather than a scientific career.
She has written 18 books over four decades, including Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (1972), a concise booklet detailing a history of women’s suppression and the underlying causes of poor health care. This book began Ehrenreich’s transformation into an investigative journalist and sociologist, sparking her crusade for better health care for women as well as greater access to information about health.
After tackling the issue of health care, Ehrenreich gained further momentum to highlight other social injustices. Her work has been remarkably influential in sociology, including The Hearts of Men (1987), which illustrates how gender roles have impacted men as well as women and have prevented America from realizing its full potential. Ehrenreich demonstrates that it’s not simply women who are negatively affected by gender roles, but that members of both sexes follow their specific roles, hindering the entire American population.
One of her most notable books, Nickel and Dimed (2001), a first-hand account of living on minimum wage, opened the eyes of the public to the American working-class struggles. It dramatically changed the misguided assumptions that average people had about white collar workers, and continues to be used as a teaching resource in classrooms across the country.
Ehrenreich has succeeded in various areas such as think pieces and investigative journalism, always bringing a new sociological approach to the table. Aside from her numerous published books, her accomplishments have reached a variety of media. She was a regular columnist for Time magazine and contributes frequently to The Progressive. She has written for the New York Times, The New Republic, Mother Jones, Ms, among other publications. Today, she continues to write opinion pieces and essays, which are routinely featured on her blog. Her dedication to social activism on issues such as health care, women’s rights, and class equality remains strong; she founded the group United Professionals in 2006, advocating health reform and equal benefits for white collar professionals.
Barbara Ehrenreich’s contributions to the sociological field have become immeasurable. Over time, she has brought sociology and injustice to the forefront of the minds of the public. Her name is synonymous with social change, and her body of work repeatedly challenges sociological theory and pushes us to delve deeper into the reporting of social issues.