American Sociological Association

Evelyn Nakano Glenn

101st ASA President Evelyn Nakano Glenn

by Myra Marx Ferree, University of Wisconsin

Evelyn (Evi) Nakano Glenn is a wise Asian American woman and the 2010 President of the ASA, and it is my great privilege to make the sociological community more familiar with her as a person and as a scholar. Having known Evi Glenn since we were both fledgling sociologists, I believe that her life and work form a single story best told through her displacements and her connections. Her story can serve as an illustration of the vital balance between structure and agency that she argues belongs in every sociological explanation.


When she was an infant, Evelyn Nakano was sent with her American-born parents—and all other Americans of Japanese descent then living on the West Coast—to a concentration camp (the U.S. government’s own term) at the outbreak of World War II. Her family was first held in Gila, AZ, where she reports that "summer temperatures exceeded 115 degrees." After the first year of incarceration, Evelyn’s father was allowed to leave the camp to work in Chicago, while Evelyn and her mother remained incarcerated. When Evi’s mother contracted tuberculosis, they moved to the camp at Heart Mountain, WY, "with winter temperatures of -30," to live with Evelyn’s grandparents. After two and a half years in the camps, the family was reunited in Chicago, where they lived for the next decade. After Evi had finished the 10th grade her family returned to her father’s original home in the Bay Area, and she finished high school in Oakland. She entered the University of California-Berkeley as a commuter student because it was an excellent university " and cheap and close to home."

Graduating as a psychology major, Evi married Gary Glenn, a Berkeley law student, and moved on to graduate work in Social Relations, the then-thriving interdisciplinary graduate program at Harvard. The cross-country move expressed some of what she called "the emotional ambivalence in my life: Japanese American culture/community simultaneously draws me in (comfort, belonging, connectedness) and drives me away (stifling, limited, parochial)." Asian Americans were not only rare at Harvard in those days, but scarce in New England in general. Facing a less directly racially charged space, gender discrimination became more apparent: As one of the only women in her cohort, Evi found her husband being treated more as "one of the gang" than she was. She even had to send Gary to retrieve course materials from the library, since the main reserve room on campus was not open to women. When I joined the program some years later, the formal barriers had fallen, the percentage of women students had improved, and the first woman faculty member had been hired, but the climate of male dominance barely thawed. It remains hard to imagine how Evi had her first two children (Sara in 1968 and Antonia in 1969), finished her dissertation, and landed a tenure-track position in sociology at Boston University (BU) under those conditions.

The BU position provided her a lively network of feminist and labor studies academics and activists whose scholarly and political commitments proved Evi a durable base for intellectual exploration. In particular, she developed a fruitful collaboration with Rosalyn Feldberg, and she and Roz published a number of brilliant forays into the re-conceptualization of labor relations based on their joint study of clerical work. Evi and I also became intellectual colleagues and fast friends, when we both joined an interdisciplinary group on "women and work" composed of scholars throughout the Northeast. Begun with seed money from ASA, for over 25 years this extra-university network was crucial to our intellectual development. But the BU administration, led by John Silber, proved implacably hostile to any social science that did not fit their politics. Evi’s participation in organizing a faculty strike magnified this hostility and she was denied tenure by Silber himself, despite the strong support of the sociology department and the dean’s faculty review committee.

In 1983, Evi took a visiting professorship at the University of Hawai’i, and her family moved from Cambridge to Honolulu, where her third child, Patrick, was born. This displacement offered another new standpoint on American race relations, as did her next job, at Florida State University (FSU), where the white-black dynamic was very different than in Cambridge. Gary, Sara, and Annie stayed in Cambridge while Evi commuted between Massachusetts and Florida, typically with Patrick in tow. Although happy at FSU, in 1986 Evi moved to SUNY-Binghamton to make her commute more manageable. In 1990, the family gradually moved to California when Evi took a faculty position at UC-Berkeley. Again she was displaced, this time from sociology into a joint interdisciplinary position in Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Since 2001, Evi has directed the interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Race and Gender at Berkeley. Her now 93-year-old mother is happy to have them back in California.


Evi has always valued and nurtured her connections, both collective and individual, and drawn on family, friends and colleagues as productive sources of intellectual inspiration and social support. But it would be a mistake to draw singular lines from particular experiences to intellectual achievements, since each case reveals multiple and intersecting paths of influence.

Her first, groundbreaking book, Issei, Nisei, War Bride: Three Generations of Japanese American Women in Domestic Work, drew empirically from interviews with "the old ladies" to whom her mother introduced her as she began to explore issues of how women’s labor was organized by migration, nationality, "race," and gender in specific historical circumstances. Legal constraints on Japanese-Americans, some of which she had experienced first-hand, provided a historically shifting framework for understanding how domestic work became such a significant occupation for these women. But theorizing the class and gender basis of the social organization of reproductive labor was a separate path that led to this project, one that arose out of and against the Marxist feminist analyses of labor relations. These themes were developed in "women and work" group discussions of gender and class over many years. Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, her recent work on skin color and how it affects life chances—interpreted as personally meaningful and marketed globally—follows the same strategy of connecting structural relations of class, race, and gender with the subjectivity and choices of individuals.

The theoretical connections among structure and agency, race and gender, past and present are most evident in some of Evi’s articles that have become classics in sociology, gender studies, and ethnic studies. "From Servitude to Service Work" highlighted the transformations and continuities in the organization of reproductive labor as a racialized form of gendered work, and has been profoundly influential in thinking about changes in carework in the face of growing class inequalities and immigration. As Evi has noted, it is important to recognize not differences but relationality: How white women can only live the lives they do because of the lives that women of color live, and men’s lives are premised on the organization of women’s (clerical and domestic) work. These insights were nurtured in an inter-university group studying the intersection of race and gender in the early 1980s, a group Evi credits for helping her simultaneously bring gender-based analytic insights to scholarship on race and race-based insights into the scholarship on gender.

Her 2002 book, Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor, won multiple prizes from ASA, yet this understates the book’s broad appeal and influence. A deeply interdisciplinary project, her comparative analysis unpacks the historical foundations of race relations in three parts of the United States: Between whites and blacks in the Southeast; between Anglos and Latinos in the Southwest; and between Asians and Haoles in Hawai’i. In each case, she shows how gender and labor relations formed and reflected the nature of inclusion into the polity of those who were defined as "other." By connecting the present to the different paths of the past, her analysis links formal legal rights to the informal practices of segregation and exclusion that limit citizenship, that is, full membership in a political community. Evi’s new book, Forced to Care (2010) connects citizenship with her earlier examination of reproduction as stratified labor by examining caring work as a form of obligatory labor enforced by law, custom, and state policy.

While the continuities of intellectual colleagueship have enabled Evi to make productive use of the gendered and raced disruptions in her own life, the continuity of her family provides the "powdermilk biscuits" that give Evi—a self-described shy person—the strength to do what has to be done. Glenn family holiday newsletters are funny, theatrical, inclusive, and engaging. Her 47 years of marriage bear witness to the significance of spousal support for women’s achievement. True appreciation for the whole ensemble’s contribution to an individual achievement—honed not only in home and work, but in years of passionately playing tournament tennis, cooking for friends, and participating in Japanese American political and cultural causes—explains both Evi’s generous crediting of group process for past accomplishments and her whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts approach to the upcoming meeting. Expect some great connections in Atlanta in 2010!