Karen V. Hansen

Karen Hansen Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Sociology
Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Core Graduate Faculty, American History
Series Editor, Families in Focus, Rutgers University Press
Past Chair, Families Section, American Sociological Association

Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Sociology
Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Exploring the nexus of gender, class, and racial-ethnic inequality, Karen V. Hansen is co-leading a collaborative investigation of downward mobility. Together with her Co-PI, Nazli Kibria of Boston University, their project, “Cascading Lives: Stories of Loss, Resilience, and Resistance,” has been awarded funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the Raikes Foundation. The project explores “cascading,” the process of experiencing crisis and loss in ways that create the potential for additional declines.

As an alternative to studying mobility at a frozen moment in time, the Cascading Lives Project is conducting life history interviews as a means to understand ups and downs as a process over the life course. With a focus on hospitality workers from diverse backgrounds, they are studying the consequences of a cascading event, whether it is the loss of income or an illness, and how its shape and severity might be interrupted or even reversed. 

In Racial Learning and Teacher Leadership in a California High School, Professor Hansen studies the successful resurgence of a struggling, working-class high school during a period of heightened interracial tensions. In the 1960s and early 1970s, as communities across the country violently and vociferously resisted school integration, the multiracial student body and racially diversifying staff of Sunnyvale High School reduced violence, nurtured student leaders, improved academics, and increased girls’ access to sports. Professor Hansen asks how – well before Title IX and other policy interventions – adults and youth created a culture of involvement and mutual responsibility that forged lasting relationships between students and faculty across lines of race and ethnicity, long after the school itself closed.

Throughout her academic career, Karen V. Hansen has been fortunate to be supported by generous foundations, mentors, peers, and rising scholars whose work has inspired and challenged her. In addition to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Raikes Foundation Grand Challenges grant, Cascading Lives has also been supported by Purpose, Inc. and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Her work has been funded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Swedish Fulbright Commission.

From 2017 to 2020, Professor Hansen served as the Director of the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center.  There, over 20 Brandeis faculty, forty affiliated independent scholars and artists, and numerous graduate and undergraduate students conduct independent research; make, perform, and exhibit original art; and work with regional, national, and international partners in research and practice. 

Professor Hansen’s most recent book, Encounter on the Great Plains: Scandinavian Settlers and the Dispossession of Dakota Indians, 1890-1930, won the 2016 Gita Chaudhuri Book Prize from the Western Association of Women Historians. With Anita Ilta Garey, she co-edited At the Heart of Work and Family: Engaging the Ideas of Arlie Hochschild.


Selected Publications

"A Great Way to Teach", HistoryMakers Digital Archive Newsletter (May 2020).

At the Heart of Work and Family: Engaging the Ideas of Arlie Hochschild. Book CoverAt the Heart of Work and Family: Engaging the Ideas of Arlie Hochschild. (edited with Anita Ilta Garey) Rutgers University Press, 2011.

Families in the U.S.: Kinship and Domestic Politics Book CoverFamilies in the U.S.: Kinship and Domestic Politics (edited with Anita Ilta Garey). Temple University Press, 1998.

Women, Class, and the Feminist Imagination: A Socialist-Feminist Reader Book CoverWomen, Class, and the Feminist Imagination: A Socialist-Feminist Reader (edited with Ilene J. Philipson). Temple University Press, 1990.


‘Land was One of the Greatest Gifts’: Women’s Landownership in Dakota, Scandinavian, and Black Communities” (and Grey Osterud and Valerie Grim), Great Plains Quarterly 38:3 (Summer 2018): 251-272.

Gendered Entanglements: Dakotas and Scandinavians at Spirit Lake, 1887-1930,” Special Forum on “Gender and Indigenous-Immigrant Encounters and Entanglements,” Women’s History Review (2017): 1-16.

Entangled Encounters and the Oral Archive: Notes from the Field,” in Concurrent Imaginaries, Postcolonial Worlds: Toward Revised Histories, edited by Diana Brydon, Peter Forsgen, and Gunlög Fur, pp. 183-202. Leaden, Netherlands: Brill Rodopi, 2017.

Immigrants as Settler Colonists: Boundary Work between Dakota Indians and White Immigrant Settlers” (and Ken Chih-Yan Sun and Debra Osnowitz), Ethnic and Racial Studies (2016) DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2016.1213403

Landowning, Dispossession, and the Significance of Land among Dakota and Scandinavian Women at Spirit Lake, 1900-29,” (with Grey Osterud) Gender & History 26:1 (2014): 105-127.

Localizing Transnational Norwegians: Exploring Nationalism, Language, and Labor Markets in Early Twentieth-Century North Dakota,” (with Ken Chih-Yan Sun) Norwegian-American Essays, 2011, Oslo: Novus Forlag, (2011):73-107.

Land Taking at Spirit Lake: The Competing and Converging Logics of Norwegian and Dakota Women, 1900-1930,” in Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty Berglund and Lori Ann Lahlum. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011, pp. 211-245.

Mapping the Dispossession: Scandinavian Homesteading at Fort Totten, 1900-1930,” (with Mignon Duffy), Great Plains Research: A Journal of Natural and Social Sciences 18 (Spring 2008): 67-80. (PDF)

The Asking Rules of Reciprocity in Networks of Care for Children,Qualitative Sociology, 27:4 (Winter 2004): 419-435.

Care and Kinship: An Introduction” (with Anita Garey, Rosanna Hertz, and Cameron Macdonald) Journal of Family Issues, 23:6 (September 2002): 703-715. As part of this project we solicited articles and edited two special issues of Journal of Family Issues on "Care and Kinship," 23:6 (September) and 23:7 (October).

Historical Sociology and the Prism of Biography: Lillian Wineman and the Trade in Dakota Beadwork, 1893-1929,” Qualitative Sociology 22:4 (Winter 1999): 353-368.

Rediscovering the Social: Visiting Practices in Antebellum New England and the Limits of the Public/Private Dichotomy,” in Public and Private in Thought and Practice: Perspectives on a Grand Dichotomy, edited by Krishan Kumar and Jeff Weintraub. University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 268-302.

‘No Kisses Is Like Youres’: An Erotic Friendship between African-American Women During the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Gender and History 7:2 (August 1995): 153-182.