Ph.D., Stony Brook University, 2007
Gender, Risk, Leisure, Emotion, Symbolic Interaction
Staci Newmahr is an ethnographer with a background in sociology and anthropology. She is interested in phenomenologies and narratives of limit (“edge”) experience. She has studied a wide range of activities and spaces, including sadomasochism (BDSM), Renaissance Faire devotees, feederism and asexuality. She has published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Symbolic Interaction, Qualitative Sociology and Qualitative Sociology Review.
Her book, Playing on the Edge (2011), an ethnography of a public BDSM community, illustrates that feelings of intimacy are the outcome of collaborative or co-present boundary transgression. This work led her to a broader interest in transgressive leisure practices, transcendent experiences and geek culture.
As a symbolic interactionist, Dr. Newmahr is primarily concerned with systems of meaning and meaning-making processes. Her work has re-conceptualized edgework from a feminist perspective by extending consideration to emotional risk-taking, and framed Renaissance Faires as erotic spaces. She is the co-editor of Selves, Symbols and Sexualities, an anthology of original, contemporary work theorizing sexuality from an interactionist perspective. She has also written on ethnographic methods; her interests in this area include field practices, inductive analysis and issues of subjectivity in ethnography. Most recently, as part of a larger conversation about challenges to ethnography in the current academic climate, she co-conceived and co-proposed “surrogate ethnography.” Dr. Newmahr earned her PhD at Stony Brook University (New York) in 2007. A keynote speaker in the U.S. and internationally, she served as Associate Editor of Symbolic Interaction from 2011-2016 and on the editorial board of the Journal of Positive Sexuality. This past summer she was elected to service as President of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction in 2020. In 2013, she recieved Buffalo State's Presidential Award for the Promotion of Equity and Diversity.
Feeling White: Whiteness, Emotionality and Education - Cheryl Matias
me and white supremacy - Layla Saad
The History of White People - Nell Irvin Painter
Sensuous Knowledge - Minna Salami
Sister Outisder - Audre Lorde
How To be Less Stupid about Race - Crystal Fleming
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
Eloquent Rage - Brittney Cooper
The Tragedy of Heterosexuality - Jane Ward
White Rage - Carol Anderson
Dr. Newmahr's "Letter from the President" to the Society of the Study of Symbolic Interaction (March 2021):
It has been my great honor to serve in this capacity throughout this year. I thank you for the opportunity to do so, and I thank you also for your patience as we adjusted to new challenges that this year has brought for everyone.
The loss of Dr. Kathy Charmaz affected us all, many of us deeply. We will grieve for some time still, both personally and professionally, and for the loss to future generations of young SI scholars who will never have the chance to know her. At conferences for years to come, we will miss her generous and incisive comments, and her warm, welcoming smile.
These are tumultuous and trying times. Many of us have spent the better part of the past year trying desperately to avoid a new, poorly-understood and often-serious disease. Some of us have lost loved ones to COVID, and live in fear for more loved ones each day. Some are worried about the economic impacts on our institutions, our retirement plans, or our families. Some of us are focused on the non-COVID crises that have been so painfully laid bare this past year: staggering inequality, horrific police brutality, pervasive toxic masculinity, to name just a few.
What’s going on in our organization can’t be extricated from what’s going on in the world right now. We’re exhausted, and we’re afraid, and we’re anomic: about race, about gender, about age, about everyday life, about academia. What used to be, what used to work, whether in our departments or at our conferences or in our households, is no longer a given. We’re not sure which conversations we need to have, how to have them, or what they will do to us. Yes, the show must go on - but over the past several years, and most especially this past year, everything about the production, from the scripts to the actors to the theaters, has changed.
Over the past year, media outlets across the U.S. have featured lay essays on: the uniquely challenging situation of mothers during the pandemic, the experiences of dogs with their people suddenly home all the time, moral panics over masking and not masking, the relationship between physical isolation and social isolation, the impact of the pandemic on academia, class identities and markers in the Zoom era, and changing meanings of education for everyone. Journalists and bloggers and cable news pundits are grappling with these questions. Even more broadly, the world is pondering the unprecedented blurring of the private and the public, the social and emotional costs of long-term interaction when half of our faces are obscured, and changes wrought by the pandemic in and around gesture, tone of voice and embodied experiences.
These are quintessentially interactionist problems: structural power and macro dynamics manifested and enacted in our identities, played out on our bodies, performed and experienced through our emotions, and constructed, constituted and demonstrated in our interactions.
At the same time, we are in the midst of a new cultural reckoning around intersections among racism, masculinity, and heterosexuality. If there’s anywhere in academia where we shouldn’t ignore what we’re all going through, the sense we’re all making of this, the collective experience of the past few years and the differences among our individual and group experiences, it’s SSSI. If there’s any time not to ignore the challenges we face, in the whiteness of our legacy and our membership, in our dwindling appeal to a new generation of scholars who want, still and again, to change a world that hasn’t changed enough, it’s now.
SSSI has been my intellectual home since I found it, precisely because it felt like the fringe. We’re proud of our different approaches to sociology, and to credentialism, and to the hierarchies and status performances rampant in academia. And I’m proud of what I see as our rebelliousness and a bit of a tendency toward intellectual and social irreverence. I revel in the breadth of places and spaces and dimensions and meanings that we (and often only we) interactionists study. The reasons we’re not at the center of the discipline are the very things I cherish. But the fringes are also exactly where social movements are born. They are where the energy for social change has always been generated.
This is not to preach; I’ve completely ignored race in my own work, and failed to engage with intersectionality in gender. For years, I neglected race in my teaching. I took full advantage of the privilege to overlook these things; the privilege to spend my time thinking about whatever most interested me at the moment. I drew a firm line between scholarship and activism, and an even firmer line between symbolic interaction and everything else. I policed these lines rigidly, performing a stubborn, righteous gatekeeping that I know some of you have witnessed - or performed yourselves. I didn’t come to sociology to change the world. I came because it was fascinating.
I no longer believe that this serves us well, as an organization, as sociologists, or as citizens. I’ve come to see at least some of the ways that the very things that I’ve long loved about the Society are rooted in, and reflect, whiteness and white privilege. I’ve come to understand why some people who do interactionist work come to us once or twice and don’t return. And I’ve come to be much more troubled by the fact that many people do interactionist work and never even come to us in the first place. Crises have a way of putting things into perspective.
Many of you have had this perspective for quite some time. This year we’ve been continuing and developing the initiatives of the previous Executive Council. Toward these ends, we have concentrated our efforts on outreach, diversity and inclusivity, on the centralization, organization and continuity of records, and on transparency of our practices and processes. We’re actively trying to create more opportunities for us all to do the work together: to better understand, to resist and to uproot white supremacy, racism, sexism and heterosexism. We’re working to construct safer spaces for the tough conversations that need to be had - within our leadership, at our meetings, and in our journal.
The SSSI has long been my professional home. I don’t want us to lose our interactionist identity, our roots or our lens. I don’t want us to morph into another organization. But, as a reforming gatekeeper, I do believe we can - and should - draw on who we already are and what we already do, in order to face, understand, and help others understand some of the most pressing and crucial issues of our time.
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