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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Barbara Risman

“The Fellowship was an incredible opportunity. My intellectual horizons were broadened and deepened from conversations with and hearing lectures by my colleagues at the Institute. ”

Professor Barbara Risman, University of Illinois at Chicago

IAS Fellow at St. Mary’s College, Durham University (January-March 2018)

Barbara J. Risman is Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Before coming to UIC Sociology as Head of the Department in 2007, she was Alumni Distinguished Research Professor at North Carolina State University. She is a former Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Professor Risman has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Trento, Italy and the VU in Amsterdam.

Professor Risman has developed a theory of gender as a social structure where gender is not an identity but it is a social structure that has consequences for the individual, for interactional expectations, for cultural logics and the organisation of all social institutions. She argues that gender is embedded in the individual, interactional and macro levels of analysis. Just as every society has a political structure, so too, every society has a gender structure (Risman, 1998, Risman 2004, Risman and Davis, 2013, Risman, Forthcoming).

Professor Risman’s empirical work has always been in articulation with theory development. Her first book, Gender Vertigo (Yale, 1998) illustrated her theoretical argument with studies of gender relations within American families. She published about gender and families in a variety of journals including Gender & Society, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Annual Review of Sociology, Sex Roles, American Sociological Review, Signs, and Journal of Family Theory.

In her forthcoming book Where The Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Transforms the Gender Structure (Oxford University Press, 2017) Professor Risman revises her theoretical framework to explicitly address how cultural meanings can be differentiated from the material dimension at each level of the gender structure. She then illustrates this with qualitative life history data from interviews with more than a hundred adults. She suggests that one innovation new to Millennials is the imagination of an identity between the sex binary. Whether this de-stabilizes the gender structure is an open question. During her Fellowship, Professor Risman will continue her current interdisciplinary project which questions whether the gender structure must be dismantled for equality between the sexes or whether it is possible to remove hierarchy and leave only symbolic sex differentiation.

Other recent work includes a new edition of her textbook, Families As They Really Are (Norton 2015 co-edited with Virginia Rutter), and research on college student’s sexual and romantic practices published in Social Science Research, Sociological Perspectives, Sociological Inquiry and Social Currents (with co-authors Rachel Allison, Tim Adkins, Paula England and Jesse Ford), and an article titled Feminists Wrestle with Testosterone (with Shannon Davis) published in Social Science Research. Professor Risman is a public intellectual whose editorials have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, on, and the Huffington Post. She has been widely quoted in the press including in the Economist, LA Times, New York Times, and the Atlantic.

From 1998-2000, Professor Risman was co-editor of Contemporary Sociology. Awards include the 2011 American Sociological Association’s Award for the Public Understanding of Sociology and the 2005 Jocher Belle Boone Award from the Southern Sociological Society for lifetime contributions to the study of gender. Professor Risman is currently President of the Board of Directors of The Council on Contemporary Families, a national non-profit whose mission is to bring new research to public conversation. In 2016 she was President of the Southern Sociological Society and Vice-President of the American Sociological Association.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Where Will the Millennials Take Us? A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure


This lecture offers a framework for understanding what gender means beyond merely a person’s identity. Professor Risman will present her theoretical framework for analyzing gender as a social structure introducing a set of revisions to the original argument. She identifies how gender as a social structure shapes individuals, interactional expectations and the macro level or organizational design and ideology. Professor.Risman identifies the material and cultural aspects of the gender structure and show why it matters to differentiate them. Professor Risman uses this theoretical perspective to help understand the strategies American Millennials use to negotiate the gender structure. The data presented are data based on life history interviews with a majority minority gender diverse sample of urban Millennials from the Chicago area. A major theme is the diversity among this generation: Millennials can vary from being “true believers” in essential gender differences to rebelling against gender categories themselves. Gender remains a constraining stratification system for today’s young adults. The lecture ends with a call for a fourth wave of feminism that goes beyond eradicating sexism to ending gender as a social structure itself. Professor Risman argues a truly just world requires a post-gender social structure.

4 Questions Podcast

Listen to Barbara's recent podcast at King's College Oxford about her new book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure.

Additional recent podcasts including Millennials & Gender from Monday 19 March 2018 can be found at:

Professor Barbara Risman Publications

Risman, B.J ., Froyum, C., Scarborough, W.J. (2018) Handbook of the Sociology of Gender. New York: Springer.

Risman, B.J (2018) Where the Millennials Will Take Us: a new generation wrestles with the gender structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.