Marjorie DeVault

Professor Emeritus, Sociology

Marjorie DeVault

Contact Information

Maxwell Professor of Teaching Excellence


Ph.D., Northwestern University, 1984


Gender studies, qualitative methodology, feminist studies, social interaction




I am a feminist sociologist, with interests in qualitative and feminist methodologies and the gendered organization of work, including unpaid work in families and elsewhere.  My early substantive research dealt with the household labor of “feeding the family,” and the historically female professional field of dietetics and nutrition education.  In both areas, I was especially interested in women’s “invisible work” and its significance for social life, as well as how these forms of gendered work are shaped by the social relations of class, race, and other dimensions of inequality.  I’ve also written extensively on research methods, focusing on strategies for interview research, feminist methodology, experimental formats for research writing, and the institutional ethnography (IE) approach associated with Dorothy Smith’s “sociology for women/people.”  I participate actively in an informal international network of IE scholars and I maintain an IE website at  I recently published an edited book, People at Work: Life, Power, and Social Inclusion in the New Economy, which includes work by several SU graduate students and others in the institutional ethnography network.

I teach courses on qualitative and feminist research methods; race, class, and gender; and feminist organizations; and I advise students using qualitative and IE methods to investigate a range of topics.  Like most feminists, I am committed to building more inclusive institutions, in the academy and elsewhere.

My current research is concerned with family life outside the home.  In a series of studies, I’ve been using various methods to investigate the experiences of parents and children in public spaces, and the institutional regimes (of parenting, schooling, commerce, and so on) that shape those experiences.  I’m working on a book based on naturalistic observation in zoos and similar leisure-time attractions, as well as a broader interview study on family life in public places.

I am also currently engaged in several collaborative research projects with SU faculty and students.  My undergraduate qualitative methods students have been collecting data for a team ethnography of the boundaries and border zones of the campus.  I work with Professor Murali Venkatesh, in Information Studies, on institutional ethnographic analyses of documentary processes in organizations.  And Law School Professor Michael Schwartz and I have organized a group of law and social science graduate students to conduct research on disability rights; we are currently investigating issues related to medical care for deaf patients.


Selected publications--books:

Editor, People at Work: Life, Power, and Social Inclusion in the New Economy.  New York University Press, 2008.

Feeding the Family:  The Social Organization of Caring as Gendered Work.  University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Editor, A Complex Sorrow:  Reflections on Cancer and an Abbreviated Life by Marianne A. Paget.  Temple University Press, 1993.

Liberating Method:  Feminism and Social Research.  Temple University Press, 1999.

Selected publications--articles and essays:

Knowledge from the Field.  Pp. 155-182 in Sociology in America, ed. Craig Calhoun, University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Feminist Interviewing: Experience, Talk, and Knowledge (with Glenda Gross).  Pp. 173-197 in Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis, ed. Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber.  Sage Publications, 2006.

Institutional Ethnography:  Using Interviews to Investigate Ruling Relations (With Liza McCoy).  Pp. 751-76 in Handbook of Interview Research, eds. Jaber Gubrium and James Holstein. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002. 

Producing Family Time:  Practices of Leisure Activity Beyond the Home. Qualitative Sociology 23 (#4): 485-503, 2000.

Comfort and Struggle:  Emotion Work in Family Life.  Annals of the American Academy for Political and Social Sciences 561: 52-63, January 1999.

Whose Science of Food and Nutrition?  Narratives of Profession and Activism from Public-Health Nutrition.  Pp. 166-83 in Revisioning Women, Health, and Healing:  Feminist, Cultural, and Technoscience Perspectives, ed. Adele E. Clarke and Virginia L. Olesen.  Routledge, 1999.

A Second Generation Story.  Pp. 257-74 in Feminist Sociology: Life Histories of a Movement, ed. Barrie Thorne and Barbara Laslett, Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Ethnicity and Expertise:  Racial-Ethnic Knowledge in Sociological Research.  Gender and Society 9 (#5): 612-31, October, 1995.

Between Science and Food:  Nutrition Professionals in the Health-Care Hierarchy.  Pp. 287-312 in Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Jennie J. Kronenfeld (ed.), JAI Press, Inc., 1995

Talking and Listening from Women's Standpoint:  Feminist Strategies for Interviewing and Analysis.  Social Problems 37(#1): 96-116, February, 1990. 

Novel Readings:  The Social Organization of Interpretation.  American Journal of Sociology 95(#4): 887-921, January, 1990.

Surplus and Scarcity:  Hunger and the Origins of the Food Stamp Program.  Social Problems 31(#5): 545-57, June, 1984.  With James P. Pitts.