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Sharon Hays

Sharon Ruth Hays
Professor of Sociology

Contact Information
Phone: (213) 740-3533
Office: KAP 352
Curriculum Vitae

Summary Statement of Research Interests
Sharon Hays holds a joint appointment in Sociology and Gender Studies. Her current projects include a study of the gendered politics and cultural logic of collegiate sexual etiquette, an update on the impact of welfare reform in the aftermath of the Great Recession, a theoretical analysis of the role of culture in the reproduction of social inequalities, and "The Most Racist State in America," a lay person's guide to the multiple faces of racial inequality and popular misconceptions of the nature of "racism." Hays' last book, Flat Broke With Children, was an ethnographic study of the impact of welfare reform as it played out in welfare offices and in the lives of America's poorest citizens. She is also the author of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood -- based in interviews with moms, this book explores the cultural tensions between the ideology of "good" mothering and the ethos of a rationalized market society. She has also published on social inequalities, cultural studies, public sociology, feminist theory, sexuality, family history, and issues of identity and cultural recognition. Hays' research has been featured in scores of newscasts, radio programs, newspapers, and magazines.

Research Keywords
gender; culture; theory; social inequality

Research Specialties
cultural sociology; sociology of inequality; gender studies; social theory


Winner of the 1997 Distinguished Book Award sponsored by the American Sociological Association Culture Section

Received Honorable Mention for the 1998 Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award given by the American Sociological Association

Working mothers today confront not only conflicting demands on their time and energy but also conflicting ideas about how they are to behave: they must be nurturing and unselfish while engaged in child rearing but competitive and ambitious at work. As more and more women enter the workplace, it would seem reasonable for society to make mothering a simpler and more efficient task. Instead, Sharon Hays points out in this original and provocative book, an ideology of "intensive mothering" has developed that only exacerbates the tensions working mothers face.

Drawing on ideas about mothering since the Middle Ages, on contemporary childrearing manuals, and on in-depth interviews with mothers from a range of social classes, Hays traces the evolution of the ideology of intensive mothering—an ideology that holds the individual mother primarily responsible for child rearing and dictates that the process is to be child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive. Hays argues that these ideas about appropriate mothering stem from a fundamental ambivalence about a system based solely on the competitive pursuit of individual interests. In attempting to deal with our deep uneasiness about self-interest, we have imposed unrealistic and unremunerated obligations and commitments on mothering, making it into an opposing force, a primary field on which this cultural ambivalence is played out.

Front Cover

Oxford University PressOct 14, 2004 - 

Hailed as a great success, welfare reform resulted in a dramatic decline in the welfare rolls--from 4.4 million families in 1996 to 2 million in 2003. But what does this "success" look like to the welfare mothers and welfare caseworkers who experienced it? In Flat Broke With Children, Sharon Hays tells us the story of welfare reform from inside the welfare office and inside the lives of welfare mothers, describing the challenges that welfare recipients face in managing their work, their families, and the rules and regulations of welfare reform.
Welfare reform, experienced on the ground, is not a rosy picture. The majority of adult welfare clients are mothers--over 90 percent--and the time limits imposed by welfare reform throw millions of these mostly unmarried, desperate women into the labor market, where they must accept low wages, the most menial work, the poorest hours, with no benefits, and little flexibility. Hays provides a vivid portrait of their lives--debunking many of the stereotypes we have of welfare recipients--but she also steps back to explore what welfare reform reveals about the meaning of work and family life in our society. In particular, she argues that an inherent contradiction lies at the heart of welfare policy, which emphasizes traditional family values even as its ethic of "personal responsibility" requires women to work and leave their children in childcare or at home alone all day long. 
Hays devoted three years to visiting welfare clients and two welfare offices, one in a medium-sized town in the Southeast, another in a large, metropolitan area in the West. Drawing on this hands-on research, Flat Broke With Children is the first book to explore the impact of welfare reform on motherhood, marriage, and work in women's lives, and the first book to offer us a portrait of how welfare reform plays out in thousands of local welfare offices and in millions of homes across the nation.

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