Nancy W Hanrahan

Nancy W Hanrahan

Nancy W Hanrahan

Associate Professor

Sociology: critical theory, cultural sociology, feminist theory, music and the arts

My research specializations are in cultural sociology, critical theory, feminist theory and sociology of music.  I received my Ph.D. in 1994 from the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of the New School for Social Research.  Before my academic career, I spent ten years in the music business, as a radio announcer in Boston, and as program director of New Jazz at the Public, at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York City.  I served as Director of Women and Gender Studies at Mason from 2002-2009, and spent the spring, 2011 semester as a Fulbright Scholar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as a specialist in feminist theory. 

My current research project, in collaboration with Dr. Sarah Amsler at the University of Nottingham (UK), is tentatively titled, "Women's Work", Education Strikes and the Crisis of Care.  We are investigating teachers' strikes in the US and the UK since the financial collapse of 2008, as a response to what many feminist theorists have called a global crisis of social reproduction.  The strikes are typically portrayed as struggles of organized labor against stagnant salaries, slashed benefits and poor working conditions brought on by the defunding of public education.  Yet many of the strikers' demands go well beyond this framing, as schools have become flash points where the effects of market-oriented social policy, the privatization of social services and the need to care for children and young people collide.  Our initial interviews suggest that teachers have become first-responders to broad social dislocations in both national contexts, as they struggle to respond to their students' basic needs - providing food, clothing, hygiene facilities, financial assistance, counseling and mental health care to young people and their families who have decreasing access to systemic social support - because, as so many put it, "no-one else will."  Teachers see and experience daily the effects of neoliberal capitalism not only on their pay and working conditions, but also on children and communities.  The strikes are crucial moments of public articulation of this complex of issues, and of the assumption that women will bear the burden of care in the face of these conditions, which have only worsened since the pandemic.

I have also written a number of essays on music in the era of digital technologies.  Some of these pieces investigate the historical roots of the discourse of 'democratization' that has accompanied digitalization, and provide critical perspectives on the current narrative.  They also demonstrate the how the meanings of 'democracy' in the US are both tied to historical context and shift over time as different social issues and conflicts arise.  Others concern the impact of digital technologies on the aesthetic experience of music and the expectations of 'listening.'  My intention is to pull this work together in a book manuscript over the next few years.  

I teach undergraduate courses in gender and in classical and contemporary sociological theory, and graduate courses in contemporary theory, critical theory, feminist theory and the sociology of culture.  In fall, 2019, I taught a new course on Contemporary Women's Movements. 

My two previous books are  Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture (Praeger, 2000) and The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Culture (co-editor) (Blackwell Publishers, 2004).

Selected Publications

“Music and democracy in America: Historical perspectives on ‘democratization’ in the digital age”  American Journal of Cultural Sociology (10:1) 2022, pp. 206-224.

"'Who else is gonna do it if we don't?' Gender, Education, and the Crisis of Care in the 2018 West Virginia Teachers' Strike", Gender Work and Organization, July 2021.  DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12739

“Digitized Music and the Aesthetic Experience of Difference” in David Arditi and Jennifer Miller, eds., The Dialectic of Digital Culture (Lexington Books: Lanham, New York and London) 2019.

"Critique and Possibility in Cultural Sociology" (with Sarah S. Amsler) in John R. Hall, Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-cheng Lo, eds., Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology second edition (Routledge: New York and London) 2018.

"Relearning Liberation: Critical Methodologies for the General Crisis" (with Sarah S. Amsler), Berlin Journal of Critical Theory, Volume 2, No 4, October, 2018.  

"Hearing the Contradictions: Aesthetic Experience, Music and Digitization", Cultural Sociology, Volume 12, No 3, September, 2018.

“La Découverte Musicale en Régime Numérique: Personnalisation, Popularité et Possibilité Esthétique,” In Philippe Le Guern, ed.  Ou Va La Musique? Numerimorphose et Nouvelles Experiences d’Ecoute. (Presses des Mines: Paris) 2016.

Big Data, Little Music”, Public Seminar, March, 24, 2014.

“’If the People Like it, it Must be Good’: Criticism, Democracy and the Culture of Consensus” Cultural Sociology, Volume 7 No 1, March 2013.

Music, or the Triumph of Technics?”  January 19, 2012.


Dissertations Supervised

Amber C. Kalb, Incorporating Feminist Thought: Institutional Mechanisms and Epistemic Challenges in Sociology (2023)

Carrie Hutnick, Anywhere Else: Collaborative Learning Across Differences Inside A Prison (2023)

Samantha Retrosi, Creative Destruction: A Sociology of Self Undoing (2023)

Sahar Haghighat , A Flash of Green, a Slip of the Dress, and a Mother’s Embrace: The Commercialized Gendered Aesthetic in the 2009 Iranian Green Movement (2022)

Carol Petty, Belonging in Refuge: Cultural Logics of Refugee Incorporation in Contemporary Germany (2021)

Robert P. Fenton, Guayaquil Antiguo and Cacao Capitalism during the Long 19th Century: On the Peripheral Origins of Planetary Urbanization (2019)

Nicole B. Hindert, The Jeito of the Brazilian Mulata: Race, Identity, and Distinction in a Racial Democracy (2016)