Thomasina Borkman

Thomasina Borkman

Thomasina Borkman

Emeritus Faculty

Sociology: Sociology of health and illness, organizational analysis, small group behavior, social problems, qualitative research methods

Thomasina Borkman retired from GMU in 2007 as Professor Emerita after serving in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology for 32 years.  In “retirement” she has continued many professional activities part time. These include editing a specialty quarterly journal in her area of specialization—the International Journal of Self-Help & Self-Care--between 2008 and 2014, continuing her research on self-help/mutual aid, publishing papers in peer reviewed journals, and mentoring younger scholars. She was Co-Principal Investigator on a research project funded by the National institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism titled “What is Recovery?” from substance use disorders through the Alcohol Research Group in Emeryville, California where she remains an affiliate Scientist.

Her scholarly work on theory development and research on self-help support groups has been acknowledged. Two professional associations with which she has been continually involved for over 30 years gave her major awards:

  • ARNOVA (the Association for Research On Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action). In 2017 she was granted their Distinguished Achievement and Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action Research Award.  She had been actively involved as a Board Member, on the Editorial Board of their journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly in the 1980s and 1990s, President in 1990-1991, and regular initiator of sessions and participant in their annual conferences.
  • SCRA (Society for Community Research and Action), Section 29 of the American Psychological Association. In 2019 she was awarded their Distinguished Contribution to Theory and Research in Community Psychology. She was Guest Editor in 1991 of an issue on self-help groups in their flagship journal American Journal of Community Psychology, elected a Fellow of SCRA in 2002, and has maintained a leadership role in the Self-Help and Mutual Support special interest group. 

Her research has focused on self-help/mutual aid groups, organizations, their spin-offs, and offshoots; it has been cross-disciplinary, using mixed methods, qualitative methods, and increasingly participatory methods. She has expanded international comparative research in self-help/mutual aid,  facilitated by a Fulbright Research Scholarship she received to Canada as well as Visiting Professorships at Anglia University, UK and the National Defense Medical College School of Nursing in Taipei, Taiwan, among other work-related international travel.   

She has been privileged to see self-help support groups evolve sociologically over her career from initiation, adolescence, and maturity as a specialized grassroots social movement to become institutionalized as major support mechanisms in health and illness. Self-help support groups have been major factors that impacted the professionalized health care system to involve more patient participation, created vehicles to socially support patients, their friends and families, as well as health care providers, and especially validated the “lived experience” of patients as knowledgeable about their own bodies.

Raised in Boise, Idaho during the 1940s and 1950s, she was acutely aware of differences in  opportunities and life chances by socio-economic status, neighborhood, and parental/family culture. She majored in sociology with a B.A. (1958) from Occidental College in Los Angeles and continued her sociology with MA (1959) and Ph.D. (1969) degrees from Columbia University in NYC.   

Selected Publications

Borkman, T. (2020). Self-Help/Mutual Aid Groups and Peer Support: A Literature Review. Voluntaristics Review (journal), 5,2-3 and published simultaneously as book by Brill Publishers.

Noorani, T., Karlsson, M., & Borkman, T. (2019). Deep Experiential Knowledge: Reflections from mutual aid groups for evidence-based practice, Evidence & Policy, 15,2,217-234.

Borkman, T., Stunz, A., & Kaskutas, L.A. (2016). Developing an experiential definition of recovery: Participatory research with recovering substance abusers from multiple pathways. Substance Use and Misuse, 51, 9, 2016. DOI:10.3109/10826084.2016.1160119.

Munn-Giddings, C., Oka, T., Borkman, T., Matzat, J., Montano, R. & Chikoto , G. (2016). Self-help and mutual aid group volunteering. Pp. 393-417 in Horton-Smith , D., Stebbins, A., & Grotz, J., (eds.) Palgrave Handbook of Volunteering, Civic Participation and Nonprofit Associations. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Borkman, T. (2013). “The applied theorist with an academic day job.” American Sociological Association newsletter Footnotes, 41, 1: 3 & 6, January.

Borkman, T., & Munn-Giddings, C. (2008). Self-Help Groups Challenge the Health Care Systems in the US and UK,” Pp. 127-150 in S. Chambre & M. Goldner, eds. Patients, Consumers and Civil Society: Advances in Medical Sociology, vol. 10. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, Ltd. 

Foreman, J. & Borkman, T. (2006).“Sociology 101: The Massively Multistudent Online Learning Environment.” In David Gibson, ed. Computer-Based Games in Education: Stories from the Field. Idea Group Publishing.

Borkman, T. (2006). “Sharing Experience, Conveying Hope: Egalitarian Relations as the Essential Method of Alcoholics Anonymous.” In special issue on Substantive Values and the Nonprofit Sector, edited by Joyce Rothschild & Carl Milofsky, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 17 (2),Winter: 145-161

Borkman, T., M. Karlsson, C. Munn-Giddings, and L. Smith. (2005). Self-Help and Mental Health: Case Studies of Mental Health Self-Help Organizations in US, UK, and Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden: Skondal Institute and University.

Borkman, T., (2000). “Case Study of Two Poorly Functioning Teams,” Pp. 361-371 in D. Emerick & K. Round, eds. Exploring Web Marketing & Project Management. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Borkman, T., (1999). Understanding Self-Help/Mutual Aid: Experiential Learning in the Commons. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Lavoie, Francine, Borkman, T. & Gidron, B. Eds. (1994). Self-Help and Mutual Aid Groups: International and Multicultural Perspectives, NY: Haworth Press, Inc. Co-published simultaneously as special issues of Prevention in Human Services, 11, No.1/2

Borkman, T. (1990). "Experiential, Professional and Lay Frames of Reference."  Pp. 3‑30 in Thomas J. Powell, ed.   Working with Self‑Help, Silver Spring, MD:  National Association of Social Workers Press.

Borkman, T. (1983). A Social‑Experiential Model in Programs for Alcoholism Recovery: A Research Report on a New Treatment Design.  Rockville, MD:  National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and  Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  DHHS Publ. No. (ADM) 83‑1259.

Borkman, T. (1976). "Experiential Knowledge:  A New Concept for the Analysis of Self‑Help Groups,"  Social Service Review, 50 (September):  445‑456, 1976.  Reprinted in Dutch (1978) in Zelfhulp.  Van Harberden & Lafaille, eds. Holland: Vuga‑Boekery.