Billson, Janet Mancini 1941-
BILLSON, Janet Mancini 1941-
PERSONAL: Born December 15, 1941, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Clifford E. (retired from Canadian armed forces) and Kathleen M. (a homemaker; maiden name, Billson) Ramey; married Francis S. Mancini, June, 1968 (divorced, 1978); married Norman T. London (an academic consultant), August 21, 1990; children: Mark F., Kyra M. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Baldwin-Wallace College, B.A., 1965; Brandeis University, M.A., 1972, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: "Democratic." Religion: Unitarian. Hobbies and other interests: Photography, hiking, gardening, kayaking.
ADDRESSES: Office—Group Dimensions Research, 300 Narragansett Ave., Barrington, RI 02806. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Rhode Island College, Providence, RI, professor of sociology and women's studies, 1973-91, acting associate dean of students and director of student life, 1984, assistant dean of faculty of arts and sciences, 1984-86; American Sociological Association, Washington, DC, assistant executive officer and director of the academic and professional affairs program, 1991-95; George Washington University, Washington, DC, adjunct professor of sociology and women's studies, 1993-95, professor of sociology, 1995—. Group Dimensions Research, Barrington, RI, director.
MEMBER: American Sociological Association, Sociologists for Women in Society, Society for Applied Sociology, Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, Sociological Practice Association, District of Columbia Sociological Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1965-66; field work fellowship, National Institute of Mental Health, 1966-68; Danforth associate, 1979—; honorary research fellow, University of Exeter, 1981; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1992, for Cool Pose: Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America; award for sociological practice, Sociological Practice Association, 2000; Stuart A. Rice Career Achievement Award, District of Columbia Sociological Society, 2001.
Strategic Styles: Coping in the Inner City, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1980.
(With Richard Majors) Cool Pose: Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America, Lexington Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Keepers of the Culture: The Power of Tradition in Women's Lives, Lexington Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Pathways to Manhood: Young Black Males Struggle for Identity, Transaction Books (New Brunswick, NJ), 1996.
The Power of Focus Groups for Social and Policy Research, Skywood Press (Barrington, RI), 2002.
(With Kyra Mancini Reis) Their Powerful Spirit: Inuit Women in a Century of Change, in press.
Work represented in anthologies, including Teaching Sociological Practice: A Resource Book, edited by Carla B. Howery, Novella Perrin, and John Seem, American Sociological Association (Washington, DC), 1993; Marginality and Society: Issues in Class, Race, and Gender, edited by Rutledge Dennis, Sage Publications (Newbury Park, CA), 1996; and Perspectives on Current Social Problems, edited by Gregg Carter, Allyn & Bacon (New York, NY), 1996.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Women 2000: A Century of Social Change around the World, with Carolyn Fleuhr-Lobban.
SIDELIGHTS: Sociologist Janet Mancini Billson once told CA: "I write because I am committed to conducting research with people whose voices are seldom heard—immigrant, Native, and minority women and men. As a sociologist, I find myself driven to understand the impacts of rapid social change on identity (both individual and community). I am especially intrigued by the interlocking identities created by the intersection of race, class, and gender. Writing becomes a natural extension of the research process and a key way to share my insights."
Billson's commitment to sharing her insights concerning minority men and women is evident in her books, among them her 1992 publication Cool Pose: Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America, which she wrote with Richard Majors. In this volume Billson and Majors explore the experience of black men in a world that has traditionally offered them few social, political, and economic opportunities. The "cool pose" black men have assumed, according to the authors, is a physical and mental stance that projects braveness, toughness, and detachment, while camouflaging their inner feelings. The pose also may be an outward rebellion toward an insensitive society, while subsequently providing a measure of distance from the black man's oppressor, as a tough, "cool" posture proves threatening, and even frightening, to many other Americans. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Andrew Hacker said that "Richard Majors and Janet Billson do much to demystify what they call 'the dilemmas of black manhood.'" Hacker added: "Majors and Billson do not romanticize the young men. They note that if one aspect of 'coolness means poise under pressure,' it can also 'express bitterness, anger, and distrust toward the dominant society.'"
Billson's 1995 book, Keepers of the Culture: The Power of Tradition in Women's Lives, features the women of seven cultures in Canada: the Chinese in Vancouver; Iroquois, Jamaicans, and Mennonites in Ontario; the Blood in Alberta; Ukrainian in Saskatchewan; and the Inuit on Baffin Island. Billson studied each of these peoples, interviewing them, in particular, about the role feminism plays in their lives. The author found that cultures in which women are valued are far less likely to embrace feminist ideology than are women in cultures that place less importance on women's roles. She found, too, that women without financial freedom often submit to their culture's traditions because they see no other choice. Billson's book was well-received as an important study of women and culture by reviewers such as Ann Grimes, writing in the Washington Post Book World. Keepers of the Culture, Grimes reported, "reads very much like the academic study it is. Nevertheless, it makes a good argument that feminist theories and women's-studies courses should do better at recognizing and incorporating the experiences of women from different cultures."
Commenting on what influences her work, Billson also told CA: "The most critical influences have been the spectacular feminist research literature that has emerged in the social sciences since the early 1970s. This perspective forces me to look behind everyday power relations between men and women and to question the 'taken for granted' arrangements between oppressed and oppressors. My Canadian heritage, which includes English, Scottish, and French streams of tradition, has led me to write extensively about women in Canada, and to think cross-culturally.
"My favorite approach involves conducting intensive focus group interviews with women in distinct communities (for example, the Mennonites of Ontario or the Inuit of Baffin Island) and to write as closely to their words as possible. Interviewees (whom I consider 'consultants' rather than 'respondents') have a chance to react to interpretations and hypotheses as they emerge 'in the field,' and always have the opportunity to respond to drafts. Careful reviews of the scholarly literature always precede and find their way into my work, even though my writing style bridges academic and trade audiences. Generally, I write between two and twelve hours a day, depending on the stage of the manuscript and time pressures. I write virtually every day, all year long, because I enjoy the absorption of the writing process.
"The people I meet on my journeys inspire me, as do my colleagues, family, and friends. I like ideas that sit on the edge of two or more disciplines. For example, identity and marginality, two themes that dominate my work, derive their intellectual force from both sociology and psychology. I find myself challenged by trying to figure out why and how people become powerful or powerless, and how they cope with the changing world around them. The more immediate inspiration for my writing comes from kayaking in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, or watching the light play on the water and the wind move through the trees. The birds at the feeder outside my study window provide regular companionship and relief from the hard work of writing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
New York Review of Books, January 28, 1993, pp. 12-15.
Washington Post, June 2, 1992, p. D2. Washington Post Book World, August 13, 1995, p. 6.