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Frankenberg, Ruth



Female. Education: University of California, Santa Cruz, Ph.D., 1988.


Home—Bangalore, India. Agent—Duke University Press, P.O. Box 90660, Durham, NC 27708-0660. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator, sociologist, and author. Independent researcher and writer, Bangalore, India; University of California, Davis, professor of American studies.


White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.

(Editor and contributor) Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1997.

Living Spirit, Living Practice: Poetics, Politics, Epistemology, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 2004.


American studies professor and sociologist Ruth Frankenberg has written several books based on her research into issues concerning race, concepts of whiteness and feminism, and religion and spiritual practices in the contemporary United States. In her first book, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness, Frankenberg documents the histories of thirty white women from their early experiences of racial difference to how they ultimately talk about racial and cultural differences. In the process, she delves into the experiences that influence perceptions of race and sex. Frankenberg argues that not only people of color have a "race" and are therefore affected by racism but that white women's lives are also shaped by race. For one example, she points to the socially common practice of teaching white women to fear black men.

Writing in Signs, Patricia Hill Collins commented, "Responding to long-standing complaints by people of color that White feminists fail to understand the significance of race for gender politics, Frankenberg presents a long overdue effort to develop a politic of responsibility among White people for the benefits and privileges they accrue from being White." Collins went on to praise "Frankenberg's discourse of responsibility about race and her … overlapping paradigms of race." Focusing in on the author's "race cognizant" paradigm, Collins noted that in this model, "identifying racial difference is not an indication of 'racism.' Instead, attending to racial difference becomes an anti-racist strategy." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute contributor Peter Wade commented, "I found it hard at times to get a good sense of the various women involved and they never took shape in my mind as individuals, but there is no doubt that Frankenberg's analysis of their discourse makes fascinating reading for much of the time." A Publishers Weekly contributor pointed out that "Frankenberg compellingly outlines the interplay of perception and reality in shaping the structures of racism" and called the book a "must for anyone concerned with issues of feminism and racism."

In Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism Frankenberg serves as both contributor and editor, gathering an interdisciplinary collection of essays that examines the modern meanings of whiteness in relation to socioeconomic, sociocultural, and psychological interrelations. "These essays describe whiteness as a process rather than an object," noted John A. Powell and Marguerite L. Spencer in Signs. The book's essays focus on a wide range of subjects, among them American fiction by white writers who have recognized the social constructs involved in whiteness, and a discussion of how black girls who grow up in white suburbs feel themselves to be "white" socially and internally until they expand their horizons, usually at college, and find their black consciousness. Powell and Spencer commented that the collection does a good "job of engaging class and structure and therefore displacing whiteness in a larger sense."

Frankenberg's interest in religion and spiritual practice led to her third book Living Spirit, Living Practice: Poetics, Politics, Epistemology. Focusing on the remarkably diverse nature of religion in the United States, Frankenberg considers the making and living of religious lives and the growing interest in both the poetry and the mystery of spiritual practice. Her sociocultural analysis includes in-depth interviews with fifty women and men from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and national origins. Among the topics Frankenberg explores are communication with the Divine, the role of the body, the relation of sex to spirituality, spiritual beliefs and the work for progressive social change, and the importance of geography in religion and spiritual practices. James A. Overbeck, writing in Library Journal, found Frankenberg's "theoretical framework" "difficult to comprehend," but noted that "stories from people who relate their religious practices make entertaining reading."



Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, June, 1995, Peter Wade, review of White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness, p. 422.

Library Journal, April 15, 2004, James A. Overbeck, review of Living Spirit, Living Practice: Poetics, Politics, Epistemology, p. 90.

Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1993, review of White Women, Race Matters, p. 74.

Sex Roles, September, 1994, Katherine Bischoping, review of White Women, Race Matters, p. 375.

Signs, spring, 1995, Patricia Hill Collins, review of White Women, Race Matters, p. 728; winter, 2000, John A. Powell and Marguerite L. Spencer, review of Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, p. 597.

Women's Review of Books, November, 2004, Toni Lester, review of Living Spirit, Living Practice.

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