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Baca Zinn, Maxine: 1942—: Sociologist

Maxine Baca Zinn: 1942: Sociologist

Sociologist Maxine Baca Zinn has been pivotal in incorporating the experiences of Hispanics into mainstream sociological thought. She has become a leading expert in the fields of family, gender, and ethnicity. Part of an elite group of female sociologists, Baca Zinn has changed the face of feminism by introducing the experiences of women of color to conventional perspectives on gender. She has dedicated her career to building a Latina feminism and has published extensively on the subject. In addition to her research, Baca Zinn has also been recognized for her contributions to teaching and to professional organizations.

Maxine Baca Zinn was born on June 11, 1942, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her mother, Louise Duran Baca, was a first generation college student who earned a bachelor of arts degree and worked as a school-teacher. Her father, Presente Baca, attended college for two years and then worked for the federal government. Baca Zinn has three siblings, all of whom earned college degrees. Santa Fe was a pluralistic society composed of Anglos, Native Americans, and Hispanics. The city gave the impression that these very different ethnic groups lived in harmony. When Baca Zinn began attending grade school she learned that this was not really the case. In particular, some of the children refused to play with her or treated her differently. She was told that this was because of "her culture" but she did not really understand what that meant. In addition, she was trapped academically in "Mexican" classes where the educational expectations were lower than those of the white students. These early experiences of discrimination shaped Baca Zinn's later career choices as she sought to reveal the false images of pluralism and expose Americans to the real experiences of Hispanics.

Educational Experiences

Baca Zinn played the clarinet as a child and earned a band scholarship to attend Texas Western College (which later became the University of Texas at El Paso). Baca Zinn thought she would escape the discrimination she felt in Santa Fe, but instead it was even more intensified in El Paso. Baca Zinn tried to participate in college activities, but was left out because of her ethnic heritage. In particular, she participated in the rush activities of several sororities but was very disappointed that she did not get an invitation to actually join one. A school administrator later told her very bluntly that Mexicans were simply not accepted into sororities.

At a Glance . . .

Born Maxine Baca on June 11, 1942, in Santa Fe, New Mexico; married, Alan Zinn; children: one son. Education: California State College, B.A., 1966; Univ. of NM, M.A., 1970; Univ. of OR, Ph.D., 1978.

Career: Univ. of NM, instructor, New Careers Program, 1969-71, instr of Sociology, 1970-71; Univ. of MI at Flint, instr of Sociology and Chicano Studies, 1975-78, asst prof. of Sociology, 1978-80, assoc. prof. of Sociology, 1980-86, program faculty for the Master of Liberal Studies in American Culture, 1978-90, prof. of Sociology, 1986-90; Univ. of MI, faculty assoc., Survey Research Center, 1979-81; Memphis State Univ., visiting scholar, Center for Research on Women, 1984;, Univ. of CA at Berkeley, visiting prof. of Sociology 1986; Memphis State Univ., research prof. in residence, Center for Research on Women, 1987;Univ. of DE, distinguished visiting prof. in Women's Studies, 1988-89; Univ. of CT, guest prof. of Sociology, 1988; Radcliffe College, visiting scholar, Henry A. Murray Research Center, 1997; MI State Univ., senior research assoc., Julian Samora Research Institute, 1990, prof. of sociology, 1990.

Memberships: American Sociological Assn; Natl Chicano Council on Higher Education; Midwest Sociological Assn; Sociologists for Women in Society; Society for the Study of Social Problems; Text and Academic Authors Assn; Western Social Science Assn.

Awards: Faculty Achievement Awd for Scholarly Achievement, Univ. of MI Flint, 1983; Distinguished Faculty Award, MI Assn of Governing Bds, 1983; Academic Women's Caucus Sarah Goddard Power Award, Univ. of MI Ann Arbor, 1988; Outstanding Alumnus Award, Dept. of Sociology, Univ. of NM, 1993; Meyers Center Book Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America, 1997; Distinguished Contributions to Scholarship and Research Awd, American Sociological Assn, 2000; Jessie Bernard Career Award, American Sociological Assn, 2000.

Addresses: Office Dept. of Sociology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 48824-1111.

After her second year of college Baca Zinn married her high school sweetheart, Alan Zinn. Her husband was an art student in Los Angeles, so Baca Zinn left El Paso and transferred to California State College (now California State University) in Long Beach. During her third year of college, Baca Zinn gave birth to their son, Prentice. In order to manage her family life and education at the same time, she and her husband divided their household responsibilities, and Baca Zinn continued going to college part-time. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology in 1966. While her husband was still in school, Baca Zinn took a job as a fourth grade teacher in a Catholic school for two years.

In 1968 the young family moved back to New Mexico so that Baca Zinn could pursue a master's degree in sociology. She was not sure of the career path that she wanted to take, but she was interested enough in the subject matter to want to continue her studies. "I didn't understand the maze of academia," Baca Zinn told Contemporary Hispanic Biography (CHB). However, she knew that a master's degree was the next step for her. Baca Zinn received a fellowship to study at the University of New Mexico. Her time studying there was "one of the most positive experiences I've ever had," she told CHB. The social climate of the United States in the late 1960s was one of activism and Baca Zinn joined the movement in full force. At the University of New Mexico she learned to blend the progressive social movements of the time with progressive scholarship.

Determined to Set the Record Straight

Baca Zinn became interested in sociology because this discipline gave her the intellectual tools to understand the ethnic discrimination that she had become aware of as a child. She was determined to expose the myths of pluralism and integration and to explain what life was really like for Hispanics. As she told CHB, her goal in studying sociology was "to attempt to set the record straight about 'Spanish Americans,'" as Hispanics were called at that time. She was painfully aware in her sociology classes that her professors were not able to describe social life as she experienced it because they were predominantly white males. "There was very little consideration of the history of my people in the curriculum," Baca Zinn told CHB. "I couldn't relate to the descriptions of Hispanics that were being taught." In an effort to address this problem, Baca Zinn wrote her master's thesis on the study of power in a local urban barrio. She also introduced the first Chicano studies course at the University of New Mexico, which allowed her to expose many of the myths surrounding Hispanics. The course was well received at that time, and "Sociology of the Barrio" became a regular course at the University of New Mexico.

Baca Zinn earned a master of arts degree in sociology in 1970 and decided to pursue her doctorate. Since the University of New Mexico did not have a doctoral program, Baca Zinn went to the University of Oregon on a fellowship. She once again found an academic environment that encouraged progressive thought, and she was encouraged to continue her work on Latinos. At this time feminist sociology was also becoming more popular, and Baca Zinn incorporated this line of thinking into her work on Hispanics. Her dissertation was an ethnographic study of eight Mexican-American families in New Mexico, focusing on marital power in changing Chicano families. In 1973 she received a dissertation fellowship from the Ford Foundation to support her work.

Challenged Mainstream Sociology

Baca Zinn's early work was considered "oppositional scholarship" because she challenged mainstream views about ethnic minorities. For example, one of her early published articles challenged the stereotype that Chicana women were passive and submissive. Instead, she showed examples of how powerful the role of a woman could be within the Chicano family structure. However, when Baca Zinn began to study feminism and racism together, she recognized the need for a completely different explanation of social relations.

In the early 1980s Baca Zinn received an offer to join a budding research consortium, an offer that would change the shape of her academic career. Some women academics from Memphis State decided to build a research network on women of color, and they invited ten women researchers from across the country, including Baca Zinn, to a meeting on the subject. The goal of the group, Baca Zinn told CHB, was to "change feminist firmament." This group of researchers recognized the need to inform feminism with research based on women of color. It was the first time that Baca Zinn had found a group of women studying both race and gender. The group consisted of such notable academics as Patricia Hill Collins, Bonnie Thornton Dill, and Lynn Weber, who would become the "foremothers of multiracial feminism."

This experience changed the way Baca Zinn thought about race, gender, and class issues, and she began to look at the ways in which these elements intersected social relations. She and her colleagues began to challenge traditional feminist views in which the experiences of white women set the standard, and instead worked on developing a Latina feminism, which builds from the experiences of Latinas. "In women's studies, I think Latinas have been upsetting the apple cart," Baca Zinn told the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, because their experiences have not fit into conventional feminist thought. In 1994 Baca Zinn co-edited a book with Bonnie Thornton Dill called Women of Color in U.S. Society, which challenged mainstream feminism with perspectives from women of color.

An Inspirational Teacher

Baca Zinn got her first teaching job in 1975 at the University of Michigan at Flint. She was excited about this position because she was a part of both sociology and Chicano studies programs. In 1978 she completed her Ph.D. and continued working at Flint for the next fifteen years. This was primarily a teaching position, although Baca Zinn also continued her research on Hispanic families. She earned a reputation as an inspirational teacher and was recognized for this accomplishment with the Faculty Special Merit Award in 1975, the Faculty Achievement Award for Scholarly or Creative Achievement in 1982, and the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Michigan Association of Governing Boards in 1983. In addition to teaching, Baca Zinn published several articles derived from her dissertation and also worked on a large Chicano survey conducted at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Baca Zinn was able to combine her research interests and passion for teaching into a series of sociology textbooks. She believed that this was the best way to incorporate diversity into the sociological curriculum. Together with D. Stanley Eitzen, Baca Zinn has coauthored three textbooks: Social Problems, In Conflict and Order Understanding Society, and Diversity in Families, all of which have been published in multiple editions. As Baca Zinn was quoted in Liberation Sociology, "Textbooks need not be limited to the synthesis of dominant perspectives. Instead, texts have possibilities for constructing and transmitting liberatory knowledge."

Became a Leading Expert in Her Field

Baca Zinn has been very active in professional associations. She was elected to the council of the Western Social Science Association and then elected its president in 1985. She was the first Latino president of a regional professional association. From 1988 to 1991 she served on the board of directors for the Society for the Study of Social Problems. She has been an active member of the American Sociological Association, serving on the organization's council from 1992 to 1995. She has served on the executive council of the Sociology of the Family Section and the Sex and Gender Section of the American Sociological Association.

Because of her numerous publications as well as her other professional activities, Baca Zinn soon became recognized as an expert in her field. This led to invitations for visiting professorships by several prominent universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Connecticut, the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis, the Henry A. Murray Research Center at Radcliffe College, and the University of Delaware. She received a permanent job offer from the University of Delaware, but before she was able to accept this position she was invited to visit Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan. Baca Zinn was impressed with the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State, which was the first research institute on Latinos located in the Midwest, and she decided to accept a permanent position there as a senior research associate. Baca Zinn also received a joint position with the sociology department. In addition to her research, Baca Zinn continued to teach. She taught fewer undergraduate courses than she did at the University of Michigan at Flint, but supervised more doctoral students.

In 2000 the American Sociological Association recognized the work of Baca Zinn by giving her the Jessie Bernard Award for recognition of scholarly work that encompasses the role of women in society. "Her work on the intersection of race, class, and gender placed Professor Baca Zinn at the cutting edge of the discipline," wrote the American Sociological Association when announcing its selection. Baca Zinn planned to continue her work on multicultural feminism and she sees her work becoming more theoretical. Her goal was to map out a structural inequality model of family life and write a definitive book on the subject that will incorporate the experiences of both white families and families of color.

Selected writings


(Editor, with D. Stanley Eitzen) The Reshaping of America: Social Consequences of the Changing Economy, Prentice-Hall, 1989.

(Editor, with Bonnie Thornton Dill) Women of Color in U.S. Society, Temple University Press, 1994.

(Editor, with Esther Ngan Ling-Chow and Doris Wilkinson) Race, Class, and Gender: Common Bonds, Different Voices, Sage Publications, 1996.

(Editor, with Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael A. Messner) Gender Through the Prism of Difference, 2nd edition, Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

(With D. Stanley Eitzen) Social Problems, 8th edition, Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

(With D. Stanley Eitzen) In Conflict and Order, Understanding Society, 9th edition, Allyn and Bacon, 2001.

(With D. Stanley Eitzen) Diversity in Families, 2nd edition, Allyn and Bacon, 2002.


American Sociologist, Summer 1993.

Des Colores, Journal of Emerging Raza Philosophies, Winter 1975.

Feminist Studies, Summer 1996.

Gender and Society, March 1990.

Harvard Educational Review, February 1980.

Journal of Ethnic Studies, Summer 1982.

Latino Studies Journal, January 1995.

Michigan Family Review, Winter 1997.

Michigan Sociological Review, Fall 1992.

Pacific Sociological Review, April 1981.

Sage Race Relations Abstracts, August 1984; 1999.

Signs, Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Summer 1989.

Teaching Sociology, April 1988, October 2000.



Feagin, Joe R., and Hernán ,Vera, editors, Liberation Sociology, Westview Press, 2002.

Telgin, Diane, and Jim Camp, editors, Latina: Women of Achievement, Visible Ink Press, 1996.


Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, February 27, 1998.

USA Today, January 2001.


Additional information for this profile was obtained from the American Sociological Association, 2002 Major Award Winners Announcement, and from a personal interview with Contemporary Hispanic Biography, May 20, 2002.

Janet P. Stamatel

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