Timothy Black

Associate Professor; Co-Director, Graduate Program in Sociology;Interim Director, Social Justice Institute


Mather Memorial Building 223C

Other Information

Education: Ph.D. University of Massachussetts-Amherst, 1994

Tim Black is an associate professor of sociology and the interim director of the Social Justice Institute. His scholarly work examines the intersections between larger social structures and personal lives. He attempts to identify the processes and mechanisms through which social and economic marginalization is (re)produced and to show how life in marginalized spaces is negotiated and contested. His research focuses on the post-1970s period of neoliberalism and, more recently, the Great Recession and their respective impacts on the working classes and marginalized communities more specifically. He advances a medium of sociological storytelling to illustrate how social structures are lived. Black teaches courses on urban sociology, mass incarceration, social justice, and qualitative research methods.


Research and Scholarly Interests

My primary research focus is the study of socially and economically marginalized communities. There are three venues through which I have conducted my research – the first is an ethnographic study of a Puerto Rican community in Springfield, Massachusetts, the second includes a range of applied research studies in Connecticut, and the third is a qualitative research study of masculinity, fatherhood, and citizen reentry among an incarcerated population in Cleveland Ohio.


The best representation of my work on urban poverty is my book, When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Streets, published by Pantheon Books in 2009 and by Vintage Books in paperback in 2010. The book is based on an 18-year ethnographic study of a network of Puerto Rican men from Springfield, Massachusetts. The breadth of the study is unprecedented in sociology and provided the opportunity for me to examine the intersections of larger structural changes and individual changes over the past 25 years, a key historical period because of the effects of neoliberalism on marginalized communities. The book is based upon relationships that I developed with a network of men and women who I followed into a variety of social spaces — city schools, the drug trade, formal and informal low-wage jobs, the trucking industry, prisons, and drug treatment programs. The analysis takes a Millsian approach (C. Wright Mills) by demonstrating how larger social structures are lived — something I refer to as sociological storytelling — and thereby demonstrating how personal struggles are linked to public issues.


The book received a number of accolades. It was identified as one of best books of 2009 by The Washington Post, won the 2010 Mirra Komarovsky book award from Eastern Sociological Society, the 2010 book award from Association of Humanist Sociology, and was selected as a finalist by the Puerto Rican Studies Association for their 2010 book award.


There are two books derived from my applied research in Connecticut. The first is a coauthored book on adolescent mothers with Mary Patrice Erdmans. On Becoming a Teen Mom: Life Before Pregnancy (University of California Press, 2015) is based on life-story interviews we collected with 108 adolescent mothers from vulnerable families in Connecticut. The book recently won the 2015 Betty & Alfred McClung Lee Book Award from the Association for Humanist Sociology.


In On Becoming a Teen Mom, we argue that teen motherhood has been largely decontexualized and reified as a social problem by public leaders, pundits, and, to some extent, scholars. Our intention is to recontextualize adolescent motherhood through the use of life stories, which invoke interrelated issues such as child sexual abuse, failing urban schools, concentrated poverty, structural and symbolic violence, and gendered practices of sexuality. While numerous problems are correlated with early childbirth, we argue that the focus on the timing of the birth distracts us from larger social problems that originate in systemic racial, class, and gender inequalities.


The second book is on socially and economically marginalized fathers in Connecticut and is based on three studies I conducted in the first decade of the new millennium. The book, currently in process, examines the political, economic, and cultural dynamics that shape the lives of these men, as both men and fathers, and explores the contradictions they confront daily as they attempt to integrate normative expectations of fathering with the social and economic realities of their lives. The book is co-authored with Sky Keyes, a former research assistant, and current political activist and case manager who works with a dually diagnosed homeless population in San Francisco.


The third research agenda is located at a Community Based Corrections Facility in Cleveland, Ohio. This research includes an ethnographic study of a fatherhood program, as well as group interviews and individual life story interviews with fathers inside the prison, and then a subsequent series of interviews with them upon their release. My research partner for this study served time in state prison from the age of 18 to 36. My partnership with him is an attempt to create a space between the community and the university, in which we invite fathers to join us in discussions about masculinity, fatherhood, and citizen reentry.


Recent Publications

2016 Timothy Black. “Tensions in the American Dream: Rhetoric, Reverie, or Reality” Review of Tensions in the American Dream by Melanie E.L. Bush and Roderick D. Bush. Contemporary Sociology

2015 Mary Patrice Erdmans and Timothy Black. On Becoming a Teen Mom: Life Before Pregnancy. University of California Press

2015 Timothy Black, Brian Polk, and Damian Calvert. Manhood and Fatherhood at a Community Based Corrections Facility, Social Justice Institute, Case Western Reserve University. 19 pp.

2014 Timothy Black. “From a Study to a Journey: Holding an Ethnographic Gaze on Urban Poverty for Two Decades,” Pp. 23-44 in Open to Disruption: Time and Craft in the Practice of Slow Sociology, eds. Rosanna Hertz, Anita Ilta Garey and Margaret K. Nelson. Vanderbilt University Press.