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In 1993, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a Ph.D. degree in sociology. I had already earned an M.A. degree in sociology in my native country Germany under the supervision of Thomas Luckmann, co-author of the classic "The Social Construction of Reality," and was looking for more training in interpretive theories and qualitative methods—besides seeking adventure far from home. When I left Germany in my mid-twenties, I never imagined that I would live in LA for many years, start a family, pursue a US career, and settle down in Florida; in short, create a new home for myself on the other side of the Atlantic. Alas, here I am! While I’m more of an "accidental" immigrant to the US compared with many others, I am a first generation immigrant nonetheless and it is not completely surprising that the sociological subareas of space and place, identity, and emotions—and more specifically issues of "home" at their intersection—have emerged as primary research interests in my career, at least for the time being.
Having been a typical graduate student and then junior scholar, my substantive interests within sociology have shifted considerably over the years: from conversational structures to lived experience, from gender to urban neighborhoods, from deviance to disasters. Like most colleagues, I have arrived at my current research topics by taking the long road, and I’m looking forward to do some more traveling in the future. However, what has remained constant throughout my scholarly journey so far is my fascination with learning, applying, and further developing interpretive—or what some call "symbolic interactionist"—theories , and a lingering curiosity about qualitative, and especially ethnographic, research methods. These related perspectives have always been my sociological home, long before I discovered "home" as an actual research topic.
In my case, being a sociologist means I am much more interested in learning about the lives of other people than in exploring my own experiences. Already as kid, I was fascinated by what other people do, how they look like, and talk to each other, and I still have to be told not to "stare." While I don’t draw much on my personal life in my work, I think my own experiences with mobility have lead me to ask, and hopefully understand, how other people adapt to unfamiliar social and physical environments, and how they come to belong, or not, within new places and communities—something that is especially challenging for people who are socially marginalized and live under precarious economic conditions. Currently, I'm in the process of writing a book based on in-depth research I have conducted over several years (with the help of many USF undergraduate and graduate students) about issues of identity and community among people living in mobile homes and mobile home communities within the Tampa Bay region. And in 2013, I co-edited a book titled "Home: International Perspectives on Culture, Identity, and Belonging" with Krista Paulsen.
Generally speaking, I enjoy working with many graduate students in my position as Sociology Department Graduate Director, teaching a variety of courses, organizing conferences, collaborating with colleagues from different departments, and catching up with fellow members of the "Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction," an organization that is just as interesting as it sounds (check it out at: https://sites.google.com/site/sssinteraction/).
Ph.D.,University of California - Los Angeles, 2003
Fangheyue Ma, Azka Tanveer, Wenonah (Nina) Venter