Ivy Ken 2

Ivy Ken

Interim Department Chair & Associate Professor of Sociology
409 H
Address: Phillips Hall
801 22nd St NW
Washington DC, 20052
Phone: 202-994-1886


For Ivy Ken, sociology is the study of why things don’t have to be this way.  The discipline contributes to our understanding that Black lives can (and must) matter; that women can be paid fair wages; and even that food on children’s school lunch trays can be fresh and tasty.  Like most sociologists, Professor Ken centers her scholarship on the social structures that contribute to problems like these.  In addition, steeped in intersectional theory, she studies what constitutes these social structures as they are.

In her most recent work, Professor Ken studies the poor state of school feeding programs in the United States and Chile.  She has documented how, in both countries, local and national governments collude with large, for-profit food service companies that serve children the cheapest products possible. These companies—many of which have been found guilty of fraud—often pay meager wages to their own employees and exert pressure on their suppliers and producers as lead firms in complicated commodity chains. In Chile, this reliance on the private delivery of a public service results in children eating over four times the recommended amount of sugar each day while at school.  In the US, it has children regularly eating packaged, processed products that bear little resemblance to food.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, so in her analyses Professor Ken incorporates cases where students are connected with the sources of their food, and uses the generative tools of social theory to identify ways that corporate influence over this public responsibility can be minimized. Professor Ken’s work in this arena has been sponsored by a Fulbright Scholar award and a GW Global Women’s Institute Research Fellowship

Professor Ken’s scholarship on food reflects the robust emphasis at GW on issues of sustainability, including the work of its Urban Food Task Force. She, along with a multi-disciplinary group of faculty from that Task Force recently convened a year-long University Seminar on Food, which highlighted issues of food policy such as the DC Healthy Schools Act and the Farm Bill. This work complements a course Professor Ken teaches on the sociology of food, which has been supported by the GW Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. 

Along with this course, Professor Ken regularly teaches classical and contemporary theory, with an eye to disrupting the typical narrative about theory that gets told in the discipline, and a graduate seminar on race, gender, and class. Professor Ken has also taught the department's newest course, The Sociological Imagination, which engages students with the discipline of sociology through service learning and civic engagement projects. Professor Ken is a recipient of The George Washington University's Bender Teaching Award and the Robert W. Kenny Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Current Research

For the 2015-16 academic year, Professor Ken is on leave. As referenced above, she spent this past fall studying the oversized influence of corporations on school food as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad Austral de Chile. She was also awarded a Global Women's Institute Fellowship to focus on the conditions of Chilean women agricultural workers involved in the supply of food to schools. And she recently received a Shapiro Policy Research Scholar award from the George Washington Institute for Public Policy (GWIPP) for the 2015-16 academic year. Her project focuses on the use of research evidence in food companies' rhetoric.

Other Research

Specifying Mutual Constitution: An Actor-Network Theory Approach to Race-Class-Gender (with Allison Suppan Helmuth)

Intersectionality and Mutual Constitution: The Origin Story in Sociology (with Allison Suppan Helmuth)

What Is a School Meal? Research Evidence in the Implementation of the DC Healthy Schools Act


PhD University of Georgia, 1999


2014. Ivy Ken. "Big Business in the School Cafeteria." Contexts 13:84.

2014. Ivy Ken. "A Healthy Bottom Line: Obese Children, a Pacified Public, and Corporate Legitimacy." Social Currents March 24, 2014.

2014.  Ivy Ken. "Profit in the Food Desert: Walmart Stakes its Claim." Theory in Action 7:4:13-32 (Special Issue: Food Justice and Sustainability).

2010. Ivy Ken. Digesting Race, Class, and Gender: Sugar as a Metaphor.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

2008. Ivy Ken. "Beyond the Intersection: A New Culinary Metaphor for Race-Class-Gender Studies." Sociological Theory 26:2:152-172.

2007. Ivy Ken. "Race-Class-Gender Theory: An Image(ry) Problem." Gender Issues 24:2:1-20.

2007. Sandra Hanson, Ivy Kennelly, and Stephan Fuchs. "Perceptions of Fairness: Gender and Attitudes about Opportunity and Status among Women Scientists in Germany and the U.S." Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 13:3:231-258.

2007.  Ivy Kennelly. "Time Off as Economic Capital: Thwarting the Traps of the Segregated Occupational Field." Sociological Spectrum 27:183-205. (Awarded the Sociological Spectrum Article of the Year Designation from the Mid-South Sociological Association, 2007.)

2006. Ivy Kennelly and Roberta Spalter-Roth. "Parents on the Job Market: Resources and Strategies That Help Academic Parents Attain Tenure-Track Jobs." The American Sociologist 37:4:29-49.

2006. Ivy Kennelly. "Secretarial Work, Nurturing, and the Ethnic of Service." NWSA Journal 18:2:170-192.

2004. Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ivy Kennelly, and William Erskine. "The Best Time to Have a Baby: Institutional Resources and Family Strategies among Early Career Sociologists." American Sociological Association Research Brief.

2002. Ivy Kennelly. " 'I Would Never Be a Secretary': Reinforcing Gender in Segregated and Integrated Occupations." Gender & Society 16:5:603-324.

2001. Ivy Kennelly, Sabine Merz, and Judith Lorber. "Comment: What is Gender?" American Sociological Review 65:4:598-605.

2001. Marina Karides, Joya Misra, Ivy Kennelly, and Stephanie Moller. "Representing the Discipline: Social Problems compared with ASR and AJS." Social Problems 48:1:111-128.

2000. Linda Grant, Ivy Kennelly, and Kathryn Ward. "Revisiting the Gender, Marriage, and Parenthood Puzzle in Scientific Careers." Women's Studies Quarterly 28:1&2:62-85.

1999. Ivy Kennelly. " 'That Single Mother Element': How White Employers Typify Black Women." Gender & Society 13:2:168-192.  (Awarded the 2001 Distinguished Article Award from the ASA Race, Gender, and Class Section)

1999. Irene Browne and Ivy Kennelly. "Stereotypes and Realities: Black Women in the Labor Market." Pp. 302-326 in Latinas and African American Women at Work: Race, Gender, and Economic Inequality. Edited by Irene Browne. New York: Russell Sage Press.

Classes Taught

Undergraduate Courses:
SOC 1000 - Sociology of Food (Dean's Seminar, Service-Learning Course)
SOC 1002 - The Sociological Imagination
SOC 2103 - Classical Sociological Theory (WID) 
SOC 2104 - Contemporary Sociological Theory
SOC 2175 - Sociology of Sex and Gender

Graduate Courses:
SOC 6239 - Contemporary Sociological Theory
SOC/WSTU 6268 - Race, Gender, and Class
SOC 6271 - Gender and Society

Digesting Race, Class, and Gender

How are the ways that race organizes our lives related to the ways gender and class organize our lives? How might these organizing mechanisms conflict or work together? In Digesting Race, Class, and Gender: Sugar as a Metaphor, GW Sociology Professor Ivy Ken likens race, class, and gender to foods – foods that are produced in fields, mixed together in bowls, and digested in our social and institutional bodies. In the field, one food may contaminate another through cross-pollination. In the mixing bowl, each food’s original molecular structure changes in the presence of others. And within a meal, the presence of one food may impede or facilitate the digestion of another. At each of these sites, the “foods” of race, class, and gender are involved in dynamic relationships with each other that have implications for the shape – or the taste – of our social order.