Michael Jeffries

Dean of Academic Affairs, Class of 1949 Chair in Ethics and Professor of American Studies

Qualitative sociologist focusing on race, class, gender, and cultural production.

My work is focused on racism, sexism, exploitation, and the ways marginalized people create meaning and build identities. My latest book is Behind the Laughs: Community and Inequality in Comedy. It explores the world of professional comedy, where the overlap of social and professional demands produces strong artistic communities within an exploitative industry. The benefits of these communities are unevenly distributed, however, as comedy workers from different backgrounds have wildly different experiences and prospects in the business.

My previous book, Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America, uses Obama-related topics to demonstrate how race relies on other social forces, like gender and class, for its meaning and impact. It addresses race and nationhood, "biracialism" and Obama's mixed heritage, the purported emergence of a "post-racial society," and popular symbols of Michelle Obama as a modern black woman. I have also written widely on hip-hop music. My first book, Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop, puts the spotlight on hip-hop fans and documents the ways everyday listeners define hip-hop and use it in their lives. Additional articles and essays include pieces about Barack Obama and hip-hop, hip-hop feminism, and representations of love in hip-hop performances.

I teach courses in race and cultural studies, racism and sexism, and the sociology of sports. I also teach advanced seminars for third- and fourth-year students on Barack Obama and hip-hop studies. I emphasize the benefits of interdisciplinary learning and encourage students to bring their academic work to bear on their daily lives.

My non-academic writing has been published by The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and other outlets. I am a regular contributor at The Boston Globe and Boston's public broadcasting station, WGBH. You can follow me on Twitter @M_P_Jeffries.


  • A.B., Swarthmore College
  • Ph.D., Harvard University