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Meet Sociology Head Susan Bell

January 6, 2016

Susan Bell - Head of Sociology
Susan Bell, PhD

Susan E. Bell, PhD, joined the College this fall as head of the new Department of Sociology. A contributing author of the renowned book “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” Bell was inspired to become a professor after working in women’s health centers in California and Massachusetts in the ’70s.

Degree: PhD in Sociology, Brandeis University; Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Sociology in the Department of Psychiatry of Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Harvard Medical School
Research Interests: Sociology of health and illness, experience of illness, women’s health, biomedical knowledge, global health

What did you do before coming to Drexel?
I was a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bowdoin College where I was chair of the department, professor of sociology, and the A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences.

What is your favorite book?
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

“Dirty Pretty Things” (2002), directed by Stephen Frears

What is your favorite food or restaurant?

If you could have dinner with three people (dead or alive) who would they be?
Adrienne Rich, Terry Tempest Williams, Sally Mann

When is the last time you did something “for the first time”?
Moving to Philadelphia has entailed doing many things “for the first time.” Most memorable was staging and selling a house.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
The ability to create a just and peaceful society

What was the most memorable class you took as an undergrad and why?
A yearlong philosophy course at Haverford College with Richard Bernstein about G.W.F. Hegel, during which we did a close critical reading of “The Phenomenology of Spirit.” It was the most memorable course because it introduced me to dialectical reasoning, to the joy of unpacking a brilliant text, and it set the stage for encountering Karl Marx’s “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” The course changed the course of my life.

Which current event/issue do you think students should know more about and why?
They should understand the structural causes of social and economic inequality because typically students are inclined to understand inequality from the narrow and partial perspective of individuals.

What’s one thing students would be surprised to learn about you?
During the 1970s, I worked in women’s health centers in Oakland, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I am an author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which has been called the bible of women’s health. I wrote the “Birth Control” chapter for the 1984, 1992 and 1996 editions. Of course, many students today do not know about “OBOS,” although many of their parents and grandparents do.

What made you want to become a professor?
When I worked in women’s health centers, I discovered that I loved the educational work that we did, and I was good at it, so I looked for ways to continue to do this kind of work after I completed graduate school.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far in your career?
Becoming the first A. Myrick Freeman Chair at Bowdoin College in 2001, a position I held until I resigned from Bowdoin to move to Drexel in 2015. In awarding the chair to me, the then Dean of Faculty Affairs at Bowdoin Craig McEwen stated that “Susan is a model of the scholar/teacher at Bowdoin, devoted to her students and to rigorous teaching, while continuing wide engagement as a scholar particularly interested in individual narratives about illness and in the development of medical technologies. At the same time, Susan has continued to translate science and medicine for a wider audience with her continuing contributions to new editions of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves,’ one of the most significant books of the last several decades. She is a wonderful choice to be the first occupant of the A. Myrick Freeman Chair in Social Sciences.”

What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
A passion for sociology and scholarship

See Susan Bell, PhD, in action: CoAS Dean's Seminar: Interpreting for Refugees in U.S. Hospital Clinics, Wednesday, January 27, 2016, 3:30 – 5 PM, Disque 109.