Jennifer Johnson joined Kenyon in 2005 after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Her research, past and present, explores how and under what conditions ordinary citizens take the law into their own hands or administer justice informally, and what this can tell us about changing understandings of citizenship. As a graduate student and Fulbright scholar, she studied extralegal justice movements in rural southern Mexico, returning to indigenous communities she had become familiar with before graduate school as an international development worker based in Washington, D.C., and Mexico. Portions of her dissertation have been published by Russell Sage Foundation and Routledge presses, and appear in a Spanish-language anthology she co-edited with U.S. and Mexican scholars.

With support from the University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies where she is an affiliated scholar, Jennifer has published a book about women’s participation in the Minuteman vigilante movement at the U.S.-Mexico border (2021, University of Texas Press). Trained as an urban ethnographer in the Chicago School tradition, she has also begun fieldwork in Mexico City through a GLCA- funded research collaboration. This research, examining how residents in diverse neighborhoods respond to insecurity, was published in "Mapping the Megalopolis: Order & Disorder in Mexico City" (2018, Lexington Press).

At Kenyon, Jennifer teaches and mentors in the International Studies, Latino/a Studies and Law & Society programs. She takes students to the U.S.- Mexico border as part of her "Borders & Border Crossings" course and is passionate about experiential teaching and learning opportunities of all kinds, especially those that engage students globally. She lives in Gambier with her family and is an avid fan of Owls soccer team (reliving her days as a soccer mom) and local foods.


2005 — Doctor of Philosophy from University of Chicago

1996 — Master of Arts from University of Chicago

1988 — Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University

Courses Recently Taught

This course is designed for sophomores who plan to major in international studies. It explores the evolution of modern international society by examining the roles of industrialization, capitalism, nationalism, individualism and other elements of modernity in propelling and directing the flow of wealth, people and ideas between different regions of the world. In addition to studying general political and economic changes, the course considers various local and personal perspectives, giving life to otherwise abstract forces and complicating attempts to construct a single overarching narrative of "modernization," "Westernization" or "development." Among the issues to be examined are the causes and effects of international economic disparities, migration, cultural tensions and stresses on the environment. In surveying major viewpoints and illustrative cases within these themes, the course is meant to serve as an introduction to the international studies major, utilizing a variety of academic disciplines and providing a foundation for further study of relations between different nations and peoples of the world. As part of the course, students complete a research paper related to the geographic area where they plan to go for their off-campus experience. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. No prerequisite. Sophomore standing. Offered every year.

This seminar examines some of the problems inherent in cross-cultural comparison and explores the ways in which a variety of disciplines grapple with these difficulties by investigating contemporary themes in international affairs. These themes include some or all of the following: ethnic conflict; comparative perspectives on development; religion and socioeconomic development; contemporary environmental problems; the ethics of armed intervention; the emergence of a world popular culture and its consequences for national cultures; the challenges of democratization; and perceptions of the United States, Americans and U.S. foreign policy abroad. Open only to international studies majors with senior standing. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

From our vantage point in the 21st century, we perceive that the nature and fate of American society are increasingly connected to the nature and fate of society in other parts of the world. But what is "society," and how does it change over time? How, exactly, does society shape the human experience and human behavior in the United States and elsewhere? And how can we understand the ties that bind society "here" to society "there"? Sociology crystallized in the 19th century to address big questions like these in light of the profound uncertainty and human suffering that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism, rapid urbanization and the consolidation of the centralized bureaucratic state. This course introduces students to the discipline by revisiting the work of early sociologists and then using the analytical lenses they developed to examine concrete cases of social change and globalization. Students may take only one introductory-level course. This counts toward the foundation requirement for the major. No prerequisites. Offered every year.

This course explores the social world(s) we live in by analyzing what we eat, where it comes from, who produces it and who prepares it and how. First, we examine the patterned culinary choices of Americans; how American foodways are differentiated by gender, race/ethnicity and class; and how political, social and historical forces have shaped these patterns in ways that are not necessarily obvious to the sociologically untrained eye. We then shift our focus away from ourselves and our own sociologically conditioned eating habits to analyze the local, regional and global processes and factors that bring food to our table. A major theme is the greater social and spatial distances our food travels from field, farm or factory to consumers in the United States and in other parts of the Western Hemisphere, and how these distances complicate and sometimes obscure the unequal power relations at the root of food production and consumption. Our exploration of the global ties that bind consumer and producer ends with a look at how social activists around the world have organized collectively to reduce these distances and inequalities. Prerequisite: 100-level sociology course. Offered every two years.

Especially since the civil rights, student and antiwar movements of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, sociologists have studied how individuals mobilize collectively and self-consciously to promote social change at a national level. Building on this tradition, this mid-level course examines a recent wave of protest movements that self-consciously organize across national borders. Under what circumstances and with what chances of success do national movements form alliances that cross borders? Is it true that globalization has generated new resources and strategic opportunities for the rise of transnational movements? In an age of accelerated globalization, do national borders still contain movements in any significant way? We address these questions and others using case studies of contemporary environmental, anti-sweatshop, indigenous rights and religious movements. Prerequisite: 100-level sociology course. Offered every other year.

Popular conceptions of globalization often allude to the growing magnitude of global flows and the stunning rapidity with which capital, commodities, culture, information and people now cross national borders. From this characterization, one might conclude that national borders and indeed nation-states themselves are becoming increasingly porous and irrelevant as sources or sites of social regulation and control. This course examines the material reality of border regions and movement across them as a means of interrogating these assumptions and exposing how globalization rescales and reconfigures power differentials in human society but does not eliminate them. It scrutinizes technological, economic, political and ideological forces that facilitate border crossings for some groups of people under particular circumstances and then explores the seemingly contradictory tendency toward border fortification. Topics include regional trade integration and political economy of border regions, the global sex trade and illegal trafficking of economic migrants, global civil society and sanctuary movements, paramilitary and vigilante border patrols, and the technology of surveillance. This course includes a required off-campus experiential component at the U.S.-Mexico border that takes place during the first week of spring break. This counts toward the institutions and change requirement for the major. Prerequisite: 100-level sociology course or permission of instructor. Offered every other year.

This course focuses on learning to use qualitative methods to answer questions about social life. We discuss individual and group interviews, observational techniques and content analysis of documents and visual images. Students practice using these techniques by carrying out a semester-long research project using these methods. We also discuss the "nuts and bolts" of designing a research project, writing research proposals, collecting data, analyzing data and writing up qualitative research. Finally, we contextualize this practical instruction with discussions of research ethics, issues of reliability and validity in qualitative research, the relationship between qualitative methods and theory-building, and the place of qualitative methods in the discipline of sociology. This counts toward the methods requirement for the major. Prerequisite: SOCY 271 or LGLS 371. Sophomore standing. Offered every two years.

Since the origins of the discipline in the mid-19th century, sociologists have been fascinated with cities, viewing them as icons of modernity and laboratories for studying the forms of human association they believed to be the hallmarks of this new age. Building on this rich but Western-centric history of urban studies, this course examines the urban form and experience today from the perspective of a more geographically and culturally diverse set of cities ranging from Mexico City to Mumbai, from Chicago to São Paulo. Drawing on concrete case studies from these cities and others, we ask what we can learn about the global processes that characterize contemporary human society at large by studying so-called "global cities" and Third World cities. We pay particular attention to the relationship between globalization and the spatial organization of cities, exploring, for example, how social actors and states in specific places claim, reclaim, purpose, repurpose, surveil, contest and govern public space as part of broader neoliberal social transformation. Students in this course will take an active role leading seminar discussion and, by the end of the semester, produce and present original research on a global city of their choosing. Sophomore standing. Offered every other year.

Individual study is an exception, not a routine option, with details to be negotiated between the student and the faculty member and the department chair. The course may involve investigation of a topic engaging the interest of both student and professor. In some cases, a faculty member may agree to oversee an individual study as a way of exploring the development of a regular curricular offering. In others, the faculty member may guide one or two advanced students through a focused topic drawing on his or her expertise, with the course culminating in a substantial paper. The individual study should involve regular meetings at which the student and professor discuss assigned material. The professor has final authority over the material to be covered and the pace of work. The student is expected to devote time to the individual study equivalent to that for a regular course. Individual studies will be awarded 0.5 units of credit. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study by the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval.