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Sharon L. Harlan
Ph.D., Cornell University
Associate Professor

SHESC Themes: Urban Societies; Societies and Their Natural Environments

Field specializations: sociology, community and urban sociology, gender, human environment interaction, space and place, work

Regional focus: North America (West)


About Research
I study the patterns, processes, and outcomes of inequalities in contemporary U.S. society. A sociologist by training, I have been working most recently on interdisciplinary problems of social and environmental equity brought about by rapid urbanization in the Phoenix, AZ metropolitan region.

Phoenix is a desert city, a trait it shares with many ancient cities and with many of today’s fastest growing world cities, and which poses environmental challenges for humans. Phoenix is also emblematic of many diverse places in the United States where housing developments built to accommodate explosive population growth consume vast amounts of agricultural and native land.

Against this backdrop of a hot, arid climate, rapid in-migration, and residential segregation by social class and ethnicity, I ask a number of fundamental questions about community, inequality, and environment. How do communities form, acquire social capital, promote a feeling of belonging, and relate to the broader society? What do people appreciate about their biophysical and built environments? Which groups of people are most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of climate and environment? What are the likely consequences of long-term climate change for the populations of Phoenix? What can be done?

My projects draw upon social theories and multi-disciplinary data to help understand the variations between different types of urban neighborhoods. For example, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), I have collaborated with colleagues in geography, geology, ecology, and landscape architecture to find that variability in summer temperature across the metro area is highly correlated with the economic affluence of neighborhoods. Choice of locations for residential developments, landscaping practices, and types of built environment all contribute to inequitable distribution of the urban heat island. Simulation models show that warmer temperatures in low-income neighborhoods significantly increase the exposure of poor and minority residents to heat-related illness. Lower-quality housing contributes to the discomfort and health hazards posed by extreme heat.

Some of my other studies deal with place attachment and the socio-physical environment, the use of community social capital to buffer neighborhoods from environmental problems, and the relationship between social class and residential landscape behavior. In 2004-05 I was a Center Fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of theUniversity of California, Santa Barbara, where I considered ways to integrate social and ecological perspectives on urbanization.

Prior to arriving at Arizona State University in 1998, my work was about the sociology of labor markets, gender, and public policy. In positions at the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy of the State University of New York at Albany, I combined academic and policy-relevant research in order to advance the cause of equal educational and employment opportunities for women of all races and ethnicities and persons with disabilities.

My goal was to make sociological knowledge more influential in public discourse and decision-making. On projects funded by organizations such as the NSF, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission in the U.S. Department of Labor, I wrote and co-wrote some of the early studies on the lack of a federal child-care policy as a barrier to women’s employment, the failure of equal employment laws to reduce job segregation in industrial craft jobs, and the inadequacies of federal and state educational and training policies that support gender, race, and class inequalities in the labor market.

My book, Job Training for Women: The Promise and Limits of Public Policies (co-edited with Ronnie Steinberg, Temple University Press, 1989) is a comprehensive review of training policies that still serves as a reference for researchers, legislators, and women’s employment advocates. I was also the principal investigator of a federally-funded project that interviewed over 70 workers with disabilities, co-workers, and supervisors, examining how organizations create and sustain disabling work environments though hierarchical authority, personnel regulations, manipulation of imagery about workers’ competence, and interpersonal interactions in the workplace.

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Select Publications
Larsen, L. and S.L. Harlan
"Desert Dreamscapes: Presentation of Self in Residential Landscapes." (in press) Landscape and Urban Planning.

Larsen, L., S.L. Harlan, B. Bolin, E.J. Hackett, D. Hope, A. Kirby, A. Nelson, T. Rex and S. Wolf
"Bonding and Bridging: Understanding the Relationship between Social Capital and Civic Action." Journal of Planning Education and Research 24, 2004: 64-77.

Stefanov, W.L., L. Prashad, C. Eisinger, A. Brazel, and S.L. Harlan
"Investigation of Human Modifications of Landscape and Climate in the Phoenix Arizona Metropolitan Area Using MASTER Data." The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing, and Spatial Information Sciences 35 (B7), 2004: 1339-1347.

Harlan, S.L. and P.M. Robert
"The Social Construction of Disability in Organizations: Why Employers Resist Reasonable Accommodation," Work and Occupations 25 (4), 1998: 397-435.

Trent, K. and S.L. Harlan
"Teenage Mothers in Nuclear and Extended Households: Differences by Marital Status and Race/Ethnicity," Journal of Family Issues 15 (2), 1994: 309-337.

Trent, K. and S.L. Harlan
"Household Structure Among Teenage Mothers in the United States," Social Science Quarterly 71 (3), 1990: 439-457.

Harlan, S.L.
"Opportunity and Attitudes Toward Job Advancement in a Manufacturing Firm," Social Forces 67 (3), 1989: 766-788.

Harlan, S.L. and R.J. Steinberg (eds.)
Job Training for Women: The Promise and Limits of Public Policies. Philadelphia, Pa: Temple University Press, 1989.

Harlan, S.L. and B. O'Farrell
"After the Pioneers: Prospects for Women in Nontraditional Blue-Collar Jobs," Work and Occupations 9 (3), 1982: 363-386.

O'Farrell, B. and S.L. Harlan
"Craftworkers and Clerks: The Effect of Male Co-Worker Hostility on Women's Satisfaction with Non-Traditional Jobs," Social Problems 29 (3), 1982: 252-265.

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Publication PDFs

Related Links

Curriculum Vitae: Download PDF

Contact: Sharon L. Harlan