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Leah C. Schmalzbauer

Associate Professor of American Studies and Sociology

Departmental affiliations: American Studies; Anthropology and Sociology

Professional and Biographical Information


PhD  Boston College 2004

MSc  London School of Economics and Political Science 1996

BA  University of New Hampshire 1992

Teaching Interests

Drawing from Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, and Ethnic and Gender Studies, I teach about contemporary globalization and international migration between the United States and Latin America.  My courses focus on how globalization and migration impact daily life for those who are income-poor and socially marginalized. Inspired by the pedagogy of Paolo Freire, I structure my courses around discussions of power, and challenge students to explore how intersections of privilege and subordination shape life experiences and opportunities. This means that while we study theories of globalization and immigration, and engage with empirical research, we also explore how globalization and immigration relate to our own lives. My current teaching menu includes an introductory class on Latino Migration, and advanced seminars on Globalization and Inequality, Gender and Latino Migration, and Immigration and the New Second Generation. I also look forward to co-teaching the Building Community seminar in American Studies. With an eye to the future, I would like to develop a course that explores migration, gentrification and change in rural America.

Research Interests

I am an ethnographer interested in how globalization affects daily life for those who are income-poor and socially marginalized. I am especially interested in the international movement of people across borders as it relates to race, class and gender inequalities and in how migrants’ structural positions - geographic, legal, social and economic - influence the way they construct and experience gender. 

My first book project, Striving and Surviving: A Daily Life Analysis of Honduran Transnational Families (Routledge 2005) and related articles focus on the gender dynamics of Honduran transnational families, those divided between their home and host countries. This research contributes scholarly analyses of transnational survival strategies, in which poor families divide their productive (wage) and reproductive (care) labor across borders, and how these strategies can reproduce or intensify gender and generational inequalities. This research also explores how social constructions of motherhood and fatherhood influence the experiences of those living within transnational families. I also enjoyed writing methodological pieces related to the community-based and action-oriented methods I employed in this project.

My second book, The Last Best Place? Gender, Family and Migration in the New West (Stanford University Press 2014) explores the intersections of gender, migration and rurality in Montana, a new migrant destination in the Mountain West. Utilizing a feminist ethnographic approach, my research centers on the narratives and experiences of migrant men, women and children, the majority of whom are undocumented. In the book, I analyze social constructions of masculinity and femininity, and how they are influenced by intersections of rurality, legal status and economy. In addition, I investigate how physical and cultural geography impact gender and family relations among migrants. 

I am currently involved in three new projects. The first is a longitudinal study of gender and aspirations among Mexican American youth in the rural American West. The second is a collaborative project, exploring the gender and generational implications of return migration from the U.S. to Mexico and Central America. And for the third project, I am writing, with Cecilia Menjivar and Leisy Abrego, a resource text on immigrant families (Polity Press).

As ethnography is based on building relationships in the field, I strive to constantly stay in tune with how power operates within my relationships with the migrant women, men and children who are my research participants and some of whom have become my friends. I am acutely aware of my privilege as a white, middle class academic, and, as such, I incorporate feminist reflexivity and a commitment to social justice in my work. I have written about the methodological challenges implicit in feminist ethnography.

Selected Publications

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2014). The Last Best Place?: Gender, Family and Migration in the New West. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Dreby, Joanna & Leah Schmalzbauer (2013). The Relational Contexts of Migration: Mexican Women in New Destination Sites. Sociological Forum, 28:1-26.

Letiecq, Bethany & Leah Schmalzbauer (2012). Community Based Participatory Research with Mexican Migrants in a New Rural Destination: A Good Fit? Action Research, 10: 244-259.

Carling, Jørgen, Cecilia Menjívar & Leah Schmalzbauer (Eds.) (2012). Transnational Parenting and Children Left Behind. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 38.

Carling, Jørgen, Cecilia Menjívar, & Leah Schmalzbauer (2012). Central Themes in the Study of Transnational Parenthood. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 38: 191-217. 

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2011). “Doing Gender,” Ensuring Survival: Mexican Migration and Economic Crisis in the Rural Mountain West. Rural Sociology, 76: 441-460.

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2010). “Disruptions, Dislocations, and Inequalities: Latino Families Surviving the Global Economy.” North Carolina Law Review, 88: 1857-1880.

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2009). “Gender on a New Frontier: Mexican Migration in the Rural Mountain West.” Gender & Society, 23:747-767.

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2008). “Family Divided: The Class Formation of Honduran Transnational Families.” Global Networks, 8:329-346.

Anastario, Michael & Leah Schmalzbauer (2008). “Piloting the Time Diary Method among Honduran Immigrants: Gendered Time Use.” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 10:437-443.

Dodson, Lisa, Deborah Piatelli, & Leah Schmalzbauer (2007). “Researching Inequality through Interpretive Collaborations: Shifting Power and the Unspoken Contract.” Qualitative Inquiry, 13:821-843.

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2005). Striving and Surviving: A Daily Life Analysis of Honduran Transnational Families. New York: Routledge.

Dodson, Lisa & Leah Schmalzbauer (2005). “Poor Mothers and Habits of Hiding: Participatory Methods in Family Research.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 67:949-959.

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2005). “Transamerican Dreamers: The Relationship of HonduranTransmigrants to the American Dream and Consumer Society.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 49:3-31.

Schmalzbauer, Leah (2004). “Searching for Wages and Mothering from Afar: The Case of Honduran Transnational Families.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 66: 1317-1331.

Awards and Honors

Rural Sociology Best Paper Award (2012)

President’s Excellence in Teaching Award: Montana State University (2012)

Phi Kappa Phi Distinguished Teaching Award: Montana State University (2012)

Betty Coffey Award: Research and Teaching in Gender Studies: Montana State University (2011)

American Sociological Association Community Action Research Initiative Fellowship (2008)

NSF/ American Sociological Association Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline (2007)

Sussman Award for Best Publication: Groves Conference on Marriage and Family (2006)

Donald J. White Teaching Award: Boston College (2001)   

Bok Award for Teaching Excellence: Harvard University (2000, 2001)

Professional Activities                                       

Editorial Board, Rural Sociology (2014-2017)