Eleanor R. Townsley

Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Sociology and Director of Nexus; on leave Spring 2022
The sociology of intellectuals; cultural sociology; sociology of gender; history of sociology; research methods

Eleanor Townsley is a sociologist who teaches courses in the cultural sociology, social theory, sociology of gender, survey research and data analysis, and an archival and field methods class based in the Mount Holyoke College Archives. She says especially enjoys teaching the introductory course in sociology.

Townsley’s research examines the possibilities of intellectual life in contemporary societies, with a focus on the institutional contexts and political consequences of intellectual practices. She is particularly interested trope theory and has analyzed tropes surrounding the “1960s,” “public intellectuals,” and “interdisciplinary.” Townsley’s early work focused on social science professionalization in the United States during the 1960s and the role of the intelligentsia in transitions from socialism in Central Europe. Still interested in the role of intellectuals and ideas in social change, she is currently examining the nature and influence of media intellectuals in the contemporary United States.

Townsley's research has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Theory & Society, Theory, Culture & Society, Gender and Society, Thesis Eleven, and New Left Review. She is a contributor to the Handbook of Economic Sociology and coauthor of Making Capitalism without Capitalists (Verso, 2001).

A native of Australia, Townsley has a reputation among her Mount Holyoke students for being passionate about the subjects she teaches, for sparking her students' interest and encouraging them to learn to articulate their own arguments and perspectives. Townsley's students believe the professor's insistence on the development of critical-thinking skills benefits them throughout their lives. In 2005 Townsley was the recipient of the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Teaching Award.

Selected Publications

Recent publications are below. More are available in Townsley's publications archive.

(forthcoming) Public Intellectuals, media intellectuals and academic intellectuals: comparing the space of opinion in Canada and the United States in The Transformation of Public Intellectuals and Canadian Democracy. Michael Keren and Richard Hawkins(eds.) University of Calgary Press.

(forthcoming) “Defining “the social” in Canada and the United States: public intellectuals, media intellectuals and academic intellectuals” in Knowledge for Whom? Public Sociology in the Making. Andreas Hess (ed.). Ashgate.

(forthcoming) The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power by Jeffrey C. Alexander. Review. Thesis Eleven

Recent Campus News

Students filled more than 40 panels, both in-person and virtual, to recount experiences of summer internships and independent projects.

Reflection anchor of LEAP Symposium

Mount Holyoke’s annual LEAP Symposium took place Oct. 22 and was infused with reflection and what one student dubbed “good chaos.”

Hanna Schoenbaum ’21, English and film double major, did an internship at Lambda Literary, focusing specifically on its website and social media platforms.

LEAP 2020!

Students reflecting on their internships through the annual LEAP 2020 presentations demonstrated the depth and breadth of the liberal arts.

Mount Holyoke is known across the country as a leader in global education because of Eva Paus, director of the McCulloch Center.

Students, meet World. World, students.

The McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives has changed the Mount Holyoke world — and Mount Holyoke has changed global education. 

A student presenting at LEAP 2018 gestures to a slide of eggs in a nest.

LEAP 2018: Connecting work and classwork

The annual conference featured more than 200 student presentations about their internships and research projects.

Graphic depicting career outcomes

MHC study emphasizes benefits of Lynk funding

A Mount Holyoke team’s recent study stressed the benefits of the Lynk internship program and its implications on undergraduate career outcomes.

Recent Publications

Townsley, E. “The Space of Opinion:  Intellectuals, Media, and the Public Sphere.” (with Ron Jacobs). New York: Oxford University Press. 2011

Townsley, E. “Contexts of Cultural Diffusion: A Case-study of “Public Intellectual” Debates in English Canada” (with Neil McLaughlin), Canadian Review of Sociology / La Société canadienne de sociologie 48(4):341-368. (2011)

Townsley, E. “Intellectuals, Media and the Public Sphere”. Pp. 284-317 in The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology. Jeffrey Alexander, Ronald Jacobs and Phillip Smith (eds). Oxford University Press. (2011)

Townsley, E.   “Career Pathways in the Natural and Social Sciences Science in Liberal Arts Institutions” NSF Advance Grant Proposal for Institutional Transformation with Renae Brodie, Amber Douglas, Elizabeth Markovits, and Matthew McKeever. (2011)

Townsley, E. The Sociology of Intellectual Life by Steve Fuller. Review. Contemporary Sociology 39(6):708-704. (2010)