Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Professor Arlene Stein

Professor Arlene Stein was a Senior Visiting Research Fellow in 2022-23.

Arlene Stein is Distinguished Professor of sociology at Rutgers University, where she directs the Institute for Research on Women. Her research focuses on intersections of gender, sexuality, culture and politics. The author or editor of nine books, she received the American Sociological Association’s Simon and Gagnon Award for career contributions to the study of sexualities.  Her latest book is Unbound: Transgender Men and the Transformation of Identity (Pantheon, 2018). She is also the author of The Stranger Next Door, an ethnography of a Christian conservative campaign against lesbian/gay rights, which explores clashing understandings of religion and sexuality in American culture; it received the Ruth Benedict Book Award. Her book Sex and Sensibility examines generational shifts in lesbian identities. Reluctant Witnesses: Survivors, Descendants, and the Rise of Holocaust Consciousness (Oxford, 2014), looks at how children of survivors became narrators of their parents’ stories of genocide. 

History Moves Through Us: Three Generations of Women in a Warsaw Family

How do families narrate histories of disruption? What stories can be told, and what stories are downplayed or kept hidden?  Social upheaval uproots lives and unsettles basic patterns of living, reverberating within families long after the events are over. A growing scholarly literature examines how individuals cope with disruptive historical events by telling stories about them in family contexts. How do these stories bind families together and at times create conflicts within them? To explore these questions, Professor Stein studied three generations of women in a Warsaw family, and how they narrate the past to manage the present. The question of how families remember and narrate difficult pasts has particular relevance to Poland, whose history in the twentieth century has been marked by emigration and forced dislocation, the Holocaust and political violence. Her project on Polish women’s storytelling about the past brings together life history research, narrative analysis and the growing sociological interest in collective memory and trauma.  In focusing on life histories as a way of capturing the shifting internal and external contexts of lives, it is situated in the tradition of social research pioneered by Florian Znaniecki in the early 20th century. More recently, sociologists have extended this work to focus on the narrative aspect of life histories.  We live our lives in relation to stories - the stories we inherit from our families and from the cultural discourses that surround us. We use these stories as the building blocks for creating stories of our own (Plummer 2001; Rogers and Leydesdorff, eds. 2004.) But what happens when stories of the past are difficult, if not impossible, to tell?