Ara A. Francis


Sociology and Anthropology Department

Associate Professor
Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Studies
Ph.D., University of California, Davis


Fields: micro sociology; deviance and social disruption; death and dying; families; qualitative methods

CV (PDF) »      

Office Phone: 508-793-2487
Office: Beaven 211
PO Box: 50A


I joined the Holy Cross faculty in 2009 after receiving my Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Davis. A Colorado native, I earned my bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in Boulder. I am a micro sociologist, which is to say that I study the smaller units of social life such as selves, emotions, interactions, and relationships. My research focuses broadly on the social dimensions of personal hardship and what people do in the wake of difficult or unexpected circumstances. I am particularly interested in the relationship between social disruption and a sense of belonging, the stigma of personal misfortune, and how people make sense of their own troubles.

I explore these themes in Family Trouble: Middle Class Parents, Children’s Problems, and The Disruption of Everyday Life, a book drawn from interviews with 55 parents whose children face challenges ranging from learning disabilities to substance addictions. When children struggle, I find, they turn parents’ lives upside down, disrupting their daily routines, relationships, and identities. Mothers’ and fathers’ anxiety, grief, guilt, and loneliness, I argue, highlight the extent to which middle-class visions of the good life are contingent upon raising “problem-free” children.

My recent work explores the contemporary death-positive movement and the emerging occupations of end-of-life doula care and death midwifery.


SOCL 101: The Sociological Perspective
SOCL 219: Deviance, Normalcy, & Social Control
SOCL 256: Self & Society

SOCL 375: Sociology of End-of-Life Care
MONT 100: Death & Society

Selected Publications

2022. “Gender and Legitimacy in Personal Service Occupations: The Case of End-of-Life Doulas and Death Midwives.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.

        Blog Post: “When Medical Care Dehumanizes Dying People, ‘Heart’ is Valuable
        Commodity,” Work in Progress: Sociology on the Economy, Work and Inequality.

 2022. “Social Constructionism in the Symbolic Interactionist Tradition” in Wayne Brekhus, Thomas DeGloma, and William Force (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Symbolic Interaction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

2019. “Epilogue” Pp. 83-99 in The Craft of Dying: The Modern Face of Death (Anniversary Edition), by Lyn H. Lofland. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

2015. Family Trouble: Middle-Class Parents, Children’s Problems, and the Disruption of Everyday Life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

2015. “Hurricane Katrina, Parenting Trouble, and the Politics of Suffering” with D. Harvey in R. Anderson (ed.) World Suffering Book. New York: Springer, 401-411.

2013. “On (Not) Practicing What We Preach” with J. Bakehorn, Pedagogies Essay, Contexts, 12 (4): 80-83.

2013. “Normal Problems or Problem Children? Parents and the Micro-Politics of Deviance and Disability” in J.R. McCarthy, C. Hooper, and V. Gillies (eds.) Family Troubles? Exploring Changes and Challenges in the Family Lives of Children and Young People. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.

2013. “Family Trouble, Methods Trouble: Qualitative Research and the Methodological Divide” in J.R. McCarthy, C. Hooper, and V. Gillies (eds.) Family Troubles? Exploring Changes and Challenges in the Family Lives of Children and Young People. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.

2012. “The Dynamics of Family Trouble: Middle-Class Parents Whose Children Have Problems.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 41 (4): 371-401.

2012. “Stigma in an Era of Anxious Parenting and Medicalisation: How Proximity and Culpability Shape Middle-Class Parents’ Experiences of Disgrace.” Sociology of Health and Illness 34 (6): 927-942.

2010. “Losing the ‘Normal’ Child: Ramifications for Middle-Class Mothers.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative 1 (2): 68-83.