Karla Erickson
Curriculum Vitae

Karla A. Erickson

Department chair of Sociology
Offices, Departments, or Centers: Sociology , American Studies ,

Karla is a feminist ethnographer of labor. She studies interaction and community in market exchanges.

In her first book, The Hungry Cowboyshe studied Cheers-like community building in a Tex-Mex restaurant as a way of thinking about how connection was offered and sometimes found in the marketplace and the labor of producing something like "recognition" in the public sphere. In her second book How We Die Now, she elevated the death competence of elder care workers and the rituals of leave-taking that for-pay elder care provides residents and their families to help grapple with aging and death, arenas in which many Americans are deeply incompetent and very scared. 

Right now, Erickson is deep into her new project, Messy Humans: A Sociology of Human/Machine Relations, which explores social effects and automations/eliminations related to AI and machine learning. This project has, for the last three years, had a phenomenal 'life force' to it - allowing her to bring together her critical race theory interests with questions about technology and the increasing automation of human existence. In this work, following the work of Ruha Benjamin, Sherry Turkle, and Shoshanna Zuboff and with the help of her research teams and students in her courses, she asks questions about precursors and value propositions of devices, what we gain, what we lose, and what our relations with machines reveal about human value. Some of her early thinking on these matters have been published in Scientific American, Salon, El Pais, The Washington Post, Wired and The Des Moines Register. Most recently, Erickson is pleased to have been awarded the 2020-2021 Center for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship at Grinnell College to advance this project and offer a course called I/Robot. With the support of the Vivero program, the College will now host a visual archive of machine life, where student research will be collected. Next year she will offer a tutorial and a 200-level course on humanistic and social inquiry into AI and robotics. She will resume plans to do a series of lectures related to Messy Humans in Delhi, Cleveland, hopefully, other locations. She looks forward to the reopening we will all undertake this year.

Erickson serves on the board of Grinnell Regional Medical Center and Grinnell Community Day Care and Preschool. Erickson received her Ph.D. in the Department of American Studies with a minor in Feminist Studies at the University of Minnesota in 2004, her M.A. in Liberal Studies from Hamline University in 1998 and her B.A. in English and Women's Studies at Illinois Wesleyan in 1995. 

Education and Degrees

PH.D. University of Minnesota, American Studies and Feminist Studies, 2004

M.A. Hamline University, Liberal Studies, 1998

B.A. Illinois Wesleyan University, Women's Studies and English, 1995

In the News

Dying Better, Even If It Means Sooner

U.S. News / February 29, 2016 

Midcareer Professors Need Love, Too

Inside Higher Ed / January 26, 2017 

Our Fixation on Midcareer Malaise

The Chronicle of Higher Education / March 15, 2017 

Helping Professors Overcome Midcareer Malaise

The Chronicle of Higher Education / May 07, 2017

Ways to Get Professors to Escape Career Ruts

The Chronicle of Higher Education / May 07, 2017 

The Four Types of Post-Tenure Professor

The Chronicle of Higher Education / May 07, 2017 


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