Jessica Calarco

Jessica Calarco

Associate Professor, Sociology

on leave Fall 2023


  • Ph.D., Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 2012
  • M.A., Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 2008
  • B.A., Sociology and Education Studies, Brown University, 2006

About Jessica Calarco

Jessica Calarco is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University and an expert on inequalities in education and family life, with a focus on qualitative methods. Her research examines how people navigate (and sometimes perpetuate) systems of power and privilege.

Calarco’s first book, Negotiating Opportunities (Oxford, 2018), won the Pierre Bourdieu Award for the best book in the sociology of education. Drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork in elementary and middle schools, as well as in-depth interviews with teachers, parents, and students, Calarco reveals how children from middle- and upper-middle-class white families learn to challenge rules and request assistance, accommodations, and attention in excess of what is fair or required.

Calarco’s second book, A Field Guide to Grad School (Princeton University Press, 2020), originated with a Twitter thread, and seeks to uncover the hidden curriculum of higher education. The book, which received a starred review from the Library Journal, is widely taught in graduate courses, and Calarco regularly offers book talks and seminars for current and future graduate students and for faculty and administrators interested in promoting equity and empathy in graduate education.

Calarco’s third book, Qualitative Literacy (University of California Press 2022), which is coauthored with Columbia University Sociologist Mario Luis Small, outlines five indicators of quality in qualitative research. The book is written not only for students and those doing qualitative research but also for editors, funders, reviewers, tenure/promotion committees, journalists, policymakers, and quantitative scholars who read, cite, and think with qualitative research. Its goal is to offer a set of tools for identifying whether ethnographic and interview-based research has been done well.

Calarco’s forthcoming book, Without a Net, is under contract with Portfolio/Penguin and combines data from Calarco’s research with insights from other scholars to reveal why the U.S. does not have an adequate social safety net, what we we lose without the net we need, and how we get away with relying on women to do the unpaid and underpaid work of a safety net instead. The draws primarily on data from a longitudinal interview study that began in 2018 and followed more than 250 families with young children through the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a public sociologist, Calarco has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Inside Higher Ed, and appeared on CNN, CNBC, NPR, and the BBC. You can find her on Twitter @JessicaCalarco on Mastodon @JessicaCalarco and on Instagram @Jess_Calarco.