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Michelle Janning

Michelle Janning

Raymond and Elsie DeBurgh Chair of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology

Michelle Janning is Professor of Sociology and The Raymond and Elsie Gipson DeBurgh Chair of Social Science. In addition to introductory courses and thesis advising, she teaches courses in the areas of family, gender, childhood, community-based research, and education.

Professor Janning’s research focuses on the intersection between social roles and relationships and the spaces and objects of everyday life. In addition to her frequent public speaking and applied consulting projects with local Walla Walla organizations, she has done interdisciplinary research on how family roles connect with home and neighborhood design, the role of digital and physical objects and spaces on intimate relationships, the impacts of COVID-19 on families and schools, and the social meaning of vacation homes and investment properties in the sharing economy.

She has written or edited several books, including The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (2017), Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (2018), and Contemporary Parenting and Parenthood: From News Headlines to New Research (2019). She is a frequent contributor to blog posts and news stories about contemporary family issues, and has been featured in stories from NBC News, BBC, NPR, PBS, Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, Parents.com, Vox, Real Simple, and The New York Times. Michelle has received a Fulbright for teaching and assessment projects with DIS-Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she has also taught courses in family and childhood studies in the Scandinavian context.

A native Minnesotan who spent part of her childhood living in Germany and part of her adulthood living in Denmark, Michelle received her B.A. from St. Olaf College, majoring in Sociology- Anthropology with a concentration in Women’s Studies. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame, and began her position at Whitman immediately after that. Michelle enjoys pop culture, her family, her dog, traveling, gardening, playing piano, and home design projects that involve both fabric and power tools.


Ph.D. in Sociology, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, 2000

B.A. in Sociology-Anthropology, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, 1994

At Whitman I teach a range of courses in Sociology. I also have expertise in higher education administration and assessment of student learning, having formerly served as Assistant Dean of the Faculty. I have received a Fulbright for teaching and assessment projects with DIS-Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I have also taught courses in family and childhood studies in the Scandinavian context. Please email me for copies of any syllabi:

  • Principles of Sociology
  • Gender and Society
  • Sociology of the Family
  • Sociology of Education
  • Community-Based Sociology
  • First Year Seminar: Childhoods
  • Whitman Crossroads (Abroad) course: Childhood and Parenthood in Scandinavia
  • Current Issues in Sociology 
  • Senior Thesis 

My research currently involves two major areas of focus: the social, material, and digital meaning of home, family and neighborhood, and applied and public sociology. 

I regularly involve students at all stages of my research. If you are interested in working with me as a research assistant, please contact me by email or visit my office hours. 

Social, Material, and Digital Meaning of Home, Family, and Neighborhood

I have written or edited several books on contemporary family roles and relationships through the lens of design and material culture studies, including The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (2017), which won the silver award in Foreword Reviews’ INDIES awards in Family and Relationships. I wrote about the intersections of technology and intimate relationships in Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (2018). I edited a collection of innovative research on newsworthy parenting issues in  Contemporary Parenting and Parenthood: From News Headlines to New Research (2019). I also co-edited a book entitled Sociocultural Dimensions of Childhood (2020) on cultural impacts on childhoods (with an emphasis on Eastern Europe) with a group of international scholars. My latest book is a guide to social science research methods for design projects, entitled A Guide to Socially-Informed Research for Architects and Designers (2023). I have published several peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and essays on topics that include: toys and childhoods, technology in long-distance relationships and parenting, gender and the curation of family photographs, divorce and children’s connection to home spaces, conceptions of home in the transition to adulthood, gender and home decorating shows, impacts of COVID-19 on living spaces and conceptions of adulthood, and spaces and objects used in work-family boundaries. These have appeared in journals that include Journal of Family IssuesChildren’s GeographiesJournal of Divorce and RemarriageMichigan Family Review, and Contexts.  

I am currently writing a book (under contract with Rowman & Littlefield) based on 5+ years of mixed methods data collection and analysis about the social meaning of vacation homes, investment properties, and short-term rentals for neighborhoods and communities in the sharing economy.

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