Gay Seidman

Gay Seidman is the Martindale-Bascom Professor of Sociology. Her academic interests include political sociology, economic change and development, and demography and ecology, and she has conducted the majority of her research in Brazil and Africa. Before joining UW-Madison in 1996, she did her undergraduate work at Harvard and graduate work at UC-Berkeley, where she received two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. Her most recent book is Beyond the Boycott: Labor Rights, Human Rights and Transnational Activism. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she taught African Studies at high schools in Swaziland and Botswana.

An interview with Gay 

What classes do you teach? 

I teach of range of classes for undergraduates and graduate students: the Sociology of Development, Global Social Problems, Comparative Racial Orders, the Sociology of Cities in the Global South, Global Labor Issues, and Social Movements in the Global South.

What classes do you most enjoy teaching?

My favorite is probably the Sociology of Development, which I teach every semester, and which is always full, though I really like all of them.

What motivates you to do this work?
My parents taught African studies and were committed to supporting newly independent African countries. I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia. My mom did her Ph.D. at UW-Madison and my father taught here. I really had no choice. Going into African Studies felt like coming home.

When I went to graduate school, I was already involved in the anti-apartheid movement. In my dissertation, I compared the South African labor movement with the Brazilian labor movement.

My twin sister lives in South Africa. She is an economist for the post-apartheid South-African government.

Why do you believe that international research is important?

Traditionally, the social sciences, especially Sociology and Political Science, have been dominated by U.S.-centered research. During the time I have taught at UW-Madison, the world has become much more globalized.  Social scientists have started to realize that we have been too focused on North America. As more students in the field have studied abroad in post-colonial societies, they have returned to the U.S. and begun to ask different questions. Younger people in this field are focusing more on global topics and less on topics that relate only to North America. I have found doing global work to be very enriching.

I have done research in Brazil, India, and Guatemala, as well as in South Africa. Upon my arrival in Madison, I was welcomed by both African Studies and Latin American Studies. In addition, I have served on the program committees of African Studies, Latin American Studies, and International Studies.

View department profile here.