Jennifer C Lena

Lena is co-editor of the journal Poetics, and co-editor (with Frederick Wherry and Greta Hsu) of a book series, Culture and Economic Life, published by Stanford University Press. She is also the Thesis Advisor for the eMBA program at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, part of Steinbeis University. 

She is a past fellow of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University, and the Curb Center for Arts, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, and held faculty positions at Vanderbilt University and Barnard College. She is past Chair of the Sociology of Culture Section of the American Sociological Association. Lena has served as Senior Research Scholar for the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project at Indiana University, and assisted in the development and revision of that survey of over 200,000 graduates from art programs spread across North America. In 2000, she was Inaugural Resident Scholar at the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s show, “Hip Hop America: Roots, Rhythm and Rage.” Lena is reputed to be the first sociologist to commission a Grammy-nominated album: Hilos (composer: Gabriela Frank; performed by ALIAS Chamber Ensemble; released in 2010 by Naxos Records). Lena has also worked as a Visiting Professor at advertising agency DDB Worldwide, and consults for major national and international non- and for-profit arts organizations. 

Her research focuses on understanding processes of classification, particularly the organizational and institutional conditions for the creation, modification, or elimination of cultural categories. Recently, she has started to publish on related issues within the study of artistic identity, careers, and non-profit arts management.

Lena’s second book, Entitled: Discriminating Tastes and the Expansion of the Arts, will be published by Princeton University Press September 3, 2019. Utilizing archival and historical methods, in combination with the inductive analysis of traits of several dozen fields, she offers a history and theory of artistic legitimation in the 20th century United States. Lena explores how the legitimation process was harnessed to expand definitions of art (to include graffiti and comics, jazz and computer code), and why such a profound expansion of the arts happened in such a short period of time.

In 2012, Princeton University Press published her first book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music (in paperback, 2014), which presents a sociological examination of musical genres, conceptualizing them not as collections of similar sounds, but as communities of shared practices. The book was named one of Choice Reviews Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012, and was reviewed in the American Journal of Sociology, Contemporary Sociology, Times Higher Education, and discussed at the Daily Beast, the Freakonomics Blog, and on WNYC’s Soundcheck.

Lena’s research has been published in peer-reviewed journals including the American Sociological ReviewSocial ForcesPoetics, and American Behavioral Scientist; and has been reprinted in texts dedicated to highlighting excellence in social science methods, hip-hop scholarship, and the sociology of culture. Dr. Lena has helped to generate over $4.5 million in grants since 1999, including recent grants from the U.S. Department of State, the National Endowment for the Arts, Booth-Ferris Foundation, the Rauschenberg Foundation, and the Warhol Foundation.

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