leslie hossfeld

Hossfeld, Leslie


Chair and Professor of Sociology

Dr. Leslie Hossfeld

Bear Hall 250



Margaret Devereux Lippitt Rorison Faculty Fellow in Community Engagement
About the Chair

Dr. Hossfeld is trained in Rural Sociology from North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She has extensive experience examining rural poverty and economic restructuring and has made two presentations to the United States Congress and one to the North Carolina Legislature on job loss and rural economic decline. Dr. Hossfeld has served as Co-Chair of the American Sociological Association Task Force on Public Sociology, Vice President of Sociologists for Women in Society, President of the Southern Sociological Society, and on the Executive Council of the North Carolina Sociological Association. She founded the Public Sociology undergraduate and graduate program at UNCW. Hossfeld works on economic recovery projects for rural North Carolina counties and is co-founder and Executive Director of the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program Feast Down East, managing several million in grant funds to support this initiative. Due to her expertise in rural economic development, Congressman Bob Etheridge recently appointed Dr. Hossfeld to serve on the USDA Rural Growth and Opportunity Board of Advisors. She is recipient of the 2011 UNCW Distinguished Award for Scholarly Engagement and Public Service and the UNCW 2013 College of Arts and Sciences faculty research award.  Dr. Hossfeld worked closely with the Wilmington North Carolina Housing Authority, the Wilmington North Carolina Blue Ribbon Commission on Youth Violence, and the Duke Endowment on community needs including health access, transportation, public housing, youth violence, food access and food security, as well as rural economic development.

On becoming a sociologist…

My passion has always been, and remains, history.  My undergraduate degree was in history, and both my MA and PhD focused on historical sociology.  Indeed everything I do is grounded in history. I am convinced that context, especially historical context, is so important to understanding our current experiences. 

It was at The University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, where I first learned about the southern regionalists.  I stumbled across Margaret Jarman Hagood’s Mothers of the South, Rupert Vance’s  Human Geography of the South, and Howard Odum’s Southern Regions and I appreciated their pragmatism in doing social science research; this resonated with my worldview and my desire to use social science research to tackle social issues.  It was in this body of work that I began to see myself as an engaged scholar. The exemplar these social scientists provided through their extensive programmatic research provided an early foundation and vision for my craft as a social scientist.

I think of myself as a regional sociologist – a southern sociologist … cut from the same cloth as the southern regionalists of the 1930s and 40s.  I have used their model of regional engagement research and practice and have mirrored this in my community work.  Except for an 8 year stint in South Africa, I have been working almost exclusively as an engaged scholar in Southeastern North Carolina. I should add that I did teach at a university in South Africa during the 1980s – 90s – during the very dark days of apartheid -- and it was very clear that South African sociologists viewed themselves primarily as engaged scholars – the notion of NOT working in the community or not addressing social problems hands-on was certainly not even considered.  I learned as a faculty member there that one’s research expectations should focus on scholarly engagement.  Indeed it was imperative. That, in combination with the southern regionalists, helped frame my understanding as a sociologist and the work I do today.

Over the past eight years I have developed an extensive regional economic development project focused on poverty alleviation through a local food systems movement called the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program (also known as Feast Down East www.feastdowneast.org).  This work encompasses 11 counties in Southeastern North Carolina and engages community partners ranging from North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents in all 11 counties to city and regional planners, elected officials, concerned citizens, non-profits and grassroots organizations.   The expansive project also includes faculty and researchers from neighboring institutions, including UNC-Pembroke, Fayetteville State University, Eastern Carolina University, Brunswick Community College, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University and University of Mount Olive.  Undergraduate and graduate students from UNCW and partner institutions conduct research with me and we publish our findings in peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as ensuring this important research targets and addresses critical need in the region.  I share this vision of social science research and praxis in the classes I teach and through the engaged scholarship and public sociology so predominant in our department.

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leslie hossfeld SSS book cover Public Sociology

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