• Job Placement: Paul W. Frenzel Professor and Chair, Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota
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  • Committee: M. Hawkesworth, S. Carroll, J. Regulska, J. Junn
  • Dissertation: The Political Spaces of Black Women in the City: Identity, Agency and the Flow of Social Capital in Newark, NJ


Zenzele received a B.A. in Political Science from Clark Atlanta University and an M.A. in Political Science from University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. She is the first student to complete a PhD in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers, and upon completion in 2007 she accepted a tenure-track position at University of Minnesota. Zenzele is deeply committed to transformative research and teaching, to the development of sophisticated understanding of Black women’s social and political activism in national and transnational contexts, and to the quest for social justice in a globalizing world.


This project explores U.S. Black women's participation in social networks that enable political mobilizations in Newark, NJ. These networks include religious and social clubs, service clubs, neighborhood associations, indigenous cultural organizations, women's ethnic organizations, labor unions and other types of voluntary organizations that facilitate the creation, flow, and utilization of social capital. These networks transcend allegiance to local, state or national centers of government and often pursue politics that seek to blur or defy well-defined scalar structures. Often they seek to connect politics to larger racialized national trends in political economy while seeking to make social and political change at the local level. Using an interpretivist approach to data collection and analysis, I explore the discursive strategies of politicization, including the positive actions that U.S. Black women take to create and maintain political spaces that can be used to pursue their political objectives in Newark, NJ. This research suggests that in cases when Black women's political agency contributes to Black cultural production, the political support and cultivation of social capital to support Black women's political agency can be expected to flourish. When Black women politically challenge hegemonic elements of Black cultural production--specifically when they have challenged singular, masculinist conceptions of both Blackness and community--the flow of social capital in support of that agency will be stifled, resulting in the lack of social transformation at the local level.