Summerson Carr, a female-presenting person, smiles towards the camera in a library.

E. Summerson Carr, PhD

Professor; Joint Appointment with the Department of Anthropology; Associated Faculty, Comparative Human Development

969 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Office Location: BE-5A

Areas of Expertise
Animal-human interaction and animal assisted interventions
Anthropology of social work
Behavioral health and psychotherapeutic interventions
Complex institutions
Drugs, addiction, and addiction treatment
Expertise; knowledge production and dissemination
Language and culture
Professional culture, training and apprenticeship
Social problems and social policy
UChicago Affiliations
Center for the Study of Communication and Society
Other Affiliations

President Elect of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology

Professor Carr's current project is a study of Canine-Assisted Therapy (CAT). It seeks to understand how an iconic therapy animal with a rich service history—the American Dog—is trained and deployed in a variety of clinical and social service settings. This project extends her ongoing inquiry into the social histories, logics and economics of therapeutic practices and institutions, as well as her broader interest in expertise. Specifically, her research investigates how and why American dogs have increasingly come to be seen as expert communicators and caregivers—particularly in an age when more and more American humans grapple with our lack of care for other species.

Professor Carr's most recent monograph, forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press, is based on her ethnographic study of a prominent behavioral intervention called motivational interviewing (MI). The book documents how helping professionals learn, train, and institutionalize MI in various practice settings, and how their ideas about the nature and meaning of their work transform accordingly.  The book is titled Working the Difference: Science, Spirit and the Spread of Motivational Interviewing.

Professor Carr’s first book, Scripting Addiction: The Politics of Therapeutic Talk and American Sobriety (Princeton, 2010), traces the cultural and clinical history of American ideas about addiction and sobriety and examines how these ideas are put into play at a drug treatment program in the Midwestern U.S., where she conducted extensive research.  The book addresses the puzzling question of why mainstream American addiction treatment entails rehabilitating drug users’ relationship to language as much as reconfiguring their relationship to drugs.  The book received the Society of Linguistic Anthropology’s Edward Sapir Award, and has been reviewed by American Anthropologist, Choice, Contemporary Sociology, Dicourse Studies, Ethnos, Hedgehog Review, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Qualitative Social Work, Social Service Review, Social Anthropology, Society, and Somatosphere

Professor Carr also co-edited a volume, titled Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life (University of California Press) with Michael Lempert (University of Michigan).  The book explores how, why, under what circumstances, and to what ends social actors, in diverse circumstances, scale their worlds. For instance, American social work has long organized its pedagogical practices, if not its actual labor by way of the ubiquitous macro-meso-micro distinction. Rather than taking such scalar distinctions as ready-made platforms on which professional practice simply unfolds, Carr argues—in her teaching as well as her research—that we should investigate the effects of divvying up social life in this manner and explore alternatives.


Professional Vision

Professionals are socialized into particular and consequential ways of seeing—perspectives with which laypeople contend. What does it take to cultivate, authorize and...

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Social Problems, Social Policy, and Social Change

This course is designed to provide an analytic framework that enables students to understand how social problems are socially constructed, how social policies are created...

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New Book by E. Summerson Carr focuses on Motivational Interviewing and How Cultural Forms Emerge and Spread
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E. Summerson Carr's new book, "Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life"
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See all news articles about Professor; Joint Appointment with the Department of Anthropology; Associated Faculty, Comparative Human Development E. Summerson Carr
President to the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA)
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In press. Working the Difference: Science, Spirit, and the Spread of Motivational Interviewing.  University of Chicago Press

2011. Scripting Addiction: The Politics of Therapeutic Talk and Ameri­can Sobriety. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Edited Books

2023. Silverstein, Michael (author) E. Summerson Carr, Susan Gal, and Constantine Nakassis (editors). Language in Culture: Lectures on the Social Semiotics of Language. Cambridge University Press.

Carr, E. Summerson & Michael Lempert (eds.)  2016.  Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press.


Carr, E. Summerson & Hannah Obertino Norwood.  2022. Legitimating Evidence: The Trans-institutional Life of Evidence-Based Practice. Social Science & Medicine. 310: 115130. 

Carr, E. Summerson.  2021. Learning How Not to Know: Pragmatism, (In)expertise, and the Training of American Helping ProfessionalsAmerican Anthropologist 123 (3): 526-538.

Carr, E. Summerson.  2019.  The Work of 'Crisis' in the 'Opioid Crisis.'  Journal of Extreme Anthropology 3(2): 161-166.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2015. "Occupation Bedbug: Or, the Urgency and Agency of Professional Pragmatism."  Cultural Anthropology 30(2): 257-285.

Carr, E. Summerson & Yvonne Smith. 2014. "The poetics of therapeutic practice: Motivational interviewing and the powers of pause." Culture, Medicine, Psychiatry 38:83-114.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2013. "'Signs of the times': Confession and the semiotic production of inner truth." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI) (19): 34-51.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2010. "Enactments of expertise." Annual Review of Anthropology (39): 17-32. 

Carr, E. Summerson. 2010. "Qualifying the qualitative social work interview: A linguis­tic anthropological approach." Qualitative Social Work: 123-43. 

Carr, E. Summerson. 2009. "Anticipating and inhabiting institutional identities." Ameri­can Ethnologist 36(2): 317-36.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2006. "Secrets keep you sick: Metalinguistic labor in a drug treat­ment program for homeless women." Language in Society 35(5): 631-53. 


Carr, E. Summerson.  2023.  (In)expertise & the Paradox of Therapeutic Governance.  Invited chapter for The Oxford Handbook of Expertise & Democratic Politics, Edited by Gil Eyal and Tom Medvetz.  Oxford University Press.

Carr, E. Summerson & Michael Lempert. 2016. Pragmatics of Scale.  In E.S. Carr & M. Lempert (eds.), Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1-24.

Carr, E. Summerson & Brooke Fisher. Interscaling Awe; De-escalating Disaster.  In E.S. Carr & M. Lempert (eds.), Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 133-158.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2016. Flipping the Script: Reimagining the Social Service Encounter.  In T. A. Andreassen, J.  F. Gubrium & P. K. Solvang (eds.), Reimagining the Relationship between Professionals & Service Users.  New York: Columbia University Press.

Carr, E. Summerson. 2013.  Signs of Sobriety: Rescripting American Addiction Counseling. In E. Raikhel and W. Garriott (eds.), Addiction Trajectories. Duke University Press, 160-87.

Associate Professor E. Summerson Carr is on leave for the 2022-23 academic year.

E. Summerson Carr is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice and the Department of Anthropology in the Division of Social Sciences. She is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist who conducts ethnographic studies of social work and allied professions. She sustains broader interests in the cultural history of American psychotherapies, the politics of communication, interspecies work and communication, the ethnography of complex institutions, and the anthropology of the United States.

At Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, Carr teaches a research class focused on ethnographic methods, the winter term of the required policy sequence, and an advanced HBSE course called, Drugs: Culture and Context.  She co-sponsors The Council for Advanced Studies Workshop on United States Locations, which is dedicated to engaging currents in the anthropology of the United States.  In addition to her joint appointment, she is an Associate Faculty of Comparative Human Development and Gender Studies and an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.

Professor Carr received a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Social Work at the University of Michigan, where she also earned an M.S.W., an M.A. in Anthropology, and a Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies.