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James W. Russell was born in New York and grew up in Oklahoma. Active in the 1960s civil rights and antiwar movements, he was the first editor of New Left Notes, the national newspaper of Students for a Democratic Society. He received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and has taught at universities in San Francisco, Texas, Oregon, Mexico City and Connecticut. From 1990 to 1992 he was a Fulbright senior lecturer and researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. In 2001 he was named to a five-year term as a Fulbright senior specialist.