A Brief Reflection on the Possibilities of Public Law


The second annual University of Texas Graduate Conference in Public Law was held this past week at the UT School of Law, bringing graduate scholars to Austin from departments across the United States. Reflecting the growing prominence of public law in the broader discipline of political science, the conference intended to provide a forum for engagement with common questions in the field.  Focused on topics such as Security and International Law, Human Rights, and Jurisprudence and Judicial Behavior, the two-day conference was sponsored by a variety of faculty, departments and centers across UT’s campus: the Department of Government, College of Liberal Arts, School of Law, Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, Clements Center for National Security, and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

This recent convergence highlighted the diversity of research in the field of public law. In particular, I was struck by the graduate students’ international and multidisciplinary approaches to their work. The multidisciplinary character of the field was further articulated by the keynote speaker, Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele (Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University), whose talk, “Constitutional Possibilities,” argued that in addition to studying constitutional doctrine and institutions, we should study the potentially constitutional ideas available in any particular time and place.

I think it is safe to say that many public law scholars have never considered ethnography as a methodological possibility. Questions pertaining to the areas of public law lend themselves more to a historical or comparative approach. However, Dr. Scheppele championed the use of ethnography in her own current research and, in doing so, emphasized the benefit of a nontraditional approach to the field at large.

As sociologists, I think it is important to embrace Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele’s message of not overlooking certain methods in our study of longstanding sociological inquiries. If we limit ourselves to a particular method or approach, we constrain our ability to conduct the best possible research.

As a graduate student, I often stress about whether I am more qualitative, quantitative, or even brave enough to be an experimentalist! The UT Graduate Public Law Conference was a solid reminder that my questions should guide my research, and that my time as a graduate student is best served developing an appreciation for multiple methodologies.


Andrew Krebs is a Ph.D student in the Department of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. His broad research interests include lay participation, juries, court systems, and prison operations. You can follow him on Twitter @A4Andrew.

UT Alumna Esther Sullivan featured at The Atlantic


Harbour Point Estates, Chicago

Recent UT-Austin Sociology alumna Esther Sullivan and her research are featured in “The Other Affordable Housing Crisis” at The Atlantic, discussing the “affordable housing crisis” that impacts those who live in mobile home parks:

Trailer parks are the largest segment of non-subsidized affordable housing in the United States, but they are on the radar of few policymakers, says Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver. Their number grew tremendously during the 1980s as direct federal funding for public housing was slashed, effectively privatizing much of the country’s low-income housing. There are an estimated 8,462,461 mobile homes nationwide, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

The vast majority of mobile home parks are located not in far-flung rural areas but in more populous metros, says Sullivan, who spent two years living in and being evicted from closing mobile home parks as part of her research. They predominate in Sun Belt states like Texas, Florida, and California, but you can also find them near New York City, or Cleveland, or Seattle.

Trailer park residents typically own their homes but not the ground beneath them, meaning most of the benefits of homeownership can be destroyed at someone else’s whim. It’s precisely this divided ownership model that helps make mobile home living affordable, but it also leaves residents vulnerable to eviction.

Read more on this issue and Esther’s work in Harris County here!

ON THE MARKET: Kate Henley Averett

Welcome to the new “On the Market” series, where UTAustinSOC will profile UT-Austin graduate students who are on the job market! This series will serve as a means of not only allowing the graduate community to learn more about the important work that our graduate students are producing; it will also be a place to share advice gleaned and lessons learned from the job search process.

Up first, Kate Averett, a 6th-year doctoral candidate and Urban Ethnography Lab Fellow:


Tell me about your research. What are you working on?

 My research broadly is around gender and sexuality in childhood and the family. More specifically, I look at how the social structures of gender and sexuality shape and inform experiences of childhood and experiences of parenting. I’ve done research in the past that has looked at LGBT parents and how they socialize their kids with respect to gender, particularly how they navigate the fact that a lot of the gender norms in childhood are based around very heteronormative assumptions. I looked at how they think about their children’s futures as not necessarily heterosexual and how they raise their kids with respect to/in resistance to gender norms.

My dissertation is on the homeschooling movement in Texas. It’s a mixed methods project that is looking at discourses of gender and sexuality in the homeschooling movement. Homeschooling has traditionally been this very bifurcated movement where you have people on the ideological “extremes”: religious conservatives – who have very specific beliefs about what gender and sexuality should look like and are very critical of the secularization of schools and the liberal influence around gender and sexuality – and liberal progressives – who have more of an education reform perspective and are critical of the way that schools encourage conformity in children, including gender and sexual conformity, and view schools as places where children are taught to lose their “true” selves. So, they’re both really critical of the gender and sexual “regimes” of the schools but from really different directions.

So, I’m exploring what discourses are going on and what do these have to do with how these two opposing “camps” are coming to the same decision to homeschool their kids. I look at the values and beliefs of the families but also the structural forces that are shaping this decision, such as the larger neoliberal divestment from public services like public education as well as the type of work that the parents do or whether they have workplace flexibility. Parents I’ve interviewed tend to have had one of two situations: either the husbands of these heterosexual wives make enough to support the family on one income or one or both parents have some sort of flexible work arrangement that allows them to work part-time, work from home or work odd hours in order to accommodate being home with their kids. There’s a lot about the structure of the economy right now that is enabling certain parents to homeschool, but it raises all these questions about who doesn’t have the access to this practice when they are dissatisfied with public education due to working multiple jobs or not having workplace flexibility.

The other major structural factor I look at is the gendered construction of motherhood and how the ways parents on both sides of the political spectrum talk about homeschooling is informed by what it means to be a “good” mother. Even among self-proclaimed “feminist parents” the pressure for the mother to be doing everything she can to provide for her children is something they feel very strongly about and to varying degrees, do and do not feel able to resist.

For my future research, I see myself remaining in this area of looking at gender and sexuality in the family. I’m planning a project looking at families with a transgender parent or transgender child, including both in the study to think about how children are part of the gendering process of the family itself and how children play a role as active social agents in gendering their parents and making the gendered space of the family what it is.

Very cool. So, how did you prepare for this process of applying for jobs and sending out applications this fall?

 I started preparing over the summer; as soon as job postings started going up on the ASA Job Bank (the earliest in May, but most in June or July and continuing into October) I was looking at them, even though there weren’t that many at first and most of them wouldn’t be jobs I’d be applying for in terms of not being in my area. I looked at what kinds of materials they are looking for, what kinds of materials do I need to have. One of the first things I did was make an appointment with my advisor and ask her what were the things I should be doing, at what point should I have drafts of various documents. Her advice was really helpful, in that the documents you produce for the job market are, for the most part, very short but they take a really long time to get them right. It’s easy to write a cover letter but it’s not easy to write a good cover letter; you have to allow time for multiples drafts, multiple rewrites.

I started working on the basics of my documents in July, so that by mid-August I had my basic cover letter, research statement, and teaching statement all set. This was helpful because then ASA happens and then, as soon as you get back, some of the deadlines are starting. I’ve found most of the deadlines are between mid-September and mid-October but there were some early-September ones, so you need to have stuff ready to go.

The other thing I did was contact the people I wanted to write letters for me in June, making sure I gave them plenty of lead time on that, even though as of June I didn’t know more than a handful of specific jobs, specific dates. I asked them, what information would you like from me, what can I do to make this easier? So, being in frequent contact with the letter writers has been really important in terms of checking in with what they need and keeping them informed of new deadlines or new openings that I am applying for.

How often is “frequent”?

It depends on what your letter writer needs. Some want updates whenever you add a new position to the list; others want weekly updates on what’s coming up this week. Every letter writer is going to be different in terms of what they want from you so I think it’s a good idea to just ask.

So, how are you balancing all the things on your plate right now, since the semester is back in session?

 I’m TA-ing this semester for Research Methods. It’s a course I’ve TA’d for before with different professors, so I’m pretty familiar with the subject matter. There’s a lag in the semester before any grading needs to happen on my part, so, even though the majority of my applications aren’t due until mid-to-late-September and early-to-mid-October, I’m trying to get all my applications done and out within the first few weeks of the semester. I know that once I start having to grade papers, it will be harder to balance all of that. For now, I’m trying to spend a couple days a week really focused on applications and getting them out. I have a calendar of what I want to get out each week. Also, I have a couple of days a week that I dedicate to working on my dissertation.

Any sage advice?

My biggest piece of advice would be to be super organized, even if you’re not normally a super organized person. Force yourself to be. I have several different spreadsheets having to do with the jobs I’m applying for, when their deadlines are, what’s required for each application since the portfolio looks different for each one. I have a separate spreadsheet for my letter writers that includes the position – what it is, is it targeted for a gender person, is it a joint appointment, that kind of thing – and what the deadline is, and how the letter is to be submitted. Some you submit through Interfolio or on the school’s website, others you send emails to specific people, and others delay letters until you’ve made it to a certain round in the selection process. I have another spreadsheet that tracks what’s been uploaded and submitted. I color-code to mark my progress of when I finish an application. So much is in the little details, so it’s helpful to mark your progress and know that you’re getting somewhere.

How are you practicing self-care?

The way I’ve been practicing self-care in general the last few years is being really good about my sleep. That’s one area that I just don’t sacrifice because I know that’s what my body needs. I’ve also been working on eating healthier, staying hydrated, stretching, doing yoga. I try to keep my body moving and pay attention to it because if you get sick or your back goes out, it’s really hard to get work done. Make sure you’re taking care of the basics so you can do everything else. People don’t think of scholarly work as being embodied work but it is. It’s tough on our bodies to be writing all the time, to be sitting, to be reading – the postures we hold ourselves in are hard on the body. You have to keep your body conditioned the way that anyone would for a job that requires physical labor.

Also, having a community of other people who are on the job market is really critical. There are a bunch of us in the department who are on the market right now and we bounce ideas off each other, we ask each other questions, we get advice, we talk strategy. There is a temptation to be competitive and not share advice; but I, and my colleagues, know that when one of us looks good, all of UT-Austin Sociology looks good. When we’re all strong on the market that makes us all look good. It’s a very solitary experience so it’s good that we’re all cheering for each other. The little bits of encouragement are really helpful and help with demystifying the process. #solidarityisforgradstudents


“This Is Men’s Work:” Lessons on How to Talk about Masculinity and Men’s Involvement in Ending Violence against Women


“My Strength Is Not For Hurting,” read a poster that professor Christine Williams showed during the inaugural MasculinUT: Healthy Masculinities Project event on September 3, 2015. Williams was critical of the poster because of how it positioned men as subjects who can make a choice to be violent or not, while women were portrayed as silent objects to be protected. The poster is an example of recent efforts to involve men in the movement to end violence against women, contained in Michael Messner’s new book, Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women. The book, which came out earlier this year, was at the center of an “author-meets-critics” panel conversation between Messner, UT sociology professors Christine Williams and Ben Carrington, and undergraduate Student Government Chief of Staff Taral Patel.

Examples of the “My Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign posters referenced by Christine Williams

The conversation around this poster was reflective of the tone of the event, which did not focus purely on the successes or failures of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women, but on the contradictions and lessons that can be learned about masculinity, race, and the institutionalization of the movement to end violence against women. The “Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign represents, to varying degrees, the state of men’s involvement (or attempts to involve men) in the movement: a depoliticized (read: distanced from feminism), sanitized (read: not messing with a gender hierarchy or questioning masculinity), professionalized and institutionalized effort that targets individual men, but is not critical of masculinity or patriarchy and the way they shape institutions and their logics. It stands in stark contrast with MasculinUT, which is a project headed by Voices Against Violence of the Counseling and Mental Health Center. MasculinUT aims to transform taken-for-granted understandings of masculinity on campus, and promote healthy models of masculinity with the ultimate goal of preventing interpersonal, relationship, and sexual violence on campus. The conversation over the poster and the history of men’s involvement in ending violence against women went in many directions that problematized taken for granted ideas about gender, race, and violence. Though not all questions were answered, the fact that we can have a complex conversation says a lot about the direction that anti-violence work can positively go in.

Messner’s co-authored book analyzes men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women from the 1970s to the present, separating the men into different cohorts. As Patel summarized during the event, Messner explains that in the 1970s some men listened to and collaborated with women who were leaders in the feminist movement, creating coalitions with them to redefine masculinity and fight for gender equality by reaching out to young men. Messner calls these men the “movement cohort.” Patel noted that a key difference between men in the 1970s and young men today was the use of political labels to identify themselves in the 70s, compared to almost a phobia of labels nowadays. The “bridge cohort” is what Messner terms the men who worked in anti-violence programs and institutions with anti-violence policies during 1980s and 1990s; Patel found this part of the book relevant to him as a student in an institution that has to follow laws and policies to prevent violence against women. Patel saw the institutionalization of anti-violence programs (in universities and the military, for example) as the success of feminism, and observed that coalition building means that allies must listen to movement leaders. He also highlighted how the book respects and centers the work of women, without which men who do anti-violence work could not operate.

The final group that Messner’s book discusses is the “professional cohort.” This cohort of men is the most diverse racially and economically; this is partly the result of anti-violence programs targeting communities of color and needing to recruit young men of color that their target audience can relate to. It is also a cohort distant from political discourses, as they do not identify with feminism for the most part, and work under a public health and social work umbrella to justify their involvement in anti-violence programs. In this vein, Patel’s questions focused on what students can do now to build on the opportunities afforded to them by feminist work and continue building coalitions that recognize how gender violence is not independent from racial violence and class violence, among other types of violence experienced by students.

One of VAV's new posters for the "Yes means Yes" campaign.
One of VAV’s new posters for the “Yes means Yes” campaign.

After reflecting on Patel’s comments and Messner’s responses, I see that MasculinUT is a mixture of both “new” and “not so new” ideas. Mesnner shared that in the 1970s, men had a vested interest in changing the definition of “manhood” to humanize men and fight against unquestioned gender assumptions (which society ascribes to boys and men) such as men’s aggressiveness, lack of emotions, and violent tendencies. Like Messner’s early experiences in the feminist movement, one of the goals of MasculinUT is to promote healthy models of masculinities that would afford young men on our campus a better quality of life by improving relationships, reducing violence (against women and among men), and improving men’s mental and physical health by encouraging the exploration of different emotions and interpersonal skills often thought of as feminine.

However, as Christine Williams pointed out during the panel, recent efforts by some men’s groups who stand against violence often reify the gender hierarchy by positioning men as subjects who have to be responsible for their male power, and women as objects to be protected. After showing the posters mentioned at the beginning of this post, she congratulated Messner on how the book operates with a framework that does not glorify or put down men’s efforts, but rather works to understand contradictions and tensions that arise out of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women. One of her most critical questions had to do with how much emphasis Messner puts on education programs to reduce violence, and whether or not education is a true site of transformation for masculinity. To this, Messner responded that education by itself is not an answer, and indeed it is wrought with problematic messages that rest on a gender binary and hierarchy. However, he pointed out that the book contains examples of men using educational and promotional materials as tools to start a conversation that is relevant to men’s lives. Moreover, he emphasized that the book also explores what it takes for men to get interested in the movement to end violence against women, and how much effort they have to put in to make it their career. By emphasizing this, he is not trying to glorify the men (who often are praised just for showing up to anti-violence programs), yet also not dismiss the complicated, contradictory, and often difficult work they engage in.

Professor Ben Carrington also highlighted parts of the book that discussed how anti-violence PR work is limited when the movement to end violence against women is institutionalized. Carrington reflected on how, as universities, non-profits, health organizations, and other institutions develop anti-violence policies and work to reduce gender violence, they often ignore how to transform powerful entities (such as athletics departments) and become complicit in the perpetuation of violence. Moreover, Carrington mentioned that the problem is individualized, as it is not seen as a cultural or structural problem, but a problem of individual men. Often, the men who represent violence in the eyes of the institution tend to be men of color, who become scapegoats that ultimately allow for assumptions of masculinity within the institutions to resist transformation. Carrington ended with a question about the limits of Messner’s definition of the “field” of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women, particularly how limiting the genealogy of anti-violence work from the 1970s to today leaves out important contributions of women of color that span hundreds of years of work against the violence of European colonists, slave-owners, and other powerful entities. If these were to be included, asked Dr. Carrington, is a white, liberal, feminist framework still relevant?

There is a lot at stake when writing about men’s involvement in a movement primarily seen as headed by white women, because under patriarchy men’s contributions can be glorified and their privilege overlooked, silencing women’s needs and contributions. Moreover, in a society that privileges whiteness, it is easy to ignore women of color’s involvement and intellectual contributions in anti-violence work, and ignore power dynamics that result in men of color and working class men being labeled as the most violent in an effort to resist an overall transformation of patriarchy that affords elite men privilege. While the book does address some of these issues, Messner shared that after having conversations with many feminist academics and activists, he now sees loose ends left in his book. If given a chance, he would include more historical information about important anti-violence work, particularly work done by women of color. He explained that his original genealogy arose from a conversation with his co-authors while reminiscing about their involvement in the feminist movement and in violence prevention work. Thus, the genealogy represents their own social location. This reminds me of how Dorothy Smith1 and Patricia Hill Collins2 write about how the tools we learn as sociologists to conduct research are rooted in masculinist, Eurocentric logics. It is easy to forget or trivialize women’s intellectual contributions and work when the very tools of our field are already infused with logics that center (often white and middle-class) men’s experiences and standpoint, even when working with a feminist framework in a field constructed by feminists.

I am not accusing the authors of the book or pointing fingers particularly at them, but rather reflecting on what it takes to produce feminist work that includes sophisticated thoughts about men and masculinity in a feminist scholarly effort, from the point of view of men. As Smith and Collins argue, one way to account for the limitations of both our social location and masculinist, Eurocentric sociological methods and theory, is to trust and respect feminist work that arises from the experiences of women of all walks of life. This is something that, as a feminist scholar, Messner is doing since the release of the book. He has addressed questions such as Carrington’s by recognizing the limitations of his book and incorporating the tools and ideas of feminists of color to enrich the work without taking credit for those ideas. He wrote the blog post titled “Intersectionality Without Women of Color?” to engage in reflexivity sparked by listening to feminists of color. He starts his post by writing:

A book should never be treated as a statement of some final Truth. Instead, a book is best put to use as moment of condensed insight that focuses and clarifies ongoing conversations. Still, when you are the author of a book, and engaging in such public conversations, you sometimes learn things in the give-and-take that you wish you had known while writing.

This is where I see the success of this event and hopefully, of the new MasculinUT initiative on the UT campus: engaging in dialogue that results in meaningful transformations of our understandings of gender and violence, and the multiple intersections with race, class, and more. I foresee a lot of difficult conversations happening as Voices Against Violence moves forward with this project on the UT campus. When talking about the power inherent in relationships shaped by gender, race, and class (among other identities), and more importantly, about transforming those relationships to prevent violence, I don’t see an easy way to prevent disagreement or prevent MasculinUT from engaging in problematic discussions. What I do see is that it can be possible to have a dialogue where MasculinUT and the student body can learn from each other and together develop a fluid platform to address issues of violence, gender, race, class, and more. What this event taught me (in connection to feminist epistemology and methodology), is that this type of work requires an interrogation of logics and practices that exist through, and outside of, ourselves. We cannot rely on our experiences and our points of view alone to understand how violence works and how to prevent it. We need to trust, listen to, and respect what people with vastly different experiences have to say, whether this is in the form of theories developed by feminist scholars, or the solutions that activists of different backgrounds have come up with when engaging in anti-violence work. Being reflexive of our standpoint as we do research, having compassion for the people who engage in education programs that target men, questioning the rationalization for targeting men of color, and being critical of taken-for-granted notions of masculinity will only enrich the work that we do, and Messner’s responses (during the panel and in the blog linked above) are one way of transforming our narratives and our tools as sociologists. In line with his book, I do not want to glorify Messner for his work; however, I do want to celebrate the lessons to be learned in the contradictions and tensions that his work contends with, and the way that he listens to, honors, and works with other stakeholders in the movement to end violence.



1. Smith, Dorothy. (1987). The Every Day World As Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Northeastern University Press.

2. Collins, Patricia Hill. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge.


Juan Portillo is a Graduate Assistant for Voices Against Violence, working on the MasculinUT project. He is also a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT Austin.


Three authors reflect on Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City

InvisibleIn our celebrity obsessed culture, it’s easy to forget that the lives of everyday people have interest and value.  Austin, Texas has built a reputation on the cultural capital of its live music scene and the many artists and “keeping it weird” citizens that make it a funky oasis in a very conservative state. The Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City collaborative book project (edited by Dr. Javier Auyero) looks at another side of the phenomenal growth and relentless drone of Austin’s self-promotion. From the website:

Born out of a graduate seminar at the University of Texas, twelve graduate students—inspired and sometimes disturbed by the academic work on poverty in the Americas—set forth to create something different. We initially called ourselves the “OSA group”, referencing our interest in the “other side of Austin.”

This collective enterprise was not the product of a clearly defined research project, but what we came to see as an intellectual adventure. We read extensively, brainstormed over potluck dinners and started to get to know the people that would become the inspiration for each chapter.

Invisible in Austin launches at Book People on Friday, September 4th and will be a major event, just the beginning of talks held on campus and in schools around Austin that will take the project into classrooms and onto book club reading lists (like Senator Kirk Watson’s, for example). The word is spreading fast, Publisher’s Weekly put it on the August 31 pick of the week list. It’s heartening to see how interested people are in the stories of those who are being pushed aside in the mad rush of gentrification.

I asked three of the book’s co-authors (Caitlyn Collins, Katie Jensen and Marcos Perez) how the project continues to inform their experience of Austin, collaborative authorship and continuing friendships with the people who opened their lives to this ethnography. I found the stories to be compelling and compassionate portrayals of fellow citizens who are giving us the opportunity to engage our humanity.

I asked them what stayed with them the most from the interviews and their connections with the person they wrote about:

Marcos Perez – Manuel: The Luxury of Defending Yourself


One of the most gratifying aspects of doing ethnography is that you really get to know people. Ethnography gives you the opportunity to learn about people’s ideals, history, fears and hopes. Every individual life is a complex mix of events, contexts and dispositions, and the methodologies we used in the book allowed us to capture that. In the case of Manuel, I was amazed from the very beginning by his capacity to overcome barriers, and by his enthusiasm in helping others overcome obstacles as well. My interviews with him also reminded me that people cannot be limited to one category: only half of the time in our meetings dealt with immigration and activism. The other half we talked about countless other topics, from sports to travel plan to family to school.

Katie Jensen – Kumar: Driving in the Nighttime

"Kumar," cab driver in Austin, Texas.

What stays with me the most from my interviews with Kumar is the warmth, kindness and generosity of Kumar and his family. When I first met Kumar and asked if I could interview him as part of a project about Austin, he was affirmative –“Yes, yes, that’s good”– and yet unconcerned with what I was going to ask him about. He simply wanted someone to help him with his English; his night schedule as a taxi driver made it difficult to attend formal classes. He had little concern for what was the trade. And, as a former teacher and professor in Nepal, he is very used to answering questions! Our meetings followed a predictable pattern; first we’d discuss English while drinking Nepalese coffee, and then I asked him my questions as we ate dinner. For the first few times that we met, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I waited for him to change his mind about opening up his home and his life to me, to decide it was too invasive, not worth it to share so much with a stranger. But that never happened. Instead, Kumar, Manu, Sobika, and Rabin continued to welcome me. I have eaten more meals with Kumar and his family than I can count. I have celebrated their holy days with them. Even now, long after the interviews finished, I’m still in touch with Kumar and his children. Kumar always asks me how my studies are going. They’ve even invited me to go to Nepal with them year after next. Once Kumar is eligible for U.S. citizenship, he will be able to return to his home country for the first time since he fled. That will be a very joyous day.

Caitlyn Collins – Raven: “The Difference between a Cocktail Waitress and a Stripper? Two Weeks”

Cocktail I continue to be astounded by Raven’s strength, poise, and optimistic outlook given all that she has witnessed and overcome. Her stubborn positivity really struck me. What stays with me the most is our friendship; I really value our coffee dates, happy hours, and chats over pancake breakfasts that we’ve continued since our interviews came to a close. I feel lucky to watch her life unfold as time passes, and am even happier to report that she is in a stable job and happy partnership now. She shared so much with me that made it into the book, and I hope she has a sense for how powerful that act of sharing can be for others who read her words. I really feel honored to be able to tell her story.

Has it changed the way they look at Austin?

Katie Jensen: I think more than change the way I look at Austin – which, even after four years, still does not feel like “my” town – it has expanded my understanding of the city. Hearing and reading about the eleven individuals who fill the pages of Invisible in Austin over the course of years, who are rich in details beyond those which could fit into our chapters, very much changed the level of detail with which I see the city and imagine it in my mind. I cannot hear about or drive by a W hotel without thinking of Ethan and his life trajectory. I cannot pass by a domestic cleaning service car without thinking of Xiomara and her family. I cannot think of a storage unit without remembering Clarissa. When I fret about gentrification in Austin, I remember the tour de force that’s Ella. I cannot see an office printer without wondering about Chip and his health. And in this way, these labor fields or social groups become more than vague entities in my mind but filled with the lived experiences of real people. All of which have had lives, as Kumar says, not like a straight line, but “like the way a snake moves.”

Caitlyn Collins: I don’t sense that it has changed my outlook on Austin (I walk around with my sociology brain turned on constantly — too often, really), but I get the feeling that it will really change OTHER people’s outlook, and I am really excited about that. The first responses we’ve gotten from folks here have been overwhelmingly positive and people seem to respond strongly to the stories we tell. I think this momentum will only grow as we start doing talks and panels around town in the coming months, and as it is taught in undergraduate and graduate classes hopefully nationwide.

Marcos Perez:  One of the first titles we considered for the book was “Through Their Eyes”. We eventually decided against it, but the phrase still conveys how many felt about the project’s main contribution: we are able to see the city through the eyes of eleven people. The chapters in the book (and the amazing photographs taken by Eva and Julia) hopefully will have the effect of making it impossible to see the city the same way after reading each of them. You cannot see aspects of urban life the same way, now that you know how they look from the perspective of others.

Will you consider creating another collaborative book project in the future?

Marcos Perez: Oh, yeah. I hope that projects like these continue at the Ethno Lab after the current cohort of students has graduated. And I sincerely expect that we will do a similar project from our new positions at different universities across the nation and the world.

Caity Collins: Absolutely. This project makes me believe even more in the beauty, power, and strength of collaborative ethnography. None of us on our own could have done this project – this was truly an instance of the total being greater than the sum of its parts.

Katie Jensen:  It’s my hope that as the graduate students become professors, we may be able to repeat such a project in the future cities we will call home. Nothing in my life has taught me as much as this book about writing and treating with care and respect those who share their lives with us. We spent years together reading about interviewing, about social suffering, about the “creative class;” conducting interview after interview after interview; crafting narratives from those many hours of interviews; and finally figuring out the particular themes around which those narratives would hinge. During all that time, listening to Javier and the other graduate students (and probably talking too much), I came to more deeply understand the great responsibility we have as sociologists — to write well, to do justice to those we write about, and to try as hard as possible to make the book impact others in some of the ways it has impacted us.

As I read the book, I hear each chapter in the voice of its author.  It conveys the intimacy and nuanced experience of storytelling and keeps me wondering how the people in these stories are doing .  It is a testament to the personal commitment of the authors and the individuals who are portrayed in the book. This is how we share the best of what our community has to offer and how what starts here changes the world.



The Art of the Live-Tweet (and On-line Networking) at ASA

Social media’s usefulness has been under a microscope as of late. With the attacks on professors Steve Salaita, Zandria Robinson, and Saida Grundy in the last year for their candid commentary on race, nation, and inequality (among other things) via Twitter, some question whether social media should be a part of the lives of academics or other public figures.


It cannot be denied that Twitter is a significant component of public intellectualism. In fact, it can be a very important tool in the graduate student’s arsenal. Twitter serves as a great way to meet other scholars – graduate student and faculty alike – as well as share one’s work. As Ekins and Perlstein (2014) argue, “Twitter can play an active role here to bridge or break down the gap between researcher cliques and can serve as a means to introduce you and your ideas to others in the field, without having to personally ‘know’ them.” Thus, participating in Twitter discussions and live-tweets of either pop culture or academic events provide the opportunity to weigh in based on one’s area of expertise and to hone the skills of clarity, directness, and brevity. Constrained by 140 characters at a time, tweeting, particularly live-tweeting, is an exercise in condensing information in order to share it with others.

Live-tweeting at conferences has become a standard means of participating in discussions within and across sessions with various attendees as well as a way to share the happenings of the conference with the public. Last year in San Francisco, many sociologists tied in-session discussions to the protests in Ferguson, MO, with hashtags. It was because of these on- and off-line conversations that Sociologists for Justice was formed, with a statement on Ferguson and a “Ferguson Syllabus” following shortly after ASA 2014 ended.

On a more personal level, I have reaped several benefits from using Twitter, especially during my trip to San Francisco for my first ASA. Due to interacting over Twitter, I felt more comfortable approaching Professor David L. Brunsma at the panel he organized and via email after ASA ended. In fact, he is now a member of my dissertation committee. More recently, I was contacted by Professor Jessie Daniels (a UT Sociology alumna!) to write a blog post for Racism Review based on our on-line interactions and the “voice” I have cultivated on Twitter. I, and several other graduate students in our program, have made countless connections with scholars all over the country thanks to Twitter and I wholeheartedly believe in graduate students taking advantage of the space for networking and community support.

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A stray observation at #asa14

So, as Chicago quickly approaches, I encourage everyone in the UT-Austin Sociology community to at least try out Twitter during conference time (the aforementioned Ekins and Perlstein have ten excellent rules to guide you). Not only will you likely make some new friends, you can follow up on your sociological idol(s) and share what you learn from panels and sessions with those who will not be in Chicago (or wherever you might be). ASA is already asking sociologists to share advice for first-time attendees, so a great place to start live-tweeting ASA 2015 is to use the conference hashtag (#asa15) and to follow @ASAnews. The conference hashtag and ASA’s tweets will not only show you what folks are saying and sharing from the various panels, but will enable your tweets to be cached with other attendees. Last year, nearly 18,000 tweets were sent out regarding #asa14 and @UTAustinSoc was right in the middle of it! Hopefully, we can keep the tradition going this year.


I hope to see many of you (and your tweets) in Chicago!


Shantel Gabrieal Buggs is the incoming editor for UTAustinSoc and a 5th-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter at @Future_Dr_Buggs.

@UTAustinSOC in Chicago #ASA15


Sexualities in the Modern World? @UTAustinSOC says yes, in a big way. While our faculty, graduate students and alumni always represent at ASA, Longhorns will steer this year’s sexualities’ conversation in many directions. In glancing over the schedule, I found 82 presentations and table sessions and I’m sure there are more. I include a few of our graduate student presenters below.

Anima Adjepong
“I Want Ghana to Continue to Live in the United States”: Cultural Identity among Second generation Ghanaian immigrants

Claims about the absence of transnational activities among second-generation immigrants do not often consider how racialization shapes these processes. This paper examines the extent to which the U.S.-born children of Ghanaian immigrants participate in a “transnational social field” (Glick-Schiller 2005; Levitt and Glick-Schiller 2004) where they simultaneously engage in Ghanaian life and culture, while fully immersed in American life. Ethnographic investigation of an organization that comprises 1.5- (foreign-born immigrants who moved to the United States prior to or during adolescence and attended school here) and second-generation Ghanaians in Houston, Texas leads me to ask why a group of ostensibly American youth would so strongly identify as Ghanaians. This ethnography examines the ways in which identifying with Ghana and as Ghanaians helps these mostly U.S.-raised youth make sense of their difference as racialized Americans and foreign Ghanaians.

Shantel Gabrieal Buggs
‘Your Momma Is Day-Glow White’: Questioning The Politics Of Racial Identity, Loyalty, And Obligation

This article utilizes discourse analysis and an autoethnographic approach to explore the impact of U.S. racial and ethnic categorization on the experiences of an individual marked as ‘mixed-race’ in terms of individual identity and familial/cultural group loyalty and obligation(s). This essay focuses on an incidence of public policing through the popular social networking platform Facebook, centering on the invocation of racial obligation by white friends and family members. I analyze how racial loyalty is articulated by friends and family members in their posts on my personal Facebook page and how this ‘loyalty’ is used as means of regulating my mixed-race identity performance. This essay aims to understand several things, namely how identity is mediated through the invocation of racial obligation and how tension around identity plays out in the multiracial family.

Caity Collins
Work-Family Policies And Working Mothers: A Comparative Study Of Germany, Sweden, Italy, And The United States

Despite women’s common struggles to balance motherhood and employment, western countries have responded with drastically different work-family policies. Drawing on 100 in-depth interviews and field observation with middle-income working mothers in Germany, Sweden, Italy, and the United States, I examine how different ideals of gender, motherhood, and employment are reflected in and reinforced by the work-family policy regimes of these four countries. Given these different policy regimes, I investigate how working mothers negotiate the constraints and opportunities facing them daily as they balance motherhood and employment. Depending on a country’s level of policy support for women’s employment and caregiving, I observed variation in (1) how closely mothers identify with their policy regime’s ideal of motherhood and the “ideal worker,” and (2) the extent to which they experience guilt and tension about their identities as a mother and a worker. This is the first comparative study to incorporate mothers’ voices into the scholarly debates about the relationship between gender inequality and work-family policy around the world. Understanding women’s perspectives about what works – and what hinders – their achievement of work-family balance should be central to any scholarly endeavor to craft, advocate for, and implement work-family policy as a force for social change.

Elizabeth Cozzolino and Christine L. Williams
Child Support Queens and Disappointing Dads: Gender and Child Support Compliance

Despite increased spending on child support enforcement in the U.S. over the past 30 years, child support collections remain around 40%. Existing literature focuses on three main explanations for this low compliance: poor enforcement, inability to pay, and unwillingness to pay. These explanations either neglect gender or rely on outdated assumptions about gender. Our analysis of in-depth interviews with 21 members of separated families reveals two controlling images of separated parenthood—the child support queen and the disappointing dad—that may help explain the underpayment of child support. In a reversal of traditional parenting roles, we find that separated mothers are now evaluated on their ability to financially provide for their children while separated fathers are evaluated on the time and care that they provide. We argue that these changing expectations of fatherhood and motherhood may contribute to men’s unwillingness to pay child support and women’s reluctance to demand compliance.

Rachel Donnelly
Intergenerational Changes and Health: the Effects of Downward Educational Mobility

A clear majority of high school graduates in the United States decide to enroll in college. In addition to many economic benefits, higher levels of education create opportunities for better health. Social stratification by education creates inequalities in education and health that are socially reproduced within families. Given the context of educational expansion in the United States, this study used data from the General Social Survey to explore the detriments to self-rated health when adult children receive less education than their parents and how these detriments differ by sex and race/ethnicity. Binomial logistic regression models of self-rated health indicated that an individual completing less years of education than his/her mother (downward intergenerational educational mobility) increases the likelihood of reporting fair or poor health. In an era where an increasing number of Americans are completing higher levels of education, these findings illustrate the detrimental effects on health for those who are left behind.

Marc Garcia
Prevalence and Trends in Morbidity and Disability among Mexican American Elders in the Southwestern United States, 1993-2011

The aim of this study was to examine trends in morbidity and disability among elderly Mexican Americans residing in the southwestern United States. Seventeen-year panel data from the Hispanic Established Population for the Epidemiological Study of the Elderly were used to make detailed comparisons specific to nativity, gender and five-year age groups. Results show that foreign-born and U.S.-born Mexican Americans, with a few exceptions, have similar prevalence rates for morbidity regardless of gender. Conversely, IADL prevalence is higher for foreign-born women. Nativity is found to be a significant predictor of IADL disability for females and ADL disability for males. The differences we report have important implications for health services and health policy. Given the rapid aging of the Mexican American population, the prevention and treatment of medical conditions and disabilities, particularly among the foreign-born should be a major public health priority to reduce ADL and IADL dependence in the community.

Erika Grajeda
A “Safe Space” for Undocumented Immigrant Workers?: The Case of the San Francisco Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective

In the U.S., more than 117,600 immigrant, displaced, and homeless workers gather daily in public settings such as street corners, storefronts, and in recent years, worker centers, to procure “off-the books” employment. While “informal” or unregulated hiring sites have long been a common feature of the urban landscape, day labor worker centers represent a new organizational model that emerged in recent years to halt the exploitative practices associated with curbside hiring. Worker centers are thus said to represent a “safe space” for marginalized immigrant workers, particularly a growing number of women who are turning to these organizations to secure employment. While these immigrant organizations are increasingly taking on the role of labor market intermediary, creating recognizable day labor markets and sorting low-wage workers into the world of work in the U.S., they have been largely overlooked by scholars. This article examines new (day) labor organizing in the Latin American immigrant community through an ethnographic case study of the San Francisco Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective (SFDLP-WC). Through participant observation and semi-structured interviews with SFDLP-WC staff, members, and volunteers, I show that assumptions about gender difference are encoded into the worker center’s organizational practices, ideologies, and distributions of power, ultimately placing undue burden on the women members. I find that while worker centers are purported to be “safe havens” for undocumented workers, particularly women, they may actually reproduce existing structures of gender, race, and class inequality.

Pamela Neumann
“Rutas y Desvios: Gender-based Violence, Bureaucratic Practices and (in)Justice in Nicaragua”

In Nicaragua, like other countries in Latin America, women’s police stations serve as the critical first point of contact with the state for women experiencing various forms of domestic violence. With the passage of Law 779 (Ley Integral contra la Violencia hacia las Mujeres) in 2012, new requirements, such as prohibiting mediation and detaining suspected offenders, were introduced. A year later, Law 779 was reformed to permit mediation again under limited circumstances. Then, in August 2014, Nicaragua’s President Ortega signed an executive decree altering Law 779 to incorporate the involvement of community-level “Gabinetes de Familia” in the resolution of certain domestic violence cases. Drawing on participant observation in women’s police stations and in-depth interviews with women victims, this paper analyzes the relationship between these legal and political developments and the everyday interactions that women have with police. In doing so, it highlights both the constraints of local state actors embedded in a web of partisan bureaucracy as well as their agentic role in shaping different women’s ability to access legal justice in domestic violence cases.

Cristian Paredes
Attendance at Museums and Live Theaters: Ethnic Disparities in Highbrow Out-of-the-House Leisure Consumption in Houston

Dynamics of compensation for the deprivations of segregation and discrimination, and the support of multiculturalism derived from ethnic cohesion explain the consumption of out-of-home highbrow leisure events by minority/ethnic individuals, immigrants, and their descendants as efforts toward their integration and assimilation in metropolitan areas. Using data from the Houston Area Survey, I examine whether there are any significant ethnic disparities in the attendance at museums and live theatres, which represent a relevant dimension of out-of-home highbrow leisure in Houston. I found that the odds of frequently attending museums and live theatres are lower for Anglos compared with non-Anglos, and higher for U.S.-born individuals with at least one foreign parent compared with U.S.-born individuals with U.S.-born parents. These findings reveal that the audiences of museums and live theatres in Houston are already characterized by a noteworthy ethnic diversity.

Marcos Perez
What About my Parents? Three Dilemmas of a Community-Based Campus Organization.

Based on a year of ethnographic research on a large organization of undocumented college students, this paper explores the contradictions experienced by activists in one of today’s most important social movements in the United States: the DREAMers. I argue that the dual nature of the organization under study, which is both community-grounded and campus-based, generates three dilemmas that severely affect the group and its members. The first dilemma concerns the organization’s goals, and is experienced as the hard choice between focusing on the needs of undocumented students and pursuing a more inclusive agenda that incorporates their families. The second dilemma is related to the organization’s mobilizing structures, and is caused by its strong ties to the local Latino community, which provides many types of resources but at the same time hinders the group’s appeal to other ethnic and national groups. Finally, the third dilemma stems from the clash between the member’s own identities as hard-working Americans and their experiences of exclusion and discrimination. I describe how these contradictions generate tensions among activists and how they complicate the relations with allied organizations. I also discuss how my findings apply to the nation-wide immigration reform movement. I conclude by exploring how the three dilemmas might shed light on the challenges currently faced by immigrant communities in the United States.

Juan Portillo
Is there really a “female advantage” in higher education? Reconceptualizing the “boy crisis” in education

A topic that dominates education these days is the “crisis” faced by boys’ due to underachievement relative to girls in education. In her best selling book, The War Against Boys: How misguided feminism is harming our young men (2001), Christina Hoff Sommers writes that “it’s a bad time to be a boy in America” (p. 13). She claims that misguided efforts of feminist and women’s groups have resulted in pathologizing boys and men, leading boys to be shut out of educational attainment because of teachers’ perceptions of their “bad behavior” compared to girls’ “good behavior.” This sentiment is accentuated in higher education, as scholars and others are alarmed over an apparent “dominance” of women, who earn a larger proportion of college degrees than men. However, it is not statistics but rather: (a) moral claims about discrimination against boys (particularly boys of color); and (b) a “female advantage” that is to blame for boys’ “disadvantage,” which are misguidedly at the root of most scholarly work done on this topic. In this paper, I will address current understandings of a “boys’ educational crisis” and show that it is a dangerous framing that follows heteropatriarchal logics without challenging gender norms. I argue that: (1) Men of color can easily fall into the trap of speaking ONLY from personal experience, blinding them to the way in which masculinity and male privilege also shape their experiences and their relative disadvantage; (2) A dichotomy that reproduces male dominance is re-created, disguised as “true equality.”

Brandon Robinson
Doing Sexual Responsibility: Gay Men Navigating HIV Online

In this article, the author draws on 15 in-depth interviews with self-identified HIV negative gay men who use Adam4Adam.com for sexual purposes. The author examines how HIV discourses influence these men’s lives as they navigate their intimate and sexual relationships in cyberspace, and the author introduces the concept of doing sexual responsibility to illuminate how managing sexual health, HIV, and risk plays out on the interactional level within gay men’s online encounters. Specifically, the author shows how these men use the website interface to screen other users for HIV and how these men disclose one’s own status and safe sex practices. The author also exposes how these practices lead to the stigmatization of HIV positive individuals on the website. Lastly, the author uncovers how trust can lead to a contradiction of how gay men feel they should act and how they do act in certain sexual encounters. The author concludes that new ways of discussing sexuality, HIV, and sexual health need to be engendered.

Luis Romero
“From La Migra to El Amigo: The INS Campaign to Befriend Undocumented Immigrants during IRCA

Before the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the relationship between undocumented immigrants and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was highly antagonistic. Undocumented immigrants were distrustful of the immigration service due to its deportation mission that implemented deceitful tactics, including using children to lure their undocumented parents and sending letters to immigrants promising legalization only to deport them once they arrived to INS offices. However, this changed for a brief period after the passage of IRCA when INS transformed its image in the eyes of immigrants and became their amigo – their friend. INS accomplished this by engaging in a furious public relations campaign and training their staff to be supportive of immigrants as they applied for legal status – unprecedented measures for an agency that was set on deporting immigrants. This paper explains why INS, an organization that was defined by its enforcement duties and attempted to push out undocumented migrants, became an organization that altered its mission during IRCA to help undocumented migrants gain legal status. The author differs from other explanations of INS’ behavior during IRCA by extending interest-convergence theory and the implications that converging interests have on undocumented immigrants and racial minorities. Using a historical and content analysis of INS interviews, government documents and independent reports, the author expands interest-convergence theory to examine INS’ motivations for helping undocumented immigrants and transforming from the antagonistic migra to their amigo.

Connor Sheehan
Race and Ethnic Differences in Reconstructing Childhood Health

Using the Health and Retirement Survey (n = 9,696) we analyze how race/ethnic disparities in retrospective ratings of child health and current levels of functional limitations are influenced by controls for specific sets of childhood health and socioeconomic conditions. This research is important because the lifecourse framework has become reliant on retrospective measures to operationalize child health. Generally, it’s assumed that reports of childhood health, socioeconomic status and diseases operate similarly across racial and ethnic groups, a questionable supposition considering substantial stratification in life experiences and access to medical care. Indeed, we find considerable race/ethnic differences in retrospective reports of child health with Blacks and Hispanics having higher odds of “fair/poor” child health than Whites. These differences are strengthened when childhood diseases are controlled for, and mediated when socioeconomic conditions are controlled. The lack of access to the health care system likely leads to underreporting of specific childhood conditions among minorities which leads to a suppressor effect when childhood diseases are controlled. Results from negative binomial models predicting the current number of functional limitations largely echo, albeit less strongly, the findings from the retrospective measures. Our results suggest that race/ethnic health disparities begin in childhood but also that childhood health is appraised differently between race/ethnic groups. Due to the observed differences, future life course work should use more general measures of child health than specific when exploring the origins of health disparities.

Chelsea Smith
Change Over Time in Attitudes about Abortion Laws Relative to Recent Restrictions in Texas

Recent laws and regulations in the state of Texas have severely restricted access to abortion care; however, less is known about public opinion regarding such legislation. This study used the Houston Area Survey to investigate attitudes about abortion laws in 2009 (n = 1,393) and 2013 (n = 1,213), as a before-and-after comparison of 2011 restrictions. Descriptive results indicated a decrease in the proportion of Houstonians who were against restrictive abortion laws and who also reported conservative stances on welfare and immigration. Logistic regression analyses revealed that both before and after the 2011 legislation, the strongest predictors of public opinion on abortion laws were attitudes about gay marriage and political party affiliation. Multivariate results also suggested that Houstonians who were older and foreign-born were less supportive of restrictive abortion laws only following 2011 legislation. The findings of this study thus revealed continuity and change in attitudes (and correlates of attitudes) about abortion laws among respondents in the biggest city in Texas before and after the implementation of legislation severely limiting women’s access to abortion.

The study also has implications for current and future impacts on public opinion of the 2013 legislation, which received national attention following state Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Nationally, one in five pregnancies in 2008 end in abortion and in Texas this statistic is slightly lower at 15% of all pregnancies (Guttmacher 2011). Abortions performed in Texas account for 7% of all abortions in the United States; however, in 2008 33% of women lived in one of the 92% of Texas counties without an abortion provider (Guttmacher 2011). Although legal, abortion is an increasingly difficult procedure for Texas women to obtain because of recent laws targeting providers. Legislation in 2003, 2011, and 2013 not only inhibited providers’ ability to serve their patients but also created obstacles to women seeking abortions. Tied to the recent legislation is the increasingly vitriolic public discourse and debate surrounding abortion laws. In this study, I take advantage of a unique dataset, the Houston Area Survey (HAS), to investigate public opinion about abortion laws before and after the 2011 legislation.

Christine Wheatley
Social Effects of Immigrant Detention, Removal, and Return

The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) marks a restrictionist and punitive turn in contemporary United States immigration enforcement. The IIRIRA has made it significantly easier to deport non-U.S. citizens (Hagan, Eschbach and Rodríguez 2008; Rodríguez and Hagan 2004) and accounts for the nearly ten-fold increase in deportations since its passage, with Mexican citizens representing the vast majority of deportations. Despite these trends, few studies have examined the social impacts of IIRIRA, particularly such impacts of increases in detention and deportation. My research addresses this lacunae in immigration literature by assessing the intended and unintended consequences of IIRIRA for Mexican nationals, the largest group impacted by the legislation. In this paper, I uncover and examine the social effects of post-IIRIRA deportation law and practices on returning migrants in Mexico—Mexican nationals who recently returned to Mexico after living in the U.S. without documents, including deportees and other non-deportee returnees. I consider how current U.S. immigration enforcement affects their lives now, how it stays with them (or not) back in Mexico. I consider how this enforcement constrains them in Mexico—the various tangible and intangible, concrete and abstract forms of constraint they experience as a result of interacting, in some capacity, with the system of U.S. immigration enforcement.

Summer 2015 Writing Institutes launch to rave reviews

Rob Crosnoe receiving the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award

Thanks in part to the generous support of the College of Liberal Arts, our Chairperson, Rob Crosnoe and our Graduate Studies Chair, Pamela Paxton each led a 4-day writing workshop to help students boost their summer journal submissions.

Rachel, a 2014 cohort member tells us how she felt after the first session with Rob Crosnoe:

As a first year graduate student, the Summer Writing Workshop with Dr. Rob Crosnoe was incredibly beneficial. Producing and publishing research is pivotal to our success as current graduate students and future assistant professors, and I feel more knowledgeable and confidant after this 4-day workshop than after a year of coursework. Learning Dr. Crosnoe’s strategies, applying them to my own paper, and receiving his feedback helped me develop skills that will be useful for all current and future projects. I find myself already applying his advice on organization and framing to papers that I am co-authoring in addition to my own sole-authored projects. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this workshop so early in my graduate school career. The experience was invaluable.

The 14 participants in each workshop were initially paired to give each other feedback. Each person submitted a paper they wanted to develop from a prior class project or their thesis or dissertation chapters for Rob’s review and critique. They will work in groups of 3 or 4 throughout the summer, using what they learned in the sessions to improve their papers and chances of an R & R or acceptance. Chelsea, a fourth year student writes:

The biggest thing I took away from the writing workshop was how to structure the argument of a paper. I now have a template for writing papers that relies on sequential logic that is clearly laid out in a conceptual model. The template for the introduction section is especially helpful because I used to struggle with getting started on writing yet keeping a concise and focused introduction. Tied to the overall paper structure, Rob had us complete consistency reports, which checked for consistency within each aim/hypothesis/research question/theme across each section of the paper. The first hypothesis, for example, should be clearly stated in the introduction, explained in the lit review, described how it will be tested in the method section, findings shown in the results section, and assessed in the discussion section. I plan to use the template and consistency report in all papers I write from now on.

Pam Paxton
Pam Paxton – The Power of Giving class awards $100,000

Tracking the writing group meetings and subsequent journal  submissions will provide outcomes and data that will be useful in assessing the success of this pilot program. It’s exciting to encourage students in every stage of their program to engage in the conversation and the practice of writing.  As Robert states:

The most important thing the writing workshop offered was the opportunity to discuss our plans for our papers in a guided, productive, and informative way. I’m referring both to the structure of the papers themselves and the journal submission process. Rob did a great job of condensing a lot of the writing process down into a solid introduction, a continuity plan, and a conclusion that ties everything back together — with a mind towards your audience and, as Christine put it, “Who you’re in conversation with.” The simple exercises we did along the way served as a great foundation to begin or revise writing, and after even just one meeting with the writing group we formed I can already tell it has increased my productivity.

Ellyn, no stranger to the world of publishing, still learned valuable lessons and gained inspiration from her colleagues:

I found the writing workshop to be so helpful because it provided an organizational framework that I can take with me into my different writing projects. It made me focus and identify my research questions, forced consistency throughout the different sections of my paper, and gave me the support and encouragement of peer feedback. This workshop really motivated me to set specific goals for submitting my work to a journal, and with the help of my writing group I am confident that I will be able to meet that goal.

Looking forward to hearing from the writing groups as they join forces to stay motivated and focused on polishing and publishing their research.  Many thanks to our peerless leaders, Rob and Pam!




UT Austin Sociologists addressed fallout from two gender stories in the news this week.  Dr. Christine Williams, responded to a highly publicized and embarrassing training session offered by the City of Austin to prepare it’s employees to work effectively with the new city council, an unpredented majority of whom are women. In her blog post for Work in Progress (the ASA Organizations and Occupations blog) Dr. Williams discusses some of the issues diversity training faces.

Diversity training not only reinforces gender stereotypes, it teaches men and women that they have personality differences that suit them to different roles in the organizational hierarchy. In one case, a senior geophysicist explained that after taking a company sponsored Myers-Briggs test, she learned that supporting others is what she truly wants and needs to thrive and that she lacks the “personality” to be a leader. In her case, diversity training provided a justification for why men monopolize the top positions in the corporation, and why women with their “soft skills” are men’s ideal “supporters.”

Diversity training sessions are often an embarrassment, but they do not have to be that way. Imagine if Austin had hired consultants to teach staffers to spot and respond to gender stereotypes, and to help them to develop a deeper understanding of how stereotypes bolster privilege and exclusion. Instead of teaching men and women to accept the “facts” of gender differences, training sessions could focus on how to promote gender equality. Now that would be worth celebrating.

Caitlyn-Jenner-Picture-665x385Caitlyn Jenner has stepped into her role as champion for transgender people with the determination of an Olympic athlete, formerly known as Bruce Jenner.  The privilege she enjoys as a wealthy, beautiful woman with an established public forum in reality television gives her an unusual platform for advocacy.  While she has plenty of detractors, she enjoys a level of public interest and sympathy most transgender people never know. Her voice is being heard.

Thatcher Combs, a graduate Sociology student in our program was interviewed by Alberta Phillips for a recent article published in the Austin American Statesman. He makes a powerful statement about the nuances of gender conformity and privilege.

“Caitlyn Jenner’s “coming out” was received with a mix of applause and criticism. She has become a symbol of transgender rights, joining others such as Laverne Cox from “Orange is the New Black,” reaching the mainstream as never before. But critics charge that she would not be so celebrated were she not beautiful, rich and glamorous. It is, after all, difficult to emulate such a dramatically polished femininity without Jenner’s economic resources. The question remains whether Caitlyn’s coming out will further the interests of the transgender community and the LGBT movement overall.

The mainstream LGBT movement has focused most of its attention thus far on the acceptance of gays and lesbians. The success of the movement is due in large part to the politics of conformity and respectability. The choice to pursue equality through gay and lesbian rights by challenging barriers to military service and marriage rights reinforces the value of conventional lifestyles. Pursuing these avenues to acceptance made gays and lesbians seem “normal” in the eyes of many heterosexuals.

As the nation waits to hear the Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage later this month, many wonder what will come next for the mainstream LGBT movement. With the fight for same-sex marriage drawing to a close, is it possible that we are now witnessing a newly burgeoning “mainstream” transgender movement?

Having captured global attention first as an Olympic champion and more recently as a member of the Jenner/Kardashian reality television family, Caitlyn may be the one person in the U.S. today who has the potential to normalize transgender people and gain acceptance for transgender rights.

But there are costs to making Jenner the movement’s new poster child. She conforms to feminine beauty standards — in facts she excels at them, just as she excelled at masculine standards when she lived as a man. But what she does not do is challenge society’s stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. Where does this leave the majority of transgender people who may not be able to, or may not want to, fit normative standards of masculinity or femininity?

We must not forget, as we celebrate Jenner’s “coming out,” that financial success has allowed her to transition into the beautiful woman she is, yet there are transgender people who cannot physically transition for financial or medical reasons. In fact, many transgender people of lower socioeconomic status continue to pay a heavy price for attempting to live as who they are.

The fight for transgender rights and acceptance should also focus on the many children who are thrown out of their homes or who run away because their genders do not match the norms. We must address the fact that many transgender women, especially women of color, meet daily with verbal and physical assault, even murder.

Caitlyn Jenner has helped bring visibility to the transgender community. But broadening the fight for transgender rights beyond the world of the rich and famous will require recognizing that our current definitions of gender are simply too narrow, and our social policing of gender boundaries is inhumane.”

The struggle for our humanity requires challenges to norms which hinder the acceptance of our very real diversity. Gender norms are front and center in a very competitive field of necessary changes.

Graduate Sociology Blog