Category Archives: Academia

Follow the Thread and Leave Room for Serendipity: Reflections on the PHS Graduate Workshop with Myra Marx Ferree

by Marta Ascherio

Roter faden is the German term for “red thread,” and is used to mean common thread. “Unlike most of German academia, it borrows from sewing,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Sociology Myra Marx Ferree, during UT Austin Sociology’s annual Power, History, and Society workshop. “Women’s practical knowledge.” Whether we intend it or not, there is always a red thread in what we study. It’s about what we do with the red thread that matters.

The red thread that runs through Dr. Ferree’s work is now emerging as a network, called the Society of Gender Professionals. This society will set professional standards, share job opportunities, and work to institutionalize the legitimacy of gender experts. She is particularly interested in how expertise gets used, and how certain types of expertise are credited or discredited. For instance, one of her students researches family law reform in Chile, and finds that gender experts are discredited, with economists being perceived as a more legitimate form of authority.

Dr. Ferree also discussed the debates that took place in the 1980s about whether Women’s Studies should be its own discipline or a sub-specialty in another discipline. “Both ways actually succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone on either side of that debate,” Dr. Ferree told us, which is refreshing to hear in a moment when it seems like the only constant is the reproduction of inequality, and even progressive social movements often re-package existing power relationships.

In the first few minutes of Dr. Ferree’s arrival, as we set up food, she engaged every single graduate student, as attentively as if we were her advisees, commenting on the relevance of our research topics, suggesting literature, and offering introductions.  She leaned back in her chair, so much at ease. Here is some of the advice she had for graduate students:

Keep track of your ideas. C. Wright Mills kept all his ideas on notecards, said Dr. Ferree, and Charles Tilly kept a filing cabinet full of all the topics he would write about if he lived to be 150. She advised us to do the same. “You can’t pursue every idea, so you have to cut them off, but don’t throw them away!”

Leave room for serendipity. “I don’t pick projects. Projects pick me,” said Dr. Ferree. “When we do our dissertations, we often think that we choose them, but when we dig a little bit deeper, we see that it has to do with where we are located in time and space.”

Avoid identifying with one particular method. More than using quantitative or qualitative methods, Dr. Ferree observed, scholars seem to have “quantitative or qualitative identities.” She believes this quantitative/qualitative binary is a barrier to being relevant. Prioritize staying relevant, she said, and learning new methods. Methods are not something you learn once and set aside. You will be learning methods for the rest of your life.

Remember that methods and theories can be subject to trends. Dr. Ferree explained that sociological methods and theoretical approaches can fall in and out of fashion. For instance, while she was writing her dissertation, multi-dimensional scaling was all the rage, but the way she learned it became obsolete shortly after she spent a year grappling with it. If you are interested in getting a job, consider learning or using trendy methods, but do not forget that they may be subject to change. You have to see what works for you.


Marta Ascherio is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and a graduate fellow of the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include immigration, crime, and social control.

UT Austin Sociology at SWS in Atlanta

by Jamie O’Quinn and Katie K. Rogers

Feminist sociologists from UT Austin and members of the department’s gender working group, Fem(me) Sem, were well-represented at the annual winter meeting of Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) this year in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference offered presentations, sessions, and workshops that engaged the theme of “They Persisted: Feminism, Work, Activism, Resistance.”

This year’s meeting addressed pedagogy and academic freedom in the age of hate speech and “fake news,” and tackled ongoing issues of race and racism in the academy, the discipline of sociology, and SWS as an organization. SWS President Adia Harvey Wingfield of Washington University in St. Louis convened plenary sessions on topics such as gender and precarious labor, feminism in the academy, and race, gender, and feminist activism.

(Left to right) UT-Austin PhD Kirsten Dellinger (now Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi) with current graduate students Jess Goldstein-Kral and Caitlin Carroll

Plenary sessions and workshops spotlighted the voices of faculty and activists of color who, in addition to sharing critiques of existing systems, offered strategies for the path forward. They urged feminists to make careful decisions about how to reform and transform their departments without experiencing burnout. They reminded young scholars that joy exists in research and teaching, even within institutions that can feel impossible to change. They also pushed white feminists in the audience to reflect on their own politics of solidarity, and consider how they might show up more effectively to build coalitions with feminists of color in their institutions, organizations, and networks. Ultimately, they challenged all feminist scholars to, as stated by sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom of Virgina Commonwealth University, “figure out the difference between performance politics and solidarity.”

Sociologist Kimberly K. Hoang asks a question during a plenary session on feminism in the academy

A contingent of feminist sociologists from UT Austin represented the department, with presentations that centered gender in varying ways. One highlight was a session that grew from Fem(me) Sem‘s Spring 2017 conference, “The Gender of Ethnography and the Ethnography of Gender,” which was organized by a group of  sociology graduate students who were interested in using feminist methods in their research. The session, called “Feminist Ethnographies: Dilemmas from the Field,” featured Professor Christine Williams as a discussant, and UT Austin graduate students Shannon Malone, Vrinda Marwah, Ruijie Peng, Beth Prosnitz, and Katie K. Rogers as panelists. They grappled with a number of questions related to feminist methods, including what exactly makes a research design “feminist,” how to manage demands for “proof” in response to situated knowledge, what it means to “gain access,” and how to reckon with accusations of “bias,” particularly with respect to projects that center a researcher’s own community (“me-search”) or emerge from explicitly feminist commitments.

(Left to right) “Feminist Ethnographies” graduate student panelists Vrinda Marwah, Shannon Malone, Katie K. Rogers, Ruijie Peng, and Beth Proznitz
(Left to right) Professor Christine Williams and panelists

UT Austin also exhibited a presence among the individual paper presentations, with graduate scholars sharing feminist research on topics that ranged from intimate relationships to the gendered state to issues of gender, race, and labor.

A list of individual papers by UT Austin graduate students is as follows: 

Caitlin Carroll
“Antiviolence Organizations in Sweden and the Reproduction of Gender Regimes”

Jess Goldstein-Kral
“The Relationship Dynamics of Polyamorous Triads: Resisting and Reproducing Inequality”

Jamie O’Quinn
“Emerging Sexualities: Girls’ Sexual Agency and the State”

Katie K. Rogers
“Gender, Race, and Class in the U.S. Legal Cannabis Industry”

Kara Takasaki
“Racialized Masculinities: How Work Shapes the Lives of Asian American Men”

All told,  the feminist scholarship and engagement of graduate students, alumni, and faculty affiliated with UT Austin Sociology helped make this year’s SWS conference an event to remember.

 


Jamie O’Quinn is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests center around sexuality, gender, race and ethnicity, and social inequality. She is currently researching state efforts to regulate young people’s sexualities.

Katie K. Rogers is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her current research examines how women who work in the U.S. legal cannabis industry reconfigure the meanings of “dealers” and “users” during legalization.

 

Robert L. Reece in Inside Higher Ed

Robert L. Reece, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, has published a reflective piece about the tensions for black academics in a predominately white discipline.

He writes:

There is a homelessness among black academics — an ever-present tension between who we used to be and who we have become — and a reckoning with the reality that neither our old spaces nor our new ones can truly offer us the sense of belonging that we desire. Perhaps it’s double consciousness, to use W. E. B. Du Bois’s classic description of being black in America: “Two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body … this longing to … merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost …”

But perhaps it is something else. Maybe Du Bois is too generous. E. Franklin Frazier is more critical in “The Failure of the Negro Intellectual.” He says, “The new Negro middle class is the stratum of the Negro population that is becoming integrated most rapidly because of its education and its ability to maintain certain standards of living. In its hope to achieve acceptance in American life, it would slough off everything that is reminiscent of its Negro origin and its Negro folk background. At the same time integration is resulting in inner conflicts and frustrations because Negroes are still outsiders in American life.”

Read more at Inside Higher Ed!