Celebrating the end of the old and the coming of the new year here in balmy Austin, TX. Happy and peaceful holidays to everyone celebrating here and elsewhere.
by Luis Romero
One of the most important things graduate students can do while in grad school is to take as many methodology courses as possible. This advice is given to us by our mentors, faculty and older graduate students. Yet no matter how many methods classes you take, it is impossible to master every method – getting one down is difficult enough. While mastering one method lasts some researchers their entire academic lives’, others venture into different types of questions and units of analyses that warrant the use of new methods. What happens, though, when you are out of graduate school and want to change methods? How do you go about this change? Navigating the different assumptions, techniques of data collection and analysis of a new method can be overwhelming. However, it is something that can and has been done. Professors Michael Young, Néstor Rodríguez and Sheldon Ekland-Olson joined the Power, History, and Society Network (PHS) to describe how they transitioned into new methods. Each provides a piece of the puzzle to better understand how sociologists can change methods, even without prior graduate training.
Dr. Michael Young: Keeping Books on the Nightstand
Of the three panelists, Michael is the most recent to transition to a new method for a project he is currently working on. His training in graduate school was oriented toward the study of old social movements using historical sociology. Specifically, he was trained to map the trajectories of different movements to get at the causal sequence of events (e.g. how the morality and religious schemas of the evangelicals helped to mobilize them during the antebellum era). Michael has recently shifted to studying the DREAMers – a group of immigrant rights’ activists who are concerned with helping undocumented immigrants that were brought to the U.S. as children and attended school in the U.S. However, because the DREAMers and their activities are an ongoing phenomenon, Michael understood that he could not rely solely on his training in historical methods to study this group. Instead, he decided to learn about ethnographic and interviewing methods. This posed a problem for Michael, since studying an active movement followed a different logic than studying something that already had an outcome (and analyzing how and why that outcome came to be). To resolve this dilemma, Michael turned to Professors Javier Auyero and Harel Shapira and asked them both to give him a list of their favorite ethnographies. Once he obtained these lists, Michael read and studied the exemplars of ethnography, keeping these books on his nightstand for easy access so he could read them nightly. Reading these exemplary works, coupled with his interactions with the DREAMers has helped Michael transition from historical sociology to ethnography and given him new insights into the complexity of this new social movement.
Dr. Néstor Rodríguez: An Important Key Lies in Co-authorship
Néstor Rodriguez’s transition between methods took a slightly different trajectory than Michael Young’s. Michael’s was a constant transition between historical work, interviews and surveys. Nestor’s graduate work was focused on tracing the trajectory of migration in relation to capitalist growth, combining historical methods with theory building. In his post doctoral research, Néstor began studying Mayans from the Guatemalan Highlands who were migrating to Houston, Texas. It was during this project that Nestor began to incorporate fieldwork into his research. Later on, Néstor also began to use more quantitative methods – surveys and data sets- in order to study deportations. In the past year alone, he has published two articles on El Salvador using surveys, a book (coming in January 2015) that incorporates fieldwork from Guatemala and is a return to his first love of historical sociology. When asked how he was able to incorporate so many different methods, Néstor stated that an important key could be found in co-authorship. Co-authoring with other researchers that are more adept at various methods allows for the successful incorporation of those methods. Similar to Michael’s approach, Néstor also recommended that students considering a transition to new methods should read widely in sociology. That will allow them to become familiar with different sociological methods and their implicit logic.
Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson: Delve into Different Projects
Sheldon Ekland-Olson has done research using various methods throughout his career. His earliest work was heavily quantitative and was among the first to incorporate dummy variables into the research. This was largely influenced by his math background and because he came into graduate school as a student of methods. Sheldon’s first shift occurred during his time in law school, as he finished his dissertation. During his research, he became involved in learning about the rights of those who were institutionalized, which led him to spending time in prisons. It was through this experience that Sheldon began studying Texas Prison Reform, using quantitative methods along with qualitative methods to learn about the lived experiences of the prison inmates. His most recent work on life and death decisions uses historical methods to study the boundaries of social worth when people are faced with different issues such as: abortion, neonatal care, assisted dying and capital punishment. For Sheldon, switching methods was something that was necessitated because he believes that you should let your problem determine the method that you use. Sheldon’s advice is derived from his own experience: you should delve into different projects and learn new methods by striving to answer different questions.
A Few Warnings about Transitioning Methods from the Panelists
- While everyone on the panel transitioned after graduate school, picking up a new method is more difficult – “the brain gets old and slow.”
- Your old training in a method can sometimes be “like a straight jacket” to your new method – it could hinder you since you may be imposing the assumptions of your old training into your new method.
- Because learning a new method can be difficult and there is a demand on publishing, transitioning methods could undermine your rate of productivity.
- There may be pressure to stick to the method that has made you known in a field – your colleagues in a field can get caught up in their own methods and may be resistant to your change.
- On a related point, while multiple methods are seen as a positive, there may be a high cost if you switch methods at any point of your career.
- However, some subfields are methodologically eclectic, which means there could be opportunities to switch. If you are thinking of switching at any point, be sure to weigh the consequences.
Emeritus Professors John Higley and UVA President Teresa Sullivan celebrating 100 years of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Video of President Sullivan’s speech
by Eric Enrique Borja
On September 12th, Amanda Stevenson was kind enough to discuss the work behind her recent paper in Contraception entitled, “Finding the Twitter users who stood with Wendy.” In the paper, Amanda examines Twitter chatter surrounding the Texas omnibus abortion restriction bill (Texas HB2) before, during and after Wendy Davis’ filibuster in summer 2013. The implications of Amanda’s results and conclusions are eloquently outlined both in the article published in Contraception, and her op-ed piece “Twitter analysis shows not all Texans want abortion rights limited,” which was published in the Houston Chronicle.
In this post I will only briefly go over some of the major takeaways from Amanda’s talk. I highly encourage you to read Amanda Stevenson’s articles for the full story.
1) “The Citizen’s Filibuster”
Amanda discussed one of the first major events in summer 2013, now referred to as the Citizen’s Filibuster. On June 20th, a special session of the Texas legislature was held. On the agenda was a pair of bills that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, restrict access to medication abortions and require abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical care centers. In response to the special session abortion-rights groups such as: NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Planned Parenthood, and the Lilith Fund, quickly organized a “citizen’s filibuster.”
Approximately 700 people were organized in a flash, and the citizen’s filibuster was successful. Amanda showed that social media was important prior to Wendy Davis’ filibuster because it was instrumental in mobilizing people across the state of Texas.
2) Social media provided the primary coverage of Wendy Davis’ Filibuster
If it weren’t for the success of the Citizen’s Filibuster, Wendy Davis would have never had the opportunity to stage her filibuster. And if it were up to mainstream media outlets, the world would have never known what Wendy Davis had accomplished that day. Amanda discussed how mainstream media outlets failed to cover the filibuster. Therefore, social media became the primary source of coverage on Davis’ filibuster – with YouTube providing live streams for the world to see.
3) Social media data is generated through a selection process
Given the protocols that govern Twitter’s API, and the issues of access to technology, the kind of data a researcher pulls from social media is highly selective. Amanda was careful to point out that this does not mean social media data is useless, but that when you are interpreting your results you must be careful with what you think you are explaining. For Amanda, social media data is great at analyzing discussions that occur in social media, but falls short in accurately capturing public opinion. Interpreting social media data is like interpreting any kind of data a sociologist may collect; you have to take into consideration what and how much your data actually captures.
4) Hashtags can be a way to classify opinions
Trying to understand what people are attempting to convey through a tweet is a hard problem to resolve. One way this can be resolved, as illustrated by Amanda’s study, is to categorize tweets thematically using hashtags. For example, the hashtag “#standwithwendy” was a popular hashtag used through Davis’ filibuster. Users typically tag their tweets with hashtags to categorize them.
5) Social location estimates are inconclusive
In general, users do not GPS-enable their tweets. It’s been found that it is primarily younger males in urban areas who do. Therefore, to not further limit her sample, Amanda generated location estimates for users in her sample. Amanda writes, “For each account whose tweets had GPS data, I collected 100 tweets from the Twitter REST API v1.1. For all accounts, I collected location data from user profiles in the form of text strings.” By combining GPS data from GPS-enabled tweets and whatever location data she could garner from geocoded text string, Amanda was able to generate location estimates for more users than if she had solely relied on GPS data.
What impresses me the most about Amanda’s work is that she is careful (both in her talk and her paper) not to overreach in her conclusions. Moreover, her work is a great example of a project that elegantly employs qualitative and quantitative methodologies, something I aspire to achieve in my own work on social media. We all look forward to seeing more as Amanda’s dissertation develops.
The Sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin turned 100 this year, an event worthy of celebration. Many thanks to University of Virginia President, Dr. Teresa Sullivan (former Longhorn Vice Provost and proud Sociologist) for her talk on the future of Sociology and her help in launching our next 100 years. A video of our first 100 years can be found here.
Esther Sullivan discusses housing informality and self-help homebuilding in Texas in her recent post for the London School of Economics American Politics and Policy blog:
Owner self-building plays a crucial role in the production of affordable housing internationally and is widely recognized as a crucial source of housing production for the world’s poor. The concept of informal development has largely been relegated to settlements in developing countries despite its role in producing owner-occupied housing in the U.S. and in Europe, where self-provided housing accounts for over 50 percent of new housing production in countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Germany…
The little research on informal homebuilding in the U.S. focuses primarily on the ways cities restrict such housing development and regulate informal development out of metropolitan areas. While these studies hypothesize that urban housing restrictions channel poor and immigrant populations to other cities or to rural hinterlands, our research shows instead that residents maintain economic ties to central cities while settling in county lands surrounding city centers where lax regulatory climates accommodate self-built, low-cost, informal housing.
Informal housing remains largely unstudied in the regions outside the U.S.-Mexico border and the communities where this housing is developed have thus not benefited from the policy interventions … To better understand the self-help housing stock found in informally developed communities we analyzed housing processes and housing conditions in two such communities in Central Texas.
Read the entire piece in the LSE APP here: http://bit.ly/1qCKS7B
There you can find a link to the entire article: “Informality on the urban periphery: Housing conditions and self-help strategies in Texas informal subdivisions” in Urban Studies.
by Kathy Hill
Before You Know It is an award-winning 2014 documentary film directed and produced by PJ Raval, an Austin local and assistant professor in the RTF Department at UT Austin. It premiered at the 2013 SXSW and showed at the Violet Crown Cinema this summer. In this film, Raval documents the lives of three gay seniors – their challenges, adventures, and their relationships.
Ty is an LGBT activist from Harlem, New York. Though he is in his 60’s, his passion for gay rights and hope for his own marriage is youthful. He is skeptical, but happily surprised when his advocacy for SAGE, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, is received well in the Harlem community. Ty is enthusiastic when gay marriage passes in New York. He is eager to serve as the best man for his best friend’s wedding, and he won’t stop asking his partner about their own potential marriage. Ty’s starry-eyed hope is confirmation that you’re never too old to dream of love and marriage.
Robert the “Mouth of the South” is a feisty bar owner in Galveston, TX. Robert’s Lafitte is a welcome stage for drag queens in Galveston and home to many of the LGBT community there. They hold Thanksgiving dinners and life commemorations of drag queens and friends who have passed on and “moved to California,” as Robert warmly puts it. Robert struggles to feel well as he deals with a lawsuit for which he might lose the bar, but his LGBT family keeps the spirit of the bar alive with the continuing of drag performances and festive gatherings.
Dennis is a soft-spoken and kind-hearted widower who lives in Niceville, FL. After his wife died, he began to explore his sexual identity and started dressing in women’s clothing under the name “Dee.” Dennis takes trips to Portland, Oregon where he lives in an LGBT retirement home and explores online dating, gay bars, and even goes on a gay cruise. At the age of 70, Dennis is not afraid to try something different and new. Dennis lives a solitary life in a small old house when he goes back to Niceville. One day, he comes back from Portland to find his house covered in mold. He walks away from the only home he’s ever owned, all of his material possessions and memories. For me, Dennis’s story was the most inspiring; he shows us that self-discovery happens can happened at any age.
“Before You Know It” is about aging, yet it will make you feel more alive as you watch and listen to each person’s story. Robert’s “Mahna mahna” drag performance made me laugh hysterically. Ty, always asking his partner about marriage, made me blush. And Dennis’s bravery, as zipped up his hot pink go-go boots and walked around the gay cruise ship alone, made me cringe with fear, and then, sigh with admiration. Each story is a reminder that hope for love, discovery of self, and passion for change can happen at any stage of life. “Before You Know It” shows the life as a learning process, specifically in the lives of three gay seniors, but also in a way that relates all people, old or young. We continue to learn more about ourselves and how we can connect with our social world, and that doesn’t stop when we get older.
PJ Raval is named one of the Out Magazine’s “Out 100 2010” and Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 new faces of independent film 2006.” His credits include “Trinidad” (Showtime) and The Christeene video collection (SXSW). Raval’s cinematography work includes Academy Award-nominated “Trouble The Water” and “Bounceback” (SWSX 2013).
Watch the trailer of “Before You Know It” and be sure to catch the film the next time you can:
Social media analysis challenges stereotype of conservative state
By Amanda Jean Stevenson
The full text of the article is available at this link to the June 24th edition of The Houston Chronicle
One year ago this week, state Sen. Wendy Davis drew national attention with her filibuster of HB2, an omnibus abortion restriction bill that has since ushered in a 50 percent decline in the number of abortion clinics in our state. For 11 hours a year ago today, she stood on the floor of the Texas Senate in her pink running shoes as thousands of Texans rallied around her at the state Capitol and 180,000 people watched online. Her filibuster also sparked the wildly popular social media hashtag #StandWithWendy, instantly offering insight into a segment of the state that isn’t so red: Not all Texans agree that restricting abortion rights is a good idea.
Most discussion of Texas in the national media focuses on the state’s extremely conservative factions. But Texas is full of principled people across the political spectrum. Thousands of them marched on the state Capitol to oppose HB2. Before Davis filibustered, 700 people registered to testify in a “citizens filibuster” that lasted late into the night of June 20, and thousands filled Capitol buildings day after day dressed in orange T-shirts, the color chosen to symbolize the fight against HB2. After Davis’ filibuster, 19,000 filed comments against the bill and they continued to fill the Capitol for each hearing and vote. Throughout, they were joined by a digital chorus on Twitter that was hundreds of thousands strong.
I have analyzed the 1.66 million tweets that comprise the Twitter discussion associated with the bill. These tweets came from 399,000 users worldwide. Roughly 44 percent of the tweets were sent from Texans in support of abortion rights, and in all, about 115,500 Texans expressed their support for abortion rights as part of the Twitter discussion of the bill. These Texans are not all Austin liberals. They live throughout the state, in rural and urban areas. In fact, tweets in support of the filibuster were sent from 189 of Texas’ 254 counties, including the majority of rural counties and all urban ones. Only 1.8 percent of the Texas population lives in counties from which no identifiable tweets of support were sent.
by Mario Venegas
The play Am I Invisible engages audiences through a series of performances that demonstrate the perspective of the homeless in Austin, Texas. Directed by Roni Chelben, the presentation consists of video footage of interviews with members of homeless communities, followed by a series of monologues, and ends with a Forum Theater scene (Boal 1975). The monologues and interviews portray the lived experiences of members of the Austin homeless community. Some of these monologues include poetry, song, and personal testimonies of being ignored and made socially invisible in the consumption-laden streets of Austin. During the performance, I had my own preconceptions about what would take place and how the piece might be just another form of entertainment or ‘poverty porn.’ I was torn between these critical streams of thought and my own personal experiences in organizing street theater and productions like the Tunnel of Oppression back when I was an undergrad. However, once the play was over, and I was able to go home, rest and process, I started making better sense of Chelben’s production.
The Forum Theater is especially interesting. In Chelben’s performance spectators witness a story of a man’s ‘descent’ into homelessness. In the scene, the man gets no help from his family or friends to move his stuff from an apartment whose rent is long overdue. He ends up homeless and seeks help at a shelter, but the facility is too full. So he meets another homeless man at the facility, and they both sleep in a public space, where they’re then harassed by the police. The scene ends with both men being arrested for resisting authority.
After the scene takes place, Chelben, who is the facilitator or ‘joker’ (Boal 1975; Schutzman et al 2006), guides the audience to engage with the scene, which is then reenacted according to suggestions made by audience members. The audience has a chance to talk among themselves and propose actions that could change the outcome of the scene. The goal to implement the suggestions in order to spark dialogues among the audience and cast on the social issues presented.
I want to share some of my thoughts on the performance below. I’m relying partly on the works of Augusto Boal, such as Theatre of the Oppressed (1975), and other related perspectives. Also, I’m speaking from a spectator’s point of view, specifically that of a graduate student with limited knowledge of the production itself and of being homeless.
Theatre of the Oppressed
Theatre of the Oppressed talks about ways in which theater has become a tool of the ruling classes; confined to a bourgeois space that is divorced from the social and political spheres of life (Boal 1975, p 77). Inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Boal suggests, and demonstrates in his work, techniques to transform audiences from a passive role to an active one; making them constitutive of the theatrical process of social conscientização.
One such technique is the use of Forum Theater. Forum Theater is where ‘spec-actors’ give input on a scene in order to change its course of action within the bounds of the social context so that realistic solutions are discussed and rehearsed. The goal of Boal’s work is to use theater as a means to empower audiences by creating a space to ‘practice’ social change. Of interest here is the use of the spec-actor as a means to locate the participatory potential of audiences in Am I Invisible.
During the entire production, two things stood out to me. The first thing that struck me was the monologues of being invisible in Austin. I admit I, too, am guilty of participating in this ‘invisibilization’ process as I meander through downtown. When a homeless person asks me for spare change or tries to get my attention, I shake my head, look down and just keep on walking. Why do I react in this way? What has conditioned me to not only ignore but also deny any sort of assistance to a homeless person? I’ll return to these questions later.
A second aspect of the production that stood out to me was the use of the Forum Theater in the final scene. After the first run-through of how the man became homeless, audience members were allowed to contribute to the scene and try to change its outcome. However, the ‘joker’ or facilitator does not allow for easy, magical solutions—i.e. a friend suddenly appearing or winning the lottery. The suggestions must be realistic and feasible within the context of the scene. According to Boal, the idea behind this practice is for audiences to rehearse their suggestions as a way to develop a sense of social and political participation.
Boal (1975) writes:
Often a person is very revolutionary when in a public forum he envisages and advocates revolutionary and heroic acts; on the other hand, he often realizes that things are not so easy when he himself has to practice what he suggests.
The theater provides a ‘play space’ for these types of rehearsals, but again, not without faults to be addressed in another discussion.
To go back to my previous questions, I wished we could have had a conversation about the ways in which those of us who are not homeless are implicated in the process of invisibilizing the homeless. I think this aspect was underdeveloped and would’ve provided a more engaging conversation. That is, it would be fruitful to use Boal’s techniques to illuminate the ways images are used to police boundaries between groups, viz the homed versus the homeless. In other words, to incorporate into the discussion some ways in which images of the homeless and the poor are part of a discourse of class and social degeneration used to police the boundaries between classes (McClintock 1994, p 47) to further marginalize the poor, as in this commercial.
It was through applied theater that my sociological imagination was first sparked. Community theater gives me a space for a queer marginalized body on a white campus to survive and to develop a means and a language to navigate the prisms of inequality and power we inhabit. I believe applied theater is fertile grounds for sociological engagement and provides one of many ways to communicate an understanding of social structures. Overall, I found Am I Invisible to be a rich play.
Here is a site where audiences can submit comments as part of a journal project: http://invisibleinaustin.com/journal/
Boal, Augusto. (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Urizen Books.
Fraser, Nancy (1995) “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age” New Left Review 212: 68-93.
Fraser, Nancy & Naples, Nancy A. (2004) “To Interpret the World and to Change it: An Interview with Nancy Fraser” Signs 29(4): 1103-1124.
Meikle, Glendora. (2013) “Poverty porn: is sensationalism justified if it helps those in need?” The Guardian accessed May 1, 2014 at (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/jul/05/poverty-porn-development-reporting-fistula).
McClintock, Anne. (1995) Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York, NY: Routledge.
Neelands, Jonathan. (2007) “Taming the political: the struggle over recognition in the politics of applied theatre” Research in Drama Education 12(3): 305-317.
Schutzman, Mady (1994) “Brechtian Shamanism: The Political Therapy of Augusto Boal” p. 137-155 in Playing Boal: Theatre, therapy, activism edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz. New York, NY: Routledge.
Neely’s interview is part four of a four-part panel on the health of the Sociology of Work.
Synopsis of Neely’s Interview:
Christine Williams responds to Chris from a different angle, presenting an interview with Megan Tobias Neely, who just defended her PhD thesis proposal for an ethnographic study of hedge fund managers. Megan notes that professors, fellow grad students, and even those within the hedge fund industry have been very interested in her research. While there are differences in studying this industry versus others – most notably, a need to be careful to neither demonize nor glorify her subjects – she concludes that “My goal is no different than that of my fellow graduate students who are studying low wage workers—contextualizing their social worlds and learning about how they make sense of their daily work lives.”
The panel on the health of the Sociology of Work can be found here: A Health Check on the Sociology of Work