Category Archives: Social Networks and Social Media

On the Market: Robert W. Ressler

Our “On the Market” series is back, featuring UT-Austin graduate students who are on the job market! This series provides sociology graduate students a space to share their research and exchange advice and insights about the job search process.

This installment features Robert W. Ressler, a 5th-year doctoral candidate and Population Research Center Trainee:

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

My mixed-methods research focuses on the intersection of community organizations and educational inequalities. With an attention to race/ethnicity and immigration, I investigate questions that ask how nonprofit organizations influence community dynamics and educational opportunities. One project I’m working on uses Twitter data to evaluate the nonprofit sector impact on community well-being.

How did you prepare for the process of going on the market (preparing materials, selecting the right job openings, sending out applications, etc.)?

The department supports a job market group. Each week over the summer professors volunteered their time to meet with ABDs about the different parts of the job market process. It was sort of a demystification process that answered questions like “What is a good research statement,” helped us to write our materials in a timely manner, and to get feedback on things before using them.

How do you stay organized when it comes to the job market?

For me this was not a huge deal. I structure my productivity around a normal work day, so that requires keeping up with deadlines, meetings, and concerted times of productivity. I just substituted the amount of time for about one project and dedicated it to the job market. Practically this means that I work on market stuff as much as I need to on Mondays to prep to apply to a few jobs a day throughout the week leading up to major deadlines (September 15th, September 30th, October 15th, etc.). I also have a spreadsheet with job requirements for myself and information that my letter writers requested. I’ve been updating this frequently along the same deadline schedule, and because new jobs are posted throughout the fall.

What is it like being on the market at ASA? What are the keys to success?

The job market is one of the only times in my life I find myself openly saying something like this, but it’s a miserable experience. Especially at ASA. You can get so bogged down by the anxiety and tension that is palpable every time you’re in a situation to talk about your research. So, the best thing to do is to practice your elevator pitch (something we did in the workgroup and Mary Rose helped us with—thanks Mary!), and just remember to breathe. When you tell people you’re on the market they will genuinely listen to what you have to say, showing a level of interest in your work that you might not have experienced from people before. Everybody in my experience was very encouraging and that sustained my enthusiasm for pursuing a career in this discipline.

What is the highlight experience of your research during your time at UT?

My mentors have been phenomenal. I have been lucky to work with both Rob Crosnoe and Pam Paxton and that has led to innumerable learning experiences. In terms of actual research, just the other week a woman I was recruiting into my dissertation study looked me in the eyes and sincerely thanked me for the work I was doing because it was important to her; that was pretty great.

What is the highlight experience of your teaching during your time at UT?

I’ve really enjoyed all of the opportunities the college provides for learning about the teaching process. I TA’d for one semester so I have great memories of those classes, but the highlight would have to be things like the “difficult dialogues” symposium I attended. Not only can these things spruce up the teaching experience section of your C.V., but they provide real opportunities to develop your teaching skills, and ways to talk about those skills.

How are you practicing self-care?

I go to the gym, schedule a mental health visit once a year as a check-in, ride my bike into work, eat a vegetarian diet, sleep in when I’m tired, attend events in the department, and try not to work on the weekends. We really do not make enough money over these five to eight years of graduate school to overwork ourselves. You have to be productive, but you’re going to have to be productive through tenure, and even later on when you’re busy with the added pressure of departmental business, so it’s okay to purposefully keep some “you” time in your schedule.

What is your biggest piece(s) of advice for those going on the market next year or in the next few years?

Seriously evaluate where you are in your timeline and make a decision based on what you think you could be successful doing. Take a look at your C.V.: do you have a first authored publication? A co-authored one? It’s pretty much a requirement to have something published. The next thing is to think about whether you have articles under review or articles that have an R&R. These demonstrate the ability to remain productive for the near future. You also should consider how far along you are on your dissertation. Can you finish it in a year? You won’t have a lot of time to work on it, because you’ll be busy, so make sure you’re confident in your ability to finish it if you get a job. If you think you’re competitive, go for it! It’s just another part of the game. Once you’ve made the decision, take on major hurdles as they arrive, and try not to spend too much time (or emotional energy) dedicated to job market stuff.

Rafiul Alom Rahman Explores How Gay Men Adjust to Life in India’s “Big Cities”

Earlier this month, first-year graduate student, Rafiul Alom Rahman, shared some of his insights on how gay men from small towns in India adjust to life in larger cities, living in what he terms a “self-imposed exile.” He notes that:

For gay and bisexual men from small towns who flock to urban centres for higher education or employment opportunities, the city has much to offer. But, as my friend suggested, this also comes at a cost—an exile from one’s roots in an alienating city.

 

SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images
Delhi Queer Pride Parade, 2015   (SOURCE: Money Sharma / AFP / Getty Images)

Rafiul goes on to describe the variety of ways that gay and gender-nonconforming people who relocate to larger metro areas like Delhi must utilize the anonymity of the city, as well as online spaces such as YouTube and gay dating apps, to explore their identities. With this growth  comes a comfort in participating in public events, such as the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. Rafiul states that:

Delhi’s LGBT movement, like that of many major cities in India and, indeed, globally, has been criticized for its lack of critical engagement with questions of caste and class, among other things. For the first time ever, 2015 saw a public articulation of caste in the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. A gay man and a Dalit, the assistant professor had hailed the “coming out” of three young Dalit queer individuals, Akhil Kang, Dhiren Borisa, and Dhrubo Jyoti, at Pride. “Our pride is incomplete without acknowledging and celebrating our caste identity as Dalit queer individuals,’’ they had said. The first Telangana Pride March that took place last year also made a point of drawing a connection between the anti-caste and queer movements—it was flagged off by Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah and led by members of the local hijra community.

Splitting his time between his village and Delhi, the assistant professor says life in the big city has been both a boon and a curse. “It is better than what it could have been if I had stayed in the village. But at the same time, you feel a sense of rootlessness. And living in semi-closets is never fully liberating and freeing. The bigger anxiety is of what will become of us in old age, especially living away from family and with no children or spouse,” he says.

 

Read more from Rafiul at Live Mint Lounge!

Athletes as Activists: Lessons from Black Lives Matter and Beyond

by Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. Professional athletes have worn "I Can't Breathe" messages in protest of a grand jury ruling not to indict an officer in the death of a New York man. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. He and his teammates wore “I Can’t Breathe” messages in protest of the grand jury ruling not to indict an officer in the death of Eric Garner. (Source: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

The last few years have seemingly seen a rise in outspoken “activist” athletes. In late-2014, LeBron James and most of the Cleveland Cavaliers wore “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up shirts in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement to protest the murder of Eric Garner, a 43-year old Black man who was choked to death by Staten Island police in July 2014. Similarly, the University of California – Berkeley women’s basketball team took to the court wearing homemade black T-shirts with the names of Black Americans who were either lynched or killed by the police in the Golden Bears’ game against California State University – Long Beach. Also in 2014, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins entered FirstEnergy Stadium with a black sleeveless T-shirt worn over his uniform and pads inscribed with the message “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.”

On the left, Andrew Hawkins entering the Browns’ stadium with his “Justice” shirt; on the right, Cal’s Lady Golden Bears in their homemade t-shirts before their game. (Source: Tony Dejak/Associated Press, Cal Women’s Basketball/Twitter)

In 2015, in a show of solidarity with other students, the University of Missouri football team refused to take to the field unless their university system president, Tim Wolf (who had not adequately addressed issues of racism on campus), resigned. Within 36 hours Wolf was gone, prompting Missouri state legislators to engage in what sports journalist Dave Zirin terms “plantation politics”; in putting forth a bill that would revoke scholarships for any scholarship athletes who fail to perform for “any reason unrelated to health,” Missouri legislators aimed to silence Black dissent, specifically the actions of the Mizzou Tigers football players.

It is in the midst of this particular activism-inclined sports climate that several journalists, activists, academics, and former athletes gathered in Austin this March to discuss the relationships between sports and politics. On March 11th, the co-sponsored event (co-organized by UT-Austin Sociology professor Ben Carrington), “Athletes as Activists: Lessons from Black Lives Matter and Beyond,” brought together a panel of athlete-activists. Moderated by British journalist Keme Nzerem, the panelists Shireen Ahmed (athlete, writer, activist), Michael Johnson (former English Premier League and Jamaican national team football player), and Etan Thomas (former NBA player) facilitated a discussion about the role of athletes as activists. The room was full, with an audience of faculty, students, staff, sports writers, and curious residents of Austin, as well as SxSW visitors. The panel began with each panelist discussing their personal experiences as both athletes and activists and the intersections therein. From there, Nzerem asked a few more pointed questions to facilitate discussion, and then opened the floor to the audience itself.

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The panelists discussed the ways in which athletes have acted as activists throughout history, while simultaneously connecting their own experiences to contemporary instances of athletes as activists. One of the central stories shared was that of the Mizzou Tigers football team, and their successful stand against former university-system president Tim Wolf. The Tigers operated in solidarity with the student population of the university, including one student who had engaged in a hunger strike against the president. What their stand contributed, as noted by Etan Thomas, was a form of collective power. As student athletes, the football team generates revenue for the university, and by refusing to play, that revenue was put in jeopardy. Though their actions were later met with backlash and antagonism, they showed in that moment that power that comes from a unified front of student athletes—the power to get things done.

The panel highlighted the Mizzou action as a recent example of athlete activism, but also made it clear that taking such measures is not an easy thing to do. The act of being both an athlete and an activist simultaneously provides a platform and runs the risk of taking serious heat. Nevertheless, each panelist, in their own way, made clear the value of being both an athlete and an activist, especially in instances of solidarity and support.

The conversation was rich and varied, drawing on topics such as the lack of representation of people of color and women on athletic organizational boards, the continued issues faced by women in sport – particularly as they intersect with race, religion and sexuality – as well as the importance of all students (athletes and non) advocating for their own rights. The panel brought to the fore many diverse voices – faculty, student athletes, graduate students, sports writers and more.

One thing that was made particularly clear during this panel discussion was the intersection of sport and politics, and the interconnectedness of social movements and sports. Athletes have the ability to bring attention to larger societal issues on a major scale, and though using their voices to bring issues of injustice is often met with backlash, it is important to remember that the platform, power, and privilege does exist.


Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown is a 6th-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include race, embodiment, social relationships, food practices, and sport. Her dissertation explores middle-class Black American food practices in Austin, TX. 

 

When White Men Can Dance: Race, Masculinity, and Jock Insurance

by Katie Kaufman Rogers

Earlier this month, an Australian CrossFit athlete named Khan Porter posted a video to his Facebook page. The video opens on Porter in a gym. He sashays to the Beyoncé hit “Single Ladies.” Suddenly, mid-routine, Porter performs a 264 lb snatch: He lifts a cartoonishly huge barbell above his head in one swift motion, then drops it with a triumphant thud and picks up dancing where he left off.

The video has more than 1.7 million views. Porter has since followed up with a second post, saying, “I posted my video because I think the way the public reacted reflects a pretty cool shift in preconceived notions of masculinity and think that’s grounds for starting some more positive conversations about what it means to be ‘a man.’” The post goes on to address the connections between masculinity, mental health, and suicide.

Porter’s video and follow-up post have both received an outpouring of support online, from comments on Facebook to features and praise on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and espnW. Many commenters—including Porter himself—have likened the video to actor Channing Tatum’s recent appearance on the reality series Lip Sync Battle, in which Tatum performed a drag rendition of Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” The video of Tatum’s performance went viral, too.

It is tempting to embrace Porter’s hope that the widespread love for his video reflects a sea change in contemporary conceptions of masculinity—a move from rigid, fragile identities to more flexible, durable ones. But while it is true that masculinities are always in flux (Kimmel 1996), masculinities scholars debate the extent to which these changes are liberating for women and marginalized groups of men. Is the response to Porter’s video as revolutionary as these media outlets profess, or is it a mirage, tricking us into believing that patriarchy has fundamentally changed? Masculinities scholarship suggests that the video reveals the elasticity of an institution like patriarchy. It can stretch to change form or appearance, but its hierarchical structure and resulting inequality stays the same.

Sociologists Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe (2014) have devised a useful concept for understanding the continual shifting of masculinities. For Bridges and Pascoe, hybrid masculinities refer to the “selective incorporation of elements of identity typically associated with various marginalized and subordinated masculinities and—at times—femininities into privileged men’s gender performances and identities” (2014:246). In other words, men enact hybrid masculinities when they include bits and pieces of identities associated with marginalized “Others” into their own identity projects. These Others can include men of color, working-class men, rural men, queer men, and women, among others. Bridges and Pascoe argue that even though all kinds of people use hybrid masculinities, it is men who have the most privilege (i.e., white, straight, wealthy, cisgender) who are freest to enact these identities while still being seen as appropriately masculine.

Porter partially acknowledges this when he points out that gay men are not allowed the same flexibility in constructing hybrid masculinities as straight men (though it should be noted that this point also serves—intentionally or otherwise—to stress that Porter himself is straight). However, two additional privileges help make Porter’s hybrid identity “acceptable” to a broad audience. First, he has what Pascoe calls “jock insurance” (2003:1427), meaning he conforms so closely to the standards of hegemonic masculinity that he can behave in conventionally nonmasculine ways without having his masculinity questioned. These standards include traits like athletic prowess, attractiveness, and sexual skill. Porter’s website states that he is a professional CrossFit athlete. His Instagram account is filled with photos and videos that showcase his athletic ability, muscled build, and signifiers of wealth (e.g., a BMW, an expensive watch, vacation photos). Articles describing the viral video tend to mention Porter’s sexual desirability, calling him “super hot” “eye candy” with a “flawless” physique and “all-too-perfect upper body strength.” These elements of Porter’s performance and its reception work together to ensure that his dance moves do not detract from his manliness.

Second, Porter is a white man. Compare Porter’s experiences with those of Odell Beckham, Jr., star wide receiver for the New York Giants, to understand the advantage his race affords him. Beckham, who is Black, is also known for dancing. He grooves in the end zone after a touchdown and in videos posted online. He also posts photos on his Instagram account that show displays of tenderness and affection toward other men. These behaviors seem aligned with what Porter sees as a transformation in socially-accepted performances of masculinity. However, the response to Beckham’s hybrid masculinities differs dramatically from the response to Porter’s. Rather than celebrate Beckham’s identity, online commenters and media organizations have responded by interrogating his heterosexuality. Streams of comments on Beckham’s Instagram describe his sexuality as “suspect” and explicitly insist that he’s gay.

An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham hugging close friend and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry after a game.
An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham hugging close friend and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry after a game.
An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham with his father and baby brother.
An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham with his father and baby brother.

For instance, a photo of Beckham hugging longtime friend Jarvis Landry (a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins) drew dozens of comments like the following:

blessings_catchings He’s really gay people and it’s not because of this pic.

alexryansanch Looking very suspect.

marley_chapo He kissn his neck

Compare this response to the praise heaped on high-profile friendships of white celebrities. The so-called “bromance” of Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon, for example, has been celebrated by the media for years at no cost to public understanding of their manliness or heterosexuality.

These attacks on Beckham’s identity have taken a toll on the football field. Numerous sources including the Giants organization have stated that players have targeted Beckham with homophobic language all season, occasionally spurring confrontations with other players. Before a December game against the Carolina Panthers, players reportedly taunted Beckham with “gay slurs” during pregame warmups. Beckham went on to strike Panthers cornerback Josh Norman repeatedly on the head during the game, resulting in a one-game suspension. Panthers players continued to undermine Beckham’s masculinity after the game, publicly feminizing him with words like “bitch” and “ballerina.”

American culture regards NFL football players as paragons of masculinity and toughness. If anyone should be able to leverage “jock insurance,” it should be an NFL football star. Yet when we compare the radically different responses to Porter’s and Beckham’s enactments of hybrid masculinities, we can see racial disparities in the effectiveness of jock insurance. White men, it seems, have more space to construct hybrid identities (e.g., showing affection to other men, dressing in drag, dancing to Beyoncé music) than men of color.

Though well-intentioned, Porter’s “strategic borrowing” (Bridges & Pascoe 2014:252) of elements of black femininity may actually work to obscure and reinforce systems of patriarchy and white supremacy rather than dismantling them. Bridges and Pascoe write:

By framing middle-class, young, straight, White men as both the embodiment and harbinger of feminist change in masculinities, social scientists participate in further marginalizing poor men, working-class men, religious men, undereducated men, rural men, and men of color (among others) as the bearers of uneducated, backwards, toxic, patriarchal masculinities. Even as young White men borrow practices and identities from young, gay, Black, or urban men in order to boost their masculine capital, research shows that these practices often work simultaneously to reaffirm these subordinated groups as deviant, thus supporting existing systems of power and dominance. (2014:253)

Applauding Porter’s identity while criticizing Beckham’s reinforces racial disparities in public conceptions of manhood: Porter appears bold and enlightened for engaging in behaviors for which Beckham is painted as deviant. Porter’s video and accompanying statement celebrate the freedom of white men to play with masculinity, but they will do little to dismantle systems of oppression that punish men of color for the same behaviors. Rather than subvert the structural inequalities of patriarchy and white supremacy, Porter’s appropriation of elements of femininity and black culture amount to—in the words of sociologist Michael Messner—“more style than substance” (1993:724).

 

References

Bridges, Tristan and C. J. Pascoe. 2014. “Hybrid Masculinities: New Directions in the Sociology of Men and Masculinities.” Sociology Compass 8(3):246-258.

Kimmel, Michael. 1996. Manhood in America. New York: The Free Press.

Messner, Michael. 1993. “‘Changing Men’ and Feminist Politics in the United States.” Theory and Society 22(5):723-37.

Pascoe, C. J. 2003. “Multiple Masculinities? Teenage Boys Talk About Jocks and Gender.” American Behavioral Scientist 46(10):1423-38.


Katie Kaufman Rogers is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on the areas of gender, race, and sexuality. You can follow her on Twitter at @katiearog.

SXSW, #GamerGate, and Gendered Boundary Policing

by Katie Kaufman Rogers

South by Southwest (SXSW)—a music, film, journalism, and tech festival held annually in Austin—came under fire last week for a decision to cancel a scheduled 2016 panel called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” as well as one other panel related to the gaming community. SXSW cited threats and harassment targeting the panel as its reason for cancelling.

Since the cancellation announcement, criticism has poured in on Twitter. Major media outlets such as BuzzFeed and Vox Media have threatened to pull out of SXSW altogether. Critics have described the cancellation as “clueless” at best and “craven” at worst. Some accuse the festival of “providing the blueprint for harassers and hatemongers as to how they win.” Clearly feeling the heat, festival organizers stated on Friday that they had “made a mistake” and outlined a new plan for a “day-long summit” on online harassment.

Some heralded this new event as a victory for anti-harassment activists. Former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, for example, praised SXSW’s handling of the situation in a Facebook post:

This week, Austin’s SXSW faced well-deserved criticism after a decision-making misstep to cancel panels on women in gaming and digital harassment. In the last day, SXSW leadership have actively sought to correct course. People will make errors in judgement and will face consequences. It is important that we applaud when organizations realize their mistakes, and actively seek remedies. To that end, I gladly accepted an invitation to participate in the newly announced day-long Online Harassment Summit at SXSW. See you Austin to talk about how we must respect all people, all genders, in both the real world and the digital world. Thank you SXSW and all those who will be a part of this great new day!

However, not everyone has been so satisfied with this fix. For one, critics have pointed out that the new summit on harassment will include speakers who are affiliated with online harassment movements. “Level Up” panelists Katherine Cross, Caroline Sinders, and Randi Lee Harper say this raises serious “security concerns” for the summit. When Sinders expressed these concerns to SXSW, organizers responded by stating their commitment to preserving a “big tent” that encompasses a diversity of opinions. “If everyone shared the same viewpoint,” wrote SXSW, “that would make for a pretty boring event.”

Sinders stresses that any “big tent” has less to do with specific topics covered and more to do with creating a safe space for conversation. She argues that SXSW could have provided enhanced security for the “Level Up” panelists, rather than simply cancel their event. Others add that framing the situation as comprised of two parties with equally valid “ideas and opinions” implies that the issue of online harassment is something that is up for debate. Instead, they say, harassers give up their claims to credibility and legitimacy the moment they harass.

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Twitter commentary on whether online harassment is “debatable”

Needless to say, emotions are running high. But a strong emotional response to issues of online harassment makes sense given recent debates in the tech industry. While neither panel description mentioned it explicitly, one extremely controversial subject has been consistently associated with the SXSW debacle, resurfacing almost immediately in headlines following the cancellations. That subject is GamerGate.

 What is GamerGate?

In August 2014, an anonymous group of internet users began a coordinated and ongoing online harassment campaign against people—primarily women—who condemned sexism in the video game industry. This amorphous hate mob came to be associated with the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate. The movement targeted female video game developers, journalists, actresses, academic theorists, other professionals. The targets shared one thing in common: Feminism.

Online attacks have included rape threats, death threats, threats of mass shootings, and the creation of online flash games that allow players to beat up feminist critics. Many targets have also been doxed, meaning personal information like home addresses, phone numbers, employer information was found and publicly posted online. Doxing moved the harassment offline, forcing several targets to flee their homes when violent, detailed threats showed up online alongside their addresses.

Some self-identified members of GamerGate (called “GamerGaters” or “gators”) allege that the movement is not about harassment. They claim that harassers constitute a vocal minority. Instead, they define GamerGate as a movement about improving “ethical standards of video game journalism.” They accuse journalists of collusion with feminists and “social justice warriors,” saying these so-called conflicts of interest have contributed to a political correctness in game reviews.

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“Pyramid of Modern ‘Capitalist’ System”: A graphic circulated online by supporters of GamerGate.

Commentators have widely questioned this “ethics” narrative, with many dismissing it as a conspiracy theory. They argue that GamerGate’s true motivation is to police the boundaries of gaming culture—to exclude women, people of color, queer people, and trans people and to silence their criticisms. Ultimately, they argue that data and the movement’s origins reveal that this concern for “objectivity” and “ethical journalism” masks an effort to keep gaming white, male, heterosexual, and cisgender.

If this is indeed the case—if the root motivation of the GamerGate movement is white supremacism, heterosexism, cissexism, and misogyny rather than journalistic ethics—an obvious question follows: Who are these men, and why do they hate the people they see as outsiders?

Gender, Boundary Policing, and the “Gamer” Identity

Jeopardy! champion and cultural critic Arthur Chu describes GamerGate as follows:

Who are GamerGate? It’s one part entitled white guys claiming ownership over a subculture they feel is being invaded by outsiders. It’s one part entitled people who aren’t white guys who have, for one reason or another, made peace with being part of a white-guy-dominated culture and now enthusiastically join in trashing people who try to change it, for various complicated reasons. […] And it’s of course one part brazen opportunists with no prior interest in gaming seizing a chance to draw clicks while striking a blow against the left in the culture wars.

Here, Chu makes two critical points: (1) that gaming culture has historically been dominated by white men[i] and (2) that the harassment is less a result of GamerGaters’ sheer hatred of women than it is a violent defense of what they see as an existential threat to the “gamer” identity.

A number of journalists and feminists have described GamerGate as an outgrowth of a broader culture war about sexism and media, in which GamerGaters take issue with increasing racial and gender diversity in video games and in gaming culture. They say GamerGaters fear that this “bias” (read: writers calling for more diverse representation of characters in games) will change the games they love, the culture they identify with, and the social cohesion they depend on for feelings of belonging.

Katherine Cross, a feminist gaming critic and sociology PhD student at City University of New York (CUNY), posits that “GamerGate styles itself as a perverse kind of social justice movement for all gamers, constructing ‘gamer’ as an oppressed class unto itself.” Cross goes on to write that GamerGaters “claim to speak for the forgotten and bullied nerd, the outcast and misunderstood hobbyist who just wants to play video games yet is scapegoated for various and sundry evils.” On its face, this script makes logical sense: Raewyn Connell (1995) might conceive of “geek” or “gamer” masculinities as marginalized when compared to hegemonic masculinity, the dominant form of masculinity in society.

However, as Cross goes on to point out, “What this tidy narrative has always deliberately ignored is that all of GamerGate’s targets have been nerds and gamers.” That is, the very group of people that GamerGate purports to protect—gamers—include the very same people it attacks: women gamers.

If male gamers consistently considered women gamers to be genuine, authentic members of gaming culture, Cross’s point would clearly illuminate the contradictory logic of this narrative. But often times, they don’t. A common accusation levied against feminist gamers to undermine their criticisms is that they are not “real,” authentic gamers. For example, entire Reddit message boards, YouTube videos, and blog posts have been devoted to “outing” feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian as an imposter. They aim to discredit her words by showing that she isn’t truly a gamer.

The popular trope of the fake geek girl offers another clear example of this. According to a CNN blog post by Joe Peacock, fake geek girls are “pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.” Peacock elaborates (emphases mine):

What I’m talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a “model.” I get sick of wannabes who couldn’t make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead. I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street. […] I hate poachers. Pure and simple.

This definition of the fake geek girl is twofold, involving (1) a heightened performance of femininity and (2) cultural incompetence. For Peacock, fake geek girls have highly feminine, sexualized expressions of gender—they wear little clothing and “strut” around at comic cons. They are also “wannabes” who pretend to know about gaming to gain the attention of men, but really have little more than a superficial knowledge of the culture. The conflation of these two attributes in the fake geek girl trope exemplifies larger gender dynamics at play in gaming culture: incompetence is considered feminine. Thus, women must constantly perform their gaming knowledge to cast off the “fake” label and prove their authenticity as gamers.

Masculinities scholar Michael Kimmel (2008) observes a similar process in college student cultures. In college culture, he argues, competence is also considered masculine, which traps college women in a double-bind: Expressing competence might afford women some legitimacy, but “to be taken seriously as a competent individual means minimizing, or even avoiding altogether, the trappings of femininity” (252).

In a response to a critique of his original piece, Peacock adds (emphases mine):

For the record: I feel the same way about men who poach women. My wife is a marathoner (and I’ve even run one myself, and OH MY GOD I’ll never do that again). She participates in lots of female-specific events, like Iron Girl and the Nike Women’s Marathon. There are men who attend the expos and conferences for these events specifically to hit on women. I feel the same way about them. They’re gross.

Here, Peacock aims to prove his point—that he is an equal-opportunity despiser of cultural “poaching,” which he seems to understand as a hostile intrusion into a gendered social field[ii] by someone whose gender doesn’t belong. But for his comparison of gaming culture to women’s marathons to hold water, gaming would have to be analogous to a men’s-only marathon. Such a comparison reveals a belief that gaming culture is a fundamentally male space, designed to exist specifically and exclusively for men.

When Harassment Silences Discussion of Harassment

“Level Up” panelist Caroline Sinders says enhanced security would have made her feel safe enough to participate, but SXSW did not give her the chance to request it. To be fair, there is some precedent for opting for cancellation over risk of harm. Sarkeesian once cancelled a speaking engagement at Utah State University in light of a mass shooting threat. She had requested that metal detectors be used at entrances for the safety of attendees, but police declined to prohibit concealed weapons per state law.

Even so, SXSW’s navigation of this situation is confusing. GamerGate was one of the most widely covered, controversial tech debates of the past year. Given the mainstream media’s coverage of GamerGate (let alone the Twitter discussions), one might wonder how SXSW’s organizers could possibly not have anticipated such a response. It seems unbelievable that the organizers of an event billed as an “incubator of cutting-edge technologies” would be so out of touch as to simply not have anticipated backlash to a panel on online harassment. It seems so unbelievable, in fact, that I don’t believe it.

Could providing additional security for the “Level Up” panel have been financially or logistically impossible? This seems unlikely. SXSW is staffed primarily by volunteers—not paid employees—and regularly features celebrities, some of whom almost certainly require beefed-up security. It seems reasonable to expect that enhanced security measures would be possible at SXSW, and so I wonder: why did the organizers cancel the panel without consulting a single panelist? Why was that decision made behind closed doors? And why is “online harassment” a justification to silence a discussion of that very subject? It could be that SXSW genuinely and naively miscalculated. But it could also be possible that the organizers knew exactly what they were doing—and they chose to reinforce the gendered boundaries of an industry to avoid rocking the boat.

 

[i] Extensive evidence has been documented in support of this argument, such as in the Feminist Frequency web series Tropes vs Women in Video Games and on the website Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.

[ii] The concept of the gendered field comes from feminist interpretations of Pierre Bourdieu’s (1990) theories of social reproduction (see Laberge 1995, McCall 1992, McNay 1999). Bourdieu (1990) conceives of social life as a series of games, simultaneously played out in a social landscape divided into collective spaces he calls social fields. Each field has its own set of rules and a particular hierarchical dynamic, wherein social actors compete to occupy dominant positions. A gendered field, then, is a field that is socially marked as masculine or feminine, thus benefiting participants who behave in ways that conform to the gendered coding of the field.

References

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. “Structure, Habitus, Practice.” Pp 52-66 in The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kimmel, Michael. 2008. Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Laberge, Suzanne. 1995. “Toward an Integration of Gender Into Bourdieu’s Concept of Cultural Capital.” Sociology of Sport Journal 12: 132–146.

McCall, Leslie. 1992. “Does gender fit? Bourdieu, feminism, and conceptions of social order.” Theory and Society 21: 837–867.

McNay, Lois. 1999. “Gender, habitus and the field: Pierre Bourdieu and the limits of reflexivity.” Theory, Culture, and Society 16 (1): 95–117.


Katie Kaufman Rogers is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on the areas of gender, race, and sexuality. You can follow her on Twitter at @katiearog.

 

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.

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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!

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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.

Computational Social Science Summit – Big ideas real research, nice people

121003__TxPEP_030by Amanda Stevenson

At this weekend’s Computational Social Science Summit at Northwestern University, scholars working at the intersection of computer science, social science, and information science converged to share their work. As someone who applies computational methods to answer sociological questions, the summit was like a reunion with people I never see at my usual conferences but whose papers I read enthusiastically. The summit began with workshops (computational basics like bash commands and version control with git, text analytics, R for social network analysis, and Python for natural language processing) and a Datathon (basically a hackathon for social science). The general sessions included panels and a series of five stellar keynotes.

The keynotes provided deep insights from leaders at the cutting edge of computational methods in social science research. David Ferrucci (led the team that built Watson – the computer that won Jeopardy) provided high-level insights into learning, meaning, and statistics, as well as the processes underlying computational approaches for stitching together processes into products. A sociologist by training, Sandra González-Bailón has been at the forefront of using social media data and sophisticated computational methods to understand social movements as they increasingly employ online platforms. Neuroscientist Moran Cerf discussed the brain and highlighted the social forces and processes that shape the brain on the most basic, physical level. Michael Macy made a strong argument for big data as the end, not of theory, but of statistics. Information science professor Katy Börner presented and discussed her film Humanexus, a collaboration with two artists illustrating how knowledge and communication have changed and are changing through the ages.

There is so much opportunity in this high-profile interdisciplinary field and this summit provides training, exposure to the most recent findings and methodological innovations in the field, and an opportunity to get to know the folks doing the work. The summit’s small size (it sold out!) and lots of integrated breaks and social events made it easy to get to know lots of potential collaborators. I hope that next year UT Austin can have a stronger contingent of sociologists at the Summit!

Brandon Robinson in the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

IntoWhiteLatino
This image is an example of the data Brandon Robinson analyzed in his article. In the profile description you can read that the user is into “white and Hispanic guys.”

by Eric Enrique Borja

Brandon Robinson’s latest article, “Personal Preference” as the New Racism: Gay Desire and Racial Cleansing in Cyberspace, has been recently published in the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

Abstract:
In this article, I examine how race impacts online interactions on one of the most popular online gay personal websites in the United States. Based on 15 in-depth interviews and an analysis of 100 profiles, I show that the filtering system on this website allows users to cleanse particular racial bodies from their viewing practices. I use Patricia Hill Collins’s concept of the “new racism” and Sharon Holland’s ideas on everyday practices of racism within one’s erotic life to explain how these social exclusionary practices toward gay men of color in cyberspace are considered not to be racist acts.
Specifically, I show how the neoliberal discourse of “personal preference” effaces the larger cultural assumptions that are influencing people’s interpersonal and psychic racial desires, furthering an erotic new racism in this digital age. By also turning to a queer of color analysis, I posit that the practices that gay users engage in lead to the remarginalization of all nonheterosexual individuals, though in qualitatively different ways.

OnlyWhiteGuys copy
This image is another example of data Brandon Robinson analyzed in his article. In this post you read, “I usually only hookup with white guys.”

You can also read Robinson’s other articles in the following journals: Sexuality Research & Social PolicyDeviant BehaviorCulture, Health & Sexuality, and Social Theory & HealthHe also has a book chapter in the anthology A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias.

Amanda Stevenson on the Twitter chatter surrounding Texas HB2 and Wendy Davis’ Fillibuster

TXPep

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.” TXPepMap

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

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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.

Why should I bother with social media?

Our social media savvy tweeters dominated at ASA and keep our blog lively with new posts weekly.  This article from ASA answers the question: Why bother with social media at all?

Bv0dL79IEAAsHmvBlogger Marc Smith’s Twitter Analysis Graph from the ASA annual conference.

Blogger Philip N. Cohen’s Family Inequality blog post on the twitter graph.

Why should I bother? (link to ASA article)

The shortest, simplest answer to the question “why should I bother?” is “You don’t have to.” Really, you don’t have to be on television if CNN calls. You don’t need a Twitter account. But, there are some reasons you might want to do these things.

Here are just a few.

Using social media can facilitate:

1. Establishing yourself as an expert

2. Conceptualizing and developing ideas

3. Developing a reputation for your thoughts, ideas and interactions

4. Building relationships

Media Sociology Blog – ASA pre-conference summary