Feeling the Body: Embodying Sociology at the CWGS Conference

Recently, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies hosted a productive and stimulating academic conference entitled “The Feeling Body.”  With the emerging attention the body and affect are receiving in research, this was a great chance for graduate students across disciplines to generate new conversations around the ways in which the body shapes knowledge.  Below we offer brief abstracts of the eight sociology imagesstudents who presented work at the conference.  Congratulations to the students, and congratulations to CWGS for another enriching and informative conference!

Caitlyn Collins:  “Some Girls, They Rape So Easy”: Conservative Discourses on Abortion and Rape in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election

The United States has a sordid history of controlling women’s reproductive rights – ranging from forced sterilization to regulations on abortion. Most recently, the debate over abortion in the context of rape took center stage during the 2012 Presidential election. Republican politicians polarized voters by voicing their support for mandatory ultrasound laws, which would require women to have an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion, often vaginally using a probe – even for victims of incest or rape. Based on these lawmakers’ comments, what do the American people learn about conservatives’ opinions on women and their bodies? What are we taught to believe about women? And how might women feel in hearing these comments? I employ a feminist sociological perspective to examine Republican politicians’ comments during this past election in order to understand larger conservative discourses on abortion and rape. I examine six dominant themes in their rhetoric: pregnancy from rape is rare; sometimes women ask to be raped; sometimes women don’t know what rape is; some women lie about rape; legitimate rape can’t produce a pregnancy; and some rape is intentional because the product is a gift. I argue that these claims and larger discourses (a) are instruments of patriarchal social control over women’s bodies, (b) are forms of sexual violence and sexual terrorism, and (c) contribute to rape culture in the United States.

Juan Portillo: “You Better Not Get Pregnant!”: Epistemic violence and the regulation of Chicana students’ integration to higher education

In this paper, I center the brown, female bodies of six Mexican American students at The University of Texas at Austin as the site where social structures and ideologies are contested as they navigate a privileged space that has been imagined without them in mind (Puwar, 2004). I uncover the racial, gender, and class bias that members of the university take for granted by looking at the students’ identity formation and meaning making practices. I pay attention to their identity construction practices because these: (a) reveal the different strategies and cultural resources the students must use to overcome the racial, gender, and class barriers of the institution; and (b) reveal the racial, gender, and class microaggressions that students and professors perpetrate on the students to discipline and position them as subordinate. Concurrently, I look at the students’ experiences through a Chicana feminist lens, particularly Gloria Anzaldua’s (1987) concept of mestiza consciousness, in order to better understand their ambivalent and liminal social position. In addition, Chicana feminisms allow me to see the body as a site of potential theorizing (Cruz, 2001) and understand subjective personal experience as useful knowledge. As Paula Moya writes: “Since identities are indexical – since they refer outward to social structures and embody social relations – they are potentially rich sources of information about the world we share” (Moya, 2002, p. 131).

Shantel Buggs: “Your Momma is Day Glow White”: Questioning the Politics of Racial Identity, Loyalty and Obligation

Mixed race individuals in the U.S. consistently must negotiate their racial identities in relation to changing social contexts; the ability to shift and “perform” different racial identities has the potential to not only challenge hierarchical racial orders, but can cause strife within the individual’s family and friend groups.  As Azoulay describes in Black, Jewish and Interracial, passing or identifying more so with one racial group can be considered a “rejection” of other racial ancestry. This project utilizes an autoethnographic approach to explore the impact of larger racial/ethnic categorization on the experiences of mixed race individuals in terms of individual identity and familial/cultural group obligation(s), focusing on an incidence of public policing through a popular social networking platform and the invocation of racial obligation by white friends and family members. I analyze how racism manifests within the interracial family, how racial loyalty and obligation are used as means of regulating mixed race identity performance and how these negotiations affect the mixed race individual.

Kate Averett: The Family as Assemblage: Toward a Queer Approach to Family Studies

Changes in family structure in the U.S. over the last several decades, including an increase in single-parent families and the increasing visibility of families headed by LGBTQ parents, have resulted in increased attention among researchers to the definition of family. This paper is considers the implications for theoretical understandings of the family for social scientific methodologies of family studies. Drawing on queer theory, particularly the work of Sara Ahmed, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Jasbir Puar, I propose that in order to better understand the multiplicity of experiences of the family, social scientists would benefit from an understanding of family as an assemblage of embodied relationships. I argue that this approach to studying the family allows for a more intersectional approach to the study of families, one which takes into account the variety of embodied experiences that exist within families along axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, and age. In particular, I argue that such an approach allows more fully for an accounting of the experiences and contributions of children to family life.

Kristine Kilanski: When women “gain,” men lose?: An analysis of reader responses to news reports on the changing gender compositions of the workforce

In 2009, news reports were released announcing that women were about to outnumber men on nonfarm payrolls for the first time in U.S. history. In this presentation, I provide a brief overview of the push and pull factors that contributed to women’s increased labor force participation in the 20th century, and contextualize what this announcement said about the economic, historical, cultural and sociological moment in which it occurred. Then, I analyze reader responses to news articles announcing the changing gender composition of the U.S. workforce. The reader responses provide insight into the backlash women face when they are perceived to be making “gains,” and reveal longstanding stereotypes and cultural expectations of men and women’s “roles.” However, the comments also reveal alternative narratives about women and work, and that people are engaging critically with capitalism itself and the consequences of so-called economic “progress.” I argue that some of the media reports on changes to the gender composition of the workforce contributed to the false notion that the U.S. is a post-gender society, one no longer in need of feminism.

Anima Adjepong: What do you call a white woman with one black eye? Alternate readings of bruises on women rugby players

Conventionally, women, especially middle class white women, are expected to fit within a paradigm of heterosexual femininity that renders them meek and mild mannered. Bruises are a visible mark of a departure from norms of white heterosexual femininity. This paper explores the ways that bruises are legible on different women’s bodies. Using data from in-depth interviews with women’s rugby players, I ask players about their bruises and how they experience these bruises outside of a sports context. How do they interact with strangers and intimates who see their bruises? When players display their bruises, depending on how they fit into the discourse of passive heterosexual white femininity, they simultaneously challenge the idea that women’s injuries are a result of domestic violence and reproduce the idea that white women’s injuries are the result of violence perpetrated against them. The different ways bruises are legible on women’s bodies are imbued with racial and class stereotypes about the women who sport bruises. I employ an intersectional analysis to examine how white women who play rugby reproduce and challenge ideas about violence and femininity, and allow for a rethinking of the functions of white privilege

Letisha Brown: Through the Looking Glass: Sexual Violence, Body Image and Eating Behaviors in Black Women

This essay critically assess the research related to sexual violence, distorted body image, and disordered eating behaviors among Black women. While sociological research dedicated to the linkages between sexual abuse and eating behaviors among women is limited in general, it is especially sparse in regards to Black women.  Using a Black feminist approach that utilized fictional representations—Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye—as well as autobiographies—Stephanie Covington’s Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat—in conjunction with scholarly research this essay makes the case that there is a growing need for research that pays close attention to these processes among Black women. A 2009 study conducted by Goree and colleagues revealed that African American, and low-income women, both Black and White, were at a higher risk to the development of and persistence in bulimic behaviors. This quantitative study, as well as the literature reviewed in this essay point to a need for qualitative research that focuses on mechanisms that lead Black women to bulimia including experiences of sexual violence, racism and discrimination.

Michelle Mott: Pain in Pleasure: Reading Racialized and Gendered Representation and Agency in Rihanna’s “S&M”

In this paper, I suggest that Rihanna’s song and video performance “S&M” is a playful acknowledgement and critique of the ways in which her sexuality gets taken up and portrayed in the processes of commodification of her as a black female pop-star. Using Black feminist theory and critical race theory, I argue that Rihanna’s performance can be read as an attempt to push back against the confines of the racist and misogynistic tropes that render black female sexuality as always and already degenerative and deviant and the historical practices of resistance that some have argued renders black female sexuality nonexistent.

Rosio-Colored Glasses : Lessons in Community and Recognition


By Pamela Neumann

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the annual winter meeting of Sociologists for Women in Society in New Mexico. Despite a fair amount of experience at professional conferences, this was my first time to attend an SWS meeting and I was admittedly nervous. Within the first hour, however, I realized that I had no reason to be. During the two days that followed, I met a diverse range of feminist scholars who in different ways made me feel at home. Women who asked me thoughtful questions and shared openly, not only about their research, but also about other aspects of their lives. In the midst of serious conversations about current and future feminist scholarship and projects for justice, we ate (huge) leisurely meals, did yoga, hiked, sang, laughed, danced, and cried. Our minds were deeply engaged, but so were our spirits, our bodies, our emotions.

Back here in Austin, I have continued to reflect on the spirit of community, learning and shared struggle that I experienced in that space. I ask myself: Was it some kind of utopia? Can similar kinds of spaces be recreated in our everyday worlds? Inclusive spaces where intellect and emotions are equally valued in the process of producing both knowledge and

Pamela Neumann, left, with fellow SWS meeting attendee Jenny Korn
Pamela Neumann, left, with fellow SWS meeting attendee Jenny Korn

greater mutual understanding?  I believe the answer is yes, because I have experienced such spaces both inside and outside my academic community here at UT. However, sustaining them is no easy task. When one considers our diverse social locations, epistemologies, practices, and the matrix of power within which they are embedded, even the most idealistic among us might be tempted to simply throw in the towel. Then, in a seminar last week led by Dr. Christine Williams, I learned about a concept known as “recognition of self in other” (or rosio). Deceptively simple in its formulation, rosio is nothing less than the ideal sustaining our attempts at communication and relationships: the sense that some kind of mutual recognition is possible in spite of the complex web of power and inequality that structures our society.

When I learned about rosio, I realized that it captured not only what I had experienced at the SWS meeting, but also among women in Nicaragua. Although I may not have had the vocabulary to articulate it quite this way before, the possibility of mutual recognition across difference is a fundamental part of why I am here, and why I do the research I do.

A longtime San Antonio (Texas) resident, Pamela Neumann earned her B.A. cum laude in political science from Trinity University. She has held several different positions since then, including AmeriCorps member and Program Manager with City Year San Antonio, Service-Learning Coordinator at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Communications Specialist for Food for the Hungry in Nicaragua. Pamela’s thesis research examined the trajectory and effects of women’s participation in community development in Nicaragua.

Out of My Habitus – Why my education and manners get in the way of doing research

By Juan Portillo 

Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples that Western academia has historically engaged in a process of legitimizing “what counts as knowledge, as language, as literature, as curriculum and as the role of intellectuals” (Smith, 1999, p. 65). This process happens in an environment that envisions

Graduate student Juan Portillo
Graduate student Juan Portillo

researchers, data and the research process as cultureless and bodiless, “floating brains” if you will. The danger of doing research without thinking where our bodies and experiences fit in the process (with all of our privileges and disadvantages) is that our biases as humans will make it into our final conclusions, reproducing an intellectually stagnant body of knowledge that at best is very limited in its creativity and explanation, and at worst it has the potential of marginalizing the people we are writing about.

One way to address our limitations and acknowledge our humanity is to really think about our social location and our role as researchers. Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus is an excellent concept that can help to explain this dynamic and can prevent us from completely divorcing our bodies and biases from the research process. As researchers, we are embedded in a social landscape that has provided us with dispositions that help us make sense of the world around us. Our habitus also provides us with the manners through which we express ourselves, inevitably reproducing

Influential French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
Influential French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)

our class, gender, sexuality, ability, race/ethnic identity, etc. However, we don’t always pay attention to how our disposition and manners affect the way we interact with and learn from the data we collect or the people we interview and observe. I am starting this blog series in an effort to provide a tool for researchers at UT Austin to practice reflexivity and improve their interpretations of their research as well as their interactions with research participants.

While it is hard to really analyze ourselves and identify our class, gender, racial and other biases, sometimes situations arise that give us a chance to put ourselves under the microscope. We may enter a classroom, a restaurant, an interview or a lab where suddenly something feels off and we are forced to respond through limited improvisations that reveal our social location as well as that of others. These are the times, particularly in an academic or research setting, where we can truly examine our approach to knowledge, learning, and conducting research. Ultimately, this information about ourselves can potentially help us compensate for our limitations due to our privileges, or turn our feelings of marginality into sites for theorizing.

This first post will contain one example of a time I have felt “out of my habitus” and forced to deal with my discomfort and conduct myself in a way that helped me grow instead of responding in a way that legitimized only my “expert” version of the social world. Recently, I attended the National Association of Chicano/Chicana Studies regional conference at UT Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. During this conference, I attended a workshop that Labeltaught us to link the knowledge we have gained from our parents and grandparents to the way we approach education in our current position. Most of the over 20 people participating in the workshop were first generation college students, all of them were Chicana/o, and most of them were female. All had immigrated to the United States while they were still young and the ones who had been here for a few generations had been marginalized because of their race, gender and class while attending school. Many had parents who were farm workers or low-wage workers. As I filled in the questions that were part of the exercise, I realized I am probably a 5th generation college graduate, I attended private school in San Salvador (El Salvador), and came to the United States over 9 years ago to pursue higher education.

I was definitely “out of my habitus” during this exercise, and I felt irked. I had a hard time really making sense of why I felt out of place, or why I felt bothered. However, this discomfort was an opportunity for me to engage with my privileges and be very mindful of my manners (including the way I looked/dressed, my language, my accent, my responses, my body language, etc.). After hearing someone talk about how they felt like their family was jealous or angry because she was pursuing a higher education (calling her white-washed and insinuating that she looked down on them), I thought about the costs to entering higher education, as a student and as a researcher. The costs for the people in this workshop (true of me as well) involve entering a new habitus and learning or adopting new mannerisms and dispositions to survive a competitive, middle-class, heteronormative and in many ways white supremacist (colonizing) environment. These mannerisms shine through in our way of speaking and writing, in the way we relate to others, in the way we assign importance to academic matters, and in the way we distance ourselves from whatever image of “bad” student we have.

In a country where students tend to be labeled as “bad” when they don’t give school as much importance as we do, where having an accent or not speaking the right version of English marks people as deviant students, and where the students who are marked the most often as “bad” students embody a particular look and mannerisms (Urrieta Jr., 2009; Valenzuela, 1999; Yosso, 2005; Yosso, Smith, Ceja, & Solorzano, 2009), then adopting the manners and dispositions of “good” students inevitably results in coming off as pretentious (as Bourdieu describes the petit bourgeoisie). Moreover, being successful in education demands that we participate in a process that distinguishes between the “good” and the “bad” students, a process of hierarchization characterized in some ways by our behavior (which I have heard undergrads at UT talk about it as “white-washing,” telling girls they’re acting too much like men, Mexican Americans telling other Mexican Americans that they’re acting “too Mexican,” or labeling certain students as disingenuous or pretentious).

Thus, being out of my habitus made me be mindful of how I was coming across to the people in that workshop. While I was irked, I decided to really listen to what was going on, and this allowed me to make a connection between the process of schooling and how my position as a researcher is mired with pretentions and manners that can be and often are marginalizing to others. Similar to (though not fully alike) the way one of the participants expressed discomfort with the way her family and friends thought she was pretentious because she was getting a college degree, my “credentials” and manners can result in research participants feeling marginalized or looked down on. Being conscious of this is one way to: (a) not blame the people I interact with for being hostile or unsupportive in my research projects; and (b) find ways to prevent myself as much as I can from marginalizing research participants and other people around me.


Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. New York, NY: Zed Books.

Urrieta Jr., L. (2009). Working from Within: Chicana and Chicano Activist Educators in Whitestream Schools. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive Schooling: U.S. Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. Albany, NY: State Univ of New York Press.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Yosso, T. J., Smith, W. A., Ceja, M., & Solorzano, D. G. (2009). Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate for Latina/o Undergraduates. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), 659–690.

Juan was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador. He has a BBA in marketing from UT Austin, and a Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies from UT Austin. His research interests include Chicana feminisms, anti-colonial methodologies, Mexican American / Latina college students’ experiences, and Latinas and the media.