All posts by Vivian Shaw

The Power of the Erotic & a Utopian Future by Brandon Andrew Robinson

In gearing up for the annual American Sociological Association conference this summer in Denver, I have been pondering this year’s theme – “Real Utopias.” This topic, according to the ASA program, is trying to bridge together the empirical and theoretical realities of life with the vision of “… a fantasy world of perfect harmony and social justice.” In dealing with this tension between the practical and the dream, the ASA meeting calls for “… developing a sociology of the possible, not just of the actual.” But what would this type of sociology look like? And where do we even begin to find the tools to forge this novel way of conceptualizing a better tomorrow? I believe one possible undertaking can happen by turning to the root of the erotic in our own personal lives so that we can strive collectively for this utopian future.

In my endeavor to understand the power of the erotic and how it can assist in achieving a better world, I first turned to one of the earliest sociologists Max Weber. In his “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions,” Weber (1946) explored how discipline deals with the irrationality of the erotic sphere. Weber called sexual love “… the greatest irrational force…” that is in constant tension with rationality and discipline (343). Rationality produces legally constituted marriage as the only rational form of romantic economic arrangement, and as seen in The Protestant Ethic (1930), sex is just a calling from God to reproduce. Society has to regulate sexual intercourse to marriage because eroticism can easily produce frenzies that are non-routinized and, hence, irrational. Since rationality and discipline are impersonable and emotionless, society has to control the erotic because it signifies love and emotions. As Weber notes, a person engaging in an erotic relation is “… freed from the cold skeleton hands of rational orders, just as completely as from the banality of everyday routine” (p. 347). The erotic relation, to Weber, “… embodie[s] creative power…” (p. 347) and is hence constructed as a “…loss of self-control…” by the rational cosmos of the societal order (p. 349). Because the erotic relation is predicated on love, emotion, and so forth, it stands in direct opposition to the rational social order and is hence disciplined as being irrational unless done within marriage and only for procreation. Weber, however, saw a great deal of power in the erotic relation as it frees people from the rational, mundane order of life, allowing for a more utopian future outside of the disciplined world of today.

Accordingly, in her piece “The Uses of the Erotic,” Audre Lorde (2007, [1984]) also sees the erotic as a creative power source that can allow one to explore inner possibilities in pursuing genuine social change. She argues that the erotic is a resource in each person, “… which arises from our deepest and non-rational knowledge”  (p. 88). Society tells us to condemn and vilify this resource; however, for Lorde, this resource is a source of power that helps us feel as we do our work, instead of just always routinely and emotionlessly trudging through life. This creative power is born from love, but capitalism has devalued it and constructed it as dangerous. Since the erotic is born of love though, it can help us in understanding others and lessen the threat of differences between strangers and ourselves. For this matter, we must begin to recognize our erotic feelings, so that we can share these deep feelings with others and then re-bridge the gaps that have divided us. As Lorde writes, “Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama” (p. 91).  The erotic, for Lorde and similarly for Weber, is a non-rational, creative source of power within each of us that needs to be freed so we can feel life and then develop love and empathy for ourselves, and more importantly, for others.

Moving to an intriguing application of the erotic, Richard Fung (1991) examines the power of the erotic in his analysis of race within gay male pornographies. Fung traces the ways in which Asian men are depicted as submissive sexual actors and basically as props for the pleasure of white men. His descriptions of these various pornographies and their racist ideologies are unnerving; yet, in his conclusion, Fung talks about the power of the erotic in certain moments of these films. In these moments, Fung believes that these racist ideologies are suspended or eclipsed by the power of the erotic. For him, these “genuine” moments typically happen when he sees the bodies caressing one another. The actors stop pretending to be in their racist roles, and, instead, the porn actors “… appear neither as simulated whites nor as symbolic others” (p. 161). The power of the erotic interrupts or supersedes racism within these ephemeral moments, where the creative source of feeling takes over from the racist roles being presented.

Weber, Lorde, and Fung – all seem to find great life-changing power within the erotic. This life source challenges the routinized, disciplined ways of society. It pushes us to love and feel, and in that, it advances us towards a new form of intimacy with strangers. It also has the capability to transcend (at least temporarily) hegemonic ideologies, granting new ways of relating between the other and the self. How then can we tap into this source of the erotic in each of ourselves in order to form a collective strategy to achieve a more perfect future? The erotic appears to have the potential to bring about more equitable ways of relating and new visions for the possibilities of sociology. However, we all must begin to feel the erotic inside of us, and then we can start imagining and striving for this harmonic future that the ASA theme has called on all of us sociologists to delve in and investigate this year.

Fung, Richard. 1991. “Looking for My Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn.” Pp. 145-168 in How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video, edited by Bad Object-Choices. Seattle: Bay Press.

Lorde, Audre. 2007 [1984]. “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Pp. 87-91 in Sexualities and Communication in Everyday Life: A Reader, edited by Karen E. Lovaas and Mercilee M. Jenkins. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

Weber, Max. 1930. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Routledge.

Weber, Max. 1946. “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions.” Pp. 323-359 in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by H. Gerth and C. W. Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.

Brandon Andrew Robinson is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include sexualities, queer spatialities, and intersectionality. His newest project will be examining how the Internet impacts sexual behavior and desire for men who have sex with men.

UT Blackademics: Embracing New Media by Shantel G. Buggs

Last semester, I had the opportunity to join a steering committee to develop a new graduate-level “action research” course in UT’s African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Department. In our weekly meetings, several other graduate students from various departments, myself, and our fearless leader, Dr. Kevin Foster, would break down our vision for “Black Studies in the Age of New Media,” always with an emphasis on how we could utilize various social media platforms within the course as well as to achieve the course’s ultimate goals: dissemination of scholarly work from Black faculty at UT beyond the 40 Acres and establishing a new way to engage with the community, both locally and nationally.

All of the work the steering committee put in during last semester came to fruition this spring, with the course culminating in its inaugural event — UT Blackademics — on Thursday night.

The event, consisting of an assortment of brief presentations by UT faculty, was recorded in the KLRU studios on campus (the event will be aired on KLRU in a series of several episodes). Faculty hailed from several UT departments (all of which hold partial appointments in AADS), including Educational Psychology, Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering, Curriculum & Instruction, and Theater & Dance. In true social media fashion, the audience was encouraged to “live tweet” the event using the hashtag #UTBlackademics (check out my Twitter feed here!)

The presentations began with Dr. Kevin Cokley’s assessment of the impact that racial identity has on the academic achievement of Black students. Challenging the rationale that Black students “fear” being perceived as “acting white” — which he labeled a gross oversimplification — Dr. Cokley noted that gender and the degree to which an individual’s racial identity was central to their self-concept seemed to have a strong relationship with academic success in college.

Following Dr. Cokley was Dr. Talia McCray, who discussed urban transportation planning and the benefits of active forms of transportation, like walking or biking. Dr. McCray noted that there are gender differences in how spaces (bus stops in this case) are perceived as “safe” or “unsafe,” and that these perceptions then have an influence on behavior. Considering that most of the traveling that people do is within a 20 minute radius of their home, walking or biking would be more sustainable forms of transportation — but how, she asked, do we “nudge” people, especially people living in low-income areas, into participating?

Dr. Foster returned to the stage to discuss the relationship between teaching, research and service in academia. Though it is often encouraged that the focus should be on teaching and research, Dr. Foster argued that engagement with the community can actually make academics better teachers and researchers. As he emphasized through his example of his community outreach work through ICUSP, “We are all thinkers. We are all teachers. We are all learners.”

Lastly, but surely not least, Dr. Omi Jones, aka “Sista Docta,” danced onto the stage accompanied by drums, encouraging the audience to think about what embodiment tells us about blackness. Performing/lecturing on the difficulties for persons of color in academia and the challenges of dealing with students who don’t feel that black feminist thought is for them, she had the audience repeat this refrain of “verbal self-defense”: be careful, your misunderstandings are dangerous.

The entire evening had a great energy about it and I was extremely proud to have played a small part in this event’s existence. As Dr. Foster stated during the brief Q&A session, it is important for events like Blackademics to eventually become normal — presenting Black scholarship and making it accessible shouldn’t be uncommon. Overall, the night was a great success and I can’t wait for the next Blackademics event!

KLRU will be airing episodes at some point in the future. I’ll be sure to post that info when it becomes available!

Shantel G. Buggs is a “Sista Docta in Training” in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include the lifecourse of multiracial individuals, interracial relationships and sexuality.

A response to Makode Linde’s ‘genital mutilation cake performance’ by Letisha Brown

On Sunday April 15th, “the Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut in to a large cake shaped like a black woman as part of an art installation which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision” (Jorge Rivas 2012: p.1). Afro-Swedish artist Makode Linde, who acted as the head of the cake, and screamed as each person cut into the black female body created the live art installation. The artist commented on his piece on Facebook saying the following: “Documentation from my female genital mutilation cake performance earlier today at Stockholm moma. This is after getting my vagaga mutilated by the minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth. Before cutting me up she whispered “Your life will be better after this” in my ear,” (Rivas 2012: p. 1).
Portraits and video images of the art piece are now circulating on Facebook and Youtube, and sparking much debate about the artistic nature of the piece in light of the blatant racial underpinnings. It is difficult to critique art when freedom of expression is something that is valued within the art world; nevertheless it is hard not to question the validity of Linde’s performance as art. Though the cake reportedly was created as a means of highlighting the controversial issue of female genital mutilation; the ways in which the spectators reacted to the piece, and the lack of critical analysis on the part of the artist give me pause.
What is presented to the public gaze is a naked and grotesque image of a black female body caricatured in a stereotypical manner; being cut into by laughing white faces while the head screams and moans with each stab. The image is one that is graphic in such as a way it is a vivid reminder of the ways in which black female bodies continued to be upheld as spectacles of race. Furthermore, there is much to think about in terms of Linde performing as the screaming head of a woman in the first place. While some have commented, on Facebook and other sites, that the Linde’s African heritage somehow erases the racist underpinning of the performance, I am not convinced.
Watching the video I see only a grotesque presentation that mocks the real suffering of black women, and women of color in general across the globe. Furthermore, the presentation of the cake itself, the blacked face actor screaming, the exaggerated red lips and naked body harken back to stereotypes of old: the blackface minstrel performer, black faced caricatures of black women and men that became collectors items. Taking all of this in with the limited explanation of what he is supposedly concerned with (female genital mutilation), being feed the cake himself, and the laughing smiling faces and constant photographs; it is difficult to view this piece as either art or protest.
Nevertheless, it is not my goal to dominant discussion of this piece, or this topic. Yet and still, I am tired of the black female form once again being taken up as a representation of grotesquierie and spectacle. Watch this video for yourself, comment on this display and the presentation of this as art, but beware of the graphic nature:

Letisha Brown is PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. She is the 2011 winner of the Barbara A. Brown Outstanding Student Paper Award awarded by the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. She received this honor for her paper, “The Spectacle of Blackness: Race, Representation and the Black Female Athlete.”

Mad Men: ‘Looking Back’ at Gender, Race, and Class by Pamela Neumann

Mad Men has returned–and with it, the love/hate relationship with Don Draper and the rest of the ad executives of Madison Avenue, whose lives are increasingly impacted by the many events of the tumultuous 1960s. In the midst of this artistic recreation of one of the most overly romanticized periods in recent U.S. history, both the subtle and extreme inequalities of race, class, and gender explode off the screen. Contrary to those of us cultivating the sociological imagination, the popular cultural imagination tends to view these instances of racism, sexism, and classism as relics of some distant era, a subject for armchair historical curiosity and little else. While the Trayvon Martin case and Occupy Wall Street have each in their own ways brought aspects of race and class back onto the popular radar, it remains to be seen if or how feminism (and issues concerning women in general) will figure in political debates during this presidential election year.

A period television drama might seem like an unlikely site from which to seek to spur such conversation. However, its portrayal of the issues facing working women is much more than a rose-tinted glance towards the past. Particularly in Joanie’s character this season, we see the struggles facing women who want both a family and a career—struggles that are far from resolved in the contemporary U.S. A poignant scene from the premier on Sunday night shows Joan visiting the office before her scheduled return with her newborn in tow, eager to resume her duties as a highly influential woman in the firm. Fearing that her job may be in jeopardy, she tears up in Mr. Price’s office, telling him that she loves her baby, but constantly thinks about what’s happening there and wishes she could return already.

This is no anachronistic exchange or dilemma. Although progress has been made since the 1960s, the choices facing women who become mothers and want to maintain their careers are still far from adequate. State laws and corporate policies do vary, but the federal mandate established by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides certain employees with just 12 weeks of annual unpaid leave for all public institutions and businesses with over 50 employees. The United States is now one of only 4 countries worldwide with no mandatory parental leave policy.

As I have studied the literature on urban poverty in the United States in one of my seminars this semester,  one theme that consistently emerges is the serious consequences for men (in terms of their sense of self-respect, behavior, and family dynamics) when they aren’t employed (Bourgois 1995; Anderson 1999). Meanwhile, within this same body of work, comparatively little attention has been paid to how women in particular experience un(der)employment either in periods of economic downturn or (temporarily or permanently) following childbirth.  There is an implicit assumption that the value of (paid or unpaid) work outside the home for women must somehow be less important or different. But is this true? If we want to find out, not the fictional Joanie but her very real counterparts deserve more sustained attention.

Image Credits
1. AMC Made Men

Bourgois, Philippe. 1995. In Search of Respect: Selling crack in El Barrio. Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, Elijah. 1999. Code of the Street. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Pamela Neumann is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology and a regular Mad Men watcher.

A Foucauldian Critique of the Murder of Trayvon Martin by Lady Anima Adjepong

The recent murder of Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old black boy is an opportunity to explore the dimensions of disciplinary power as Michel Foucault characterizes them. On February 26, 2012, a white neighbourhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman murdered Martin in an Orlando, FL neighbourhood. According to news sources Martin was on his way home carrying a bag of Skittles he had purchased at a nearby 7-11. Zimmerman called police to say he had seen a “suspicious person.” He confronted Martin and shot him, claiming self-defence. Martin was unarmed. Florida State police have not arrested Zimmerman, stating that there is not enough evidence to disprove his claim of self-defence. I argue that Martin’s murder and the state police’s hesitance to arrest Zimmerman are exemplary of the success of disciplinary power.

The three instruments that ensure the success of disciplinary power are hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment and the examination. Each of these instruments worked together to result in Zimmerman’s overzealous trigger finger.

Euro-American civil society inscribes black bodies as criminal and outside of the social contract. This society consequently disciplines its members to police these bodies and defend the social contract. Zimmerman’s policing for civil society resulted in his shooting of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s suspicion of Martin can be understood as part of a relation of surveillance that enables the discreet functioning of disciplinary power.

When Zimmerman recognizes Martin as a “suspicious person” his response, shooting and killing him, aligns with the disciplinary mechanism of punishing non-conformity. Martin’s presence in the neighbourhood did not conform to acceptable socially prescribed locations for blacks. Zimmerman thus undertook the corrective of disciplinary punishment by confronting and shooting Martin, thereby correcting the infraction that Martin’s presence entailed. The norm in U.S. American society inscribes criminality on the black body; the norm also requires that black bodies be incarcerated or disappeared (whichever gets rid of them faster). The power of the norm (Foucault 184) and its attendant violence is very much at play in Zimmerman’s response to Martin. Martin’s black body, inscribed with criminality must be confronted and disappeared, in order to re-establish homogeneity in the neighbourhood.

Finally, by recognizing Martin as “suspicious,” calling the police, then shooting and killing him, Zimmerman passes the examination with flying colours; he acts on the knowledge that produces the reality of blackness as criminal. Zimmerman’s actions are evident of his constitution as “effect and object of power [and knowledge]” (Foucault 192). Martin’s murder, and the police’s refusal to arrest Zimmerman is evidence of the disciplinary power of civil society that constructs blackness as its prey.

Police defence of Zimmerman’s murderous shooting as self-defence against an unarmed 140-pound teenager confirms Frank Wilderson’s assessment that “there is something organic to civil society that makes it essential to the destruction of the black body” (Prison Slave, 18). Despite the public outrage about the handling of the case, and the incoherence of the logic that a 240-pound man needs to shoot a teenager half his size in self-defence, it appears that legal action cannot be taken against Zimmerman.


Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York, NY: Random House Publishing

Wilderson, FB. 2003. “The Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal.” Social Justice. Retrieved February 15, 2012 (

Lady Anima Adjepong is a doctoral student at the University of Texas. Her research interests are in gender, sports, race, and class. After receiving her bachelor’s in Comparative Literature at Princeton University, Lady worked in research consulting in Washington, DC. When the political climate in the nation’s capital got to be too intense for her, she moved to Austin, where the people are hippies and politics is on the back burner. In the rare moments when she has spare time, she tries to play rugby.

Texas: It Ain’t All Howdys and Y’alls by Chelsea Smith

March reading weather has sunshine and blue skies in Austin, TX

When I announced to my friends that I would be moving to Texas, I received a lot of skeptical responses, ranging from confusion (“why would you want to do that?”) to hyperbole (“you’re going to get shot”). Like many people considering a move to Texas for the sake of their education, I was well aware of the stereotype of all Texans as socially conservative, gun-toting cowboys and Southern belles. After living in Texas for five and a half years (in Houston for undergrad and then some, and now in Austin), I’ve learned that there’s much more to Texas than these stereotypes. Here are a few lessons I have learned that I would like to share as you decide if UT-Austin and Texas are the right place for you.

1. Texas, and Texans, are a lot more open-minded than expected. Given its bad reputation, I expect people would be surprised to hear of the progressive changes that have come out of Texas. In terms of LGBT rights, Houston elected Mayor Annise Parker in 2009 (and re-elected her in 2011), making her one of the first openly gay mayors of a major U.S. city. Additionally, Civil Rights leader Barbara Jordan was the first African-American woman elected to the Texas Senate in 1966 and the first woman elected as a federal House Representative of Texas in 1972. Located next to UT’s Texas Union building, a statue of Representative Jordan commemorates her political advocacy for the disadvantaged. Finally, southern comfort is more than a liquor that came out of our neighboring Louisiana. In general, Texas is known for its southern hospitality, and the large university base in Austin lends an even greater feeling of friendliness to the city.

2. Culture is culture is culture. The stereotype of Texan culture as the howdy’in cowboys and belles I mentioned earlier both reduces and ignores the diversity of cultures and people in Texas. The proximity to Mexico means a strong Mexican cultural presence, which has also branched off into a distinct Tex-Mex (or Mex-Tex, if you like) culture. Beyond breakfast tacos on restaurant menus and mariachi bands at weddings, Texas is at the forefront of immigration trends and shifts in the racial and ethnic makeup of the population that will soon come to influence the rest of the United States. Whether a research interest of yours or not, these trends have important implications for public policy and social relations that we are already experiencing in Texas and that foreshadow similar issues on the national scene. Furthermore, Austin has numerous subcultures and creative venues, evident in the annual South by Southwest festival, popular food trucks, and bicycle gangs.

3. There are “crazies” everywhere. One of my biggest concerns about moving to (and deciding to stay in) Texas were political extremists, by which I mean those who try to impose their political and social views on others to the detriment of public discourse. Regardless of your political inclination, extremism in either direction tends to be pretty scary – but these kinds of people exist everywhere, from Texas to Missouri to New York City. While their concentration may shift, you will never escape such people; and if your goal is to surround yourself with people whose views are exactly the same as yours, good luck navigating academia or any other profession.

4. You can’t beat the weather (except in the summer). Saving the most superficial for last, near year-round warm weather and sunshine can do wonders for your life. As I write this blog post, I am sitting on the patio of a cafe overlooking sunshine reflecting off the lake. I may also be studying for a midterm exam, but I am doing so in beautiful 75˚ weather – in the first week of March! For me personally, I am much happier and much more productive when I can be outside, and this is not a trivial factor in my quality of life. If running trails, bike rides, and kayaking year-round are your thing, you’re in luck. If admiring the December sunshine from your apartment window is your thing, you’re in luck.

To conclude what has almost become a public service announcement or love letter of sorts to Texas, I concede that there are disadvantages to living in Texas. The state legislature has passed recent laws to which I am very morally opposed and the traffic on I-35 is always atrocious. However, the advantages I have experienced as a Texas resident and as a member of UT’s nationally competitive sociology program are greater. When I first moved to Texas, I made a promise to myself to boycott cowboy hats and usage of the word y’all. Over time, I have confronted and moved past my own stereotypes and misconceptions of a state it turns out I knew little about. Y’all has slipped into my vocabulary. Although, a cowboy hat has yet to touch my head in any kind of seriousness.

Chelsea Smith is pursuing her doctoral degree in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests are in family sociology and demography. After graduating from Rice University in 2010, she worked on a longitudinal, mixed-methods study to examine gender differences in the graduate student experience, with a focus on STEM fields, gender, and fertility intentions. As a PhD student at the University of Texas, Chelsea plans on studying non-traditional families and relationships between parents and children.

On the Sociology of Sport by Letisha Brown

The study of sport within sociology opens up new avenues for investigating several
things within the social world. Through sport scholarship, there is room for critical
examinations of sexuality, race, gender, class, age, health and more. For instance, Dr.
Ben Carrington’s Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora, offers a
detailed look into the creation of one of the most longstanding tropes of blackness—the
black athlete. Drawing upon scholars such as Fanon, and Hall, Carrington’s work offers
new insight to the ways in which the field of sport has been used to create, as well as
maintain conceptions of racial identity. Carrington’s work is an asset not only to sports
literature, but also within the context of cultural, diaspora and post/colonial studies as

The study of sport also offers new ways to think about representation, specifically
as it pertains to masculine and feminine identities. The realm of sport is one stage in
which western ideals of the masculine and feminine are (re)produced. The history of the
Olympic Games for instance offers up several examples of the ways ideas of sex/gender
in western culture has been rendered within the context of heteronormativity. Early forms of “gender verification” within the games called for female athletes to undergo a visual examination given by a panel of gynecologists as a means of verifying that only “true” women were involved in the competition (Vannini & Fornssler, 2011). Though there had been incidences of men infiltrating female competitions, such practices became a spring board for determining means of sex/gender not only within sport but within the context of society at larger. To put it another way, the measuring stick of femininity and masculinity during these practices was based upon physical characteristics as the “true markers” of sex/gender.

It is important to look at the history of sport with a critical eye in order to fully examine
the ways in which such practices have been (re)produced within the context of the post/
colonial. Out of these naked parades grew, not only the “gender verification” of today—
chromosomal testing, etc.—but also drug testing within sport. Both drug and sex/gender
testing exist as a means of weeding out athletes who were “unnatural.” Studying sport
within the context of sociology offers scholars and researchers the ability to critically
examine contemporary notions of race, sex/gender, class, age and more.

There are a multitude of questions that still exist within sports sociology; questions that
can be answered via various theoretical frames. For those interested in studies of culture,
media studies, the body and embodiment, health, politics, and more the sociology of sport can offer you an entry point into your deepest area of interest. Jump into discourse.


Carrington, B. (2010). Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora. London: Sage.

Vannini, A. & Fornssler, B. (2011). “Girl, Interrupted: Interpreting Semenya’s Body, Gender Verification Testing, and Public Discourse.” Cultural Studies and Critical Methodologies, 11 (3) 243-257.

Letisha Brown is PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. She is the 2011 winner of the Barbara A. Brown Outstanding Student Paper Award awarded by the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. She received this honor for her paper, “The Spectacle of Blackness: Race, Representation and the Black Female Athlete.”


Research Questions with graduate student Amy Lodge

Research Questions (RQ) is Q&A series profiling the faculty, graduate students, and alumni of the Sociology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. In brief conversations, this series looks at the diverse projects, interests, and sources of inspiration within the UT-Austin sociology community.

This week we take a look at the research of graduate student Amy Lodge, 2012 winner of the Norval Glenn Prize. The Sociology Department established the Norval Glenn Prize in 2011 to celebrate the memory of our esteemed colleague by giving an annual award to the best graduate student paper in the sociology of the family.

Research Questions (RQ): Amy, what brought you to the field of sociology?

Amy Lodge: I was (and am) drawn to the field of sociology because of the unique power of sociology to change the way we see the world. Living in an individualistic society, few of us are encouraged to see how our lives and the lives of others are shaped by broader structures and systems of meaning. Examining the world from a sociological perspective can be scary at first as we often have to re-examine our taken for granted understandings of the social world, but is ultimately an exciting and life-long learning experience.

RQ: Congratulations on winning the 2012 Norval Glenn Prize! Do you have any other exciting news you’d like to share?

AL: Thanks! I am excited to begin analyzing the data for my dissertation. Based on in-depth interviews, my dissertation will examine the processes and meanings through which social ties shape physical activity and how those processes differ for men and women, African Americans and whites, and over the life course. At the Annual American Sociological Association meeting in August, I will present preliminary results from my dissertation which focus particularly on how parenthood shapes physical activity differently over the life course and how that differs at the intersection of race and gender.

I am also excited about a forthcoming article appearing in Journal of Marriage and Family that I co-authored with my advisor Dr. Debra Umberson. It examines how mid and later life married couples experience changes in their sex lives and how those experiences are shaped by the intersection of gender and age.


Amy Lodge is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She earned her MA in Sociology (2008) from the University of Texas and her BA in Sociology (2006) from the University of South Carolina. She is interested in gender and sexuality, aging and the life course, family relationships, race/ethnicity, and physical activity. She currently teaches Gender, Race, and Class in American society and has previously taught Sex and Violence in Pop Culture in the Department of Sociology.

Why Non-Academic Need Not Be Un-Academic: Reflections on Working Outside the Academy

Our Brownbag series took a closer look at sociological research beyond the university with an exciting panel, “Un-Academic: Reflections on Working Outside the Academy” on February 13. Following introductory remarks by Professor Mary Rose, graduate students Caity Collins, Kristine Kilanski, and David McClendon convened to share insights about their experiences working at FamilienForschung, the Urban Institute, and the Pew Research Center.

Caity’s summer 2011 work with FamilienForschung, a family-focused research and policy institute in Stuttgart, Germany, provided valuable support to aid her master’s thesis research on working mothers and the opportunities and constraints they face when trying to balance work and family responsibilities. Though Caity had lived in Germany before, she anticipated considerable challenges in conducting her interview research given language and cultural barriers. Taking a risk, Caity contacted FamilienForschung and pitched a collaboration, emphasizing her ability to support the institute’s research on gender and work trends in the U.S. and to assist with their English-language writing. In addition to helping her link up with interviewees for her study, Caity’s invaluable affiliation provided access to the institute’s census data, workshops, presentations, conferences as well as administrative resources (desk and phone line).

Kristine brought up good points from her job at the Urban Institute and the Academy of Educational Development (AED) where she worked as a research assistant and research associate. There, she contributed to multiple education-related projects, including a website on high school reform implementation, co-written with Dr. Nettie Legters and Dr. Becky Smerdon. In addition to assisting with multiple  program evaluations (including the evaluation of the Alabama, Math, Science, and Technology Initiative) and other ongoing research projects, Kristine wrote  evidence-based education briefs for state leaders in the Southeastern Regional  Educational Laboratory. Kristine maintains an interest in education, especially innovative programs for educating youth and preparing them to succeed in the workforce and world.  Her advice when considering research positions in and outside the academy is to make a checklist of their advantages and disadvantages.  For researchers in the academy the security of having tenure is offset by the challenges required to get there: publishing while teaching full time.  Her experience in the world of not for profits taught her the value of working at a well-funded policy relevant institution and staying current by looking for opportunities to publish and network.  However, while it’s nice to work 9 – 5, the uncertainties of grant funding can be a real downside.

David spent the 2011 summer working on the Global Religious Futures Project at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. Pew is a well-known “fact tank” that provides facts and data that help inform national dialogues. David came across this research opportunity through the help of his advisor, Professor Mark Regenerus. David’s work at Pew focused on demographic projections of the future sizes and locations of religious populations around the globe. Developing his project into a working paper, David used census data to explore a number of factors affecting religious populations including age structure, religion-specific fertility and mortality rates, and “switching.” David also discussed Pew’s media strategies to publicize research findings non-academic audiences and institutional connections to other contacts in the broader field of religion studies.

Research Questions with graduate students Pamela Neumann and Kate Henley Averett

Research Questions (RQ) is Q&A series profiling the faculty, graduate students, and alumni of the Sociology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. In brief conversations, this series looks at the diverse projects, interests, and sources of inspiration within the UT-Austin sociology community.

This week we check out the exciting projects of graduate students Pamela Neumann and Kate Henley Averett.

 Research Questions (RQ): Pamela, what brought you to the field of sociology?

Pamela Neumann: I’ve always been interested in social inequalities, but during undergrad I approached these problems mostly through the study of electoral politics and state institutions. Post-college, I had several formative experiences working for non-governmental organizations–first in San Antonio and later in Nicaragua–which ultimately led me back to graduate school, initially to UT’s Latin American Studies program. When I began my graduate work, I was fairly certain that I would eventually return to the development world, but that all changed after doing fieldwork in Nicaragua for my thesis. I realized that I had a passion for doing ethnographic research, and writing about the daily lives and struggles of women–so, with the encouragement of a couple faculty mentors in UT’s sociology department, I decided to dive in. And I’m so glad I did.

RQ: What’s your favorite thing to do in Austin?

PN: It’s hard to pick just one! Certainly the many warm and sunny days year round make it easy to spend a lot of time outdoors running or hiking. I also have a serious breakfast taco addiction, and there are more than a few great places to grab those around here.

RQ: What brought you to the field of sociology?

Kate Henley Averett: I took a somewhat winding road to get to sociology. When I began my MDiv program at Harvard in 2005, I was really interested in working with teens and young adults around issues of sexuality and spirituality, and was especially concerned about young queer people experiencing religious-based bullying due to their sexuality and/or gender expression. I grew frustrated during my program that I wasn’t able to find enough research about these issues to inform my career path, which was my first clue that maybe a research-based academic career was the logical next step for me. I spent a couple of years after finishing my masters doing a lot of reading and soul-searching, and when I realized that most of what I was reading were books written by sociologists, I decided to start researching sociology graduate programs.

RQ: Kate, do you have any exciting news in the works?

KHA: I’m currently working on a study that I’m really excited about, interviewing LGBTQ parents of young children about their parenting philosophies and experiences with a specific eye toward thinking through the intersections of gender expression, heteronormativity, and parental expectations in shaping the gendered lives of children. I’m doing a conference course this semester with my faculty mentor, Dr. Christine Williams, to work on preparing a paper for journal submission out of these interviews. Not only am I getting great on-the-ground research experience, I’m also getting tons of ideas for dissertation topics.


Pamela Neumann is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. She earned her MA in Latin American Studies from UT-Austin and her BA in Politcal Science from Trinity University (San Antonio). Her master’s thesis focused on the trajectory and effects of women’s participation in community development in rural Nicaragua. She was particularly interested in how women’s involvement in the public sphere affected their own daily routines and household dynamics. Her broad areas of interest are gender, political sociology, poverty and development, and collective action, with a regional focus on Latin America.

Kate Henley Averett is a second year doctoral student studying gender, sexuality, and childhood. Originally from the Boston area, Kate has a BA in Religion from Mount Holyoke College and an MDiv from Harvard University.