Category Archives: Uncategorized

Women’s rights have improved in North Africa, but the struggle continues

By Maro Youssef, Meriem Aissa, and Suzie Abdou

It has been a decade since the Arab Spring uprisings and the subsequent calls for reform that resonated across North Africa and the Middle East. But how has life changed for women in the Maghreb in the years since?

In efforts to answer that question, we used survey data, field observations and interviews with women’s rights organisations and political parties to paint a clear picture of women’s rights in the region. Here’s what we found.

Algerian women take to the streets

Algeria is known for women’s participation as combatants in the War of Independence, which began in 1954 and ended with the nation’s independence in 1962.

But despite women’s efforts, in 1984 the state adopted a conservative family code that restricted their rights: requiring a male marriage guardian, barring Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men, and restricting grounds for divorce for women.

Despite these challenges, however, women continued to resist – and have in recent years marked important milestones.

After Algeria adopted a gender quota to increase women’s political participation, women were in 2012 elected to 31.6% of the seats in parliament – the highest representation in the Arab world at the time. Currently, women hold 26% of seats in parliament.

Three years later, the nation adopted a comprehensive law prohibiting violence against women. Yet such violence continues to be a problem – and has worsened since the global COVID-19 pandemic, leading prominent Algerian actresses to launch a campaign against feminicides in October 2020.

Then when Algeria witnessed the start of a historic revolution in February 2019, women’s and youth participation were particularly notable. For more than a year, large protests took place across the country – including on 8 March 2019 and on the same day in 2020, when thousands of Algerian women from all sectors of society participated in demonstrations in celebration of International Women’s Day.

A new Moroccan feminism

In Morocco, the women’s movement was a key player in the 2004 family law reforms, which granted women the rights to self-guardianship, to divorce, and to child custody.

Moroccan women were also instrumental during the country’s 2011 mass protests, which became known as the ‘20 February Movement’. This movement produced a new form of feminism, which calls for democratic reforms pertaining to all Moroccans.

It was thanks in part to these feminists, that in 2019, after ten years of fighting for their rights, rural Soulalyat women – who are often poor, unskilled and uneducated – won equal access to communal land. The women had mobilised to form groups to confront their tribes and local authorities, and some have since been appointed to the boards of such land.

Another major legislative change brought about by women was the 2014 amendment to Article 475 of the Penal Code, which allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims.

Other recent legal gains for women include the raising of the minimum marriage age to 18; a law granting a woman the ability to divorce her husband in case of violence; and another requiring a man to have the permission of his first wife to marry a second woman, which has reduced polygamy.

But even now, many laws passed in support of women’s rights are not implemented by the courts or enforced by the police – and there’s a lack of political will by the Islamist government to follow Article 19 of the constitution, which states: “The man and the woman enjoy, in equality, the rights and freedoms of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental character.”

Inheritance reform remains a key concern for feminists, with daughters currently entitled to inherit half of what their male relatives receive. Rape is still categorised as public indecency and marital rape is still not recognised as a crime.

What’s more, the country still has a long way to go on political representation. Only one woman minister was appointed after the 2011 elections that followed the 20 February Movement. But while women make up only 12% of local government, their numbers in parliament rose to 21% in the 2016 elections, up from 17% in 2011.

In Tunisia, women drive gender reform

No country in the region has made as many advances in women’s rights in the past decade as Tunisia. Women activists have worked closely with politicians to pass progressive gender reforms and served as watchdogs throughout the democratic transition. But many of them remain deeply concerned about potential backsliding on their rights.

Women were at the forefront of Tunisia’s revolution in 2010-11. Since then, they have been increasingly active in civil society and created between 183 and 300 new women’s organisations – including Islamists for the first time. (Before the revolution there were just two secularist organisations.)

Tunisian women activists pressured the state to commit to legal reform and provided input on all gender-related legislation especially the constitution and electoral quotas.

In 2011, Tunisia passed a gender quota that required political parties to alternate between women and men on their candidate lists. As a result, the same year, women secured 27% of seats in the constitutional drafting body, which helped women secularist activists and previously marginalised Islamists enter politics.

To further increase women’s presence in politics, Tunisia also passed one of the most progressive gender parity laws in the world in 2018, which requires political parties to alternate between women and men (vertical parity), but also requires that half of party lists are led by women (horizontal equality). As a result, women held 47% of seats in local assemblies after the 2018 local elections. After the 2019 legislative elections, women now hold 25% of seats in the national legislature.

In addition to gender quotas, in 2014 Tunisia passed one of the most progressive constitutions in the region, ensuring gender equality. Three years later it also passed Organic Law No. 58, which recognises marital rape and political violence.

Despite historical gains, the fight is not over. Women continue to suffer from violence, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and street harassment and domestic violence have also both increased since the revolution.

Political violence has also worsened, especially during elections, particularly against secularists who speak out about women’s rights, such as the politician Bochra Belhaj Hmida, gender studies professor Amel Grami, and former spokesperson for the Presidency Saida Garrache.

Secularist activists are also concerned about inheritance inequality. In 2018, President Beji Caid Essebsi presented parliament with a draft inheritance law that gives families the right to choose between the existing inheritance law rooted in Islam or civil law, which would grant women equal inheritance.

Islamists reject the bill since it would divorce women’s inheritance from Islamic codes. Islamist party Ennahda called for a referendum and national dialogue instead of legal reform. This inheritance stalemate captures how women’s rights remain contested in Tunisia today.

The way forward

If Tunisia’s goal is to become a consolidated democracy, it must prevent backsliding on women’s rights and conservative backlash against women.

Both Tunisia and Algeria must fully implement their gender-based violence laws and take political violence against outspoken feminists and women politicians seriously. Morocco must implement and enforce recent legislations, otherwise any current or future legal reform will be nothing but a symbolic one.

Governments and civil society in the Maghreb have a responsibility to continue to educate all segments of the population on women’s rights. They must run comprehensive national awareness campaigns that include tribal leaders, community leaders and religious leaders – to reach all demographics. A diversity of partners lends legitimacy to a campaign and builds trust within communities.

Such campaigns can shift cultural and societal attitudes towards women. Governments and public education systems can work together with support from foreign donors, to reform education curricula in order to challenge gender norms. In this way, future generations can then transform their countries and families into more equitable structures.

Real change cannot be achieved with new laws alone, it requires practical implementation of all legal reforms by governments. It also requires the judiciary to prioritise appointing women judges to the higher courts, and especially those who practice ijtihad, or (re)interpretation of Islamic Jurisprudence. Ijtihad can increase women’s rights when it comes to issues based on Islam, including inheritance, polygamy and child marriage.

Protecting women also requires an increase in the number of women police officers or the establishment of units within the police that deal only with women’s safety. Foreign donors can support this through police or Ministry of Interior reform initiatives. This creates a safe space for women who suffer from domestic violence to come forward to report their abusers.

Despite these challenges, women will likely continue to draw on universal human rights standards and local and religious sources to fight for gender equality, whether it is within a monarchy or in a budding democracy.

This op-Ed was recently published in Opendemocracy.

Melissa Wilde on “Birth Control Battles: How Race and Class Divided American Religion”

By: Katarina Huss

As the US approaches the 2020 presidential election and the Senate clashes over a new Supreme Court appointment, issues of reproductive justice are vitally important to US politics. Political conversations about reproductive rights are greatly influenced by religion, and religion seemingly has come to define conservative and progressive groups. However, even within religion, conservative and progressive religious groups are divided on issues of sex, gender, and reproductive rights. For religious groups that are progressive on issues related to reproductive justice, what does it mean to be progressive in conservative spaces? When and why did religious groups in America become divided on reproductive justice?

On October 1, Dr. Melissa Wilde, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, posed these questions during her presentation for the UT Austin Department of Sociology’s Colloquium Series. During the colloquium, Dr. Wilde presented findings from her recently published book “Birth Control Battles: How Race and Class Divided American Religion.” The book examines the history of American religious liberalization on contraception in the 1930s and the effects of this liberalization. Through this research, Wilde demonstrates that despite the modern centering of women’s rights in the reproductive rights conversation, religious groups’ support for contraception was historically linked to white supremeist views on race and immigration. Wilde uses this research to urge sociologists to consider religion alongside inequality and social structures, a concept Wilde terms complex religion.

Below are a few takeaways from Dr. Wilde’s presentation:

1. Early religious liberalization on contraception was linked to religious group support for eugenics, fear of race suicide, and belief in the social gospel movement. Wilde studied 31 religious groups that composed 90% of American religious membership in the 1920s and found that nine religious groups broke from the existing religious consensus on contraception and liberalized their stance between 1929 and 1931. The liberalized groups did not have the highest birth rate nor was their memberships’ use of contraceptives a major religious concern prior to this moment. Half of the groups that liberalized were not feminist and not all of the progressive religious groups of the time period liberalized.

Through extensive archival research, Wilde found that the nine religious groups chose to liberalize due to racialized concerns. At the time of liberalization, there was a large birth rate differential between native white women and immigrant women, specifically Catholic and Jewish women. While many religious groups were concerned about the birth rate differential and race in America, Wilde argues the nine early liberalizers all supported eugenics, feared race suicide, and believed in the social gospel movement. The combination of all three elements explains why only the nine groups were part of early liberalization.

Wilde explains that at the time of liberalization, the American Eugenics Society promoted the idea that Americans could “engineer” a better race by encouraging desirable parents to have children and discouraging undesirables from having children. Eugenicist groups in America were pursuing policy that forced involuntary sterilization of Catholic women as a strategy to limit Catholic births. The eugenicists soon realized they could not get the legislation to sterilize every Catholic woman. Eugenicists turned to contraception as a way of discouraging “undesirable” women from having more children.

Supporting eugenics alone was not enough to prompt religious groups to change their stance on contraception. In addition to eugenics, some religious groups feared that native white women were not having enough children to support their population, thus creating race suicide. Wilde found documents stating that “every marriage must have a minimum of three children to fulfill social obligation to maintain the population.” Among groups that believed in both race suicide and eugenics, liberalization on contraception seemed to be a way to limit birth for some women rather than convincing congregations to have more children. In addition to eugenics and race suicide, the religious groups that were early liberalizers also believed in the social gospel movement. This movement, broadly, believed it was the duty of all Christians to decrease class inequality. Gospelers saw contraceptives as a way to alleviate poverty for poor immigrants. The theory easily merged with ideas about eugenics and race suicide.

Based on this understanding, Wilde broadly sorted religious groups during the time of early liberalization into four categories: early liberalizers, silent supporters, critics, and the silent, based on their belief in eugenics, race suicide, and the social gospel movement. Early liberalizers, the nine that liberalized by 1931, all supported eugenics, feared race suicide, and believed in social gospel. These beliefs explain why the groups would choose to liberalize on contraceptives. Wilde classifies religious groups that believed in the social gospel movement but did not fear race suicide as silent supporters of liberalization. These groups never officially liberalized but supported the decision. Religious groups that did not believe in the social gospel and did not fear race suicide were critics of liberalization. Finally, religious groups that did not fear race suicide, but believed in the social gospel movement were silent. These groups were reluctant to identify the racism implicit in the social gospel movement.

Wilde’s findings show how religion is historically connected to issues of race and class in America so profoundly that the history of contraceptive liberalization is explained by eugenics, race suicide, and the social gospel movement, all of which are racialized perspectives on society.

2. Later religious group liberalization on contraception was still informed by racialized beliefs, but the early liberalizers are distinct from later liberalizing groups. After World War II, there was less conversation around liberalizing contraception in religious groups and a shift away from eugenics. Some other religious groups that did not liberalize maintained that it was not their place as religious institutions to endorse or recommend contraceptives. Wilde found that religious groups that chose to liberalize on contraception after WWII, especially in the 1960s, were still informed by racialized ideas about demographics. However, these religious groups were more concerned about population explosion outside of the US. The groups focused on the necessity for contraception in “third world” countries. This further supports Wilde’s claims about religion and race and class in America, but there is also a difference, even in modern politics between these later liberalizers and the nine early liberalizers. There is a lasting legacy for early liberalizers in the U.S. The early liberalizers and their unofficial supporters, as classified by Wilde’s research, are the religious progressives of modern politics. Wilde states that the United Church of Christ, for example, advocates for contraception as a right and has been advocating for contraception in the U.S. for nearly a century. It is significant that these groups remain the seeming progressive religious groups in conservative spaces on topics of sex, gender, and reproductive rights. It is also important that while we understand them as progressive, there is a history of these progressive religious groups that is not about women’s rights or justice.

3. Religion should not be taken for granted as a social fact. Rather, sociologists must recognize the ways religion is linked to race and class.
Wilde’s book and other research makes an important contribution to the field of sociology. Wilde argues, as a sociologist of religion, that religion has been taken for granted as a social fact and sociologists have misunderstood how it still intersects with class and religion. Wilde’s research suggests that complex religion reveals the effects of religion on sex, gender, and politics. Complex religion recognizes the way that religious institutions are intertwined with inequality and intersect with social structures of race and class. As Wilde’s research exemplifies, religion is historically linked to whiteness and class in America and remains highly segregated. She argues that religion can be used as proxy for class in America, and in different historical contexts religion can be either whitening or darkening for religious and ethnic groups in America. She argues that the importance of her research is in how it theoretically highlights an understanding of religion as it intersects with class and race in ways that are important to modern politics. The research does not necessarily map onto all modern religious debates about reproductive rights and religion, but it should exemplify the important role that religion still plays in the US and how religion is connected to other issues in society.

Katarina Huss is a graduate student in the UT Austin Sociology Department

Statement on Graduate Student Strikes

We, the graduate students in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, stand in solidarity with our fellow graduate students who are demanding a fair, equitable level of compensation. Over the last few weeks, we have seen graduate students stretching coast to coast, from Harvard University to UC Santa Cruz, use their collective voices in the name of justice. Despite our work being integral to the very functioning of the university, too many administrations exploit our labor through unjust compensation and poverty wages. The demands our fellow graduate students are making are a necessary first step to ensure that they can continue their duties as employees while simultaneously producing scholarship as students. So, to those engaging in this struggle, we want you to know that we see you, we are inspired by you, and we stand in solidarity with you.

In solidarity,

UT-Austin sociology graduate students

On the Market: Sam Simon

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 Sam Simon, a doctoral candidate and Urban Ethnography Lab fellow:

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

In my dissertation, I examine the role that hiring and training practices at police departments play in patterns of racist police violence. I spent last year conducting field work at police hiring units and training academies and interviewing police officers, and am now working on publications and writing the dissertation. In other work, I have studied the sexist and racist organizational structures of Hollywood talent agencies, how civilians are taught to conceptualize and use violence at firearms training schools, why women and racial minorities attrite from STEM fields at disproportionate rates, and how gender shapes access to workplace amenities.

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

I participated in the job market workshop that Ken organized for students the summer before I started applying to jobs, and sought out feedback on my materials from friends in academia and my advisors. I also gave a practice job talk in several settings to gain experience in front of an audience who have expertise in different methodological and substantive areas.

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

I created an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of job postings that I may be a fit for, listed in order by deadline. In the Excel sheet, I list the institution, department, specialty area they are hiring in (i.e. Criminology, Race/Ethnicity, Gender, etc.), link to the job posting on ASA’s website, submission link, job ID (from ASA’s postings), what materials are required, how letters should be submitted (some require your recommender sends them directly via email), the name of the search committee chair if it was listed, and any other notes. I color-coded the Excel sheet to designate the status of my application: green means I applied, white means I did not apply, yellow means I got an interview, and red means I was informed that I would not be going further in the process. I granted access to this Excel sheet to my letter writers so they could reference it, if needed.

To find out about jobs, I primarily used the ASA job bank, but was also subscribed to the ASA job listserv, and checked emails from ASA sections and other sociological organizations (like SSS and ESS) for job listings.

How are you balancing all of your responsibilities this semester?

Good question! I have designated 2 days roughly every 2 weeks to devote to job applications. On those days, I sit at a coffee shop and crank out the applications that are due that month. The rest of the time, I work on my dissertation, publications, or my research assistant responsibilities.

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

I found that being on the market at ASA was not all that different than when you are not on the market. The primary difference was that I was more strategic about which panels I attended based on if I wanted to meet someone presenting, I participated in the ASA job fair, I attended a panel about preparing a job talk, and I prioritized attending receptions and other social events in order to network. Some people go all out at ASA and set up a ton of meetings based on which institutions are hiring. That’s one way to do it, but it was not my approach.

How are you practicing self-care?

During graduate school generally, it has been critical that I spend time pursuing non-academic interests and hobbies. I am the creative director of a dance team in Austin, which has been fantastic both creatively and socially, I lift weights almost every day, and I take the weekends completely off (with a few exceptions) to spend time with friends and relax. Taking weekends off has helped both my mental health and my work, actually – my writing on Monday is significantly better because I take time to think about and experience other things, which I then often bring into my work.

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

The best advice that I have received is to remember that most of this is beyond your control, so not to spend too much time obsessing or worrying. Spend time preparing your materials in advance so you have plenty of time to make edits, sign up for practice job talks even though it’s nerve-wracking, and seek out support from faculty and fellow students.

Shannon Cavanagh, Gloria González-López Receive President’s Teaching Award

In January, UT Austin Sociology faculty Shannon Cavanagh and Gloria González-López were awarded the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award for the 2018-19 academic year. They were honored last Friday evening at a dinner with UT Austin President Greg Fenves.

Associate Professor of Sociology Shannon Cavanagh receives 2018-19 President’s Associates Teaching Award from UT Austin President Gregory Fenves

Professor of Sociology Gloria González-López receives 2018-19 President’s Associates Teaching Award from UT Austin President Gregory Fenves

Professors Cavanagh and González-López are two among eight UT Austin faculty who received the award this year. According to a university news release:

The award recognizes the university’s educational innovators who demonstrate exceptional undergraduate teaching in the core curriculum, including signature courses, and engage with curriculum reform and educational innovation.

“These eight faculty members have dedicated themselves to teaching and mentoring,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of UT Austin. “They build connections with their students and strive to unlock their potential with knowledge and creativity.”

This is the first time that two faculty members from Sociology have received the award during the same year. Moreover, among this year’s awardees, ours was the only department represented by more than one faculty winner.

Julian Go on Police Militarization, Post-Colonial Theory, and Historical Ethnography

by Alex Diamond

On Friday, April 20th, Boston University Sociology Professor Julian Go visited UT Austin for a public lecture on “The Origins of Police Militarization in the United States” and a workshop with graduate students. The event was co-sponsored by the Urban Ethnography Lab as well as the Power, History, and Society (PHS), Crime, Law, and Deviance (CLD), and Race and Ethnicity (R&E) working groups. Dr. Go’s discussion with graduate students focused on three strands that came out of students’ questions: how to frame research questions and projects, how to combine historical comparative work and ethnography, and finally his work on post-colonial theory.

Professor Julian Go lectures on the origins of U.S. police militarization. (photo by Harel Shapira)

In a meeting with sociology graduate students who do research in sites as diverse as Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, and Nepal, Dr. Go offered advice on how to sell projects to a discipline that is often parochial. He suggested students frame their work in terms of how specific sites can help us understand the United States or give insight into broader theoretical mechanisms. In more general terms, Dr. Go pushed students to avoid developing research projects such that they already know what they are going to find. He advised: “Make sure to design the project in a way that it’s set up for surprises, and you can manage the surprise.” The most interesting findings, according to Dr. Go, come from these surprises, and research projects should be set up to capture multiple possibilities.

Students also asked more specific questions about doing historical comparative work and ethnography. Dr. Go said that he saw archival research as a kind of historical ethnography, using newspapers, diaries, and other sources to reconstruct the universes of meaning of a different time and culture. He drew a similar parallel to ethnography in terms of how to enter a site. He suggested that like ethnography, archival research should begin with a critical entry way or person, and then use a kind of snowball sampling to see where that entry point leads you. He also advocated for the integration of historical work into ethnographic research, something he said is currently lacking in the field. Doing this successfully, he argued, requires making sure the historicization operates from concepts that are relevant to the contemporary site, maintaining an analytic continuity between past and present. “Think about the best ethnographies and best historical work,” he said, “and think about what it would mean to put them together.”

Finally, Dr. Go spoke about his own work on post-colonial theory. He said that this epistemological challenge arose because sociology as a discipline has been tethered to the interests of empire. In this account, early sociology became interested in race and social order precisely because they were interested in what natives were doing in colonies. Though sociologists disavow this early racist work, some of the same analytic tendencies persist, including a bifurcation that separates “us” from “them,” “here” from “there,” and the metropole from the colony. Dr. Go argued that sociologists lose a lot with this approach.

Dr. Go’s lecture later in the day provided an excellent example of how a post-colonial perspective allows for analytical richness. He showed how ongoing processes of police militarization in the United States cannot be understood without looking at their roots in techniques used under American imperialism to police their colonies. As such, he suggested we should re-theorize police militarization as “colonial counter-insurgenization,” allowing for an understanding of how techniques of control developed in colonies were transferred to domestic urban spaces and organized around the same racialized logic. Both the lecture and Dr. Go’s workshop were thought-provoking and inspiring for attendees.

Alex Diamond is a first-year student in the Sociology Department. His research interests center on the construction of citizenship in the post-conflict transition in areas of rural Colombia that were previously under insurgent control.

Past and Present: Some Insights from Sociology on Democracy and Protest

By Robert Wayne Ressler

2017 Women’s March on Washington, D.C. (Source: The Pancake Life)

Recently, I was looking for inspiration to better understand how nonprofit organizations, a focus of some of my research, might be capable of engendering social change. As organizations that operate within the capitalist system but are different from typical business ventures because of the non-distribution clause that forbids the sharing of “profits” outside of the organization, the tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations and the fact that many of them are driven by a “mission” to change the social landscape makes nonprofits appeal to me as a rich field for investigations using the sociological imagination. A natural place to start, in my mind, was a look back at Max Weber’s discussions on the rise of capitalism through the Protestant work ethic and the entrenchment of the accumulation of wealth in modern society.

Imagine my surprise when what I ended up coming across, while still relevant for my research, was an article that resonated more with the current political climate of the United States of America. No doubt R. Bruce Douglass, the author of “‘Shell as Hard as Steel’ (Or, ‘Iron Cage’): What Exactly Did That Imagery Mean for Weber?” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, was thinking of the recent election when he penned the following in regards to Weber’s writings on democracy:

Protestors gathered at the JFK Airport in New York City to protest the Trump Administration’s executive order that detained dozens of people at airports across the U.S. (Source: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

“Even if (democracy) did enable some of the (social) movements in question to acquire power, therefore, it would hardly be appropriate to interpret such a development as a means by which the masses could actually take control of their lives. And he believed it was almost certain that the consequences of the conquest of power by any such movement would prove that to be the case. It would not be the masses who would end up running things, but their leaders. And in its own way the rule of such people was likely to be just as autocratic (if not more so) as the one it replaced, even toward its own supporters,” (p. 513).

Not only does this quote illuminate some of the processes that people in the U.S. witnessed leading up to the election and the executive orders of the new administration, I think it is particularly relevant in light of the mass protests that have happened in Washington, other state capitals, other world cities, and airports across the country. Weber, as Douglass points out, was very critical of the sort of “herd-mentality” that democratic politics create. My question, then, is what makes us, the individuals participating in the Women’s March and other demonstrations, more able to ensure that any democratic victories are victories for the masses and not just our leaders?

Protestors decrying the immigration ban executive order, dubbed the “Muslim Ban.” (Source: REUTERS/Patrick Fallon)

Last week, Dr. Rashawn Ray visited UT to discuss racism and the criminal justice system, but also took some time to share the results from, and media coverage of, a survey he helped to conduct of Women’s March participants. Two main conclusions were particularly interesting that might help to point the way towards distinguishing an active citizenry from a herd of cows: that the marches drew many first time protestors, and that the issues represented were multi-faceted and intersectional. A quick glimpse at the best protest posters from around the country helps to qualitatively verify these points. These facts, in addition to the global nature of the protests, suggest that a social movement can be based on more than just the election of certain leaders over others and instead focus its efforts on the promotion of certain ideals such as fairness, equality, and inclusion.

2017 Women’s March protestors outside of Trump Tower in New York City (Source: The Pancake Life)

I don’t think Weber’s writings anticipated this shift in the focus of the reasons for social mobilization, moving beyond certain groups merely electing individuals who will then pass laws that are in line with their own political views. Instead, the Women’s March and similar demonstrations, broadens to include activism to create a vision of society in which basic human dignity and worth are fundamentally incorporated into laws and into institutions. This perspective opens the possibility that individuals interested in facilitating the realization of a more just and responsible society may succeed in escaping the sort of political serfdom that Weber pessimistically predicts. I’ll close with a quote from the well-known French political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville, from his work Democracy in America: “The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.”

Robert Wayne Ressler is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology. His research interests concern how nonproft organizations provide opportunities to reduce inequalities with a special interest in educational stratification and inequality.  

Angela Stroud on Race, Gender, and Concealed Carry

by Katie Kaufman Rogers

Angela Stroud
Angela Stroud, UT-Austin PhD and Assistant Professor of Sociology & Social Justice at Northland College

This October, the UT Austin Department of Sociology and Fem(me) Sem welcomed sociologist Angela Stroud for a public talk and discussion with graduate students about her new book, Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry. Dr. Stroud completed her PhD in sociology at UT Austin in 2012 and is now an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Justice at Northland College in Wisconsin.

Dr. Stroud opened her presentation with graphs showing rates of American gun ownership. Despite an overall decrease in gun ownership since 1970 (rates have fallen by nearly 20%), the Obama Era has seen a sudden proliferation of concealed handgun licenses. In 2007, she said, 4.5 million Americans held such licenses. But since, more than 6 million additional licenses have been administered, bringing today’s total to a staggering 11 million. But why? To better understand the explosion of firearm sales and spread of concealed carry legislation, Dr. Stroud sought to uncover what motivates Americans to attain permits and buy guns.

University of North Carolina Press
SOURCE: University of North Carolina Press

During the talk, Dr. Stroud shared insights from her fieldwork in gun licensing courses, as well as excerpts from the in-depth interviews she conducted with gun permit holders. The title of the book plays on an old maxim in pro-gun discourse (“only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun”), but as Dr. Stroud explained, it also highlights a key finding: the cultural relevance of the “good guy” trope. She unpacked the construction of the “good guy” identity, arguing that its conflation with whiteness and hegemonic masculinity helps explain the appeal of concealed carry as a symbolic practice for men. She drew on elements of critical whiteness theory and Raewyn Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity to analyze participants’ narratives about the protection they perceive guns to offer.

Ultimately, she found that cultural definitions of “good” gun owners rely on a classed and racialized dichotomy of masculinities. Respondents saw themselves as “good guys” who earned the right to own guns through training and civic service, as opposed to to “bad guys,” whose gun ownership threatened the safety of “good” families and communities. Dr. Stroud argued that this binary paints white men as responsible heroes while casting Black and Latino men as dangerous criminals. Additionally, the trope displaces deviant whiteness onto working-class men (whom her participants dismissed as uneducated “Bubbas”). She also touched on how geographical space is invoked in “good guy” discourse, pointing to respondents’ racialized conceptualizations of sites like the highway, the ghetto, and the home.

Dr. Stroud’s work has a particular resonance within the context of the University of Texas at Austin. Texas’ new campus carry legislation, which took effect this past August, gives students and faculty members the right to carry concealed handguns in university buildings such as classrooms and dormitories. The law has added fuel to an already blazing national controversy about guns. It has also galvanized the UT community, sparking petitions, protests, resignations, lawsuits, several faculty op-eds, and a slew of cancellations from scheduled visitors ranging from famous musicians to guest lecturers.

Good Guys with Guns critically intervenes in gun control debates by illuminating an understudied facet of American gun culture: How gun owners understand the necessity of guns is tied to how they see themselves and their place in the world. Dr. Stroud’s talk added an important voice to the campus conversation about concealed carry, showing how both pro- and anti-gun advocates misunderstand the deeper issues of race, class, and gender that shape how Americans understand guns.

Good Guys with Guns is available through the University of North Carolina Press. You can follow Dr. Angela Stroud on Twitter at @astroud.

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.

Reflections on ASA – Seattle and Some (Sage) Advice

Fem(me) Sem in Capitol Hill during ASA 2016 (Seattle, WA)

UT Austin grad students enjoy some award-winning Seattle clam chowder during ASA 2016.

Now that we’ve had time to come down from the hustle and bustle of a busy ASA in Seattle, WA, UTAustinSOC checked in with some graduate students on advice they have for first-timers to make the most of any conferences they attend, especially during their first time at ASA:

I will say know your personality. Recognize that ASA can be a lot all at once and build in breaks if you need it. Don’t be overwhelmed by the fear of missing out and be strategic about the sessions you attend while also remaining open to pop into a session that does not immediately seem relevant. Remember to take walks if you can and try to spend a few hours each day away from the hustle and bustle of it all. Check out the city the conference is in. You did not hustle your way there to only look at the four walls of the convention center.

Anima Adjepong

Attend both the graduate student receptions and the section receptions. These tend to be a much more laid back way to meet people (Twitter is also great for this, by the way). New graduate student friends can be a great way to meet faculty at other institutions – somebody is probably advised by the person you’re dying to meet and your new friend(s) can make that introduction less awkward. This is a good way to land invitations to co-organize panels at future ASAs or other conferences (such as SWS), and just generally get the word out about you and your work/interests.  Also, take time to go eat some good food at a local spot. Make sure to enjoy yourself!

Shantel G. Buggs

So far, my approach to the overwhelming experience of ASA is to step out of my comfort zone a bit more every year that I attend ASA. Although networking with students and faculty from other universities is of vital importance, it’s also one of the most intimidating aspects of any conference (in my opinion). A good first step is to join a few sections and attend their receptions and/or business meetings. More good advice about conferencing can be found in this blog post from The Professor Is In.

Rachel Donnelly

I think for your first time, the best thing that you could do is observe talks in your interest area and see what people are currently working on. Network within those talks. That’s the best way to maximize your involvement in your first year, unless you’re also presenting a paper. The content of those presentations is new and unpublished, so it’s a good way to see what’s going on in your area. The big events can be intimidating if you don’t have a presence or a reputation already in the field. The smaller talks are less intimidating and more relevant to what you’re doing anyway.

Shannon Malone

Go to the panels from your favorite authors and sociologists, whose papers you’ve read and really liked. Meet graduate students who are working in the same area you’re working in and talk to them about ideas. Try to talk to one professor you really like to discuss your ideas and what you’re working on.

Ruijie Peng

Before my first ASA, I was so worried I would feel paralyzed and intimidated by other scholars, but the opposite happened. Learning what other gender scholars are up to gave me inspiration and helped me think creatively about my own research. Don’t feel pressured to attend sessions. Go only to the ones you find interesting, even if they’re out of your wheelhouse. Also, make friends with graduate students outside of UT, especially those with similar research interests. You can get a real sense of validation and camaraderie from grad students who are in the same boat, and I learned a lot from chatting with them about my ideas. Section receptions and happy hours can be exhausting, but I also found them rejuvenating (and in some ways, energizing) after a tough first year.

Katie Rogers

ASA, especially your first couple times, can be quite overwhelming. I always suggest only going to two panels a day in order to be selective (and hopefully go to the best ones) and to not have a brain melt. Aside from panels, you should try to go to other receptions and caucus events in order to connect with other graduate students (who make ASA a blast) and to start building connections with faculty members involved in those sections. Going to a section business meeting is a great way to start integrating into a sub-discipline or two as well!

Brandon Andrew Robinson

Look up what time the section event you want to be a part of is. The first year I went, I went the day that Sociology of Education was not meeting for anything, and I missed out on all of my networking opportunities. Also, get an Airbnb instead of a hotel room (it’s cheaper and you can get a fridge). A lot of sections host dinners. They can be expensive and may not have an option you want, but they’re also great socializing opportunities.

Robert Ressler

It wasn’t as intimidating as I was expecting it would be. We have a really good program here at UT, and you’ll be prepared if you’re presenting. So don’t be nervous! I also have advice based upon what I didn’t do and wish I would have done. I wish I would have downloaded the app sooner and looked through the schedule and organized the sessions that were of interest to me. I didn’t download the app until I had already gotten to the conference, and I didn’t realize until after the fact that I had missed out on some things that I really wished I would have attended.

Kris Velasco