Tag Archives: UT Austin Sociology

Toward a Feminist Sociology of Incest in Mexico  

By Brandon Andrew Robinson


 On November 16, 2015, Dr. Gloria González-López participated in an author-meets-critics panel discussion about her new book Family Secrets: Stories of Incest and Sexual Violence in Mexico. The event was hosted by the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and Erin Burrows, the Prevention and Outreach Specialist for Voices Against Violence, moderated the panel. It was a lively and necessary discussion where three panelists – Dr. Angela Valenzuela and UT Sociology doctoral students, Erika Grajeda, and Juan Portillo – offered their “compassionate critiques” of Dr. González-López’s work.

The discussion began with Dr. González-López describing why she studied incest in Mexico. She wanted to do something to help her community in Ciudad Juárez, and so she asked people in the community what type of research was urgently needed. A great deal of research had been done on the femicides in Ciudad Juárez, but nothing had really been studied about incest within Mexican families. Heeding this advice and wanting to engage with a community that she cares about, Dr. González-López decided to conduct 60 interviews with women and men who live in four Mexican cities (Ciudad Juárez, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey) and who had experienced incest. She also interviewed 35 professionals who work on this issue. After gathering these stories, Dr. González-López found it ethically and politically important to tell these stories as they were told to her and to not sanitize the stories. For this reason, she writes Family Secrets through the method of storytelling, where she presents the stories together in each chapter before offering any structural analysis. This method captures the complexities and gray areas of people’s lives, revealing how theories and concepts can never fully encompass the nuances of people’s lived experiences.

After Dr. González-López gave this brief overview, Dr. Valenzuela was the first to offer her comments on the monograph. She commended Dr. González-López for her emotionally engaged research and for her provocative concepts. She also expressed her fear of what this book might look like in the hands of someone like Donald Trump, who may use this book to pathologize Mexican people. However, Dr. Valenzuela believes that not telling these stories is a greater cost, and that Dr. González-López does an amazing job of analyzing the stories, giving the reader a way to contextualize and understand incest in Mexican society. Dr. Valenzuela also read what she thought was one of Dr. González-López’s provocative ideas: “Thus, the undercurrent or continuum that flows through a woman’s unique subjective experience and all women’s commonly shared experiences of sexual violence seems to suggest that consensual heterosexual sex and rape may have more in common than what one may want to accept” (pg. 110-111). Given this finding, Dr. Valenzuela raised the question of what is a healthy sexuality? And what are the solutions to ending incest?

Following Dr. Valenzuela, Erika Grajeda offered her thoughts on Dr. González-López’s book. Erika found the book to be brave, especially in Dr. González-López’s challenge to take on the family as an institution that reproduces incest and patriarchy. Erika also appreciated Dr. González-López’s analysis of internalized sexism, where women in the family may also be complicit in these incestuous arrangements and reproduce patriarchy as well. Erika raised some poignant questions that really made the preceding discussion engaging. She asked Dr. González-López: How is her conceptualization of consent and rape different than radical feminists? How do sexual scripts shape how women and men describe their sexual experiences, especially when discussing consent and coercion? And what is the difference between incest and abuse and what is the role of the state in perpetuating and/or solving these issues?

After Erika’s insightful comments and questions, Juan Portillo gave his reflections and comments on Family Secrets. Juan saw Dr. González-López’s two biggest contributions as her ethical methodology and her feminist standpoint, which combined gave a nuanced explanation of sexual violence. As life is more complicated than our concepts and theories, Juan pondered how do we make sense of sexual violence when the same logics that we use to try to end it are potentially the same logics that reproduce it. Given that we live in a society structured by inequality, Juan asked Dr. González-López if sex is ever completely consensual. He also wanted to know more about Dr. González-López’s choice of language – in her not wanting to use “survivor” or “perpetrator” and her writing about a gender non-conforming participant.

After these three wonderfully engaging compassionate critiques, Dr. González-López gave her brilliant responses to each of the three panelists. In response to Dr. Valenzuela, Dr. González-López pondered, what do we mean by healthy? Who defines healthy? Who is privileged enough to even have sex or be sexually healthy? As for solutions, Dr. González-López discussed that laws around sexual harassment in Mexico may expand to include relatives. She also talked about a research participant, whose mother believed her when she disclosed being raped by her father. This mother believing her daughter was a form of family justice and feminist practice that protected this woman from experiencing emotional damage. Other interesting topics that were discussed during Dr. González-López’s responses were that women are sophisticated, so seeing them as just victims does not capture their full lived realities. Also, life is messy and complicated and our abstract concepts will never fully get at the gray areas of our lives.

All in all, the panel discussion was thoughtful, provocative, and an important discussion. Family Secrets is a painful but necessary intervention into the field of sociology, sexualities, and sexual violence. In not sanitizing people’s stories, Dr. González-López pushes all of us to face the complex realities of people’s lives. Only in facing these messy nuances can we truly begin to find solutions to solving this social problem. It is with Dr. González-López’s compassion and ethical wisdom that makes Family Secrets a timely and important book that will re-shape the field of sociology for the better.

Brandon Andrew Robinson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. His dissertation is a qualitative exploration of the lives of LGBTQ homeless youth in Texas.

“Modern” Romance and the Absence of Race


Fifth-year doctoral candidate Shantel G. Buggs takes on Modern Romance‘s lacking analysis of the role of race in “modern” dating:

Modern Romance assumes a consistency of dating experience across race that is problematic. Assuming that people of color have had the same experiences as, or with, white people with online dating is critically irresponsible and is contradicted by the research. White millenials in particular have proven time and time again they are not as progressive as they are assumed to be, including in who they choose to date (or exclude from dating).

Even best-selling author and OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder notes the continued role of racism in the chances of finding a partner online in his book Dataclysm and on the blog OKTrends. He reiterated this fact again during a Q&A at the 2015 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago that I attended. When Helen Fisher of Match.com suggested that online dating had wiped out prejudice, he was quick to correct that misperception. Given the widely known and easily available data on race and online dating, the disappearing of race from Modern Romance’s analysis is all the more curious. This colorblind approach does little to help us understand contemporary intimacies that begin online and does even less to advance sociological understanding of modern romance.

Read more over at Racism Review.

Summer 2015 Writing Institutes launch to rave reviews

Rob Crosnoe receiving the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award

Thanks in part to the generous support of the College of Liberal Arts, our Chairperson, Rob Crosnoe and our Graduate Studies Chair, Pamela Paxton each led a 4-day writing workshop to help students boost their summer journal submissions.

Rachel, a 2014 cohort member tells us how she felt after the first session with Rob Crosnoe:

As a first year graduate student, the Summer Writing Workshop with Dr. Rob Crosnoe was incredibly beneficial. Producing and publishing research is pivotal to our success as current graduate students and future assistant professors, and I feel more knowledgeable and confidant after this 4-day workshop than after a year of coursework. Learning Dr. Crosnoe’s strategies, applying them to my own paper, and receiving his feedback helped me develop skills that will be useful for all current and future projects. I find myself already applying his advice on organization and framing to papers that I am co-authoring in addition to my own sole-authored projects. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this workshop so early in my graduate school career. The experience was invaluable.

The 14 participants in each workshop were initially paired to give each other feedback. Each person submitted a paper they wanted to develop from a prior class project or their thesis or dissertation chapters for Rob’s review and critique. They will work in groups of 3 or 4 throughout the summer, using what they learned in the sessions to improve their papers and chances of an R & R or acceptance. Chelsea, a fourth year student writes:

The biggest thing I took away from the writing workshop was how to structure the argument of a paper. I now have a template for writing papers that relies on sequential logic that is clearly laid out in a conceptual model. The template for the introduction section is especially helpful because I used to struggle with getting started on writing yet keeping a concise and focused introduction. Tied to the overall paper structure, Rob had us complete consistency reports, which checked for consistency within each aim/hypothesis/research question/theme across each section of the paper. The first hypothesis, for example, should be clearly stated in the introduction, explained in the lit review, described how it will be tested in the method section, findings shown in the results section, and assessed in the discussion section. I plan to use the template and consistency report in all papers I write from now on.

Pam Paxton
Pam Paxton – The Power of Giving class awards $100,000

Tracking the writing group meetings and subsequent journal  submissions will provide outcomes and data that will be useful in assessing the success of this pilot program. It’s exciting to encourage students in every stage of their program to engage in the conversation and the practice of writing.  As Robert states:

The most important thing the writing workshop offered was the opportunity to discuss our plans for our papers in a guided, productive, and informative way. I’m referring both to the structure of the papers themselves and the journal submission process. Rob did a great job of condensing a lot of the writing process down into a solid introduction, a continuity plan, and a conclusion that ties everything back together — with a mind towards your audience and, as Christine put it, “Who you’re in conversation with.” The simple exercises we did along the way served as a great foundation to begin or revise writing, and after even just one meeting with the writing group we formed I can already tell it has increased my productivity.

Ellyn, no stranger to the world of publishing, still learned valuable lessons and gained inspiration from her colleagues:

I found the writing workshop to be so helpful because it provided an organizational framework that I can take with me into my different writing projects. It made me focus and identify my research questions, forced consistency throughout the different sections of my paper, and gave me the support and encouragement of peer feedback. This workshop really motivated me to set specific goals for submitting my work to a journal, and with the help of my writing group I am confident that I will be able to meet that goal.

Looking forward to hearing from the writing groups as they join forces to stay motivated and focused on polishing and publishing their research.  Many thanks to our peerless leaders, Rob and Pam!


Longitudinal ethnography and the changing face of ethnographic research

by Katherine Sobering

DennisRodgersAt a well-attended talk sponsored by the Urban Ethnography Lab, Dennis Rodgers, a professor of Urban Social and Political Research at the University of Glasgow discussed his paper, “From ‘broder’ to ‘don’: Methodological reflections on longitudinal gang research in Nicaragua, 1996-2014.”

Over lunch, Professor Rodgers reflected on the academic career that began with his dissertation research in Nicaragua in the 1990s. Since this initial period of research, Professor Rodgers has returned to the specific barrio of his dissertation fieldwork seven times. And he plans to continue going back.

As his dissertation evolved into a long-term research project, Professor Rodgers conceived of it as longitudinal ethnography. By this, he refers to immersive ethnographic fieldwork conducted diachronically over an extended period of time, or through appropriately timed revisits (Burawoy 2003; Firth 1959).

But what are the implications of such on-going ethnographic research? How can we make sense of ethnographic “revisits”? And what are some of the pitfalls that may result?

Certainly one of the greatest benefits of ethnographic research is to observe dynamic social processes as they occur over time. As Professor Rodgers pointed out, he has more or less witnessed a cycle of cultural transformation through the institutional evolution of a gang in Nicaragua.

Yet the specific challenges that arise from such an endeavor are many. First, the notion of “the field” as a spatially and temporally bounded location is increasingly misleading. Professor Rodgers (and many of the event’s attendees) stay in regular contact with individuals in “the field”. Social media further complicates this artificial division.

Over the course of a lively discussion informed by many different experiences conducting ethnographic research, we critically examined the idea of a “revisit.” If “the field” is no longer a bounded place, where do you go? To the original site of study? Or do you trace the network of people you once knew? Or follow a particular trend or social phenomena?

Moreover, “the field”—may it be sites, people, or networks—changes over time. But this is not unidirectional. As ethnographers, we also change. We age. We read more. We go through life changes that may provide different perspectives on the same event. And all of this affects how we do ethnography.

Professor Rodgers clearly describes such changes in his own career. Almost ten years ago, he conducted mostly participant observation in the barrio, and was even inducted into the gang he studied (Rodgers 2007).

Today, he is treated as a respected elder (a “don”). His methodological tools increasingly rely on interviews and informal conversations with long-term informants.

The form and function of ethnographic research is changing. In his paper, Professor Rodgers understands his return visits as “serendipitous time lapse(s).” Yet it seems to me that these ethnographic revisits are institutionally structured by his academic career trajectory as well as access to funding.

Structural changes in both funding and time-to-degree requirements affect the way ethnographic research is produced. For many graduate students, multiple periods of “pre-dissertation” fieldwork pave the way for a prolonged period of dissertation-worthy immersion

Examples abound in our department alone. Marcos Pérez conducted three summers of ethnographic research with piquetero groups in Argentina before returning for a year of dissertation fieldwork. Katie Jensen has studied asylum seekers in Brazil for three summers, and is now preparing for an extended period of dissertation research. And I conducted my first period of fieldwork in Argentine worker-recovered businesses as an undergraduate in 2008, having since spent a total of nine months in the field prior to my dissertation research.

Professor Rodgers did well to remind us: “Research is by its very nature imperfect and limited, and this not only in terms of ‘’the data’, but also ‘the method’, ‘the researcher’, and ‘the context’”. Indeed, grappling with the notion of longitudinal ethnography spurred many of us to think critically about how the pattern of our fieldwork shapes what data we collect, the topics we analyze and ultimately how we interpret our findings.


Burawoy, M., (2003), “Revisits: An outline of a theory of reflexive ethnography”, American Sociological Review, 68(5): 645-79.

Firth, R., (1959), Social Change in Tikopia: Re-study of a Polynesian Community after a Generation, London: George Allen & Unwin.

Rodgers, D., (2007), “Joining the gang and becoming a broder: The violence of ethnography in contemporary Nicaragua”, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 27(4): 444-61.

Rodgers, D., (Forthcoming), “From ‘broder’ to ‘don’: Methodological reflections on longitudinal gang research in Nicaragua, 1996-2014.”

UT Austin Sociology Centennial Celebration

The Sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin turned 100 this year, an event worthy of celebration.  Many thanks to University of Virginia President, Dr. Teresa Sullivan (former Longhorn Vice Provost and proud Sociologist) for her talk on the future of Sociology and her help in launching our next 100 years. A video of our first 100 years can be found here.

UTAustinSOC party at ASA bringing together old friends and new

Spring 2014 Spider House Celebration

We’ve had so much good news this semester, it’s hard not to celebrate!

Anima Adjepong – Michael H. Granof Outstanding Thesis Award

Jorge Derpic –  Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies, Oxford University (£13,000) and the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) Fellowship (25K, approx.)

Jessica Dunning Lozano – $25,000 National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2014-2015 academic year.  Since only thirty awards were made from a pool of over 400 applicants, this award is a strong expression of the organizations’ confidence in your potential contribution to the history, theory, or practice of education.

David McClendon – University Continuing Named Fellowship – full year of support

Eve Pattison –  $15,000 Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood. The P.E.O. Scholar Awards (PSA) was established in 1991 to provide substantial merit-based awards for women of the United States and Canada who are pursuing a doctoral level degree at an accredited college or university. She was sponsored by Chapter CR of Austin, TX.

Marcos Perez: National Science Foundation  – $15,000

Vivian Shaw – Japan Foundation’s “Japanese-Language Program for Specialists in Cultural and Academic Fields” (6-month residential language program, tuition, accommodations, and other funding).

Chelsea Smith –  Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being—seeking innovations to prevent child abuse and neglect. $50,000 over two years.

Esther Sullivan – American Fellowships from the American Association of University Women. This is a $20,000 award for doctoral candidates in any field of study, and another $2,500 for outstanding field research.

Amina Zarrugh –  University Continuing Named Fellowship – full year of support

Violence at the Urban Margins: Longhorns & Latin American Ethnography

WS1 139

Last week, the Department of Sociology – in conjunction with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, the Rappaport Cenntennial Professorship of Liberal Arts, and the Office of Graduate Studies – hosted a collaborative workshop that offered a space for students, researchers, and

Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Nancy Scheper-Hughes

professors to come together in the name of productive conversation, meaningful work, and camaraderie.  The workshop featured the research of scholars from sociology and anthropology whose ethnographic work offers significant insights into the complex ways in which interpersonal violence is shaping the lives of those living at the urban margins in contemporary North, Central, and South America.   Participants ranged from burgeoning new voices such as Matthew Desmond and Alice Goffman to the “giants in the field” Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois, who were featured in the final keynote session.

This workshop also functioned as a way for UT graduate students to meet these important scholars and read/react

Dr. Javier Auyero offers some introductory thoughts
Javier Auyero offers some introductory thoughts

to their work.  To that end, students in Dr. Javier Auyero’s Poverty and Marginality in the Americas seminar were offered the chance to serve as discussants for the papers presented at the workshop.  Your faithful blog editor tracked down a few of these upcoming intellectuals and managed to get some final reflections at the end of a productive, stimulating, and tiring week:


Pamela Neumann:

This past week I had the privilege of serving as one of seven graduate student discussants for a workshop on Violence at the Urban Margins. The workshop brought together a range of scholars to discuss ethnographic work in progress concerning violence in the Americas.

WD1 183
Pamela Neumann

One of the themes that emerged during the workshop was the “moral economy of violence.” The moral economy of violence refers to the idea that the forms of violence that occur in a given context have their own particular logic, one that is shaped by specific historical, social, political, and economic conditions, but also by the perceptions and attitudes of the specific actors involved. Whether such violence occurs in the relative absence of the state or through the active presence of a hyper-militarized state can dramatically affect the localized meanings and functions attributed to different forms of violence, including which kinds of violence are deemed “acceptable” and which are not, For example, the violence perpetuated by a neighborhood gang may be viewed as a source of protection or danger (or both), provoking fear or solidarity depending on the precise nature of the interactions that gang members have with their surrounding community.

One of my takeaways from the workshop is that understanding the production of localized cultural logics concerning violence is a critical component of grasping its myriad effects in the daily lives of people located at the urban margins. However, explorations of these internal logics must be accompanied by similarly nuanced analysis of the political economy surrounding the incidence of violence. Such an analysis, as several workshop participants pointed out, must attend not only to the changing actions of the state (which are often quite contradictory) but also to a number of other factors, including: the contours of the international drug trade, the expanding role of international corporations, and the ways

Pamela Neumann and fellow graduate sociologist Yu Chen engage in a moment of intellectual conversation
Pamela Neumann and fellow graduate sociologist Yu Chen engage in a moment of intellectual conversation

that international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have circumscribed the available options for many governments throughout the developing world.

On a personal level, the workshop was an incredible space for intellectual exchange and spirited dialogue and reflection with other scholars, and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from them, and to participate in the conversation on this critical topic.


Jacinto Cuvi Escobar:

WS1 84
Philippe Bourgois

The workshop was fun and inspiring. Watching these big-shots fight over ideas (e.g. What is agency and why do scholars keep looking for it? Can some people lose it completely?) made me think of a wrestling contest – with some of the intellectual stimuli that the latter usually lack. It was a refreshing break from the studious and solitary routine of preparing for comps. And I enjoyed the opportunity to take part in the “fight” myself by discussing one of the papers. My favorite moment, however, took place during the evening, at Javier (Auyero)’s house, where the wrestlers were mingling in a much warmer manner, helped by beer and wine. I’ll never forget Philippe Bourgois mimicking himself as a graduate student, some thirty years ago, running after the agrarian reform in Central America – first because it was Philippe Bourgois, and second because it evoked the excitement and sense of purpose that any young sociologist should feel about her work.

Katie Jensen:

Participating in the Violence at the Urban Margins Workshop meant many more activities than just serving as the discussant on a presenter’s paper.  It meant picking participants up at the airport; eating breakfasts, lunches and dinners together; driving speakers back and forth between their hotels and the conference.  And it was this variety of opportunities to share ideas, laughs and constructive criticisms – about the conference topics, the academy, or whatever – that marked the highlight of the conference for me.  I not only had the

Matthew Desmond (left), Katie Jensen (center), and Javier Auyero (right) sharing some final thoughts at the conference's concusion
Matthew Desmond (left), Katie Jensen (center), and Javier Auyero (right) sharing some final thoughts at the conference’s concusion

opportunity to perform academically (serving as paper discussant and practicing my “elevator schpeel” while driving), but I also had the opportunity to share real, human moments – over Torchy’s tacos, coffees or as we meandered through Austin traffic – with scholars I hold in very high esteem.

While there are many moments to cherish from the conference for me personally, the workshop and its unique format I hope will continue to serve as an alternative model for academic engagement.  That model worked to breakdown the hierarchies between junior and senior scholars, and spur collaborative dialogue.  Many agreed they had never seen anything like it.  Let’s hope it catches on.


Sociology’s new home in CLA sustainable in many ways

The College of Liberal Arts building (CLA) which we now call home has been lauded as smart and environmentally sustainable. The COLA blog, Life and Letters features a great slide show emphasizing the sleek, modern design that has brought the Sociology Department and the Population Research Center together for the first time:

According to David Ochsner’s article in the College of Liberal Arts News page:

Not only is the building the newest landmark for the campus, it is also a model for innovative funding and cost-effective planning and design. The building was paid for by the college — a first at The University of Texas at Austin — which means it was built without tapping legislative or UT System funding. Although final calculations are still pending, the total cost is projected to be $87 million, less than the project’s initial expected cost of $100 million. The model is one of the reasons the resulting facility was completed under budget and with more usable space – about 16,000 square feet more – than originally planned. More about financing.

“Many new buildings today are described as innovative, but this building truly stands out as a model for cost-effective planning and design in the 21st century,” says Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “This space will be vital in our ongoing efforts to attract and recruit the highest-quality faculty and students.”

While UT Austin Sociology is known for its amazingly productive and collaborative community of scholars I think we can agree with Dean Diehl when he says:

“This is our shot at greatness,” Dean Randy L. Diehl says of the building’s potential to help attract top graduate students, faculty and grants. “A modern Liberal Arts building will ensure that we have the space we need to teach our students, promote world-class research and foster the collaboration and intellectual give-and-take that’s vital to a great university.”

It will be a pleasure to host our recruiting events in our new space, acknowledging the advent of the 21st Century in style.