Doing Secondments as an Applied Sociologist

Throughout my career, I have taken on roles that require secondments both interstate and overseas. I have always treated these as a type of ethnography – I’m there to do a job, but I’m observing workplace relations and surroundings. This helps me cope with the “culture shock” that comes with gliding into a new work environment, and being expected to hit the ground running, with little time to get acclimatised. Continue reading Doing Secondments as an Applied Sociologist

How Poverty of Work Becomes Entrenched

A sociology study of the experiences of working class migrant workers finds that the conditions of their work make it virtually impossible to get ahead. The participants who work as labourers, gardeners, construction workers and in various service industries, say that they are forced to work long hours and multiple jobs. Due to being employed on a temporary basis, they cannot afford to take the time to up-skill or undertake additional education to lift themselves out of poverty. One of the researchers, Victoria Smith, says:

“In the interviews, workers said they needed the hours, wherever they could get them. They could come from jobs they have on a regular basis, or it could come from being asked to do one-time jobs working for a friend, like helping with a landscaping job, or helping clean a house. They constantly keep their eyes open for these one-off jobs so they can get their hours.”

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Read more: http://buff.ly/1o44Zfi Photo: http://buff.ly/1o44Zfu  

Beyond Lazy Stereotypes of Gen Y

Is generation y lazy and self-entitled? Spoiler alert: no.

This infographic draws on a number of market research surveys by popular websites. The data show that Millennials are highly educated, entrepreneurial and hard-working. But what does the social science research say?

Research by Pew Research Centre shows that while a high proportion of American millennials are highly educated and employed, 37% of young adults under the age of 30 are struggling to find employment. This is an outcome of economic forces, rather than some inherent “laziness.” At the same time, 40% of 18 to 24 year old youth are still at university, making this generation the most highly educated in recorded history.American millennials are also less religious than previous generations, and although they are highly committed to the idea of marriage and having children, they are more likely to delay this into a later age. Millennials are also more optimistic about the future and they are more likely to think that the government should intervene in social and political matters.

Memory Lines

“A place to reflect upon our right to work and earn a fair wage.” Memory Lines is a memorial in Sydney, Australia, that has sociological interest, specifically to applied sociology. It commemorates workers who died at work, and provides a space to ruminate over the dignity and respect of all workers. It also pays respect to the traditional owners of this land, the Gadigal people. The statue was commissioned by Fair Work Australia, who look after the rights of workers.

Introduction to Applied Sociology

Here’s a brief visual overview about how sociology is used beyond universities. Applied sociology is the use of sociological concepts and methods to answer specific client questions and to address community concerns.

 

Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality at Work

Sociologists Candace West and Don Zimmerman popularised the theory of “doing gender.” This theory sees that gender identity is something we do – it is a performance and an achievement that people put a lot of work into, rather than some innate biological state of being. People do gender by the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they move their bodies, the types of leisure activities they engage in their spare time, through their division of labour at home, at work and in every other context. Doing gender takes work: you need to learn what’s expected of you as a “man” or as a “woman.”

Early knowledge on doing gender comes from childhood socialisation. Subsequent life experiences teach us, often through trial and error, what the norms and expectations are for masculinity and femininity in different social settings, such as at work.

West and Zimmerman argued that, since gender is something we learn to do, and doing gender leads to inequality, it is possible to undo gender inequality, by doing gender in alternative ways that do not punish femininities. The doing/undoing of gender has been an ongoing focus of gender studies, most recently focused on transgender people. I will discuss recent scholarship about how transgender people do gender at work, with a focus on the experiences of transgender women. Social scientists are preoccupied with the idea that transgender people are in a special position to “undo” gender. I want to explore why viewing transgender experiences in this way contributes to the Othering of transgender people, by amplifying their difference as a solution to gender inequality. Society can absolutely undo gender, but part of this means addressing the inequalities transgender people experience. This is something that mainstream feminism has yet to fully embrace.

Transgender Women's Experiences of Gender Inequality
Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality. Photo: Purple Sherbet, CC 2.0, via Flickr. Adapted by The Other Sociologist

Continue reading Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality at Work

Letting Women Shine: Undoing Gender Inequality in Education

Australia’s Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne recently defended Budget changes that will make education highly unaffordable for most Australians. To add insult to injury, he used a sexist argument. On ABC Australia’s 730 Report Pyne was asked about the collective concerns of Australian Vice Chancellors, who fear the proposed increased university fees will create further inequity, especially for women and economically disadvantaged groups. Pyne argued that women go into teaching and nursing and that these courses won’t cost as much as the courses that men take.The problem here is that Pyne fails to recognise that women actually study a variety of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Moreover, given his portfolio, it is startling to hear the Education Minister speak so flippantly about women’s higher education debt given that countless studies show women are severely disadvantaged within women-dominated fields, and beyond. There’s a lot that the Minister might learn by looking at the research on gender disparity. Taking a leaf out of Japan’s economic policies, Mr Pyne would see exactly why women are at the heart of their economic reform.
Undoing Gender Inequality
Undoing Gender Inequality

Continue reading Letting Women Shine: Undoing Gender Inequality in Education

Beyond Boycotts: Gender, Globalisation and Garment Factories in Bangladesh

Photo: Weronika via Flickr CC 2.0
Photo: Weronika via Flickr CC 2.0

In Bangladesh, four million people work in textile factories. Their work accounts for 80% of their country’s annual exports. Yet they work in extremely dangerous conditions. It’s been a year since 1,100 workers died in two incidents of fire and structural collapse in April 2013. My post explores this tragedy through a sociological lens, looking at empirical studies of the local working conditions and social reality in which garment workers live. These tragedies are an ugly reminder of the unequal economic relations that sustain globalisation. One of the visceral Western response to these tragedies may be to cry for a boycott of these companies. Sociological research shows that the resolution is much less tidy. The story behind this is not simply about corporate greed. It is a tale about gender inequality and the social costs of economic mobility. Let’s start by remembering the 2013 tragedy. Continue reading Beyond Boycotts: Gender, Globalisation and Garment Factories in Bangladesh

Sociology Careers Panel

Earlier today I spoke on a careers panel at the postgraduate day for The Australian Sociological Association. I wanted to share a couple of the questions we were asked. These ranged from specifics like how to set up a business to broader questions about how to manage ethics and how to maintain a professional identity. One of the key themes from the panellists was learning to translate theory into practice and networking. I spoke about writing for your future clients via a specialist blog and using social media.

Sociology of Community

In sociology, we define community as a group who follow a social structure within a society (culture, norms, values, status). They may work together to organise social life within a particular place, or they may be bound by a sense of belonging sustained across time and space.

We start students thinking about community using the work of Ferdinand Toennies. He used the concept of gemienschaft to study the close social ties in rural and pre-industrial societies, where everyone knows one another and bonds overlap. For example your local grocerer is also your neighbour, you socialise together and you may be their children’s teacher. Gesellschaft is the opposite. Toennies used this to describe urban, post-industrial communities where people don’t necessarily know their neighbours and locals have specialised roles. You may not know your grocerer by name or associate outside their shop.

Toennies sees the former as an ideal community and the latter as a problem.

Durkheim and other sociologists have argued against the idealism of this typology as close-knit communities are more likely to adhere to traditions that demand strict obedience and reinforce individual oppression. Debates about community continue to this day, affecting the work of applied sociologists who address disadvantage. Some communities are held up as an ideal and so resources are allocated to groups who appear to conform to policy definitions of a “good community.” Other communities are stigmatised so programs either neglect their needs or focus on their deficiencies rather than their strenghts.

Have a think about how definitions of community might affect applied sciology. For example, I took this photo over the weekend at the Hispanic Street Festival in Melbourne Australia. This event is one of the ways that multiculturalism officially recognises and supports minority communities: by sponsoring community shows revolving around food and music. Social welfare, political recognition and other community issues of difference gain less social attention and funding.