Sociologists Candace West and Don Zimmerman popularised the theory of “doing gender.” This theory sees that gender identity is something we do – itis 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Here is a great feature on Eileen Chollet who has a PhD in astronomy but left academia due to poor work options as a working mother. She now works as a researcher in Defence. While she relies heavily on her academic skills, particularly statistics, she also finds that her education gave her with highly marketable skills in public speaking and “social skills.” She taught while she was carrying out her PhD, and these public communication skills have served her well.
Eileen’s discussion of the difficulties she faced in academia struck a chord with me. She found that her skills were more valued outside the academy as competition for postdocs is fierce, and the hours and pay for junior academics make this career path difficult. Continue reading Leaving Academia
A recent survey by the Australian Academy of Science shows that people know less about basic science than they did three years a go. Should we be concerned that people don’t know that it takes one year for the Earth to orbit the sun? If so what should we do about it? What is the social significance of scientific thinking? Continue reading Public Knowledge of Science
Shiho Fukada’s Pulitzer Centre project on Japan’s “disposable workers” focuses on people who are precariously employed in casual and “dead end” jobs. They are underpaid, working long hours but without any of the benefits or sense of stability of full time employment. This affects people who are homeless as well as white collar workers who are driven to suicide due to mental and physical exhaustion. I see that Fukada’s photo essay offers an insightful visual critique of economic progress and the rapid increase of an “underclass” in one of the world’s most advanced societies. I argue that Fukada’s work might be understood through the sociological concept of anomie, a term that describes the social alienation that follows a society’s shift in morals and values. In this case, I explore how a cultural change in attitude means that workers are less valued in Japan, leading to socio-economic and mental health problems. I draw a comparison between the Japanese and the Australian workforce. I conclude by showing how sociologists seek to help governments, employers, developers and community organisations work together to better support a sustainable and ethical economic future.
The discipline of sociology has grappled with several overlapping issues regarding the purpose and utility of our profession beyond its intellectual pursuit. Debates about the social impact of sociology have been historically centred on three questions relevant to applied sociology – which I define here as sociology conducted outside universities for particular clients. These questions are: sociology for what?; sociology for whom?; and sociology for where? In today’s post, I will discuss the who, what and where of sociology, before introducing a fourth question that is so taken-for-granted we don’t spend much time talking about it in any concrete way. That is: how do we actually do sociology outside traditional academic research? We assume sociologists can go out into the world and apply their training to different problems. But what kind of problems do we work on and how do we actually carry out the work in different places? I argue that applied sociology is set up as the “other” of academic sociology because of the context in which we practice our craft. This stops sociologists from engaging with one another effectively, and hinders the transformational work we do separately with our respective audiences.
I seek to build upon the framework discussed in this post for a series exploring the practicalities of doing sociology outside academia. I hope that the ideas explored here and in future posts can open up dialogue about how to better address collaboration between academic and applied sociologists.
Last month, The New York Times gave a disheartening insight into Google’s Executive hiring practices. Google is predominantly staffed with young men,* and they have trouble hiring and retaining women. Google turned to its “famous algorithms” to work out why this was the case, developing spreadsheets to help address the matter. In Google Executive land, it seems, engineers and computer scientists are characterised as “guys” who are proactive in advancing their careers, while women are seen as failed “business” people who don’t ask for promotions. Google has taken some measures to address their hiring practices, but its Executives seem to accept that their gender imbalance (30% women to 70% men) is unlikely to change much. While I focus on Google as a case study, my analysis deconstructs the flaws in the gender logic that large companies have about workplace inequality. Studies find that it is not the fact that women do not ask for promotions that impede their career progression; nor is it simply the decision to exit the workplace to have children. Instead, empirical data show that when employers are faced with equally qualified and experienced candidates who put in the same amount of work and who have the same outcomes, they are more likely to hire, promote and remunerate men over women. I argue that there is a resistance in workplaces to understand how their organisational practices are structured in ways that impede women from thriving professionally.
Gender imbalance and inequality are not inevitable. These are the outcome of daily interactions, organisational practices, policies, and unexamined norms and values. Sociology can help workplaces address gender inequalities by taking an organisational approach to gender. Such a framework makes gender biases visible and involves everyone in addressing inequality – not just women, but people of all genders, as well as the Executives who hold ultimate power in organisational change. Continue reading Google’s Glass Ceiling: A Case Study of Why Organisations Lose Innovative Women