Losing the Tenure Track, Finding Activist Scholarship

By Julie Shayne

My first job out of graduate school (2000) was at a Southern private school. As Californians, the South could never feel like home to my now husband and me. So, in 2006 I resigned without another job waiting.[1] We then moved to the Seattle-area where I eventually landed at the University of Washington Bothell as a Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Prioritizing geographical quality of life allowed me to realize it wasn’t just the South that was a bad fit but the tenure track was as well.

Being off the tenure track allows me the opportunity to pursue my work without the pretense of political neutrality. At my previous institution I worked in a largely quantitative department where qualitative research was presumed less credible and tarnished by author biases. To counter that, those of us in similar situations are forced to overcompensate by couching our research in the facade of neutrality. In contrast, claiming my politics means I use the cultural capital and scholarly spaces available to me to stake claims about social justice and publish in ways that advance those claims. A feminist activist scholar, from my perspective, is one who explicitly claims and attempts to advance a social justice agenda within the spaces of higher education we occupy. In that capacity, I feel I work for social justice by 1) documenting hidden histories and 2) using my scholarship and teaching as an indicator of allyship to my students-of-color; especially Latinas. From a Latin Americanist feminist studies perspective, one of our most important political tasks comes from our documenting the contributions women, queer, feminists, and the marginalized more broadly, have made to Latin American history. Erasing women from history marginalizes them in the present, thus denying full citizenship to activists who reshaped their countries. Furthermore, by documenting and teaching these histories we are telling our Latina students that they matter; we stand in the front of the class as their allies.

Julie Shayne, Taking Risks

“Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas”

My commitment to documenting and teaching said histories motivated me to edit my newest book, Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas. I wanted the book to be a collection of stories of feminist/women’s agency and resistance in the Americas, and thus archives for social justice focused educators to use in our classes. Thus, I decided to explicitly articulate the political nature of my agenda and frame the book as activist scholarship. I co-authored the introduction and conclusion with Kristy Leissle and we read up on the literature about activist scholarship, working to situate this book in earlier discussions, especially those of senior colleagues who made advances to make sure off-track and non-tenured faculty could follow suit.[2] We reflected on our own work and I asked all of the contributors to do the same, elevating the connections we knew were there but we had yet been able to articulate. Taking Risks’ contributors are a trans-American group of artists, writers, and activists outside of academia, and scholars from the social sciences, humanities, and area studies covering a wide range of work from the Juárez femicide, to sex workers in Brazil, and beyond. Additionally, we discuss independent libraries in Cuba, writing as activism, Venezuelan community media, video archives in Colombia, Chilean exile feminists, memory activism in Argentina, rural feminists in Nicaragua, and domestic violence organizations in Texas. We reflect upon obstacles we’ve confronted as we prioritize socially relevant research questions and we rely on activists as our “experts” and their stories as our “data.”

As feminist activist scholars, we have all heard that this sort of research is not “objective;” it’s too “applied.” We do not refute this, per se. We are story listeners; our work is politically motivated. In Taking Risks the story tellers are Gramscian “organic intellectuals.” Similarly, we make explicit our political motivations as solidarity activists. Claiming our politics, we believe, advances social justice by allowing us to serve as on the ground allies. For us, “applied” scholarship means of value to those we “study.” Our retelling of activists’ stories lends cultural capital and institutional support while expanding their pool of potential allies. One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from anthropologist Victoria Sanford. She says,

It is not uncommon within the academy for lived experience to be dismissed as unscientific or not relevant to real,     objective scholarship. This is completely backward, because it is the academy that needs to be relevant to the reality of lived experience. Advocacy and activism do not diminish the validity of one’s scholarly research. On the contrary, activist scholarship reminds us that all research is inherently political—even, and perhaps especially, that scholarship presented under the guise of “objectivity,” which is really no more than a veiled defense of the status quo.”

(In Taking Risks, pg. xxi).

I have always believed this to be the case, but it took leaving the tenure track to be able to pursue a project which I framed around this very sentiment.

[1] I wrote an essay about this decision titled “Mother’s Day” which you can read here.

[2] For example, Engaged Observed, edited by Victoria Sanford and Asale Angel-Ajani (Rutgers, 2006), Engaging Contradictions, edited by Charles R. Hale (Univ of CA, 2008), and Activist Scholarship, edited by Julia Sudbury and Margo Okazawa-Rey (Paradigm Publishers, 2009).

Julie Shayne is author/editor of three books: Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas (editor), They Used to Call Us Witches: Chilean Exiles, Culture, and Feminism, winner of the Pacific Sociological Association’s 2011 Distinguished Scholarship Award, and The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba. She is a Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell and Affiliate Associate Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies & Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Washington Seattle.


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Filed under Activism, Feminist Scholarship, Tenure

Benchmarking American Men to Transform Tiger Dads

By Allen Kim and Karen Pyke

Asian MenIn South Korea, a movement has emerged that helps men to answer the fundamental question: What does it mean to be a man and father today? The Father School movement mobilizes fathers to become actively involved in their families. The movement enjoyed rapid growth following the 1997 Asian economic crisis, when many South Korean men lost their jobs overnight. With their breadwinning roles threatened, many fathers began questioning their identities and family roles, leading them to seek answers through participation in the Father School movement. Combining ethnographic observation with content analysis of organization and participant documents, we illustrate how movement leaders and participants glorify American manhood in attempting to forge a new Korean masculinity. Continue reading

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Filed under Adolescence/Children, Culture, Family, Masculinities

Isn’t It Obvious? Measuring Sex and Gender in Surveys

By Laurel Westbrook and Aliya Saperstein

In February, Facebook debuted an open field for gender classification, allowing users to record any identity terminology they like; in April, the White House announced its first “all-gender” restroom; and, over the last several years, colleges across the country – from the University of Vermont to George Washington University – have raised awareness among students, faculty and staff about using preferred gender pronouns (PGPs). These efforts, and many more, call into question two long-standing beliefs about sex and gender: 1) everyone can be classified into one of two categories and 2) it is easy to determine in which category a given person “belongs.”

Sex and gender classifications are both conflated and constrained on national surveys and official data collection.

Sex and gender classifications are both conflated and constrained on national surveys and official data collection.

Despite the recent progress in recognizing gender diversity, common sense, but incorrect, beliefs about sex and gender continue to shape how many institutions operate – including the design and implementation of social surveys. Survey practices are important to consider because they provide a window into who, or what, is deemed to be worth counting. We examined trends in the measurement of sex and gender in the United States by collecting and coding all publicly available documentation for four of the largest and longest-running national surveys: the American National Election Study (ANES), the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the General Social Survey (GSS), and the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). We chose these long running and well-regarded surveys because they are frequently used in academic research, as sources of data to train students in statistical methods, and as models for new surveys. Continue reading

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Filed under Gender & Class, Inequality

Queer Eye for the…Affirmative Consent Debate?

credit: Avl Schwab / Flickr Commons

credit: Avl Schwab / Flickr Commons

Sandy Keenan at the New York Times wonders Are Students Really Asking? for affirmative consent. Her premise is that talking about how we want to have sex is some new legal imposition. Whether they support it or not, most of her interviewees see it this way too. The affirmative consent debate seems to turn on whether communicating about sexual desires and boundaries is asking too much, killing the mood, or even necessary when ‘alternatives’ like tacit consent exist.

As a queer person (never mind as a sexualities scholar), all of this straight consternation makes me giggle. Silent sex just isn’t possible for us. Same-sex encounters, group sex encounters, encounters involving kink, and encounters involving trans and gender nonconforming people all tend to necessitate discussion between people about what they do and do not like and want before and during sexual activity. For us, much of the communication affirmative consent asks for is routine (which is not to say that LGBTQ folks don’t experience sexual assault and rape–we do).

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Filed under Gender & Class, Inequality

Fifty Shades of Stigma

By Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois

For the past five years, we’ve been studying the culture of romance authors. Together, we’ve conducted over 50 interviews with authors and industry professionals, attended conferences and signing events for romance writers, and followed authors through social media.

One of the first things we observed—and that romance authors suggested as a topic for study when we asked their opinion—was the negative perception of the genre. Anyone who has heard of Fifty Shades of Grey knows what we’re talking about: people call the books “smutty,” “trashy,” and “porn for women.” Not surprisingly, romance writers are constantly confronted with people’s negative assumptions, too, which include a host of misconceptions about the sexual content: that it’s autobiographical, pornographic, and/or an invitation to sexualize the author. Though the romance genre contains a wide range of sexual content, from chaste Amish romances to BDSM-inspired romances like Fifty Shades, writers experience these stigmatizing interactions no matter the level of sexual explicitness in their books because the genre is known for its sexual content. Continue reading

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Filed under Body & Embodiment, Media & Communications

Can An Angry Woman Get Ahead?

by Francesca Polletta

angry womanResearchers have shown that women are usually penalized for displaying anger on the job. Women are expected to be friendly, sympathetic, and deferential in dealing with customers, employers, and co-workers. They are expected to withstand other people’s anger, not dish it out themselves.

But the research I conducted with Zaibu Tufail suggested that there may be an exception to that rule. A stereotype of women as emotionally changeable may allow them to display anger if they precede and follow it with displays of positive emotions like sympathy or friendliness. Women can use anger instrumentally and effectively that way. The rub is that the skill is likely to be seen as natural to women, and indeed, as not much of a skill at all. Continue reading

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Filed under Economy, Emotions, Gender & Class

No, You Should Get Married in Your Late 40s (Just Kidding)

By Philip Cohen. Originally posted at Family Inequality (here). The piece is cross-posted with permission.

Please don’t give (or take) stupid advice from analyses like this.

Since yesterday, Nick Wolfinger and Brad Wilcox have gotten their marriage age analysis into the Washington Post Wonkblog (“The best age to get married if you don’t want to get divorced”) and Slate (“The Goldilocks Theory of Marriage”). The marriage-promotion point of this is: don’t delay marriage. The credulous blogosphere can’t resist the clickbait, but the basis for this is very weak.

Yesterday I complained about Wolfinger pumping up the figure he first posted (left) into the one on the right:

wolfbothToday I spent a few minutes analyzing the American Community Survey (ACS) to check this out. Wolfinger has not shared his code, data, models, or tables, so it’s hard to know what he really did. However, he lists a number of variables he says he controlled for using the National Survey of Family Growth: “sex, race, family structure of origin, age at the time of the survey, education, religious tradition, religious attendance, and sexual history, as well as the size of the metropolitan area.”

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Filed under Aging/Life Course, Family, Gender & Class


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