The Marathon and Gender Equality

By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.


Last week marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.


Grunge, Britpop, and the end of mass cultural movements Mike Urban/Copyright MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection

This year marks twenty years since 1994, a year that saw two key movements in western youth culture – the end of US grunge, marked by the suicide of Nirvana’s singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain, and the start of the Britpop, marked by the release of seminal albums Parklife by Blur, and Definitely Maybe by Oasis. Although these start/end points are rather arbitrary, the media love to create and discuss an anniversary: it is something they can plan for with ease, cobbling together old footage, re-releasing articles, obituaries and reviews to a guaranteed audience of people who were ‘there’ lapping up every opportunity to be transported back to their youth. Myself included.

Is there any sociological value in looking back to the music of the early nineties? I would argue that grunge and Britpop were perhaps the last two real, cohesive movements in popular music culture before the rise of the internet and the subsequent fragmentation of tribalism in musical culture. This anniversary need not just be an excuse for nostalgia, but is also an opportunity for taking stock of the social, technical and cultural changes which have slowly crept upon us over the last two decades. (more…)

Teaching Feminism 101

Source: Ms. Magazine. 2009.

Source: Ms. Magazine. 2009.


For many people, the “feminist label” is a problem.  For some, the term is stigmatized.  For others, the phrase is outdated.  And many young people reject being identified as a feminist, fearing the label is so dominating it will minimize the multiplicity of their other social identities.  Thus, despite the support film stars, musicians, and even the President of the United States, feminism is still problematic for many men and women today.

In a previous posting, I described my surprise in interviewing female artists (who all produced work that critiqued and challenged gender expectations and asymmetry) when these women refused to label themselves or their work as feminist.  As I concluded that project I found myself left with more questions than answers.  I asked if there was a possibility that the fight for gender equality could exist on a feminist continuum as some scholars in women’s and gender studies have suggested?  And would allowing those who do not identify as feminists to be recognized under the umbrella of feminist ideology improve the fight for an egalitarian society or would it further stigmatize those who work for gender equality across the globe?

These questions have returned to the forefront of my mind as I’ve transitioned from a student of sociology of gender to an instructor.  Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak in depth with undergraduate students about gender and feminism in the United States today.  Similar to my discussions with female artists, I found undergraduate women, even those deeply committed to social justice and universal equality, were hesitant to identify as feminists, frequently arguing that the label was too limiting in contemporary society.


Men and Global Gender Justice

A side-event at the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Attribution: Silje Bergum Kinsten/ via Wikimedia Commons

A side-event at the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Attribution: Silje Bergum Kinsten/ via Wikimedia Commons

The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Juliana Carlson, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas and member of the Mobilizing Men in Violence Prevention research collaboration, on the topic of men’s global engagement in the prevention of violence against women and girls.  She argues that “men and boys have been largely relegated to the sidelines of violence preventions efforts” but that a growing movement “aims to create structural change by engaging boys and men in conversations about equality, gender expectations, family health, fatherhood, and the concrete, positive roles they can and do play, such as sharing caregiving and being a role model for younger generations.”  The proliferation of NGOs doing this crucial work with men and boys extends well beyond the prevention of violence against women and may signal a larger shift in human rights and global development discourse.  (more…)

Alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline

In my last post I discussed the role the school-to-prison pipeline plays in increasing the gap in minority education. The consequences of zero tolerance school policies are many including stigmatization, dropping out of school, and/or getting a juvenile record. Some schools have begun to change their responses to deviance in schools by going away from zero tolerance policies and towards restorative justice models. Restorative justice is a proactive approach requiring wholesale cultural change in the punishment orientation of the school system based on improved responsibility and communication. The restorative justice program provides long-term change that emphasizes building relationships, improve behavior, reduce violence, and build community (Zehr, 2002).   (more…)

Crisis (in reality, economic life and academia alike)

Supertramp’s ‘Crisis What Crisis’


In early March, I interviewed Nancy Fraser for the King’s Review. Fraser, professor at the New School specialising on critical theory and feminism, is currently writing three accounts of the recent (financial, global and specifically European) crisis. In the interview, she was ardently arguing for a more holistic understanding of crisis: we shouldn’t see the recent turmoil in finance as an isolated economic problem but as connected with ecological – climate change – and socio-reproductive issues, such as enduring gender inequality at the workplace. It was very informative to learn about Fraser’s criticism of earlier, more ‘specific’ accounts of what has been called the ‘Great Recession’. But even more than the detailed content of her criticism, I was curious about the general subject of her interest: crisis.

With the abundance of special issues, edited volumes and monographs being published (or talked about) recently, I feel that ‘crisis’ has eventually arrived in contemporary social sciences. When I studied economics as an undergraduate during the actual outbreak of the financial trouble in 2007/08, sociology as well as most other social science disciplines were rather unimpressed. The impotence of economics to even only understand subprime lending, complexly-cut derivatives and their influence on the (inter)national level was enough to make me change discipline – but did not spark much enthusiasm for most proper scholars in neighbouring disciplines. Changing one’s research agenda to address pressing, contemporary issues? Not even worth considering? (more…)

Understanding Society through Soccer? Fan Cultures, Identities and Politics

[By Porcielcrosa [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.]

Although soccer (or ‘football’ as it is known in most places globally) still lags behind the four ‘major’ sports of American football, basketball, baseball and hockey as a speactator sports, it does have a sizeable and growing following in the US. A recent interdisciplinary conference at Hofstra University explored the importance and meaning of soccer in society – beyond (but including) economics and market shares – and made the argument that soccer (and sports more generally) should be treated as a serious topic of academic study, a phenomenon worthy of our attention and a lens through which society can be understood. One sociologically relevant topic is that of fans, violence, politics and identity in soccer.


Nudge yourself better: how to become your own Choice Architect


By: Adam Gault
Collection: OJO Images

My PhD research is about changing people’s behaviour  – how to make people lead better, greener, more sustainable lives. A key part of my outlook is how insights from so-called ‘Nudge’ theory might be used to foster change in individuals. Who better to use as an individual case study, than myself?

The basic premise of Nudge is that we can improve people’s behaviour not just through the old-fashioned interventions of the State like taxing things or making things illegal: ‘shoving’ people to comply; but by subtly ‘nudging’ people to make better choices, whilst still allowing them the freedom to make bad ones. The book titled ‘Nudge’ by Sunstein and Thaler has become a bestseller since it was published in 2008, and Nudge (also known by its fancier academic name of ‘Libertarian Paternalism’) has quickly become a mainstream policy discourse in many western countries. In the UK’s coalition government it seems to have found an especially receptive audience.


Avery Gordon’s “Ghostly Matters” and the Haunting of Sociological Research


Source: Ghostly Matters by Avery F. Gordon

Source: Ghostly Matters by Avery F. Gordon

I recently stumbled upon a unique analysis of the construction of social reality.  In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters, haunting is a method of sociological research.  She argues, “To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (7).  Ghostly Matters is her attempt to understand the complexities of social life through an analysis of the hauntings surrounding Sabina Spielrein, the desaparecido of Argentina and the lingering impact of racial slavery during the Reconstruction period in the United States.  Her book might be a conceptual call within the field of sociology to understand that which it represses, but her approach is truly interdisciplinary, in that she seeks to create a something “that belongs to no one” (ibid).


A look at the ‘Religion versus Science’ debate through a sociological lens



Recent, high-profile debates between representatives of religion and science show this rivalry is as hot as ever. Yet, despite Richard Dawkins’ fantasies, science will never eliminate religion. A Foucauldian analysis tells us why. (more…)