Category Archives: Culture

A Makeover for Cosmopolitan?

Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine, November 2014

Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine, November 2014


Every day I drive a half hour from my home to my office at the university and a half an hour from the university back home.  Like many of my peers, I pass time during my commutes listening to National Public Radio.  I know it is a bit of a cliché, the doctoral student in the sociology department listening to NPR every morning, but I really do feel as if my 60 minutes of NPR each day keep me on top of current issues in local and global politics, business, science and technology, and global health.  NPR is part of my routine and for the most part it is pretty predicable.

However, last week I was caught off guard by a segment in the special series “The Changing Lives of Women.”  I had heard a couple of other stories in the series.  There was a very interesting interview with the Navy’s first four-star admiral, Michelle Howard.  There was also a piece on female programmer who were pioneers of the computer revolution.  On October 14, 2014, the NPR series focused on Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.


Exhibit A: the Whites of the Eyes

Soc lens White

Under what conditions might it be ethical to refuse to meet or return someone’s gaze? Is it ever acceptable for a social scientist or journalist to write ‘with their eyes shut’? The notion that visual receptiveness can be a spur to urgent ethical response is captured in that familiar category of humanitarian action, ‘bearing witness’ (so much so, in fact, that we often forget about the work that must be done in order for witnesses to be created). At the same time, it is almost a sociological commonplace that to look is to do violence. From Michel Foucault’s ‘medical gaze’ – implying a mute body patiently set before the sovereign eye of a physician – we derive John Urry’s ‘tourist gaze’, and Raewyn Connell’s ‘imperial gaze’. The last is found wherever classical sociologists sought to generate what Connell calls a ‘synoptic view of human affairs from a great height,’ inserting vulgar classifications of social types into a hierarchy of peoples and nations that had an undeniable elective affinity with colonial projects.


“Women are bitches”, and other obvious tales from the Sociological front line


Words excite me. I can’t help it, words are all I have really: they are my bread and butter and what keeps the wolves from the door, and what gets me up in the morning. And a lot of the time that means that I have a propensity to use long words when short words would definitely do. (See, I did it there with propensity. ‘Tendency’ would have worked, ‘habit’ would have done, too. It’s a sickness really.)

Every so often being a Sociologist, academic and chronic over-thinker pays off, and this is one of those cases: those days when you read an academic paper and come across a theory or idea or unnecessarily long word that makes you realise something you had no idea that you knew all along. It’s the Holy Grail for PhD students really, because it gives you a way of structuring all of the over-thinking and over-analysis you do on a daily basis into a nice easy to understand concept. So please forgive me for getting excited about words, but this week I have a new favourite ‘long-word-way-of-saying-something’. The phrase is ‘Negative Intra-gender relations’ and it is basically an academic way of saying ‘bitching’.  (more…)

Learning to Fail or Failing to Learn    

Here is a picture of me and a Sapara boy taken on my camera by a girl in Jandiayacu, the Sapara community where I began my research.

Here is a picture of me and a Sapara boy taken on my camera by a girl in Jandiayacu, the Sapara community where I began my research.

Nobody really talks about how or why his or her research failed, or what you are supposed to do when you can see that the fieldwork you are in the middle of might be doomed. Those who decide to leave their research uncompleted rarely write up their experiences, and so the lessons that can be learnt about what not to do during your research, and how to avoid a similar outcome, are forever lost in the private notebooks of the ‘failed’ researcher (Wolcott, 2005, p. 214). I am sure I can’t be the first person to be six months into their fieldwork and be seriously doubting the entire process and already wondering if it is salvageable. So I have decided to write a post about why I think my research is going wrong. (more…)

Mass Exodus


Source: Maximizing Progress

Source: Maximizing Progress

Sociologists are frequently interested in how communities are imagined, built, developed, and restructured.  Studies of how communities are destroyed, abolished, or evicted are typically associated with scholarship on genocide, war, natural disaster, or gentrification.  These studies often equate the termination of a community with trauma, personal loss, and inequality.  In some cases, communities dissolve in less dramatic ways.  In some cases, as the needs of a population change, people and the communities they created travel from one space to another.  Recent news regarding the redevelopment of downtown Caracas in Venezuela sets the stage for an unusual case of a decomposing community.

In the 1990s, construction on the Centro Financiero Confinanzas began as hopeful Venezuelans envisioned the creation of an economic mega-center similar to Wall Street in the United States.  The skyscraper, which became known as the Tower of David after developer David Brillembourg, was a 221,000 square meter complex made up of five buildings and a 47-floor glass tower (Caldieron 2013: 139).  Expectations were high.  However, in 1993 Brillembourg died and the following year the Venezuelan market collapsed.  Construction on the Tower of David came to a halt.


Cosmo’s 28 Not-So-Sexy Tips for “Lady-Lovers”

**Please note that this post has illustrations of sexual acts.**

Recently, and for the first time ever, Cosmopolitan Magazine published a list of sex tips and positions for “lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, queers- all lady-loving ladies in the crowd.” At first, as a member of the LGBTQQIAA community, I was shocked and excited at the seemingly legitimate public recognition of my sexual practices by the “sex gurus” themselves over at Cosmo. At a closer glance however, this list is a comical illustration that is not titillating to say the least, but ultimately is quite exclusionary in the understanding of lesbian sex. Needless to say, the lesbian sex Cosmo describes is not my sex, let alone a realistic portrait of most “lady-loving” relationships.


The Necessity of Disorder in a Soft City: De Certeau vs Foucault (Part I)

This is a two-part guest post by Bea Moyes, who is an independent researcher based in East London. Having completed a Masters in Research at the London Consortium, Bea is working on ongoing research into the history of East London since the 1970s. Her work has often considered histories and narratives of urban space, particularly through the act of walking the city, and with dynamic and creative interactions which are generated in public spaces. She tweets @BeaMoyes



For better or worse, [the city] invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. (more…)

The romantic and the mundane: Finding your soulmate via Social Practice Theory


Do you believe that ‘The One’, your ‘soul-mate’, your ‘life-partner’ exists? Have you already found them? Hollywood movies, glossy magazines, and agony aunts repeatedly reassure us that, firstly, somewhere out there is Mr/Miss Right, and secondly, we just need the good fortune to find them – some auspicious occasion when true love will make its presence known. I was compelled to dwell on this when I read Julie Birchill’s recent article on the matter in the Spectator. I don’t want to debate whether or not there is one predestined mate out there for each of us (for the record I’m pretty sure there isn’t), but Birchill’s piece did make me dwell on how we meet partners in particular, and how we meet and make friends generally. In reality, this is often more about the social practices we engage in, rather than personality traits or, good fortune, which bring people together. As with a lot of sociology and psychology, it replaces the romantic with the mundane.


“Who Are you Calling Entitled?” : The Problem with Lazy Millennials


In a recent Sociology Compass article, Dr Elisabeth Kelan draws attention to common uses of the concept of ‘Generations’ and points out that despite being a useful and commonly used concept for Psychology, it has not been widely drawn upon in the Sociological literature. This is surprising, as she notes, because it is so often used in more mainstream writing, media and culture, particularly to describe the characteristics of certain demographics of people. In reference to Dr Kelan’s work, the concept of generation can provide insight into how organizations can best treat their employees, by using their generation as a lens to understand their motivations, preferences and behaviors. Knowing what generation someone is in can be extremely helpful for our understandings of how people behave in certain ways.


Don’t Quote Me On This!

Here is a photo I took of an elderly woman in Jandiayacu. She is one of very few people (possible only five remaining) who speak and have a deep knowledge of the Sapara Language. The knowledge of Sapara people is not written down; it is an oral tradition that has been recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


I am not going to cite, quote or reference anyone in this post, and I wonder if that will change the opinion of those who read it. Does citing someone else make what I write more valid, more accurate or more valuable? Citation and referencing are an important part of academic writing; it is a painstaking, laborious and often frustrating process that is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Of course, I understand why it is necessary. When communicating ideas or concepts it is useful to use citations to provide signposts to our readers should they want to know about something in more depth or detail. It is also important when we are talking about ‘facts’, particularly historic occurrences, statistics or things people have (supposedly) said. But there is another side to this practice that is more of a burden on the writer than it ought to be. (more…)