Homosexuality and Anti-Colonialism: How Homosexual Frenchmen Are Actually Colonialists


(Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_history_in_France#/media/File:Miklos_Vadasz_-_L%27Assiettte_au_Beurre_-_Les_p%27tits_jeun%27_hommes_02.jpg)


Before the conquest of the colonies many non-Western, indigenous, societies did not believe in a heterosexual/homosexual binary. In lieu of this binary, many indigenous societies had some notion of a third category for a person’s sex: a man, or woman, who would dress as the opposite sex but sustained same-sex relationships. The indigenous populations viewed these same-sex relationships as something natural, not perverse. Conversely in Europe, the production of the homosexual was well underway with the coinage of the term in 1891. Many of the men in the imperial army were aware of their colleagues who had “those” tendencies: certain men that enjoyed having sex with other men. Yet once in the colonies, the soldiers met with indigenous men whom were willing to have relations with them. The soldiers believed it was a “situational” homosexuality, as coined by Aldrich. But how was the knowledge of a “situational” homosexuality produced? In the words of Bernard Cohn, this “situational” homosexuality came to be through investigative modalities. (more…)

Nudging might be sexy, but it isn’t enough.

Image courtesy of http://www.speroforum.com/a/NTUACKIKDY21/74868-Good-nudge-bad-nudge-Dont-get-too-comfortable#.VV8W4PlVhBc

Last week I went to a workshop in London about nudging, titled “Silver Bullets Need A Careful Aim. Dilemmas in applying behavioural insights”. It was very interesting, and my gratitude goes out to the organisers who put together a really interesting day focused on the ethics and effectiveness of ‘Nudge’, which, seven years after Thaler and Sunstein’s book of the same name was published, still seems to be capturing the imagination of academics, marketers and policy-makers.

(If you have no idea what ‘Nudge’ means, check my previous post here) (more…)

I Spoke Up: Politics and Social Media in Tory Britain

Photograph from Bristolpost.co.uk

Photograph from Bristolpost.co.uk

The issue of politics and social media is a contentious one. I have had discussions with lifelong friends where they have made it very clear that, in their view, social media should be just that, social. For them there is no place for politics in online platforms such as Facebook but I have to disagree. Over the years that I have had a Facebook account I have accrued over 600 ‘friends.’ I know that just a handful of them are real friends (in the traditional sense of the word) but they are people that I have met through my various studies, jobs, homes and travels. Who hasn’t seen and liked endless selfies, travel photos, pictures of children, puppies, weddings etc, as well as pages for club nights, bands, even businesses? I know I have, and I also know I am guilty of sharing almost all of the above.

My question, then, is this – why is it acceptable to use Facebook (other social media platforms are available) to celebrate, discuss or bemoan every aspect of our lives other than politics? (more…)

Reconceptualizing Homonormativity: Color-Blind Racism’s Sibling?

Source: http://pixabay.com/en/law-justice-justizia-blind-scale-311363/

Source: http://pixabay.com/en/law-justice-justizia-blind-scale-311363/

I know that I’ve written about my thesis a few times, but at last I have completed my research, written the formal document, and defended its status, certifying me as an official “master.” But if there is one thing that I have learned in my past two years of graduate school, that would be that there is always more work to  be done. There are always new ways of rethinking concepts, new ways to empirically test hypotheses, and new research questions that come out of research.

One of these new ways of thinking arose when I had the difficulty of “proving” homonationalism’s presence in study abroad. Granted, while I believe that qualitative, or even “social” more generally, research cannot actually prove anything, evidence paired with theory suggests particular outcomes or behavioral patterns. Consistently throughout my interviews, participant observation, and analyses of online sources I found that rather than a blatant exclusion of non-heterosexuality or heteronormative stance, that sexuality in general, both heterosexual and non-heterosexual alike, were excluded from the study abroad preparatory process. In fact, in interviews, students said that their sexuality “didn’t matter,” “wasn’t a big deal,” or “never caused a problem.” This lack of sexuality, however, did not prove that non-heterosexuality was accepted, let alone tolerated. So how can this exclusion, or erasure, of sexuality be explained? Is it homonormativity? (more…)

Kissing Strangers

Source: http://intothegloss.com/


Last summer, I was sent a message from a complete stranger through OkCupid, asking if I would like to meet him for a no-strings attached snog*. The message went like this:

You know when you’re sitting on the tube, on a bus, or even at your desk at work and someone walks past and you think: god damn, I wish I could just snog them right now. I mean, it happens on the screen all the time doesn’t it? People are always just randomly snogging strangers in the street and then walking off.
And I got to thinking, that looks like fun. But I don’t think I’m brave enough to actually ask anyone for a snog in the street in real life. And probably asking ruins it, anyway – in the adverts they just *know* that a snog’s about to happen, don’t they?
So I was wondering: would you like to meet me for a no strings attached snog? The way I see it, a day with a snog in it is almost always better than a day without. And snogs are good wholesome fun – no mess in your head or your bed.
We could choose a bridge in London and each walk from the opposite side to meet in the middle at an arranged time. Then we’d smile at each other, say hello, check that there’s some physical attraction (you sort of instantly know, don’t you? If there’s nothing, we can just turn around) and then have a snog.
Then just walk away again, like in a diet coke ad or something – have some fun and make a fantasy a reality? Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about kissing a perfect stranger…


Being a sociologist, and obsessively interested in relationships and sexuality, (and, partly, a hot-blooded woman) I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of snoggy a social experiment. Already it raised questions in my head about the nature of online dating, romance, and gender norms. Would it be perpetuating romantic ideals to do something ‘just like a Diet Coke advert‘? Was saying ‘yes’ to him asking for a kiss an act of consent? It felt like it might just be replicating typical gender norms (man asks woman for a kiss, how very Jane Austen…) Or maybe it could be empowering and agentic to admit that I we want to kiss a perfect stranger. (more…)

Considering Big Data Analysis as a Social Science

By ENERGY.GOV (Delphi Automotive Systems) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By ENERGY.GOV (Delphi Automotive Systems) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In early April, 2015, a self-driving car completed a 9 day cross country tour from San Francisco to New York City.  During the 9 day adventure, the car was fully automated for 99% of the trip – relying on its humans only to enter and exit the interstates.  The Audi car supported technology made by Delphi which uses a combination of advanced features already on the market including collision mitigation, integrated radar and camera systems, forward collision and lane departure warning.  While the company certainly used the trip to promote its products the more pressing purpose was to collect data – a lot of data – more than 3 terabytes of data over the nine days (about 30% of what’s on record at the Library of Congress) because the car’s technology needs to learn. (more…)

The Art of Consent: Sexualities on the Periphery



For the past few months, I heard much criticism, and trepidation, about the Fifty Shades of Grey series, and its first movie. The novel’s graphic scenes, the descriptive language, and the overtness of sexuality, or a specific sexuality, laden in the text have appalled many people. Why is that? I know the majority of my academic friends, as well as personal friends, will give me much flak about my attempts to theorize, and parse out the intricacies of “such” a novel; but I feel there many cultural undertones the novel deploys that people can learn, from the series. (more…)

The UK Election: How to lose friends (and still influence people)

DON’T DROP IT! By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “VeronikaB” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Roy Jenkins famously described Tony Blair’s task in getting Labour into power in 1997 as “like a man carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor”. This has now become something of a truism of electioneering. According to this view, winning power is about damage-limitation, about not messing up, and it implies a strategy of ‘triangulation’ – co-opting voters from other parties whilst keeping your own voters onside. It implies a certain lack of ambition, trying to carry as many disparate sections of the electorate with you, limiting embarrassment to oneself and limiting offence caused to others. (more…)

It’s a wrap: Concluding Graduate Student Advice Month

And so here we are. Four weeks, 14 posts later. It never ceases to amaze me what we here at Sociology Lens have done here: we have created a space for graduate students to offer advice to other students. No where else is there a space specific for students to seek out advice and community, especially Sociology discipline-specific, from other students. I am ecstatic that this is now a resource that students will be able to come to for years.

Throughout this month, our editors discussed many topics from applying to PhD programs (by Roger Tyers) to the job search (by Tara Stamm), from having children (by Tara Stamm) to personal relationships (by Scarlett Brown), from blogging (by Roger Tyers) to publishing (by Megan Nanney), among many others. The wide breadth of topics shows just how much there is for graduate students to talk about, think about, and deal with on a daily basis. In fact, in just 2 days, George Byrnes piece “5 Things I Wish I had Known Before Starting my PhD Program” had nearly 6,000 hits! Even though the themed month has come to an end, I hope that we can keep these dialogues open either through our comment function, Twitter, or with future posts.

While there is always more to be said as our contexts and social circumstances, here I want to offer additional resources that have been provided to me over the years that people should feel free to use, share and distribute, and contribute to. May we continue to share our experiences, offer support and advice, and more importantly look out for not only the future of the discipline itself, but also those people within the discipline.


Professional Development

Getting Organized

Sociology Specific Blogs (by Faculty)

Comedic Relief

For that Darned Thesis/ Dissertation

General Graduate Student Support



Nepal Earthquake: How to Help and Lessons from Other Disasters

Most people with access to a news sources probably have heard, Nepal recently experienced a devastating earthquake. Over 5,000 people have died, over 10,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

As a Nepalese expatriate in the United States, unable to go home at the time of the disaster, I wanted to write this post about how we can help from afar. Since there are so many organizations and websites soliciting aid – and   some are doing great work while others might be more deceptive – it is essential to be cautious in your contributions. In other words, please direct your kind generosity to a reliable platform that ensures that your help directly reaches the poorest and most displaced populations of Nepal. It’s easy to find lists of reliable organizations with a little research: here’s one.

While there is always temptation to be eager to help in a timely fashion, it is also important to survey the problems and needs beforehand in order to ensure that your efforts are fruitful. Items like blankets and clothing are difficult to transport and less likely to reach the poorest populations outside of the capital. Dry, non-perishable food items, iodine and chlroine tables for water purification, batteries, torchlights, are all good items to send. According to Dr. Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam, India Tents, food, water, sanitation and medicines are five big requirements at the moment.

Don’t go to Nepal, give to Nepal. The Nepalese government is currently struggling to dispatch a lot of relief workers; their organizational skills are lacking and Nepal is in no way prepared for the aftermaths of such an emergency. Therefore, rather than helpful bodies, donations of money to reputable organizations and donations of essential supplies are the best way to support Nepal.

It is also essential to be aware of short and long term structural ramifications of such a disaster. The following section on lessons from previous disasters is authored by Bhinnata Piya:

  1. Mother Nature discriminates.
    1. Research suggests that while physiological differences between men and women have implications on disaster vulnerability, social norms in certain South Asian countries such as dress code (sari), behavioural restrictions (not leaving home without husband’s permission) and preference for male sons (choosing sons over daughters during rescue efforts because of their ability to carry the family line) place women at a greater disadvantage in the event of natural disasters. Neumayer and Plumper’s analysis of disaster and socioeconomic status of women from 1981 to 2002 effectively highlights this issue by showing that women are more likely to be killed by natural disasters and their long-term impacts compared to men.
    2. 24.8% of the total population in Nepal live below the international poverty line of $1.25/day. According to the country’s 2011 National Population and Housing census, less than 10% of the total number of households lived in houses with pillars made of Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC). This proportion further decreased to 5.5% and 8.9% in Gorkha and Lamjung respectively where over 90% of the buildings have been destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Not only did the inability to afford quality housing increase low-income families’ vulnerability to the earthquake, but their low literacy rate may also have adversely affected their perception of risks and disaster management leading to a high level of unpreparedness.
  1. Disaster can also perpetuate other forms of inequality.
    1. Dalits, previously known as the “untouchables,” have been systematically discriminated against during disaster relief efforts, further perpetuating caste-based inequalities in many South Asian countries. Although there is very little data on this issue, according to the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network, many Dalits were not given access to relief camps after the 2010 flooding. Dalits in Sri Lanka faced a similar problem during tsunami relief efforts, where they were excluded in the rationing of food and water.
    2. According to a qualitative analysis of gender-based violence and rape in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Port au Prince after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, most women reported being raped by at least two men within the first five months of the earthquake. These rape survivors, who were already marginalized due to their socio-economic status, were compelled to live under unsafe conditions, exposing them to rapes that occurred mostly at night both inside and outside the IDP camps. In addition to mental trauma, these women had to face the risks of HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and unsafe abortions, placing them in a worse off position than they were before the 2010 earthquake.
  1. There is no silver bullet, but context is key.
    1. So what have we learned from the plight of the earthquake victims from the 1976 Guatemala earthquake to the 2010 Haiti earthquake? We learn that there is no silver bullet, and major disasters will not provide a single solution for an upcoming one unless local governments and community members work together and contextualize the problem. Haiti may teach us about the risks of gender violence in IDP camps, but it tells us very little about Dalits, who may experience discrimination in a very different manner in regions such as India, Pakistan or Nepal. Similarly, the dress code and behavioural restrictions that women face in Bangladesh may not necessarily apply to women in countries such as the United States, where the high mortality rate of women during natural disasters may not necessarily hold true.
    2. Moving forward, it is crucial for governments to thoroughly revise their disaster management protocols in order to fit the needs of the vulnerable populations. For instance, the National Disaster Response Framework developed by the Government of Nepal defines vulnerable groups as “children under 5 and pregnant/lactating women,” and makes no note of other marginalized groups such as Dalits and the LGBT populations. In addition to making a toxic assumption that Nepal has a stable political system, the framework also fails to acknowledge the existing disparities. While it is a task that requires tremendous amount of work and commitment, it could be truly used to reduce inequality through effective disaster management instead of widening the gap between the haves and the have nots.

Bhinnata Piya is a David Satcher Scholar at Vanderbilt University and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in the Global Health track. She has previously worked in rural Nepal with Possible, a global health non-profit organization. She visited Haiti in a service trip after the 2010 earthquake.

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Phtoto Credit Image-HD