The Graduate Student Tribe

Photo by: Anne-Lise Heinrichs Found on: Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by: Anne-Lise Heinrichs
Found on: Flickr Creative Commons


Mothers seem to be good at finding tribes.  They blog, form Facebook pages, meet for regular play dates, etc…If the plight of early woman were anything like this nostalgic blog post, I would surely miss a communal motherhood as I would miss an appendage.  I suspect however, that even with shared laughter the washing, cooking, and caretaking required of early mothers left them just as exhausted as we feel today.  According to Wikipedia (insert snickering), archeologists think that tribal structures were an adaptation to situations providing plentiful yet unpredictable resources.  Historically tribes were a face-to-face community bound by kinship, reciprocal exchange and strong ties to place (Paul, 2006).

Regardless of the time period in which one lives, commiserating with others who share your experiences is rewarding.  This includes those who share your research interests.  (more…)

Flight-path dependency: How an uneven transport market is killing off green options.

Picture courtesy of Deutsche Bahn []

I released a deep sigh last month, when I read that Deutsche Bahn is cancelling night trains on its Brussels-Copenhagen, Paris-Berlin, and Hamburg-Munich lines by the end of this year. I was further saddened to read that the Paris to Barcelona night train – which I took myself a few years ago on a fondly-remembered holiday across Europe – is already a thing of the past, as of last December. (more…)

The Conference Conundrum: Yes, You Should Sumbit

Source: American Sociological Association

Source: American Sociological Association


Recently, I was asked to prepare a presentation for first year graduate students on presenting at professional conferences.   I immediately recalled how terrified I was at my first round table presentation during the 2009 Eastern Sociological Society Annual Meeting and thought useful a simple summary of the various annual meetings and conferences might be for students in the early years of graduate school.

Presenting papers at professional conferences has been a useful tool during my graduate school career.  In addition to the obvious benefits of networking and receiving feedback on my work, conference presentations have helped me determine what kind of research was of interest to me, clarify my research questions and methodologies, think about why my research is a meaningful contribution to the field of sociology, and tease through various drafts of my doctoral proposal.  However, in the early days of graduate school I did not realize how important conference presentations were to the development of my work. I only knew that graduate students were supposed to present at conferences. I also (falsely) believed that national conferences like the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association were somehow better or more useful than smaller regional conference or mini conferences.


Who Needs the Boys?: On How Women’s Colleges Still Matter

By Clara S. [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Clara S. [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As I received the invitation to join the Sociology Lens team as a News Editor, I spent a great deal of time reading archived articles, debating what could I possibly contribute to the discipline. As I came across Heidi Rademacher’s piece “Why We Definitely Need Feminism,” I realized that my experiences, research interests and questions I ask time and time again are relevant to a larger body of timely literature and understanding about women, gender, sexuality, feminism, education, human rights, and equality. In support of Heidi’s argument, we need feminism because it helps both men and women become fully human.

Just like we still need feminism today, we still need women’s colleges. In fact, the two are inseparable. Having attended one of the historic Seven Sisters and one of the remaining 52 women’s colleges (including coordinate colleges, 47 without) in the US, and now attending a large, southern co-ed land grant university with a large military presence and only 41.6% female enrollment, I am a strong advocate for single-sex education. I single handedly have experienced the positive pro-woman environment that these schools and classes can have, where every leadership position and every award is always given to a woman. But, I also know that personal anecdotes are not enough.


The Sociology of Web 3.0

This year the World Wide Web is 25 years old. Web 1.0 was made possible by Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the http protocol which enabled us to retrieve of a copy of a document by accessing its address on a network. Web 2.0 was made by us; the content providers.

To realise the semantic web or Web 3.0 technologists envision everything (documents, data, inanimate objects, even us) having an address on a network and artificial intelligence having the ability to understand and ‘learn’ relationships between these addressed entities. So Web 3.0 will be created by machines as we become data sources on the network. (more…)

In the Company of Spectacle Makers

Soc Lens Survay London

Something rather curious is going to happen next week. On Michaelmas – the 29th of September – the next Lord Mayor of London will be elected by the Liverymen of the City of London’s trade associations – those gilded ‘Worshipful Companies’ of, among other craftsmen, the Goldsmiths, Spectacle-Makers and even Management Consultants. (The Lord Mayor presides over the City of London – the Square Mile on the north bank of the Thames that historically has been home to London’s financial centre – and is not to be confused with the Mayor of London, who runs the Greater London Authority.) Shortly after election, the new Lord Mayor travels, in the State Coach, to swear allegiance to the Crown, amidst the pageantry of the Lord Mayor’s Show. One could be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking of the Show as ‘mere’ ceremony, devoid of the unmistakable and overt political functions – including competitive displays of power, and surveillance of the City’s inhabitants – that was enabled by its Medieval predecessor, the now defunct Midsummer Watch (described by John Stow in his 1598 Survay of London, above).


“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…)

Mothering on the Margins: legislating first environments and the demand for maternal accountability


Photo by: Gabriel Flores Romero Found on: Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by: Gabriel Flores Romero
Found on: Flickr Creative Commons


“You put me in charge of Medicaid…”, the vice president of Arizona’s Republican Party and former state senator, Russell Pearce quipped on his weekly radio broadcast The Russell Pearce Show “the first thing I’d do is get Norplant, birth-control implants or tubal ligations”.  Medicaid is a program designed to provide health-related services for people who cannot afford healthcare in the private sector.  As Amanda Kennedy of Sociology Lens points out vividly here, “being valued as a parent is a white privilege…” and I would add, class privilege. (more…)

‘Where are all the grown ups?’ The Scottish referendum shows the dearth of UK political heavyweights

Today Scotland faces a monumental decision. For once, politics is thrilling, anything seems possible, Scots seem excited and motivated to vote, with a record turnout predicted. By the time you actually read this, the outcome might already be known. In the last weeks before the referendum, the result has been too close to call, which considering a few months ago the ‘No’ campaign had a twenty point lead, is quite a dramatic shift. Whatever today’s result, it will be a close one – Scotland will either become independent, with a huge proportion of people having voted to stay in the UK, or Scotland will remain British, with a huge proportion having voted to leave. Lots of people will not be happy, and the blame game will begin. Whatever the result, this campaign has reminded us of politicians’ increasing inability to persuade voters – quite a depressing thought, when that is what politicians are supposed to be there for.


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…)