Doing Sociology: Case Studies in Sociological Practice
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ASA on the Issues. In , more than one million people around the The ASA awards are conferred on sociologists for outstanding publications and achievements in the scholarship, teaching, and the practice Despite having only about 5 percent of the world's population, the United States was the attack site for a disproportionate 31 percent of Race and white supremacy - topics many sociologists devote a great deal of research to and know well - have, again, become front page People in Sociology.
The fight over campus speech has a long history, but recent events suggest it is at least as vitriolic as ever. Headlines are illustrative More than 5, sociologists will convene in Montreal this August to explore scientific research relating to social inequality and many Further, the scholarship in gender studies, it was argued, did not as yet match that which any of these other papers could call on. Did this mean that the sociology of gender was marginalised or that it was able to retain its critical edge?
Neither and both!
A few years later there were sharp attacks on the declining standards in universities following feminisation and the lack of rigour in feminist scholarship Beteille ; Gupta These pieces, by two male sociology professors, one an eminent and senior scholar and member of the Department, who had written on gender, and the other also well known and associated with it, have many implications. Whether owing to the specific efforts of scholars in academia or the wider impact of the movement, sociologists have to take account of work by women and feminists.
Yet the backlash can also have negative effects on our labours. Attacks by important people in the discipline affect new and aspiring entrants to the profession, to the study programmes, and to those who administer them. Undoubtedly, by and large a woman sociologist still has to be better than a man and much more 'professorial' before she will be considered for an equivalent post.
Even now, when research proposals are examined, questions regarding the absence of a gender dimension can be labelled as group and identity claims, rather than as issues of epistemology and methodology. TEACHING GENDER What a written syllabus means in terms of pedagogical practice depends not only on what is in the public document, but on the orientation and interests of the teacher, official pedagogical instruments and the under-life of the institution. As emerged from the practice of teaching in subsequent years, even a token sub-topic can pave the way for further questioning and provide more space to do so than a reading not attached to a topic.
It does not necessarily get sucked into a larger unchanging discourse. A topic can be given more time within the span of a course than a visual impression of the written outline conveys. Thus, in the papers on India and stratification, as more faculty members developed an interest in or a concern with gender, it became one of the lenses through which they discussed many topics and one of the points of view in the various debates which ran through the substantive and theoretical issues in each paper.
This influenced the attention students gave to the issue. Hie tutorial programme in the Department is intensive, more so since continuous internal evaluation was begun about a decade earlier. It is a critical pedagogical instrument and central to the self-valuation and image of the Department.
Each semester, students write essays after discussing the topics in a group of four to six classmates and a tutor. The lecturer in each course suggests the topics with readings, which an individual tutor may modify or add to. Through the tutorial topics, readings, and discussions, teachers introduce new writings, issues, perspectives and debates beyond the bounds of the printed syllabus which determine the annual examination. Student seminars are another pedagogical tool which can and were put to use in this manner. The significance of the theoretical and pedagogical orientation of the teacher means that the reverse can also occur—a course may be bleached of its gender content or feminist interrogation.
The students may be asked to read up on it on their own and pick up mixed signals on the relevance of the topic or reading, depending on their own orientations. Examinations are critical to the attention they give to readings and topics, and if they pick up the signal that 'there won't be a question', they may leave it aside. Student interest in gender has also grown and waned over the years, but their demands on particular courses seem to take into account the interests of the teacher.
Thus one year, in teaching the paper on India, I had not suggested a student seminar on gender. Some students, however, pointed out that they had heard that in previous years I had done so and that they would like to make a presentation. The teaching of sociology in general and gender in particular is tied to responses from students as discussed further below.
Guidelines on Ethical Research
Gender has been a concern expressed by a range of students, but not necessarily their focus, partly, it seems, because the idea has percolated that it is a sub-question in any area of research. Most of them would actually read the gendered ethnographies which others were to analyse than those on other themes! They did not wish to specialise in gender, but wanted an acquaintance with gender theory and ethnography. This of course supported what has long been my pedagogical contention. Rather than depending on separate women's studies courses and programmes alone, making the themes and perspectives part of existing disciplinary and more general programmes and courses can go further in fighting the silence on women and gender and encouraging a critique of intellectual work and social relations.
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However, not only is that the more difficult exercise, as the experience of introducing a gender course and gendering other courses in the Department illustrated, it depends on the interests and orientation of both teacher and student. The number of students opting for the gender course in MA has varied greatly.
In recent years, enrolment has been relatively high. As the number on the faculty interested in gender issues increased, so have the number of MPhil courses with a gender content, and the sum of those opting for one or the other are a good part of the total intake. This is also true for the faculty. Both in the faculty and in study programmes, however, the balance shifts as one moves up the hierarchy of positions research associate to professor or courses MA to PhD. Thus, it is not surprising if most students who opt for an MA elective on gender are women.
Parallel to this, as far as I have been able to ascertain, except for the first year and perhaps one other year, the proportion of boys in the course have been in accordance with or more than that in the class as a whole. Students in their final semester of the MA and in the MPhil expressed a variety of reasons for their choices and of their experiences of the MA programme and the gender course. One MA student said he had chosen the gender elective as he had thought it would be 'scoring,' and because it was an important area in sociology.
He compared the 'gender' studied in this paper as against that in the compulsory ones such as in the India paper. He said the latter was more empirical and on women, whereas in the elective the focus was more on relations between men and women and it was more 'ideological'. He confessed, however, that he had attended few classes and this was his take on the topics and readings as printed in the syllabus.
While he was very comfortable with the fact that the majority of the teachers in the Department were women, he felt that they were stricter evaluators than the male teachers! Some students chose the gender elective for personal and intellectual reasons. One girl spoke of how she had perceived gender discrimination in her family. The gender paper had helped her to understand much more about gender relations and structures in her everyday life, clarifying aspects she had been 'sort of aware of'. This was a view expressed by a number of women students and was reflected in the deathly pall which fell in the classroom one year as we discussed de Beauvoir's critique of the idea that love marriage expresses gender equality or emancipation.
For a couple of students, the MA course confirmed for them that they would like to undertake research in gender studies. A number spoke of how male classmates had changed over the two year MA programme with the discussions inside and outside the classroom. However, some pointed out that there were those who continued to make a division between women as 'girlfriend or good wife material'! Among the latter were students who had come to MA sociology in search of a course on social work. For some, this was a response to the constant interrogation of their everyday lives and assumptions in the gender course and the MA programme as a whole, leaving them with few certain answers or those which were difficult to live by.
One student said she had not chosen the gender elective as gender was discussed in other compulsory and elective courses, such as the papers on kinship, India, stratification and urban sociology. She chose electives on themes which she felt had been little touched on otherwise in the programme.
Contemporary Narratives on Sociological Thought and Practice
Furthermore, given that two of her other electives were 'heavy', she wanted some which did not involve as many readings as did the gender paper! Thus, choices are made on a number of grounds. Intellectual engagement, personal interest, toughness and scoring possibilities, future plans, and employment possibilities all play their role, as do developing significations of 'gender', informal ratings of teachers and their position in the academic hierarchy.
Discussions with their 'seniors', oral histories, and local mythologies are important in their assessments on 'scoring and toughness' and teacher ratings. Intellectual engagement and personal interest are linked to what students have studied in previous programmes and papers and to extra-curricula discussions around them.
While there seems to be no clear connection between the presence of gender in earlier papers and programmes and their opting for electives on the theme, explicit running down of gender issues as serious and central to the discipline does dissuade uncommitted students from opting for the elective. The impact on the teaching programme made by active feminist groups within the campus is more complex. On the one hand, they help create an awareness and build discussions around gender, become support groups for students and teachers interested in researching and teaching gender, and take up feminist issues within the campus.
On the other hand, given the other factors which influence the choice of electives, students may opt for the vibrant extra-curricula discussions on gender along with formal courses on other specialisations. Furthermore, the greater visibility created by activists for gender issues can be seen as threatening to some who become sharper in their ridicule.
Choices made by students of study programmes are clearly linked to past life experiences and future aspirations too, and this is undoubtedly tied to the direction and strength of the women's movement outside academia—both in the direct impact on the nature of research undertaken by feminist or anti-feminist scholars and in opening up questions and validating concerns. The marketability of the gender course has grown with the expansion of the NGO and development sector and the shift from voluntary to paid activism in the women's movement.
Sociology students who choose not to continue in academics or teaching are going into journalism, publishing, NGOS, and market research—all areas which have been impacted by the women's movement and where various institutions have leapt into the spaces created by the movement.
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On the one hand this is disturbing—the critical edge of gender studies had to be blunted if it was so easy or chosen instrumentally. On the other hand, whatever the reason for which students chose a course, could they be left unaffected by the constant interrogations of lived assumptions and sociological certainties which the readings made explicit? Would it not ensure that feminist and gender concerns spread into fields beyond academia and committed activism?
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A twist to this is that since attendance is not compulsory, students can miss much of the critical thought, debate, and discussion. Thus, marking examination scripts can be very hard on the spirits! However, I will be very brief on this. The overall structure of the programme remains the same—India, theory, method, subsystems, stratification—but with the introduction of four elective courses, including one on gender and society. Gendered topics have been brought into the introductory and kinship papers as well as a number of others, particularly those in which the theme was introduced many years ago in the MA programme—India and stratification.
Thus, gender concerns have spread across the syllabi and teaching of sociology in DU. This is also to do with the continuing difficulty of accepting the theoretical power of a feminist thinker, especially within sociology, 14 and the growing number of those who may be considered contemporary 'masters' cf. Delamont The case study of DU sociology demonstrates that sociology has changed over the last two decades. However, if efforts to engender sociology are to move forward, they have to begin from the point when teaching programmes and papers are being framed, rather than being added later on.
Generally, gender-sensitive and feminist sociological writings are still asked to prove themselves as twice as good and rigorous—on the basis of pre-gendered criteria—to be included in reading lists. As with any attempt to change an existing structure, it requires extra labour from advocates of the change and a readiness to take on more than one's share of responsibilities. Personal and intellectual interest in gender studies has grown and diffused among many of the faculty as well as the student body, whose profile has changed.
The enjoyment by a subsequent generation of young women of openings made possible by earlier collective struggles has much to do with the ebbs and flows in feminist interrogation. The hope that as a specialisation it will enable employment and the fear that it will mean marginalisation in the discipline are simultaneously present, with contradictory pulls in making student choices. This has much to do with the environment within and outside the Department and particularly the ongoing processes and debates within the institutional context of the university.
Finally, gendering sociology means pushing debates over the modes of apprehending and theorising social relations and culture, the central concepts of the discipline, and indeed of the relationship between sociology, the university, and society. Endnotes 1 Of the last genre, A. Dube and Palriwala review what gender studies can draw on in a specific area—kinship in South and Southeast Asia. Rege and Uberoi ; look at Indian developments in gendering sociology.
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Delamont is a more recent review of feminist sociology. W hile teaching was not the main focus of either Delamont or Rege , both these overviews carry critical discussions regarding sociology as a profession, as institutions and teaching departments which are relevant for issues raised here. Desai, and presented at conferences focus on the theme of the teaching of gender sociology or womens' studies through individual case studies. These are among the examples which an overview could draw on as Rege does to an extent. Starting from the first step, the general body of teachers in the discipline for undergraduate courses or the Staff Council of the university department for graduate papers, the Committee of Courses and Studies, the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Academic Council Standing Committee and the Academic Council.
Recently, another tier has been introduced before the last but one—the 'peer review'—consisting of three persons within the discipline, but outside the university. From the mids, and after, a number of UGC- or ICSSR-sponsored centres for women studies and women's development centres were set up inside and outside the university structure. However, almost none was engaged in teaching or syllabi development in the first decade, and in Delhi they did not have a direct impact on teaching in the universities.
Gendering Sociological Practice 11 Freeman queried Meads presence in the fields she discusses and suggested that her ethnography and analysis were fiction. Thus, in recent years a course on masculinities and another on reproductive rights, sexuality and power have been introduced and taught. References Acker, J. American Journal of Sociology 78 4 : Barrett, M. Women's Oppression Today. London: Verso.
Beteille, A. Feminism in Academia: Changes in Theory and Practice. Indian Journal of Gender Studies 2 1 : Collier, J. Theory in Anthropology since Feminist Practice. Critique of Anthropology 9 2 : Committee on the Status of Women in India. Towards Equality. Delhi: Government of India. Delamont, S. Feminist Sociology. London: Sage. Douglas, M. Purity and Danger. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Dube, L. Tokyo: United Nations University Press. Freeman, D. Cambridge, Mass. Gupta, D. Feminification of Theory and Gender Studies.
Economic and Political Weekly 30 12 : Lutz, C. American Ethnologies 17 4 : Mead, M. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: William Morrow. Millman, M. Kanter, eds. Moore, H. Feminism and Anthropology.
Cambridge: Polity Press. Oakley, A. Sex, Gender, Society. New York: Harper Colophon Books. Palriwala, R. Rapp, R. Anthropology: A Review Essay. Economic and Political Weekly 29 19 : Sociological Bulletin 44 2 : In Sociology of Gender: T!? Delhi: Sage Publications. Rosaldo, M. Sigti 5 3 : Smith, D. Women's Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology. Sociological Inquiry 44 1. Strathern, M. Signs 12 2 : Uberoi, J. Men, Women, and Property in Northern Afghanistan. In India and Contemporary Islam, ed. Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study.