This fall I’ll be working at Monmouth University as a visiting professor. I’m super excited about this opportunity, even as I’m already missing teaching CUNY and SUNY students. Please stay in touch via email, twitter, or here!

For new students, a few words about why this blog is titled “fashioning sociology.”  First, I taught sociology and anthropology courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology for a little over 6 years. To help fashion students see all the connections between their studies and sociology, I organized my courses to focus on the social forces that shape the fashion industry as well as our own personal sense of fashion. When we start to consider what we wear each day, what we feel good in, or what looks “off” to us, we can see how our personal experiences are shaped by larger social forces. And we can also see how we push back against social patterns and traditions. Think about how radical it used to be for women to wear pants! Or how men have never gotten into wearing skirts…

Secondly, part of my dissertation research focused on fashion studies. Fashion studies is an interdisciplinary field that looks at fashion as an artifact, a cultural system, a language, a system of labor, a cultural history…the list goes on! I began my research on the economy of tee shirts–both as cultural symbols and as a way to engage in affective labor. My dissertation ended up being on digital labor, and on blogs specifically, but it started with tee shirts, flea markets, and second hand clothing.

Finally, I realized that sociology as a discipline is deeply implicated with fashion as we know it. Or, another way to say that is sociology and the fashion industry started at the same time. Sociology emerged to answer questions about life under a new technological world–industrialization–and all the massive cultural and social changes it brought. For example, the first factories were textile mills.With mass production came the need for mass consumption (i.e., shopping).  Gender roles changed with wage labor (as people moved from farms to cities in search of work). Further, many of our most important sociological theories focus on fashion: Karl Marx in Capital, vol 1, uses the example of a coat to explain commodities, labor, and value. George Simmel explained the sense of self under modernity through the example of fashion; or the fine line between standing out, but not so much as to look so-called crazy. Through fashioning our appearances, we walk the fine, and ever-shifting line of “fitting-in”

While sociology began with the rise of industrialization, the emergence of globalization and digital technologies are currently rearranging our everyday lives. My work and teaching considers how we can re-fashion sociology to account for the global shifts that have taken place since sociology began with industrialization. This blog is a place for me to post ideas about how we can fashion sociology to better understand our lives today. I’m looking forward to working on this with all of you.


Soc of Family links, thoughts

Here is a link to the Rebecca Traister article on the structural forces that are creating this new-ish demographic: the single, adult woman. We didn’t get to the part of the essay, which I’ll quote below, where she makes the argument that women drive social changes. Earlier in the essay she noted that single women lean “way left” and this quote backs up the history of women’s liberal tendencies:

This is not the first time that single women have had such a dramatic impact on the country. In fact, wherever you find increasing numbers of single women in history, you find change. In the 19th century, when the casualties of the Civil War and drain of men to the American West upset the gender ratio, marriage rates for ­middle-class white women on the East Coast plunged and marriage ages rose. Unburdened of the responsibilities of wifeliness and motherhood, many of these women did what women have long been trained to do: throw themselves into service to community, in this case reform movements. Many, though by no means all, of those who led the fights for abolition and suffrage and against lynching, who founded and ran the new colleges for women (Mount Holyoke, Smith, Spelman), who were pioneers in new fields including ­nursing and medicine, were unmarried. Susan B. Anthony; Sarah Grimké; Jane Addams; Alice Paul; Catharine Beecher; Elizabeth Blackwell: None of these women had husbands. Many more activists had marriages that were unconventional for the time — brief, open, or entered into late, after the women had established themselves economically or professionally.

I also found the place where she argues that the marriage boom post WWII did not extend to African American women, as African Americans were summarily denied economic and social benefits such as social security (which did not apply to domestic and agricultural workers), college admissions, loans and mortages, and all coupled with discriminatory racial wage gaps, segregation, and violence. With such obstacles, marriage becomes too costly and too much of a burden. We’ll talk more about how African Americans responded to these economic and social forces at the familial level next week.

I like this article because it’s reiterating the idea that structural changes take form in and through our personal lives–all way to the feeling, that so many women are sharing, that marriage is just not a priority. That feeling comes from educational and job opportunities as well as decreasing wages, increasingly contingent work, and stubborn sexism that places the burden of household and child care labor on women.

That last point brings me to this article about the unequal distribution between men and women around household, unpaid labor (this is often called social reproduction, or the work it takes to keep us all alive, healthy, disease free, happy, cared for). Melinda Gates is taking this up as a social cause. Definitely take a look at the charts, the data compares the household labor between men and women globally and it’s not good (the results, not the charts or data–those seem solid). In all countries women work more than men, in the US women work 4.1 hours/per day and men do 2.7 hours/day. Gates is arguing that this puts women in a time crunch, leaving them with less time to do paid work. Here’s an interesting relationship quote from the article: 

When the time women spend on unpaid work shrinks to three hours a day from five hours, their labor force participation increases 10 percent, according to the O.E.C.D.

I think it’s great to call attention to this phenomenon–the article loses me on the solution side, however. Gates says men have to do more of this unpaid work, to free up women. This is not a new argument at all–feminists have been making it since, at least, as far back as the the 1970s. The “Wages for Housework” movement made a similar argument. Gates also argues that if women have cell phones they’ll be able to work faster. She also wants women to have better contraception (birth control), which is a solid recommendation–when women have access to and education about family planning, they control their fertility and have less children or space them out to better match their lives. She also calls for men to do more household work. Telling men to do more household work has, well, never worked. There is some progress in Nordic countries, due to their attempts to structure family leave so that men have to take some of it. Structuring leave in allows new mothers to return to work and strongly encourages men to stay home so they can bond with their children and run the household too. In other words, these countries structure gender equality into their laws.

The part that is insanely ridiculous to me is the idea that cell phones will help women reduce their time spent on household labor. Technology, especially household technologies–vacuums etc–have a history of creating MORE work, more unpaid labor, and upping the expectations. Cell phones haven’t freed anyone from work, instead they’ve created more! For example, going to the grocery store is a chore but sometimes it’s a fun break from everyone at home. I didn’t realize how great going to the store was until I had kids. Going to the store, while definitely household/unpaid labor, gets me out of the house and my partner has to take over with bath, bed, clean up, laundry etc. Since we don’t have a car, the store trips take awhile and the walk to the store is the best part. The cell phone however extends the family into this “break”–they can text with list, call if things can’t be found, call if someone gets upset…etc. Or, while shopping I could get an important email that needs a quick response. It goes on and on–the main point is that cell phones don’t reduce work for anyone so it’s pretty disingenuous for Gates to make this “suggestion”. More to the point, she found a global market to tap into for tech products. And, women, especially mothers, use cell phones and social media more than most other groups.

Other articles of interest: this article on gender inequality and retirement savings; this article title “The Life of the American Worker in 1915” looks at work 100 years ago (I haven’t read it yet); and the article about women staying in bad relationships because of high rental market (which is discussed in Chapter 4–the increasing costs of renting–and will be on test even though we didn’t discuss in class).

Great discussion tonight, as always!

Notes on Beyonce for Women and Media class

At least 3 times a class period, I find myself saying something like “oh, there is a GREAT article that discusses your idea! I’ll share the link!”   And then I forget what link, which class, or who said what. This is an attempt to put all the links, articles, gifs, tweets, in one place.

First up, in women and media class we watched and had a lively discussion about the new Beyonce video, Formation. The think pieces were being written as we sat there–and this is something we need to pay attention to all the semester, the work different media ‘things’ do. Often, media images/texts produce things (tweets, think pieces, reactions) beyond the producer/creators intentions. The reactions to the Beyonce’s super bowl performance and video release are perfect examples of the ways media works to define ‘woman’, ‘black’, or ‘radical’. From what I’ve read so far on the Beyonce video, the discussion we had in our class mirrors the debates circulating throughout the Internet. (I’ve linked articles in the following sentence–>)The fault line is whether or not people see Beyonce’s video and song as a radical reclamation of Black American Women’s culture (specifically Southern culture) ~OR~ is the video/song exploitative, using both tragedy (Katrina, police killing) and radical politics (the Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter) to make money and build her brand. I see and appreciate the case being made on both sides–I mainly want us to think about the work the video is doing and the work we’re doing to interpret the video. We’ll return to Beyonce later in the semester, and we can discuss this video next class after reading about the male gaze, visual pleasure, and filming techniques. The video seems to challenge the male gaze directly, and part of the celebration around the video, and Beyonce, is her direct engagement with a black, female gaze and pleasure.