Thesis Re-Visited

[It’s] a popular notion, that it is exclusively suffering that produces good work, or insightful work.  I don’t think that’s the case. I think in a certain sense, it’s  a trigger, or a lever. But I think good work is produced in spite of suffering, and as a response, as a victory over suffering.

Leonard Cohen

I had the idea to read through my thesis, and post excerpts on my blog; I may still do that.  As always, I hesitate; I think that some of this work is of high quality, but I wonder how it will be received. I talked about my thesis and agonized over it for so long, that I’m not sure anything I could have created would have been worth the fuss I made about it. Then again, the only arbriter that really matters at the end of the day – my supervisor – gave me an A- on it. So I’m not really sure what I’m worried about in that regard. I suppose putting one’s work out there will always feel like an act of incredible vulnerability.

Reading my thesis in preparation for posting it reminds me of how far removed I am from the academic world; I admit that this reminder is somewhat disheartening. I’d have to read and study for months before I would become as well-versed in the theoretical language and literature as I was when I wrote the thesis. Furthermore, I don’t see myself having the opportunity to write something like that and become immersed in the acts of learning and creation anytime soon; I may not have an opportunity like that ever again.  I suppose my hesitation to post my thesis is borne from that sentiment as well, which isn’t exactly regret; I’ve just become aware that there’s a gap between where I am, and where I want to be, and I’d rather not think about it.  At the present time though, I’m a still a little too weary from the struggle to get through school to knit that yarn into motivation to go back.

Although there are ideas and passages in this piece that I wish I could have developed further, in some ways, that doesn’t really matter; what matters most to me about this work is that I finished it at all. I wrote it during a tumultuous time in my life, during which I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorders. Hence, the Leonard Cohen quote above: this work is important to me for its merits as a piece of undergraduate-level scholarship, and because I see the completion of this project as a “victory over suffering.” I may always struggle with my mind, but this serves as a reminder that I can still (with a hell of a lot of effort, time, and support) complete the work I set out to do.

That’s what I’ll remember this piece for; this piece, with all of its glorious imperfection. Maybe one day I’ll regard the time of my life during which I wrote it as being “gloriously imperfect” as well.


After thinking and writing about it, I’ve decided to post excerpts from my thesis after all. These can be found on the following pages:

Dance Macabre: Women’s Experiences in Burlesque Excerpt 1 (Introductory Chapter)

Dance Macabre: Women’s Experiences in Burlesque  Excerpt 2 (Research Methods Chapter)


Considering Theory

Something I just thought about with respect to the puzzle of “what theory to use”:

Atkinson etc. talk about things people do in everyday life, and the overall idea seems to be that the people who are doing this are participating in it in an attempt to be or become normal/normative.  People who would read this as a “political” activity see “odd/disfigured” bodies as an attempt to critique norms, and at least has feminist potential – they’re trying to set themselves apart from norms, self-consciously.


My issue is, what’s actually happening here? It seems like maybe there’s potential to be “revolutionary” on stage, and maybe such an analysis is more applicable to an act that is obviously a performance, like burlesque.  The “feminist” or “post-structuralist” reading might be a useful way to interpret the behavior of people who use invoke those discourses to explain what they’re doing (so they might be doing drag, or performances that are obviously political).  However, it’s doubtful that everyone in the subculture is doing so. Moreover, in everyday lives, both “political” and “apolitical” burlesque artists are probably are trying to appeal to a sense of what is “normative” locally (in which case I am better off reading behaviour that only seems “different” the way Atkinson does – as a way of establishing one’s place within the “figuration.)”


I have an empathy for a politicized reading, particularly a feminist one. I want to think that there is something feminist about what these women are doing, and at times they do talk about themselves in feminist terms (the “heckling” incident inspired a conversation about what women “ought” to be doing that was overtly feminist).  But it’s difficult to say one way or the other – on the one hand, women may see this as empowering – on the other, being on stage may cause a woman to self-regulate to a greater degree (I note the tendency for women to put themselves on a diet/exercise regime around the time they start performing).


So my research question is really something like, “is a politicized reading necessarily the best way to approach the topic of women in burlesque? Under what circumstances might a politicized/post-structuralist/feminist reading apply?”

Dance Macabre: Performances of Gender and Sexuality within Sub-cultural Spaces

Proposed Topic of Study

I am interested in studying “burlesque” subcultures to determine why local women are engaging in a practice that can alternatively be read as a “simplistic display of the flesh” or a form of social critique (Nally, 2009, p. 622).  Arguably, the local burlesque subculture does both; it is exemplified by groups such as the Fake Moustache Drag King Troupe, and those involved in the annual variety show “Demonika’s Symphony of Horrors.” Although some burlesque troupes perform gender in more or less “straightforward” ways, others take up the art form’s historical use of satire, “performing” gender in ironic, “campy,” exaggerated, or “humorous” ways to critique gender norms (Nally, 2009, pp. 622 – 3,631 – 3). I am interested in understanding why local women are engaging in these practices. Do they offer a form of “freedom” from conventional femininity, allowing women to embrace “composite” sexualities and explore their desires (as some theorists claim)(Nally, 2009, p. 628)? What are these performances intended to signify within these subcultures, and how are they taken up by those outside the subculture (ie, by friends outside of these subcultures, co-workers, authority figures)? How do women negotiate their sexualized “subculture” identities with other social roles? Although “burlesque” groups in the UK and United States have received some attention from academics (and feminists), this project presents an opportunity to understand how local women are engaging with broader cultural trends.

Working Literature Review

From the literature I have reviewed so far, it seems like the topic of “sexualized self-presentations” (typified in neo-burlesque, as well as websites such as Suicide Girls, God’s Girls, etc) tend to be studied from a “post-structuralist feminist” and/or “critical race feminist” perspective (Magnet, 2007, p. 577; Nally, 2009, p. 622). Many of these perspectives discuss possibilities for agency within these “cultural” practices, yet express anxiety about the “libratory” potential of such practices when “subculture identities” have become commodified, and “meaning-making” of women’s identity work is an intersubjective process (and thus not entirely within individual women’s purview) (Magnet, 2007, p. 593, Nally, 2006, pl 621; Pitts, 2003, p. 73). On the other hand, the study of “body modification” itself is not always explicitly framed in “feminist” or “post-structuralist” terms; some approaches to the study of body modification “de-emphasize” these “politicized” readings, to focus on the ways in which “body projects” facilitate and gain meaning within social “figurations” (Atkinson, as cited by Pitts, 2004, pp. 382-3). Of course, there are also interesting perspectives from feminism and queer theory (Pitts, 2003, p. 87). The concept of the “queered body” might provide a useful way to read some of the more “non-heteronormative” gender work I might come across in my study (Pitts, 2003, p. 91).

Preliminary Research Questions:

  • Do these women’s  “performances of femininity” constitute a self-conscious “performance” of gender?
  • What meanings are encoded onto burlesque performers’ gendered, sexualized, and possibly modified bodies?
  • How are these messages “read” by women themselves, other subculture participants, and those outside the subculture?
  • Are these projects/performances indented to “subvert” the male gaze?
  • Are these women engaged in “stylistic,” “discursive” or “behavioural” resistance, or some combination of all of these (LeBlanc, 1999, pp. 17 – 18)?
  • Do they “succeed” in doing so (and what constitutes “success”)?
  • How and why do women engage with “grotesque” representations of femininity (Braunberger, as cited by Magnet, 2007, p. 581)?
  • Do women experience burlesque performances as acts of sexual transgression or eroticism (Pitts, 2003, p. 99)?

Preliminary Methods:

Qualitative Interview:

  • Population: women involved in body modification and burlesque subcultures in Calgary
  • Sampling method: Purposive/judgmental or snowball sampling; ie, “word of mouth”, postings on Facebook and mailing lists ) (Baxter & Babbie, 2004, pp. 134 – 5)
  • Obtain 3 – 5 participants
  • One semi-structured interview with each participant, one hour in length (Baxter & Babbie, 2004, pp. 329 – 330)
  • Topics: how do they define/describe themselves, personal or social significance of body modification, experiences within either the “burlesque” or “body modification” subcultures, gender identification, whether or not gender is important in one’s “embodied practices,” how they feel about their social location (as a “woman,” “performer,” “body modifier” etc.), experiences of sexual harassment/abuse as a result of their “different” identities (presuming they describe themselves as such)
  • Possible questions/prompts:
    • Can you tell me about experiences within (a particular “scene”)? (Baxter & Babbie, 2004, pp. 329 – 330)
    • How did you develop/create (a body modification or performance)?
    • Tell me more about (an experience/concept the participant identified) (Baxter & Babbie, 2004, pp. 329 – 330)
    • What does (a symbol such as an article of clothing, a particular body modification, or an event such as a performance) mean to you?
    • How do you think women typically experience (a scene, body modification, performance)?
    • Do you think women tend to experience sex/sexuality differently than men? In what ways?

Working Bibliography

Baxter, L.A., & Babbie, E. (2004). The Basics of Communication Research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Leblanc, L. (1999). Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys Subculture. Piscastaway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Magnet, S. (2007). Feminist Sexualities, Race, and the Internet: An Investigation of New Media and Society, 9(4), 577 – 602. Doi: 10.1177/1461444807080326

Nally, C. (2009). Grrrly Hurly Burly: Neo-Burlesque and the Performance of Gender. Textual Practice, 23(4), 621 – 643. Doi: 10.1080/09502360903000554

Pitts, V.L. & Atkinson, M. (2004). Review Symposium: Health and Body Modification. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Heath, Illness, and Medicine, 8(3), 373 – 386. Doi: 10.1177/1363459304043479

Pitts, V.L. (2003). In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ch. 11 – Education

Social institution:  Longstanding pattern of social relationships, which is perpatuated and maintained because we have some sort of common agreement within socity about what is important and how best to achieve these goals; ie, education functions to fulfill certain goals that hold society together.

Education – formal learning that takes place in settings that are primarily designed to deliver courses, learning activities, or credentials in an organized way (ie, there is a ciriculum, streaming of courses, enterance requrements, etc).

Informal learning – lifelong learning that takes place outside of formal education systems; occurs when people take it upon themselves to learn about certain phenomena/proceses.

Socialization – includes formal learning (schooling/education) and informal learning; people learn these things in order to understand and negotiate the social world.

1. a) How has formal education (schooling) become a central social institution (describe changes and continuities in formal ed. in Can.)?

How has education in Canada changed over the years?


Most Canadians spend some amount of time in formal schooling, which wasn’t always the case:  Schooling was more sporadic and short-term in the nineteeth century – kids entered at later age and left earlier (by early teens).

-Poor economic conditions contributed to transence and poverty; these factors in turn affected attendance:  In the nineteen century, parents were more likely to send kids to school when times were good. When crops were failing and parents needed help at home, they’d pull kids out of school.

-Regional differences in access to education:  Some communities didn’t have schools or qualified teachers



-Schools are now larger and more sophisticated architecturally and technologically

-Students exposed to a greater diversity of teachers, subject matter, work projects

-Students display and experience a greater degree of cultural and personal variation

-Increased access to learning opportunities


-Educational activities are still very regimented, superivised, and distinct from other social activities

-Regional variation in educational quality and opportunities still exists, as well as differential access depending on what social category you fall into

-What are the dimensions/features of educational growth in Canada?

-Institutionalized fairly recently: Formal educational systems have become increasingly common in Canada – ie, it’s an institution now

->Expanded in Canada after WW2 – in the early ’50s over half of the Canadian pop didn’t have more than a gr. 9 ed; now we’re one of the most hightly ed. pops in the world (nearly half of Canadians now have post-secondary)

->Most of this growth happened in 60s-70s, co-inciding with baby boom

-Factors promoting growth of formal ed/instutitionalization of ed:

->Education increasingly available in Canada

->More common for members of the Canadian public to attain some type of credentials as a result.

->Immigrants allowed into Canada more likley to have high credentials

Economic aspect:

-Formal education wasn’t seen as being so significant, nor were opportunities as widely available because most occupations didn’t require formal ed in the  late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Now employers are far more likely to seek out credentials when selecting candidates, and credentials are now requred for some field – hence the growth of post-secondary.

Function of schools have changed: It wasn’t the credentials that were necessarily important;  ppl relied on schools to help kids develop skills and knowledge, but schools also served to socialize and look after kids.

-Focus on teachers as good role models, discipine, rote learning

-Belief in the importance of formal education: Instutionalization/growth patterns are connected to public opinion – Canadians generally believe that formal ecducation contibutes to individual personal growth and promotes social need for knowlege, innovation, credentials.

-Transition from a private to a public good:

-In 19th and Early 20th Centuries, education was delivered informally, through parents, businesses and churches – now the state is responsible for ed in Canada

-Difference between formal ed and other “sites” of learning:

-More flexible and comprehensive cirruiculum than that offered by parents, churches, and businesses

Centralization/consolidation of smaller schools into larger schools/districts

-1900’s – schools starting to be consolidated into larger schools and school districts

-1940s-60s – smaller schools/districts increasingly amalgamated into larger ones

1990s – number of school boards in each province continues to decline; decreasing numbers of public schools (ed is increasingly available in other forms; increased enrollment is being “absorbed” within larger schools and by over-crowding smaller ones)

life-cycle changes – we spend more of our lives in the institution:

-People start school earlier and attend school for longer – more common to continue into post-secondary and re-enter schooling later in life

Post-secondary is more common; content oriented towards uni credit instead of vocational training:

-Used to focus on specific vocational training; community colleges in particular made university credit courses more accessible

-What are challenges associated with this growth?

-Public ed required taxation, which some resisted

Regional variation in the availablity of qualified teachers and quality of education (increased specialization wrt to teacher’s credentials and curriculum in urban areas)

-Demand for schooling sometimes exceeded schools’ capacity to provided teachers, textbooks, facilities

-Disputes between school boards and community members re: curriculum

b) Why has formal ed become a central social institution (explain changes in formal ed. in Can.)?

Demographic changes, particularly during the 1960’s – 1970’s, ie, the baby boom – increased number of school aged children after ww2

Changing views re: the purpose of education: No longer seen as a primarily a “moral/social training” ground and a place to put kids when parents were busy; Now education is seen as an activity that promotes the personal as well as the social good (ie, social needs for knowledge, innovation, credentials)

Economic changes – transition from an economy based on primary and secondary industries to a “knowlege economy.” Credentials are required to obtain job opportunities, even in fields that didn’t always require these  (the class exampe of the aluminum manufacturing plant that came to require a college diploma even though that wasn’t required for the job comes to mind – too many applicants, which is linked to demographic changes).

A successful claims-making process: Public schools played the socialization card, convincing the public that formal ed was the best way to promote individual and social goals

Consolidation/amalgamation facilitated by proliferation of transportation networks, as well as financial/administrative difficulties in smaller schools/districts

Availablity/content of post-secondary caused by labour market changes, demographic changes, expansion of community college system

2) What are forms of lifelong learning beyond formal education (ie, how do ppl learn informally)?

lifelong learning – Occurs when people engage in education (formally or informally) beyond limits mandated by the state (you usually “have to” attend b/t ages 5-18 in most provinces, but many ppl go for longer than that)

New Economy/knowlege-based economy –

-Characterized by an increasing reliance on IT and scientific advancements in all spheres of social life.

->Learning activities are relevant throughout all stages of the lifecycle, in whether in your career (through formal ed and on the job training, testing products/services, processing info, building individual’s capacity to manage/process/integrate info) and personal life (significance of informal learning)

->Capacity to learn, integrate, apply, and transfer knowlege is central to the personal and professional oppotunities available to a person.

Informal learning – Occurs when groups/individuals take it upon themselves to acquire new knowlege that they can apply to work, personal, or community circumstances – ie, teaching yourself how to play poker

->More common among highly literate segments of the population

->More common among those with formal ed

globalization – Flow of goods/services, media, info, labour b/g countries around the globe; controlled and co-ordinated by private-sector interests unconstrained by state regulations

->formal ed and lifelong learning are associated with globalization; these factors are associated with economic development, which is an objective championed by the private interests that run the globalization show (seen in modernization/development projects).

->formal ed is associated with a high SofL; where formal ed is limited incidence of disease, unemployment, crime, etc increases

3) What are theoretical perspectives socis use to explain educational systems, practices, outcomes?

Conflict: How does education perpetuate power differentials and inequalities within society?

Structural Functionalism: Focuses on education’s contribution to social needs and economic goals.

Symbolic Interactionism/microsociology: How do interactions between those who participate in educational processes shape/change these processes?

Feminist: How is education gendered? Can talk about differential access, how formal education perpetuates “masucline” values such as competition, how men and women have different experiences within classrooms.

4) What is the relationship between education and social inequality?

There is a strong relationship between SES and educatinal attainment. Formal education is a significant determinant of the social and economic opportunities available to certain groups, depending on gender, race/eth, and class. It is becoming increasingly important factor in the experiences of members of each group.

5. a) How does the relationship between educational systems and participants shape education (ie, content of ed, what it means to be educated) and educational outcomes?

b) How does the social context in which ed inst. operate shape educational processes and outcomes?

6) What are major educational issues right now? Outline the debates and evaluate merits/weaknesses of each position.

digital divide

Sociology Chapter Nine Review

What do I remember from the last chapter I read in the soci text?

What is “the family”?

Family is a social institution:

-pattern of social relationships

-endures over time

-result from an enduring set of ideas about what is important in society and how best to accomplish these goals

1) How do families vary?

a) Family is defined in various ways (ie, who makes up the family differs)

-ie, Nuclear family, census family, extended family, modified extended family, household

b) Patterns of relationships within the family vary

-ie, monogamy or polygyny (polygamy or polyandry)

c) Legal relationships differ

-ie, arranged vs. free-choice marriage

d) Patterns of Authority and descent vary

-authority: patriarchal or matriarchal/matrifocal

-descent: patrilineal, matrilinal, bilateral

2) How have sociologists conceputalized/explained family patterns?

-Political Ecnonomy approach, structural functionalist, social constructionist/symbolic interactionist, feminist, post-modern

3) What are some issues within Canadian Families?

-Wife abuse, divorce/repartnering, affordable childcare, assisted conception/low fertility, sharing domestic work.

4) What are demographic trends in Canada?

The details on each topic follow.

1) Variations in family life:

What do most definitions of “the family” assume?

-members of a family are related

-they share a dwelling

-“family” is determined by legal obligations members have towards one another, not by bonds of care or services provided to one another

-usually defined by the (hetero)sexual relationship between a couple

What did academics used to assume?

-Families were related by blood/adoption/marriage

-Parents maintained a sexually exlusive relationship with one another

-shared a dwelling/earnings/other resources

-Parents reproduced and raised kids together

-Family members protected one another (see S/F perspective – many of these assumptions are evident here)

a) The Definitions:

nuclear family: Parents and children sharing a dwelling

Census family: Consists of a married couples  sharing a dwelling, and co-habiting couples living together for over one year. May or may not have never-married children. Also includes lone-parents with never-married children, and was changed in 2006 to include same-sex couples (and NMC’s).

household: Individuals sharing a dwelling, not necessarily related.

Extended family: Several generations of adult siblings, thier spouses, and kids.  They share resources and a dwelling.

Modified extended family: An extended family that lives in close proximity to one another and rely on one another for economic and social support, ie, like extended family but they don’t share a house.

-Most Canadians live in nuclear families, but culture (and related historical experiences, immigrant status, SES, traditions, and religious beliefs) also determines family form – ie, both extended families and mod. EF’s are common among immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia; EF’s are common among First Nations, Southern European immigrants, and some Asians.

-Contrary to what sociologists used to believe (ie, Parsons and Bales) nuclear families have always been more common among North Americans and most Europeans;  extended families were not more prevalent prior to industrialization (which contradicts one of the Political Economist’s main assumptions).

b) Patterns of relationships within the family vary

-ie, monogamy or polygyny (polygamy or polyandry)

Polygyny – multiple spouses.

Polygamy (multiple wives) is the most common form of polygyny. It allows many children to be born into one family, which is useful if the family is the main unit of economic production. In societies that use patrilineal descent, this also ensures that resources stay within the father’s line; it is difficult to determine where the wife, children, and associated resources goes if no one knows who the father is (which is a probable occurance within polyandrous unions, ie, if a woman had many husbands).

-Polygamy is assoicated with patriarchy (families are structured to suit men’s interests) and wide age gaps between husbands and wives.

-First wives gain status when he takes other wives – she acts as a supervisor.

Polyandry: a woman has many husbands – they are usually all brothers. This keeps a parcel of land intact (if the men went off and started thier own families with different wives, the land would have to be divided amongst them).

-Polyandry is thus not necessarily associated with matriarchy/matrifocal authority systems.

c) Legal relationships differ, ie different marriage systems:


Assumes: Family status (including potential hiers, solidarity), alliances between families, family’s reputation, resources available to a family, and parental wisdom forms the basis for legal union.

Related terms:

dowry – Price paid BY the bride’s family TO the grooms family.

-So a dowry consists of furnishings, money, servants, land, etc. that come “with” the bride, which allows her to attract a better husband (ie, wealthier, more respected, better family).  It also secures alliances between families, and it may help the couple establish thier new household (if it doesn’t become property of the groom’s family).

-Can also provide bride with some material security in case of a difficult/abusive marriage, but this depends on how much control women have over resources in the society.

bride price – Price paid TO the bride’s family FROM the groom’s family.

-So it’s something the groom’s family gives to the bride’s in “exchange” for their daughter (nice and sexist, that).  Bride is worth more if she’s pretty and/or comes from a wealthy/respected family.

Common among: Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants

Free choice:

Assumes:  Love/sexual attraction between a couple forms the basis of legal obligations.

Related terms/ideas:

Dowry tradition is reflected in wedding reception, honeymoon (I suppose the bride’s family is expected to pay for these things?)

Bride price reflected in ring exchange – he “buys her love,” with gold and diamonds, as it were.

d) Patterns of Authority and descent vary

Systems of authority:


Assumes:  Men have more power than women.  Eldest male is the head of the household, controls resources, and is the “public face” of the family.

Examples:  Seen everywhere.


Assumes: Women have more power than men.

Related terms: In matrifocal societies, wives/mothers have control over resources, contribute to family income, and a say in important decisions.

Examples: New Guinea – Tchambuli people

Systems of descent:

Patrilinial: Married couple belongs to groom’s family and lives with/near them. Property is passed from elder males to younger males.  Kids inherit dad’s last name.

Matrilinal: Married couple belongs to bride’s family and lives with/near them. I assume that property is passed through the mother’s line, and kids can inherit mom’s last name.  Sociologists prolly haven’t worked out the specifics because it is doubtful that a “pure” matrilinial descent system exists anywhere (I’d have to double check anthropologicial record to be sure of that though).

Bilocal: Married couple has social obligations towards both bride’s and groom’s families.  Couple can live where-ever they want (usually on their own, away from either family), can inherit from both sides, and take either mom’s or dad’s last name (still usually dad’s).

2) Theories that attempt to explain how/why certain families come into being, and what changes family structures:

Political Economy:

Assumes:  One’s relationship to the economic cycles and power structures informs how they think (ideas/beliefs) and behave (interpersonal relationships);  so family structure is related to economic and political conditions.

Change:  Is caused by conflict between groups in society  -ie b/t those who control production and make laws, and those who don’t

Thinkers:  Marx & Engels

Examples:  Nuclear family arose as a result of urbanization/industrialization.  Family was changed from a “unit of production” to a “unit of consumption” as it became cheaper to manufacture goods in factories (located in cities) than within the family unity (on a farm).  Patriarchal authority diminished as men moved into factories, and an employer’s requirements (not the patriarch) determined how “family” and “personal” time was structured. The apparent divide between the “public” and “private” spheres (and current gendered division of labour and associated ideologies of masculinity and femininity) was not caused by traits inherent to genders, but only “seemed” natural due to the way work is structured under industrial capitalism.


Assumes: Societal rules and expecations create various family structures/systems, not economic changes or personal choice.

Change:  Doensn’t adequatly explain social change because it assumes that people/groups act in certain ways in order to conform to societal expecations, implying a stagnant society.  Difference is framed in terms of deviance, which the larger group attempts to regulate.

Thinkers:  Parsons & Bales

Examples:  Family functions to socialize children and meet personal needs of family members.

Related terminology:   

Institutional approach – the idea that this entity exists as a result of some common agreement on what is good for society and how best to fulfil the social good, and these ideas do not really change over time

heirarchy of generations – the idea that older generations socialize younger generations into socially necessary roles

Instrumental role – husband deals with outside world and provides

Expressive role –Wife supports relationships and nurtures family members

Social Constructionist/Symbolic Interactionist:

Assumes:  Niether economic/political conditions nor unconciously-held expecations inform family structure. Instead, we create certain families by interacting with one another AND EXERTING WILL.  Ideas we hold about what a family inform family structure; we actively construct our social world as we think about it and interact with others.

Change: occurs when ideas and perceptions change through interaction and reflection

Thinkers:  Cooley,  Mead, Blumer

Examples: How people’s percetptions and definitions of a situation (ie, a conflict) changes the situation itself

Related terminology:

verbal and non-verbal cues – speech, symbols, body language, etc.

Self – an entity that is capable of subjectivity – can create itself and reflect on the world;  and objectivity – can be the object of it’s own thought and that of others

anticipatory socialization – explicit, implicit learning in preparation for a future role



Power dynamics between men and women influence family structure. These play out at a micro and macro level; at the macro level this occurs through a gendered division of work that places women in the home/in caregiver roles.

-Can take a structural approach (ie, the political enonomist’s perpective with a “gendered” lens) or a social constructionist/SI approach (ie, looking at how interpersonal relationships, verbal and non-verbal comms, and meanings are gendered)

Change:  Ideas about how social change occurs depends on what side of the “structure/agency debate” your feminist thinker falls.

Examples: Structural feminists might focus on unequal/gendered division of labour within families; interpretive feminists might focus on women’s different moral characteristics or ways of relating/speaking

Related terminology: gendered division of labour, gender


Assumes:  Truth is relative and depends on your social location (ie, gender, race, culture, historical time period)



Related terminology:

3) Issues facing Canadian Families:

Sharing domestic work

wife abuse

assisted conception

affordable childcare


4) Demographic Trends

Who Am I?

 In class it was said that writing in and of itself will generate ideas. In an effort to undermine the mutually-reinforcing, lifelong habit of perfectionism and procrastination, I am going to do this reflection assignment right now. This gets it out of the way, and a time deadline (forty minutes) keeps me from agonizing over it.

 I had thought that more specific requirements for this assignment would have been on blackboard or the course outline somewhere; these were nowhere to be found.  This seems to be par for course in this class; I anticipate it will challenge another deeply-ingrained habit; ie, trying to figure everything out on my own. I am going to assume then, that this assignment is exactly as informal as was indicated in class; if I cannot trust my perceptions to impose a reliable form of order on the world, I hope I can trust my comprehension of what was said in the lecture today.

 I haven’t said much about myself in the past few paragraphs, but I have probably given a few things away indirectly. It would be reasonable to assume that I am a very cautious, meticulous, untrusting person from what I’ve written so far; that assumption would be correct. Recent and historical life experiences have revealed the lies in many assumptions of order; as a result, I test the waters in many life situations and have a difficult time trusting any decision deeply enough to commit to it wholeheartedly. This hasn’t worked very well, and I am attempting to develop coping strategies that will, to borrow the phrase used in class, maximize my outcomes in life. Many of these strategies involve re-training my mind; right now these efforts are oriented towards reducing the anxiety that forms the background noise to my consciousness and makes every activity seem like a life-or-death situation.  The emotional and intellectual paralysis that results from this hasn’t facilitated success in life, and I would like that to change. This is actually one of the many reasons I am choosing to stay in this class; there may be an intimidating 65-page paper due by the end of it, but I anticipate that the process will help me develop the skills I need to manage perfectionism and procrastination more sucessfully.

So, I am a perfectionist, cautious, and anxious. Perhaps I could say something that would make me seem somewhat endearing as well. It was suggested in class that many of us have extraordinary talents and exciting life experiences. I suppose I could say that I do; I have another life outside of academia in which I perform in burlesque troupes, dance, and model. Over the past summer, I learned how to teach yoga; I feel extremely fortunate to be paid to do something I love after working the gamut of part-time student jobs for well over a decade. After a ten-year hiatus, I am teaching myself how to play music again.  I used to consider myself a fairly creative person, and over the years I have let many of those talents atrophy. My only outlet now is writing; because that is associated with academia I have to fight a great deal of emotional baggage when I write.  Since I have fewer expectations of other forms of expression, these activities help me put that “inside world” out there more effectively than writing does sometimes.

 To define myself by my work, I am taking a major in Women’s Studies and a minor in Political Science.  This is a worthwhile pursuit in my mind because I have always been interested social justice issues; I am interested in learning about the ways in which social structures and power dynamics within society shape our identities, the opportunities we have in life, and how we experience, understand, and explain the world.  Consequently, this is also why I am interested in social psychology.  It might not fit “exactly” but it will (hopefully) explain the relationship between who we are on an internal level and what exists (or what we think exists) in the external world. I am particularly interested using some of my journaling in this class as a forum for an interdisciplinary conversation. I know some of the schools of thought I have encountered through Women’s Studies and in courses on the sociology of gender tend to take issue with some of the perspectives that inform mainstream psychology (particularly evolutionary psychology). I am interested in learning about the “other side,” if only to enrich my understanding of my own discipline’s perspective (and even to modify or change my ideas in light of new information).I found some of the comments made in the first lecture somewhat amusing, simply because I haven’t made it through to latter portions of my undergraduate degree under the delusion that I am an individual. In many ways, I am likely typical of someone my gender and socio-economic class background. However, recent life experiences have inspired me to look a bit deeper into “who I am” to draw out which aspects of my identity and behaviors are simply reactions to my social environment, how much of that is really “me,” or if it is even possible to sort out the difference between the two. I am willing to take on the challenges of this course (65-page paper and all) in order to find out a bit more what “human agency” really means.