Against the background of recent methodological debates pitting ethnography against interviewing, this paper offers a defense of the latter and argues for methodological pluralism and pragmatism and against methodological tribalism. Drawing on our own work and on other sources, we discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of interviewing. We argue that concern over whether attitudes correspond to behavior is an overly narrow and misguided question. Instead we offer that we should instead consider what interviewing and other data gathering techniques are best suited for. In our own work, we suggest, we have used somewhat unusual interviewing techniques to reveal how institutional systems and the construction of social categories, boundaries, and status hierarchies organize social experience. We also point to new methodological challenges, particularly concerning the incorporation of historical and institutional dimensions into interview-based studies. We finally describe fruitful directions for future research, which may result in methodological advances while bringing together the strengths of various data collection techniques.
This article elaborates the social ontology and methodology of carnal sociology as a distinctive mode of social inquiry eschewing the spectatorial posture to grasp action-in-the-making, in the wake of debates triggered by my apprenticeship-based study of boxing as a plebeian bodily craft. First I critique the notions of (dualist) agent, (externalist) structure, and (mentalist) knowledge prevalent in the contemporary social sciences and sketch an alternative conception of the social animal, not just as wielder of symbols, but as sensate, suffering, skilled, sedimented, and situated creature of flesh and blood. I spotlight the primacy of embodied practical knowledge arising out of and continuously enmeshed in webs of action and consider what modes of inquiry are suited to deploying and mining this incarnate conception of the agent. I argue that enactive ethnography, the brand of immersive fieldwork based on "performing the phenomenon," is a fruitful path toward capturing the cognitive, conative, and cathectic schemata (habitus) that generate the practices and underlie the cosmos under investigation. But it takes social spunk and persistence to reap the rewards of "observant participation" and achieve social competency (as distinct from empirical saturation). In closing, I return to Bourdieu's dialogue with Pascal to consider the special difficulty and urgency of capturing the "spirit of acuteness" that animates such competency but vanishes from normal sociological accounts.
While it is possible to define ANT in a series of abstract bullet points to do so is to miss most of the point. Instead it explores and theorises the world through rich case studies. This means that, like symbolic interactionism, for ANT words are never enough: you need to practice it. In this paper we work empirically, drawing on an ANT-inflected ethnography of Norwegian salmon farming, and also dialogically. We do this because we want to show that for ANT theory is created, recreated, explored and tinkered with in particular research practices. Indeed, ANT is probably best understood as a sensibility, a set of empirical interferences in the world, a worldly practice, or a lively craft that cherishes the slow processes of knowing rather than immediately seeking results or closure. In particular it is sensible to materiality, relationality, heterogeneity, and process. At its best it understands itself as working in the world to create analytical contexts; but also on the world, to articulate and press particular contexts and their politics. As a part of this it explores the contingencies of power, generating tools to undo the inevitability of that power, while working on the assumption that other and better worlds are possible.
This paper places Latour’s (2004) concept of “body talk” alongside literature on symbolic boundaries to consider how the symbolic judgements and evaluations that comprise body talk frame the impact of structural pressures on the body. Drawing from individual and focus group interviews with 36 first-generation Arab Canadian immigrant women, this study shows that the female body, and practices of feeding and exercising it, are sites where structural inequalities embedded in the immigration process are materially experienced, resisted, and managed. In constructing boundaries between Arab women’s bodies in Canada and the Arab world alongside those of so-called “Canadian” women, we argue that women communicate their immigration and settlement struggles and recoup dignity otherwise compromised in the migration process—ultimately allowing them to frame their struggles as products of their moral integrity as immigrant wives and mothers. Through these findings, this paper demonstrates the role of body talk in framing the impact of structural pressures on the body, while simultaneously highlighting the centrality of boundary work to that framing.
The Good News Businessmen’s Brotherhood (GNBB) is a Christian organization with evangelical commitments, charismatic practices, and whose members insist that their organization is secular. How are we to understand such a Christian claim to secularity? Members of GNBB draw on the multiple overlapping meanings of the secular in order to reach otherwise inaccessible places and audiences, but they also do so in an attempt to disavow conventional religious-secular distinctions. The GNBB claim to secularity is, therefore, an everyday life instantiation of two kinds of recent scholarly criticism: the secular injunction to separate religion from politics is a practical impossibility; and the apparent neutrality of secularism’s public/private and church/world distinctions masks an underlying affinity with a Protestant Christian worldview. Good News brothers’ everyday intertwining of faith and politics mirrors these scholarly critiques, with the exception that, where the latter finds grounds for criticism, the former find practical possibilities for building a project.
Work organizations are commonly studied as sites that produce and reproduce inequality. But we know much less about how organizations promote equality. This article examines efforts to broaden access to power, opportunity, and resources in Hotel Bauen, a worker-recuperated business that was converted from a privately-owned company into a worker-run cooperative. Drawing on extensive ethnographic and archival research, I analyze efforts to redesign and redefine work through collective decision-making, job rotation, and pay equity. The article concludes by identifying three mechanisms of equality—inclusion, opportunity distribution, and symbolic leveling—to theorize the relational production of workplace equality and complement the near-exclusive focus on inequality and its effects.
Previous studies of immigrant families have reported consistent findings concerning the positive effects of employed wives’ financial contributions and Western gender ideologies on women’s bargaining power in the family. This paper revisits this thesis. Data presented in this article are derived from a larger project based on 45 life-history interviews with Taiwanese immigrant women in a Midwest urban region. Findings suggest that women’s employment does not serve as a key factor that shapes spousal power relations in Taiwanese immigrant families. Rather, gendered work-family boundaries and individuals’ abilities construct main rationales in women’s interpretations of their division of labor at home and their dominance in financial management. None of the women interviewed consider Western culture as an inspiration for egalitarian gender ideology. In contrast, Confucian culture is often used by husbands and mothers-in-law to demand traditional gender practice, which is further reinforced and surveilled by the Taiwanese ethnic community. Therefore, the interconnections of work, family, money, culture, and power and their interactive effects on spousal relations are more complicated than previously suggested. This study also reveals varied forms of patriarchal bargaining in Taiwanese immigrant families. Married women tend to accommodate patriarchy in their housework assignment, but actively bargain in their management of family finances and persistence to seek employment. The findings suggest that heterogeneity within the research sample, household structure, and individuals’ subjectivities must be examined to understand the nuances and complexity of women’s gender strategies and bargaining power in immigration families. Theoretical implications of the study are also discussed.
Researchers have explored the role that information and communication technologies (ICTs) play in mediating both religious practice and intergenerational family relationships. Few, however, have paid close attention to the interplay between ICTs and spiritual dimensions of intimacies. Drawing from an ethnographic case of parents and their young adult children from various countries who walk the Camino de Santiago together in northwest Spain, we examine family members’ reflexive use of ICTs in ways that enhance intimacy. Our analysis of in-depth interviews, field observations, and online travel journals illustrates how digital technologies can be disciplined and activated to reinforce intimacy constructed through the sharing of spiritual practice. In particular, we highlight family strategies to limit ICT use on pilgrimage to mark tech-free sacred time, as well as their embracing of digital technologies as ritual tools in the construction of visual narratives of shared spiritual practice. Our analysis adds a micro relational case to the larger literature on intimacies and contemporary media forces, furthering the conceptualization of media and digital technologies as an integral force in the pursuit of transcendent interpersonal experiences.
This article examines the influence of geographic location on trans men’s desire to pass in the southeastern United States. Through 51 in-depth interviews with trans men, I find three key reasons for passing in the South: 1) self-confidence and psychological health; 2) the privileges of being a man; and 3) safety and fear of violence. These motives for passing are amplified in the South, where transphobic and homophobic incidences of discrimination and fear are elevated. The trans men in this study linked their increased desire to pass in the South to conservative religion, racism, and increased fear of violence. Although passing was important for all but one respondent, some of the men also discussed problems with the concept of passing and the negative consequences of passing as cis men.
Service programs and other short-term work experiences have become much more common for young adults after college graduation. Emerging adulthood has become a widespread explanation for this phenomenon, namely that a new life stage has arisen between adolescence and young adulthood in which emerging adults prioritize identity exploration. However, using in-depth interviews with juniors and seniors at an elite university, I find that this explanation overlooks two critical social constraints that young adults face during this time period that are shaped by their social class: work values and labor market conditions. Rather than all students seeking to participate in service programs in order to engage in identity exploration, I find four orientations towards service programs, shaped by social class background, current sense of financial stability, and work values: 1) participating as a backup plan to boost résumés, 2) seeking meaningful short-term work during an unsettled stage of life, 3) seeking opportunities to enact identity projects around helping others, and 4) using the programs to facilitate long-term career entry. Thus, I argue that the rise of short-term work experiences after college graduation should not be viewed as young adults engaging in a distinct life course phase prior to entry into full adulthood. Instead, the rise of these programs should be seen as a response to students’ social class backgrounds and the various labor market constraints each group faces.
The criminalization of Muslims—framing an Islamic religious identity as a problem to be solved using state crime control logic—is undeniably in process in the United States. Local, state, and federal statutes target Muslims for surveillance and exclusion, and media sources depict Muslims as synonymous with terrorism, as others have shown. This paper analyzes the public’s role in the criminalization of Islam, which I call “cr-Islamization.” Drawing on in-depth, qualitative interviews in a major Southwest city during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, I detail how the majority of 144 politically, racially, and economically diverse interviewees talk about Muslims as a potential “racial threat,” using “fear of crime” language indicative of the mass incarceration era. This suggests that criminalization theory should be central to sociological studies of Muslims in the contemporary United States, and that criminalization rhetoric remains powerful, despite mainstream enthusiasm for criminal justice reform. I argue that criminalization’s power might reside in its ability to mutate in the “post-racial” era. The mechanisms supporting crimmigration, the criminalization of black Americans, and cr-Islamization are related but not identical. Muslims are religiously and racially subjugated, but more economically secure compared to other criminalized groups. This paper’s findings should prompt scholars to re-examine the relationships between racialization, criminalization, religious subjugation, and economic exploitation in the twenty-first century United States.
This article aims to consider conceptions of the Brazilian conditional cash transfer Bolsa Família Program as elaborated by both those responsible for its implementation and its beneficiaries in Northeast Brazil. Most innovative in this study is the adoption of the program’s municipal social workers, who are responsible for the implementation of the program, as the main observation point, by conceptualizing them as street-level bureaucrats. The research is based on ethnographic fieldwork that took place between 2013 and 2015, for a total of six months, combined with in-depth interviews with the program’s beneficiaries in a middle-sized municipality of the State of Ceará. Social workers enjoy a range of discretion that directly affects the distribution of benefits. Their efforts to better apply what they see as scarce resources are embedded in their representations of poverty—separating “deserving” from “undeserving” poor—generating insecurity among beneficiaries. By doing so, beneficiaries’ understanding of the program as a social right is compromised, which is reinforced by a fragile legal status enjoyed by the Bolsa Família and ambiguous bureaucratic procedures.
Researchers of street life and homelessness in the United States continue to acknowledge the persistence of nomadism among the young and homeless, yet we know little about the role that travel plays in their lives or the meanings and motivations tied to this contemporary experience. Drawing on in-depth interviews, we compare homeless youth and young adults that travel with those that do not. Building on theories of social networks, social capital, stigma, and identity we explore demographic, behavioral, and philosophical similarities and differences between the two groups to understand the rationale for travel. For the young and homeless today, travel adds to the reserve of strategies to build and maintain network affiliations, acquire resources, and manage stigma and identity as they relate to the hobo and transient traditions of the past. However, when compared to their non-traveling homeless counterparts, travelers face new challenges that offset the purported benefits derived from being mobile.
The unstable, even precarious labor conditions of many frontline service jobs in the United States should render them undesirable to upwardly mobile young workers. Yet for many, these types of jobs complement, rather than infringe upon, their broader lifestyles. Drawing on six years of ethnographic research in upscale Los Angeles restaurants, I show how front-of-the-house service workers navigate portfolio lives—sustained though shifting arrangements of labor and leisure that blur the boundaries between the two. I describe how these workers, who are mostly young, white, and college educated, leverage both personal resources and workplace structures to weave their restaurant jobs into their larger webs of activities. I close by discussing how the concept of portfolio lives extends theories of boundaryless work careers to the urban service economy, though these dynamic assemblages remain subject to class and race inequalities.
This article examines a recent controversy over the Catholic Church’s registration of Cordoba’s iconic Mosque-Cathedral as official Church property in 2006. In analyzing the controversy, we take up broader theoretical questions regarding the politicization and contestation of national cultural heritage, and the sociology of public controversy more generally. Drawing upon Alexander’s work on civil discourse and practice, we focus on the importance of performative aspects of civic debate. We argue that effective performances of “publicness” involving the conscientious suppression of visible signs of particularity, especially those related to Islam, have been critical to the successful politicization of the Mosque-Cathedral’s ownership and management. Politicization, however, has not produced any significant movement toward consensual resolution. In explaining this failure, we offer a more nuanced account of the conditions that limit the potential for consensus and “civil repair” as an outcome of public controversy in deeply divided societies. Our findings also have implications for understanding the growing role of international institutions and declarations in shaping the contours of localized controversies surrounding national cultural heritage.
Based on 17 months of ethnography at three different online dating agencies in southern China, this article examines the life histories and decision-making processes of women who seek marriages with Western men. Most women in my study are middle-aged (over 40), divorced, and come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. I explore how emerging inequalities brought on by China’s transition from state socialism toward a global market economy shaped their shared desires to seek out-migration via marriage. My work is set against the backdrop of China’s economic ascendance on the world stage alongside a relative decline of the West. I compare how Chinese women from diverse class backgrounds envision a relatively homogenous group of men: Western men in agriculture, manufacturing, and small business sectors who feel they have been left behind by globalization. My results show that China’s uneven development has fractured the local marriage migration market into different niche sectors, where each sector is occupied by women who envision Western men and the relative decline of the West differently due to differences in their own social positions and access to resources in China. Their social positions are, in turn, shaped by the intersectionality of many factors including age, generation, parental status, income, etc., which I explore in depth in this article. This study illuminates the importance of adopting a more intersectional approach to analyses of migration as our world becomes increasingly decentered, diversified, and yet polarized.
Since its medicalization, resolutions around infertility have shifted. Adoption, once considered the natural solution to infertility, is now deemed secondary to medical treatments. Beyond noting this preferential order, little is known about the relationship between medicalized infertility and adoption. To explore this relationship, this study examines why adoption is seen as second best and how the medical institution contributes to that image. Through interviews with 88 infertile individuals in the U.S., the findings not only reveal the ideological foundations of adoption and medicine, but also the power of such foundations. Individuals draw on notions of biological privilege and pronatalism to inform their understandings of adoption and medicalized infertility—adoption remains a stigmatized process for failing to adhere to such prescriptions, yet medicine is revered for maintaining them. In exploring how individuals and the medical institution use these ideas to inform their decision-making and practice, the findings ultimately demonstrate the falsehood of those images.