Is gender stifling our scientific imaginations?

This week, we showcase Conceiving Masculinity author Liberty Walther Barnes’ recent TEDx talk at Cambridge University. 

Is Gender a Liquid or a Solid?

In sociology we like to say that gender is “flexible and fluid,” because gender norms change over time and across cultures.  Men and women can choose to enact, perform, and express masculinity and femininity in a variety of ways regardless of their sex chromosomes or anatomy.  Just as liquids take the shape of their containers, we can shape our gender identities to fit us.

While personal gender identities and expressions are malleable, the gender system that structures our social world has proven able to withstand some pretty impressive seismic shifts. As sociologists Cecilia Ridgeway and Shelley Correll explain, the gender system is a large apparatus that determines who gets access to resources and opportunities. The gender system – invisible yet ubiquitous – is solidly grounded in very traditional gender beliefs, which prevent the system from being toppled. Because gender beliefs are pervasive and durable, we might say gender is a solid.

Conceiving MasculinityMost of us agree that gender stereotypes are silly. We laugh when people break the “rules” of gender in TV sit-coms and films. In our everyday lives we feel free to break the rules of gender to accommodate our personal preferences and life goals. In other words, we appreciate the fluidity of gender.

While researching male infertility for my book, Conceiving Masculinity, I discovered that gender is a more powerful social category than most of us realize. Just how solid is gender? As I explain in my TEDx talk, when gender and science come crashing together, something’s gotta give. And it’s not gender.

Gender, it turns out, is a stronger, more solid, and more powerful social category than science. Whodathunkit? Science is rigorous and robust, defined by hard facts and well researched, evidence-based truths, right? If we had to categorize science as a liquid or a solid, we would certainly call it a solid.

However, gender beliefs shape science. How we think about men and women, masculinity and femininity, channels the direction of scientific thought and shapes medical practices. Sometimes society has a hard time accepting scientific truths when they are glaring us in the face, because we cling to gender ideology. Rather than reconsider our gender beliefs, we bend science to accommodate our timeworn gender beliefs.

What the “Writers Matter” Approach is all About

In this blog entry, Deborah Yost, Robert Vogel, and Kimberly Lewinski, co-authors of Empowering Young Writers discuss their successful program that helps improve students’ skills in the context of personal growth.

Why do many students lack motivation to write or perfect their writing in school? Could it be that school-based writing tasks are boring, unrelated to young adolescents’ personal experiences, and focused on the five-paragraph structure learned over and over in school from elementary to high school? We know that kids write all of the time through blogs, twitter, and texts. How can we captivate their motivation to learn how to write and write well in school?

MAP_WM_AT_KINGThe Writers Matter approach provides a unique and innovative opportunity for elementary, middle, and lower high school students to learn critical writing skills using journal writing as a vehicle for self-expression. Through writing about their lives, the students find an effective emotional outlet at a time in their lives when personal expression and having their voices heard is so important. Writers Matter is a motivational strategy that encourages students to share personal stories with each other, listen to other voices, and develop effective personal relationships with peers to provide more tolerance and appreciation of diversity. The approach, integrated into existing content areas of the curriculum, helps teachers meet the Common Core Standards for literacy.

Empowering Young Writers_smThe Empowering Young Writers book recently published by Temple University Press provides the reader with practical ways to implement Writers Matter beginning with major themes such as “I am From…” “Teen Challenges…”“Family Matters…” connect to an adolescent desire to express who they are, as they search for identity. As students begin to learn about themselves and others we further explore other themes such as “Living Life…” and “Dreams, Aspirations, and the Future….” to help the students move into a more global perspective of who they are in this world and what they can do to change it.  We have found that using intriguing, adolescent-based themes leads to a strong interest in writing as students typically want to voice their opinions and explore their and others’ identities.

Our research has shown that when students become authors and share their work with peers, a more trusting classroom climate emerges, which enhances peer-peer and teacher-student relationships. When relationships among teachers and students in a classroom setting increase, positive classroom management and greater achievement among students occurs. Integrating writing into content areas based on themes, helps students to see how their lives connect to the curriculum as they engage in multiple perspective taking that breaks down cultural barriers and “cliques” that are part of the adolescent experience. Research focused on writing skill development using the PA System of School Assessment Writing Rubric has also demonstrated writing achievement gains over time. This is likely due to increased motivation to write focused on personal experiences, and focus on process writing techniques.

A major focus of this approach is the use of “Writers Workshops” to improve writing skills through multiple drafts, conferences, and mini-lessons designed to individualize instruction to meet the needs of students based on individual progress. Students are empowered to improve writing since the focus is on becoming authentic writers based on personal topics connected to their daily lives. As authors, students write for a purpose in much the same way as authors typically by sharing their work in a public forum or writing for a school or class publication.

Monthly teacher interactive professional development sessions are held at La Salle University throughout the school year to support teachers’ use of this approach and to allow opportunities for sharing.

Publications – Empowering Young Writers recently published by Temple University Press  and Voices of Teens: Writers Matter (2008), with Michael Galbraith that was published by the National Middle School Association.  Since 2005, over 7000 students have participated from over 20 schools in the Philadelphia region. This year (2013-2014) over 1100 students, 16 teachers, and 9 schools are involved.  Additionally, we are piloting an after-school Writers Matter Program at Wagner Middle School utilizing university mentors to provide additional writing support.

Website – www.lasalle.edu/writersmatter 

We would like to hear your views on motivating students to write and improve their writing skills.

Josh feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day

This week in North Philly Notes, Yasemin Besen-Cassino, author of Consuming Work, writes about youth labor, an important element of our modern economy.

On this bitterly cold day, Josh, like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to work. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy traffic, he arrived at the coffee shop where he works part-time only—to do a double shift, carry heavy loads of garbage in the cold, and deal with a hectic day of selling hot beverages to shivering customers.

Even though his school was in session, he chose to come to work instead of going to class at the local college, where he is getting his degree in theater and humanities. When I asked him why he chose his work over his studies, he told me they need him here: “Nobody notices when I am not [in class].” Unlike at school, they notice him at work. He feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day.

Consuming Work_smJosh, like many other teenagers, works “part-time” while still in school, but do not be fooled by what he calls “part-time” work. “Part-time” sounds like a few hours of work scattered throughout the week, but he was at the coffee shop every day of the past week. Even on the days when he was not scheduled to work, he stopped by to hang out with his friends. He did not just stand idly by; he also helped the friends who were working. He is one of many young people who fold sweaters in clothing stores, pour our morning coffees, wait on us in restaurants, and serve us in many service and retail sector jobs. Yet Josh differs greatly from our traditional conceptions of young workers. For most of us, the terms “child labor” or “youth labor” evoke images of unventilated sweatshops in the developing world or the chimney sweeps of Dickens novels. Yet contrary to popular belief, not only is youth labor widespread in the United States; it is an important element of our modern economy.

With his spiky blond hair, fashionable clothes, and brand-new cell phone, Josh looks nothing like the chimney sweeps of Dickens novels, nor does he fit the conventional definition of a service or retail worker in our contemporary economy. Typical service and retail sector jobs in which young people are employed are “bad jobs”: routine jobs with low wages, part-time hours, few or no benefits, no autonomy, and limited opportunities for advancement. Normally, we would assume the teenagers, who take these bad jobs are the poor teenagers, who desperately need these jobs for survival—to put themselves through school or perhaps help their families. What is really surprising is, only in America teenagers, who work tend to be more affluent.

Affluent teenagers say they work to meet new people in the suburbs and hang out with their friends without the supervision of adults. They also work because they want to be associated with cooler brands. Even if the pay is better and the working conditions are nicer many teens don’t want to work for mom and pop places, they want to work for cooler brands—especially ones where they are avid consumers of. “If I shop there, I’ll work there” is a motto for many young people.

Many companies actively seek out these young and affluent workers. These young, attractive workers, who are already devoted fans of their products “look good and sound right.” They become ideal faces of the products they are selling. Besides, they do not care about the low wages, limited hours and the odd schedule.

As affluent young people want to work for social reasons or for the brand prestige, the ones who really need these part-time jobs are often shut out of the system. As “looking good and sounding right” become important components of service sector jobs, many young people from the inner cities have trouble finding jobs, or settle for fast-food positions.

The NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work — Non-Fiction

Temple University Press congratulates Envisioning Emancipation authors Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer for being named Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction at the NAACP Image Awards February 21.

Envisioning Emancipation_smBarbara Krauthamer, who attended the ceremony, gave the following acceptance speech:

Thank you to the NAACP and to everybody. It is wonderful to be here.  My co-author Dr. Deborah Willis could not be here, but I know that she joins me in thanking all of you. We’d like to thank our editor Janet Francendese and everybody at Temple University Press; all of the librarians and archivists who helped us.  When we dreamed of this book ten years ago we wanted to create a collective family album of photographs that showed African American survival, dignity and beauty, even through the most trying times of slavery and the triumph of emancipation and freedom.  Thank you, and we wanted to dedicate this to our mothers and to those who made a way when there was no way so we could be here today.  Thank you.
And here are some images from the NAACP Image Awards ceremony:

BK screen BK statue photo 2 BK with award

 

Don’t Just Read Our Authors, Watch Them!

This week, we showcase a quartet of videos featuring Temple University Press authors talking about their books. Natalie Byfield revists the case of the Central Park Five, in her new book, Savage Portrayals; Tom Foster discusses Sex and the Founding Fathers; Karla Erickson talks about How We Die Now, and Dean Bartoli Smith answers Cullen Little’s questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the topic of his book,  Never Easy, Never Pretty.

Natalie Byfield, Savage Portrayals

From her perspective as a black, female reporter for the New York Daily News during the Central Park Five trial, Natalie Byfield shows how the media’s racialized coverage of the Central Park Jogger case influenced the conviction of five young minority men accused of “wilding” and affected the American juvenile justice system.  She recalls her experiences here:

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this video, Foster explains why we are so interested in the private lives of public historical figures, and how the desire to know the “real” Founders has influenced the stories we tell and remember.  

Karla Erickson, How We Die Now

Here, Karla Erickson explains what prompted her to write about death and dying and the myths she debunks about “the longevity revolution.”  

Dean Bartoli Smith, Never Easy, Never Pretty

The author sits down with sports writer Cullen Little to discuss the Ravens and more.   

Riot Grrrl’s Second Act

In this blog entry, Kate Eichhorn, author of The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order, writes about the renewed interest in Riot Grrrl music, celebrities, and histories over the past year and asks: Is it about more than nostalgia?

Carrie Brownstein, riot grrrl musician turned sketch comedian (most recently, of Portlandia fame), frequently finds herself fielding interviewer’s questions about a Sleater Kinney reunion. Over the years, Brownstein has carefully evaded the question, neither ruling it out nor confirming rumors of her former band—arguably the most successful act to come out of the West Coast Riot Grrrl music scene in the 1990s—reuniting. Brownstein’s evasion of the reunion question is not surprising. In the temporally-sensitive world of popular music, any band that “comes back” is a band who has already gone away.

Whether or not Brownstein and her former bandmates reunite in 2014, the timing couldn’t be better. Over the past twelve months, Riot Grrrl music, celebrities and histories have received a lot of airplay, screen time and ink. In March, filmmaker Sini Anderson released The Punk Singer, a biopic about Kathleen Hanna featuring new and archival footage of Hanna and her former bandmates, friends and allies. A few months later, Lisa Darms, Senior Archivist at NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections, published The Riot Grrrl Collection. A museum-catalog-style volume focused on NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection, the book offers fans and researchers a glimpse into some of the ‘zines, posters and printed ephemera that helped to define the Riot Grrrl movement. Then, in September, Hanna released Run Fast with her new band sporting an old name, The Julie Ruin (the band’s name references one of Hanna’s earlier solo projects).

Eichorn.inddBut why Riot Grrrl again and why now? Is it, as some critics have suggested, simply about nostalgia?

Nostalgia has a bad reputation. Nostalgia is apparently not only a clever attempt to sell back to us the cultural detritus of past eras but a desire for something that never existed. And as it turns out, nostalgia is equally reviled by cultural critics (see Fredric Jameson for starters) and musicians. On the sixth track of Sleater Kinney’s final album, The Woods (released in 2005), the band belts out the following cynical lyrics,

You come around looking 1984
You’re such a bore, 1984
Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore
It’s better than before

So has Riot Grrrl simply come around again looking, in this case, 1994?

When recently asked if she ever feels nostalgic for the 1990s, Brownstein explained, “Nostalgia is a very tricky thing. I always find that nostalgia is sort of like memory without the pain. And that’s why it feels so good to kind of bask in that, and I think it can be deceptively comforting” (Stereogum, January 6, 2014). When asked a similar question in a interview about her new album, however, Hanna was somewhat more optimistic: “If nostalgia is how people find things, that’s fine… And if people want to think it was an awesome time and they want to thank me and want to say how great I am, I’ll take it because there weren’t a lot of people thanking me and telling me how great I am at the time in a public forum” (Self-titled, December 2, 2013). What Brownstein’s and Hanna’s comments bring into relief is the complex ways in which nostalgia operates, especially when both music and politics are on the table.

When Riot Grrrl emerged in the early 1990s, many bands were still peddling their own audio cassettes off the end of the stage. The sound and style was raw and often inflected by a DIY philosophy. By the time Sleater Kinney released their final album in 2005, however, the sound and style of the bands associated with the Riot Grrrl scene had changed drastically, and many of the movement’s musicians were gaining increased recognition from mainstream music critics. If there is a demand for at least some of these musicians and bands to get back in stage, it is not necessarily driven by nostalgia for what Riot Grrrl was but rather for the music scene it eventually became.

Similarly, while interest in Anderson’s biopic or the Riot Grrrl Collection may be at least partially driven by nostalgia, there is no reason to conclude that enthusiasm for these projects is purely about a longing for another place and time. Sifting through files in the Riot Grrrl Collection, one quickly realizes that riot grrrls were not only creating a new sound and style, they were actively mining second wave feminist archives for inspiration, ideas, tactics and imagery. From clip art taken directly out of 1970s radical feminist newspapers and newsletters to song lyrics pilfered from earlier women-fronted bands, Riot Grrrl was also a savvy, sometimes ironic but respectful recycling and rethinking of past forms of feminist activism and women’s cultural production.

For all these reasons, as fans, both old and new, line up to watch The Punk Singer and dream up excuses to visit the Riot Grrrl Collection, rather than assume they are merely nostalgic for something they miss—or simply missed–perhaps we should hold open the possibility of that Riot Grrrl’s “second act” will serve as a stage for the next feminist cultural revolution.

Temple University Press staff selects the Books of the Year to give, get, and read

As we wish everyone Happy Holidays and happy reading, the staff at Temple University Press selects the memorable titles of 2013.

Micah Kleit, Executive Editor

The Press published a bounty of riches this year, from Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer’s Envisioning Emancipation to Dean Bartoli Smith’s Never Easy, Never Pretty, an exciting account of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl win. But the book I’d most like to give as a gift is Philipp H. Lepenies’ Art, Politics, and Development: How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World. It’s the kind of work that represents, to me at least, the best of what university presses do in advancing scholarship.Art, Politics, and Development_sm

I’d love it if someone bought me a copy of Boris Kachka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  It’s just the kind of inside-publishing book that reminds me of why I love what I do!

The book I’m planning to read over the holiday — in preparation for the “sequel” that’s due early this Spring –  is Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists.  It’s one of his earliest novels, and I’m excited that he’s returning to this story and continuing it, since it speaks (like so much of his work) powerfully to the ideas of what makes up the American character.

2013 was a great year for big novels from emerging and established writers, and the very best I read this year had to be Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, a book that was at once really economical in style but epic in scope: about 70s radicals, motorcycles, Italy and America.  I don’t think I’m the only one who thought of Don DeLillo when reading Kushner’s wonderful novel.

Sara Cohen, Rights and Contracts Manager

G-000865-20111017.jpgThe best TUP book to give?   My loved one are going to have to wait until Presidents’ Day to receive their Christmas gifts so that I can give them Thomas Foster’s Sex and the Founding Fathers.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays? The first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. A friend sent me Zadie Smith’s New York Review of Books piece “Man vs. Corpse,” which cites My Struggle, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since.  I also hope to receive a vegan cookbook (maybe Veganomicon)  so that I can start the new year off with good dietary intentions.

The book I plan to read over the break?  I’m supposed to be reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn with my husband and one of our friends.  I’m going to spend the break trying to catch up to the two of them.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

MoreMuralsEarlier this year I read and very much enjoyed Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. It’s engrossing historical fiction about what it might have been like to live in the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union, and to feel real optimism about the country’s future even while beginning to see cracks that would spread and destroy it.
I look forward to reading and giving Temple University Press’s Philadelphia murals books Philadelphia Murals and the Stories they Tell, and  More Philadelphia Murals the the Stories They Tell, as a new volume, Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30,  is forthcoming in 2014. I’m from Philadelphia but only recently moved back, after thirteen years in New York, to come on board at the Press. The terrific Mural Arts Program expanded a great deal while I was gone, and I’m excited to catch up with it through these beautiful books.

Charles Ault, Production Director

This year I read A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which is now on my all-time favorites list. Ruth Ozeki is a 40-ish Buddhist priest who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver, Canada. Her book features a writer named Ruth who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver. She discovers the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl in a waterproofed bundle that washes up on the shore. The girl is contemplating suicide and has decided to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, as her last act. We (the reader) read pieces of the diary as Ruth does and then we read Ruth’s reaction to the same thing we just read (and reacted to). But I haven’t mentioned the Zen philosophy and ritual that pervades the story. Or the discussion of quantum mechanics. Or contemporary Japanese pornography….

Joan Vidal, Production Manager

Justifiable Conduct_smThe best TUP book to give: If you have a group of friends who like to read and discuss books, I recommend Erich Goode’s Justifiable Conduct . Filled with examples from the memoirs of public figures who seek absolution for their transgressions, this book is sure to spark conversation.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays: I would like to have The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, by Theodor Geisel.

The book I plan to read over the break: Next on my list is Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Don't Call Me_smThe best book I read this year?  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. This year’s National Book Award fiction winner is the wild story about John Brown and his raid, narrated by a freed slave boy masquerading as a girl.  It’s hilarious.

The best TUP book to give? Don’t Call Me Inspirational, Harilyn Rousso’s compelling memoir.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

The book I plan to read over the break: I will finish Edwidge Dandicat’s
Claire of the Sea Light and begin Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck.

Brian Murray, Marketing Assistant

How We DIe Now_smThe best TUP book to give this season is Never Easy, Never Pretty by Dean Bartoli Smith. My father has been a Ravens fan his whole life and reminisces about going to games with his father when he was growing up. This book is perfect for him and perfect for any other Ravens’ fan or football fan in general.
The book I plan to read over break is Karla Erickson’s  How We Die Now. What better way to celebrate the holidays with my immediate family and older relatives than to evaluate my own mortality and the cost of living longer? Also a perfect gift for my great Aunt Lenora who will be celebrating her 82nd birthday this January.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

WHAT I WILL GIVE: Music, Style, and Aging by Andy Bennett. Because holidays should be filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll and reading, right? Music Style Aging_sm

WHAT I WILL READ: Ink, by Sabrina Vourvoulias (one of the co-authors of 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia by the staff of Al Día). Ink looks at immigration issues through multiple lenses and I really admire Vourvoulias’ work.

THE BEST BOOK I READ IN 2013: Night Film, by Marisha Pessl, is not so much a book you read as a story you investigate. It involves a disgraced journalist and a cult filmmaker, whose daughter has died—or possibly been murdered. What’s intriguing is not just the mystery, but the format of the book: an impressive collection of photographs, website downloads, dossiers, missing persons reports, institution assessments, and created articles. It’s a fascinating interactive experience.

WHAT I WANT TO READ: I’m almost ashamed to admit that I really want to read James Franco’s Actors Anonymous.  I’m an unabashed  Francofile and a completist. I’ll also likely see his film adaptation of As I Lay Dying over the break as well.

Remembering and Honoring the Late Adrienne Asch

Adrienne Asch, co-editor with Michelle Fine, of Women with Disabilitiesrecently lost her battle against cancer. In this blog entry, friends and colleagues remember  and honor the late Temple University Press author and disability activist.

“Adrienne Asch was brilliant, funny, and provocative. In the early 1970s, just after abortion rights were secured, she would turn to me and say, ‘We need to write on disability justice and abortion rights.’ When the families of babies with spina bifida were denying them treatment at birth, she would say to me, ‘We need to write on the autonomy and human rights of these babies.’ With wisdom and reflection, Adrienne dared to enter intellectual and political territory that others (including me) feared. Gifted with an outstanding mind and a compassionate heart, she was patient with my stumbling responses: But what about the consequences of such writings? And might these efforts be used against women’s rights? Or against families’ rights?  Together we navigated politically and ethically treacherous territory, gently carving a space for dialogue and debate, honoring sacred rights to reproductive freedom and to disability justice.  She held my hand as we wandered with pen and paper into territory where varied social justice movements sat in silent tension. This is perhaps just one instance of the myriad ways in which Adrienne transformed my life. women with disabilitiesShe was a friend and a colleague who taught me about music, food, the depths of loyalty, the significance of thinking deeply and dangerously about what is and what could be. We would walk across the street, and strangers would grab her arm and escort her in another direction—all in the name of ‘care.’ She was outraged; for years I would secretly apologize to these strangers after her brusque response.  Soon I too took offense, stopped apologizing, and appreciated the incredible patience she exercised with those of us who are temporarily able bodied, deluded by our own sense of ‘innocence’ and ‘care.’ I miss her much, owe her much, love her always.”—Michelle Fine, coeditor of Women with Disabilities 

“Adrienne was a brilliant thinker on so many topics; women and disability, the area in which I worked most closely with her, was just the tip of the iceberg. But aside from her many professional accomplishments—her resume was 33 pages—she had an extraordinarily large, diverse network of friends, who stayed in close touch with her virtually as well as literally—some traveling from across the country and around the world—during the last months of her life. In the last few weeks, her bedside was crowded with people from all walks of life who shared stories and remembrances, read aloud some of her many writings, organized early music concerts, participated in Shabbat services, and were just there for her.  There are enough Friends of Adrienne, as we were called, to form a small town and definitely a community. Her death is an irreparable loss to all of us who knew her and to so many fields to which she made major contributions—disability rights/studies, women and disability, reproductive rights, bioethics, and numerous others.”—Harilyn Rousso, author of Don’t Call me Inspirational

“I have known Adrienne since I was seventeen, and she a year older.  My relationship to her was a personal, and not a professional one.  She came to my wedding, knew all my children from birth, and developed her own independent relationship with them over the years.  Despite our never living in the same city, and often not the same country, we always stayed in touch with telephone calls and visits, and of course since the advent of email, in that way as well.  I may be one of the few people who did not develop that personal relationship out of a professional one.  She dated my brother in high school, and I think we both assumed she might be my sister-in-law one day.  Instead, we became sisterly without the assistance of my brother, and shared over the many years we have known each other the ups and downs of relationships, and the happinesses and setbacks of life.  We shared a deep love of Judaism, and of Jewish liturgical music.  We went to syngogogue together during our visits, and attended our first Havurah Institute together in 2000, and then continued to attend together over the next few years.  She went on to become a board member of the Institute.  Adrienne never did things half-way.  Of course I have read Adrienne’s books, and some of her many articles, and attended the “famous” Peter Singer debate at Darmouth.  And of course we have talked about the issues for which Adrienne is so well known—prenatal testing, abortion, surrogate motherhood, disability.  But mostly, we lived into some of those issues together in our real lives.   Adrienne also shared in my life as well—she never forgot  single important date in my life, and came to every single important event she could.  She was as rigorous in maintaining the work of our friendship as she was about her professional work.  That we never lost touch, even when I lived in Canada and Israel, is to her credit.  She came to visit me wherever I, and my family, was.  I will miss our long telephone calls, her taking my arm when we walked as a concession to me and my fear of tripping over her cane. I will even miss her despair and anger when she was treated like a child during our travels together.  Her anger, though sometimes uncomfortably sharp, was well-placed.  I attended  the National Federation of the Blind convention this year for the first time, and came to understand why this organization was so important to her.  I had a wonderful time, and learned to dodge hundreds of canes, and laugh about it.  I know Adrienne’s death is a big loss to many professional communities, but for me, I will simply miss her presence, her indominable spirit, her stubbornness, her deep capacity for love.”—Randi Stein, dance/movement therapist, M.A., DMT

 Adrienne Asch’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on November 23, 2013.

(Un)Balancing Family and Work

Joanna Dreby, co-editor (with Tamara Mose Brown) of Family and Work in Everyday Ethnographyabout negotiating the challenges of parenthood and fieldworkexplains how her family life sometimes gets in the way of her work.

I was supposed to write this post last week. But then the pediatrician diagnosed my 11-year-old Temo’s persistent cough as possible pertussis, keeping him home for five days followed by his 7-year-old brother Dylan who began with the cough a few days later. Temo’s antibiotic treatment started first, leaving one extremely bored, rambunctious, 2nd grader home the entire work week.  I juggled Dylan around my class lectures, stack of papers, the conclusion to my book manuscript I keep putting off, and this blog post to write. The laundry didn’t get the memo and do itself either.

Although frustrating, this surely sounds familiar to other working mothers.  It is especially not aberrant a week in the life of the academic parent. I trade stories like these frequently with colleagues, who know this shuffle all too well.  A single parent, others may comment, “I don’t know how you do it.” I do not know the answer.  My children, of course, notice, and at times critique my coping techniques.  At morning drop off when Dylan blows a kiss and yells goodbye saying, “I love you, don’t stress today,” I know he understands. We may smile knowingly at these personal struggles, social scientists so often keep these discussions in the backstage, talked about informally at lunches or events only when we dare to pull back from our professional personas.

These are professional problems, yet those of us who formally analyze social problems, and the links between the private and public spheres, rarely turn the scope of analysis on ourselves.  The black hole seems especially apparent in qualitative field research. Ethnography as a social science research method embraces full involvement in research; ethnographers delve into the days of others to fully understand the rhythms of these lives that may, on the outside, seem so foreign.  Strangely, ethnographers so often remain silent on their own struggles to manage family and work. Until now there have been too few outlets that look squarely—and with an academic gaze—at the problems and successes of the academic parenting.

Family and Work_smMy new book, Family and Work in Everyday Ethnography, which I co-edited with Tamara Brown, brings together essays considering the intersections between parenting and the practice of ethnography.  Leah Schmalzbauer writes of becoming pregnant, and raising two children, amid interviews with immigrant populations, and how becoming a mother altered her own analytical frame, as well as relationships with participants. Chris Bobel faces the tragedy that wracked her personal life and its impact on her professional identity.  Randol Contreras comes to terms with the ways his research on drug robbers in the South Bronx competes with his son’s need for fatherly affection. These and the other essays in this book show how researchers who are also parents meet work and family commitments.  Some reflect on their efforts to keep work separate from their families, while others accept their connections and intersections.  Throughout, the authors grapple with these difficult struggles both with integrity and honesty.  I cannot imagine a challenge more worth the struggle.

Decent Care

In this blog entry, Karla Erickson, author of How We Die Nowwrites about the big step toward decent care taken last month when home health care aides were granted federal protection.

In the late 1990s, a McJob—a low paid job with few future prospects like a fast-food job– was the most common way to earn a living in the United States. Quietly and quickly, the fastest growing job category has shifted to a form of work that is far less visible and, until now, far more precarious: home health aide.

For many of us, the mention of home health aide may bring to mind a bouncy 18-year-old girl in a candy striper uniform, but we would be wrong. Home health aides are overwhelmingly female, overwhelmingly women of color, and are women, not girls, often with families of their own. Up until now they have worked in the shadow economy: a barely regulated space lacking all of the protections of even a McJob. No insurance, no minimum wage, and no overtime protection.

Up until September 17, 2013, this work has been treated as not work, or at least not work that rises to the level of receiving federal protections for workers. This shadowy, off-the- record approach to home health work has had several costs. First, it linked home health aides’ labor to a long history of underpaid, indentured and enslaved labor in the home. Second, it reduced the complex work of caring for dependent adults to something that women—and particularly women of color–are naturally good at doing. Why pay well for work that is intrinsically rewarding? And finally, it was indecent. Failing to offer even the most minimal support and defenses to the people who work to care for the most frail among us is a sorry statement on our society. It devalues care, the home, and frail people in one fell swoop.

How We DIe Now_smSo thanks to a suit brought by Evelyn Coke, home health workers will now have federal rights. Coke worked for most of her life in other people’s houses to make sure their bodies were clean, clothed, safe, and fed, but she never had the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This moves her and her compatriots one step away from servants, and elevates them to the status of a McJob.

This major victory is one more step toward decency. Labor rights activists often work toward dignity, and I’m not sure we are there yet, but decency, yes. Home health aides link back to a tradition of capitalizing on the caring labor of racial minority women in homes by paying poorly or not paying at all for their service and sometimes-loving care. Racial minority women and particularly recent immigrant women have often been employed in informal labor arrangements that included extraordinarily long days, working over holidays, wages well below the minimum wage, and absolutely no access to recourse if they were treated unfairly. This act is one step away from that history.

The work that home health aides do is intimate, but working in the shadow economy has routinely put them in danger of exploitation, injury, and abuse. We talk about decent service, decent care, but until the passage of this law, we have not had the decency as a society to protect or even recognize the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical labor of the people who work in our homes and aide us in being people. Home health aides are the quiet assistants who ready us for living if we are recovering from an injury or need help with the activities of daily living and the management of disease. They ride buses, and drive their own cars to the homes of mainly elderly, but any person who needs some help to get through their day. They spend hours bent over, raising and turning bodies, cleaning sheets, changing clothes, ministering to others. Today they did not get their due. But they did move a giant step closer to being treated decently, which after all, is what we expect and ask from them everyday.

Last month’s decision will be remembered for years to come. It is a huge victory. Here’s hoping we use this moment of decency to honor, and begin to offer support for, the people who care for us during our most vulnerable stages of life.

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