Social inequality topic 2B

Methological issues- how has gender been reaserched and how successful has this been?

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Intro

Much reaserch about gender has been carried out by feminists. They have a very particular veiwpoint about methodology which is in some ways contradictory with their position as structuralists, whilst structuralists were traditionally alined with positivist techniques feminists frequently use interpretavist and ethnographic techniques.

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Feminist methodology

Abbot and Wallace-Feminists from all perspectives have made a number of criticisms of sociology based on the veiw that:

  • sociology has mainly been concerned with reaserch on men and by implication with theories and concepts that apply primaraly to mens lives.
  • Reaserch findings based on all male samples are generalised to the whole of the population
  • areas and issues of concern to women are frequently overlooked and seen as unimportant
  • When they are included they are often presented in a distorted and steryotypical way
  • When sex and gender are included in reaserch they tend to be just 'added on' ignoring the extent to which the explanatory theories used are ones which have justified the subordination and exploitation of women.
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Feminist methodology: examples

  • Smart- the sociology of crime and deviance was until the late 70's almost exculsively the sociology of male crime and deviance
  • Merton, Cohen, Miller and Cloward and Ohlin- almost completely ignored women yet assumed that they applied to criminals in general and not just male criminals.
  • Oakley- points out housework was seen as too unimportant to be studied by social scientists until her own work
  • Stanworth- criticises Goldthorps class scheme for generally allocating wives to classes based on their husands ocupation
  • parsons and talcot- criticised for their biologically based explanations of female behaviour
  • Arber, Dale and Gillbert- accuse class classification schemes as being based on male jobs and unable usefully to differentiate different types of female employment
  • Eichler- terms such as men and mankind have often been used to refer to people in general.
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Feminist methodology: evaluation

  • These sorts of criticisms of malestream sociology have been very influential and widely accepted
  • The numbers of social studys of women have proliferated and its now much less common for sociologists to generalise about people of both sexes on the basis of male samples.
  • The social study of women by women for women has become much more common place.
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Oakley- the masculine model of interveiwing

Oakley aruges theres a feminist way of conducting interveiws which is superior to a more dominant masculine model of reaserch.

  • By studying the instructions to several maethodology books which descirbe the techniques of interveiwing Oakley is able to discover the main features of the masculine aproach to interveiwing.
  • She says they argue the'proper' aproach to interveiwing apeals to such values as objectivity,detachment, hierachy and science as an important cultural activity which takes precedence over peoples more individual concerns.
  • Although they can be friendly in order to establish some minimum rapport interveiwers must maintain their distance to avoid becoming too involved with respondants. Any emotional involvment between interveiwer and respondant must be avoided at all costs.
  • The interveiwees must be maniuplated as "objects of study/ sources of data" and must allways have a passive role and never become active in shaping the interveiw. If the interveewee asks the interveiwer questions the interveiwer shouldn't awnser and should make it clear that this isn't apropriate.
  • Interveiwing of this type stresses the importance of producing relaiable data that can be repeated and checked. Intervewwers must aviod expressing any opinion of their own as to do so will influence the awnsers of the respondance and lead to bias in the reaserch.
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Feminist approach to interviewing

  • Oakly draws upon her own reaserch where she conducted 178 intervews most women being interviewed twice before the birth of their child and twice afterwards. In some cases Oakley was present at the birth. On average most women were interveiwed for more than 9 hours.
  • Found the women often wanted to ask her questions instead of avoiding awnsering them she decided to awnser their questions as openly and honestly as she could, some were about her and her reaserch others about childbirth and childcare. In some cases the women were anxious about some aspects of childbirth and often had failed to gain satisfactroy awnsers from medical staff. Oakley found it impossible to refuse to awnser their questions. She was asking a great deal of the intervewees at a difficult time in their lives and it was only reasonable that she should give something back in return.
  • She decided to make her reaserch more collaborative instead of looking at the women as passive repondants she wanted them to become her collaborators adn friends. It was often the intervewees who took the initiative to develope the relationship further. Many expressed an interest inher reaserch and wanted to help her further and so rantg her up with key peices of information. While she was at their houses she helped them with childcare and housework if they needed it and disscused her own experience of childbirth and offered advice with particular problems.
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Feminst approach to interveiwing 2

  • Her objectives in adopting such an approach werent to just give some help to the women and avoid exploiting the in return for their participation. She also beleived it improved the quality of her reaserch and allowed her to get closer to the subjective veiwpoints of the women being studied. It also played some role in trying to change and improve the experience of becoming a mother for the women involved conclusing that interveiwing that breaks down the barrers between reaserchers and their subjects is preferable to masculine "scientific reaserch"
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Evaluation of Oakley

Her reaserch has been influential among feminists and is widely quotes.

  • DeVault- beleives that feminist reaserch should minimise harm to those being reaserched and the control exercised by the reasercher and should produce work of value to women which can be used to improve their lives. However by advising and councilling the women she may have effected their opinions and thus imposed her values upon the reaserch which positivists amy have criticised her for.
  • Since she first wrote about her reaserch methods shes become critical of sociologists moving too far away from scientific positivist methodologies and beleives that quantiative methods give sociologists a better chance of gaining access to the prestigue, funding and influence of goverment policy.
  • Ray Pawson- argues feminist reaserchers are unlikely to give much credence to womens veiws and its natural for women to do the housework and men to be dominant. However hard they try some women may stick to the beleifs that fems beleive is 'patriachal ideology' in such cases reaserchers may find themselves going against what their respondants beleive or alternitavely having to accept veiws that they beleive are unture.
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Key study: Skeggs- formulation of class and gender

Context

  • This study was written in the context of feminist sociology and concerns the ethnographic study of working class women. Many of the issues raised Skeggs felt personally as she draws on her own aspirational working class background to undersatand the issues facing her study group.
  • Marxism faded and right wing and postmodernist politics took its place in recent years and Skeggs makes a strong case for the return of analysis of class into debates about gender in this study. However this isn't a marxist acount as it draws on a huge range of references including postmodern understandings.
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Methods.

  • Very little direct description of the methods used. This is a form of ethnography that draws on the feminist veiw that all understandings are relative, information about the sampliing is minimal. Skeggs points out that though she was reaserching her group for some time the aim of her study changed as her own interests and concerns developed.
  • Her reaserch was longditudinal and lasted 12 years including 3 years of full time participant observation.
  • The sample consisted of 83 white women from the north west (Lankashire)
  • It began when many of the women enrolled in a careing course at collage and follows them through their subsequent lives. The focus is on how the women create a sense of self and the part that social class and the search for respectability plays in female working class identity. She supports her observations with biographies of the women, information about the local and natiuonal economy and interveiws with the women, the parents, friends and teachers. She also lived in a community of the women she studied with whome she shared many life experiences. (she herslef left school at 16 and returned to education later)
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Methods continued.

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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Key findings

  • She suggests that low class position often means exclusion and is often defined by what one sdoes not have rather than what one has.
  • Many of the women rejected a working class identitty and aspired to respectability. Those who have respectability are not concerned about it or its existence working class people however are seen as dangerous and threatening and so respectability becomes desirable for them becuase they wish to see themselves as good and as valued as those who have respecability. Many of the studies findings illustrate the ways in which working class women attempt to define and create respecability for themselves.
  • Many women who had left school with few qualifications and veiwed themselves as educational faluires, at the time of the study was conducted wa sone of exeptionally high unemployment alothough northern women have a tradition of working in factories and domestic work the women had enrolled in the careing courses as a way of training in smoething they already had experience of and which htey felt they had a chance of success.
  • They werent negative towards school and saw it as a social experience if not an educational one
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Key findings continued.

  • The caring courses had low status and were feminised nonetheless the women earnt dignity as they rejected academic subjects as impractical, here they studied something they knew and fully underetood as women. Their identity as carers and their work placements in homes, hospitals and nursries gave them dignity through the respectability of having a purpose and through a sense of being vlaues by the people they served. The course however required girls to evaluate their own family life and practice in a way that was critical to their prior knowledge.
  • The courses encouraged girls into a self idnetity as a careing person and this involved huge amounts of selflessness and guilt when they failed to meet their own perceptions of how things should be. This opened them up to exploitayion. Their desire for respectability left them oppen to a critical self examination in which they would always feel themselves failing.
  • Many of them rejected the perception that they were working class acociating it with poverty and shame, poor jobs and unemployment, roughness and being common.
  • The women had enrolled on the careing course to aviod being seen as working class, to gain employment and to distance themselves from negative perceptions of working class status. To a degree they denied class divisions. Furthermore not only did the women reject class
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Key findings continued.

  • divisions they also didn't fit neatly into the pattern of the registrar generals account of class which took class status from the employment status of the nearest male relative. Their mothers contributed to the household income and were sometimes the main breadwinner.
  • The desire to reject working class ststus led women to a continuous programme of self improvement that often focussed on their bodies. Dress and cosmetics fromed an important part of the ocntrol and maintanance of a respectable image. Homes were a "site" for creating a sense of identity and the women commented on their furnishings and homes in such a way as to display knowledge of middle class tastes and felt the need to apoligise for their inability to afford its trappings.
  • They disliked the middle class saying they were snobish, badly dressed and mean with money. Although the women rejected class it was key to their lives as in their rejection of working class identity and their investing of so much time and effort in clothing and material goods, leisure products and their homes.
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Key findings continued.

  • divisions they also didn't fit neatly into the pattern of the registrar generals account of class which took class status from the employment status of the nearest male relative. Their mothers contributed to the household income and were sometimes the main breadwinner.
  • The desire to reject working class ststus led women to a continuous programme of self improvement that often focussed on their bodies. Dress and cosmetics fromed an important part of the ocntrol and maintanance of a respectable image. Homes were a "site" for creating a sense of identity and the women commented on their furnishings and homes in such a way as to display knowledge of middle class tastes and felt the need to apoligise for their inability to afford its trappings.
  • They disliked the middle class saying they were snobish, badly dressed and mean with money. Although the women rejected class it was key to their lives as in their rejection of working class identity and their investing of so much time and effort in clothing and material goods, leisure products and their homes.
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Key findings continued.

  • Women have to learn to recognise themselves as being feminine to develope an idea of what being feminine is. One of the strongest social constructions with a very long histroical pedigree is the notion of "a lady" a lady is white, middle class, pasive and frail and dependent. This is something which women should aim at as it embodies respectability. However working class women are rebust and sexual the women of her study gained pleasure and status from looking good and mediating between appearing attractive and tarty or looking feminine and ****. There are dangers for women who womehow get it wrong of being too concerned with apearence or "letting themselves go". They are rejected by their peer groups.
  • Desireability is an important part of the meaning of being female but to be respectable means to subside sexually. Its a fine and difficult distinction so women will spend more time investing in their apearence in some situations than others. The function of men then is to give women the confidence of knowing that their desired rather than actually being desired. Undesirable women with no steady relationships are made to feel unvalued in a society that places much esteme on hetrosexual partnerships and marriage.
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

key findings continued.

  • Women often feel shame on sexuality and their own bodies which are seen as "not respectable". Their course in careing took marriage and hetrosexuality for granted. Indeed one examination asked students to define the difficulties of choosing a marriage partner and expected responces to see reference to the difficulties of mixed ethnic marriage. There are clear sexist and ract assumptions in this "knoledge" . To be unmarried represents a form of faluire, flirtation offers a route to power and control for pretty girls- particularaly with male teachers and tis an exchange thats understood. However the girls also resented the passivity and would indulge in group humiliations of male teahcers making personal and direct references to female anatomy. Some women would distance themselves from such crudity in an effort to maintain respectability but neverthe less enjoyed the exchange. Some women had a real fear of being seen as a tart and extended this expression to sexual pleasure. Curiously one woman spent time in gay bars assessing and apraising the sexual attractivnes sof the men an activity which wouldnt be respectable in a straight bar where there would be the danger of sexual aproach. The women tended to reject feminist as irelevent to them and equated it with anti **** and lesbianism even when expressing disatisfaction in their lives.
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Key findings continued.

some rejected it as being 'anti men'. It had the most meaning for the girl who had to remove herslef from an abusive and unpleasent relationship to protect ehrself and her son.

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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Important note

  • This book is a part of a wider sequence of work that Skeggs has undertaken. More than that it looks at the constuction of feninine identity in a way that offers a contrast to masculinst thinking.
  • Some post mods suggrst gender is becoming optional
  • This study provides a counter to this argument showing that gender and class are significant in peoples lives and are an important part of the way in which women define their own identities. Moreover the wc female identity is forged in a struggle for respectability. This is a long running battle for recognition as being of value as in individual agasinst a culture and education system that traps them in a sense of guilt and worthlessness.
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Evaluation.

  • Adresses the issue of what its like to be a woman in daily life in a way which retrives the debate from the literate middle classes who are less bound by the demands of being femine than the working class.
  • We kearn nmore about Skeggs and her journey than the women she studied. Given the idea was to study the experience of ordinary women it would have been interesting to learn more about them. Their daily routines, families and relationships seem distant and individualities fail to develop despite the fact their observations on life are witty and clever the focus is on class as a whole not the sample.
  • Analysis takes priority over quotatios so theres little exploration of the representativeness of the quotations offered.
  • She discusses friday and saturday nights out where the women dress well and share jokes and companionship leading to a discussion that the veiw femininity is a bourgoisie concept that is distant from the reality of working class femininity. However it would have been interesting to know how frequenlty they went out, the social arangments and partners attitudes towards it.The daily mundane element is lost in the detail
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Key study:Skeggs- Formulation of class and gender

Evaluation continued.

  • There are pther gaps it would have been interesting to know more about male/ female relationships for instance.
  • Nonetheless the writer has a clear respect and affection for these women without over identifying with tem or making them hero's or victims of the narrative.
  • She has given an academic reality to women who are frequently invisible and disregarded in studies and offered an insight into their lives and thought. Its a shame that very few of them will have access to this form of sociological narrative, rooted as it is in the discourse and concerns of academics.
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Key study: Theil- construction workers

Method

  • Spent a year carrying out overt participant observation by working with builders also carried out 32 open ended recorded interveiws and noted mmany more informal conversations in feild notes

Sample

  • Aged 16-69 with a diverse ethnioc mic in cluding irish, indian white british and scottish.
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Key study: Theil- construction workers

Findings

  • The builders didn't see themselves as working class but saw their lives in terms of limited choices. For example structural problems had caused the irish workers initially to migrate to london i.e povery and African carpenters had migrated due to Xenophobic nationalism in the 70's thus thiels stusy sees there working class men as having little economic or educational capital to relly on, instead using their phyusical (phyical strength) and social (social netweorks) capital instead.This meant that they had fewer choices than the middle class men (managers) and recognised this difference but not in overtly class concious language.
  • Of particular importance was their physical capital and these men acted in ways which exagerated their physicality "their bodies were their source of power, knowledge, status and income" . They used their bodies to gain money, settle disputes and gain ststus and were even refered to as "bodies" by managers who talked baout how many people would be needed for a job.
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Key study:Theil - construction workers

  • Findings continued
  • The men used hierarchial languagr to differentiate themselves from one anotyher "painters are the scum of the earch". Ethnic groups tended to center on certain jobs such as all carpenters being indian, laboureres irish and managers white english.
  • The builders didn't reject the class baed hierachy but used it to position themselves above others who they saw as inferior. For example the unemployed (scroungers) and some ethnic minoritories and imigrant groups (racist language as used) they competed for limited resources and accepted class existed although the hierachies in the work place werent ephasised.
  • This meant that the managers did not differentiate themselves significantly and were not seen by the builders as oppressive or explitative. Most builders wanted to move uo the social class system.
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