Archive for the ‘gender’ tag

Economics of Ontologies   no comments

Posted at 12:18 am in Economics,Psychology,Sociology

Frontispiece of a paper from Wolff called, 'Ontologica.'Am trying to focus back in on my original assertion about what I was going to study. This was whether there are differences between subjects and their degree of separation from the www, and their primary ontologies. Although I was going to use economics and psychology or perhaps sociology and their attendant ontologies to create a spotlight with which to examine this question, this would still involve looking at the ontologies of a range of other subjects.

I was going to use economics as a focus, as I think it perhaps represents something that might be wrong with how we talk about knowledge in general and reasons for studying, working together, collaborating – ultimately: trust.

A lot of work that we do is tied into research programs that are underwritten by governments as being part of some economic promise. For example, the last Labour government’s education policy was predicated partly on the premise (stemming from research in the 1950s that re-emerged in the 1970s (need to find and cite)) that countries with a more highly educated population tend to do better economically. Thus following Tomlinson’s recommendations, the Diploma system was introduced, only partially, which in fact had the consequence of introducing a system that did the opposite of what he had intended.

This however, being loosely accepted: that the more highly educated a population is, the more wealthy their country, it would seem to follow that it makes sense to make use of emerging technologies to help to educate this population. There is a body of research on this – how technology can be ubiquitous; it can get to the places that teachers can’t, and can help to make learning something that is always ‘on’.

There are actually so many problems with these assertions that it would take a whole other blog post, or perhaps even, essay, or perhaps even, thesis to go into them – but I’m happy to accept that 1) learning is basically a Good Thing and that 2) technology can help to mediate it. I might perhaps then reluctantly accept that it’s possible that if you have a lot of learning, you might end up creating more wealth for your country, however some of the data for this is possibly correlative rather than strongly causal.

But to get back to my original question, it is whether there might be said to be an economics of ontologies? Could we find out whether there are some subjects that lend themselves, via their objects of knowledge to be shared and studied on the web? And that therefore are more accessible and therefore might end up generating more money?

It seems at first glance, that physics might be one of these subjects. Physics research can be large scale and tend to be carried out by large communities who share resources.  Is there something about the nature of physics that makes people more likely to collaborate? Are they perhaps true seekers after knowledge who are less motivated by economics / reward than say, chemists? (Apologies to all you pioneering, truth-seeking chemists out there.) Would this then mean that by the very nature of a subject, if it attracts more people who care more about discovery, or truth, then they may well as a result, collaborate more, and could easily use technology in order to do this, but they care less about creating wealth, so that all web-based subjects that can easily or practically use the web to be studied are never going to be worth funding by governments who only care about short-term goals?

This seems on the face of it, rather facile, but it does intersect with another debate about why there still seem to be less girls studying physics, and in general, science subjects. (This debate appears worldwide, but I shall for now confine myself to the UK.) There was recently some speculation about whether the Big Bang Theory was attracting more people to the subject, but this generated some scathing responses from researchers who had determined that take up of physics was in fact governed by early influences.

Written by me1g11 on November 23rd, 2011

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A bit more sociology… Starting to think about gender and sexuality   no comments

Posted at 11:54 am in Sociology

A little moment to say how I feel:

Haralambos and Holborn’s Sociology. Themes and Perspectives has been recalled back to the library. Sniff. So I am returning it today.  We’ve had some good times, but today I have to say goodbye.

So I’m starting to think, why am I doing this?  I’m reading these huge (heavy) textbooks and trying to find out what the sociologist’s think about gender and sexuality.  But what I have really been trying to concentrate on is why they think these things.  What methods have they used to come to these conclusions?  That is the most important part of this research, to try to understand how the discipline of sociology applies its methods to individuals and groups to try to understand about gender and sexuality.  It seems from this week’s readings that interviews and observation are the favourites for gender and sexuality.  There is a certain amount of scientific approach later on (80s onwards) when looking at sexuality, particularly the work of Fausto-Sterling, and this is refreshing, but it always goes back to the interview.  How far can a conversation with someone who says that they are a ‘female’, ‘transexual’, ‘male’ really help to explain what gender is I wonder? I’m going to outline, as I do every week, what I have been reading, but I really do wonder if I am going to find anything more about methodological approaches and methods of investigation for sociologists than I have already discovered in these first year undergraduate textbooks.  I think that I may need to up the level of reading a little if I am going to get anything more than a broad overview to methods, so far, it has not expanded form last week’s list of:

  • participant observation
  • quantitative research in the form of surveys, questionnaires and interviews
  • qualitative research in the form of interviews and observations
  • secondary data
  • content analysis
  • discourse analysis
  • case studies
  • life histories

I’m not saying that this isn’t a good list, in fact I think that it covers the social side of human quite well, but there are gaps, when looking at gender, in looking at the physical attributes of individuals and the effects of this on our understanding of gender.  What about the genes, and the body, and the brain?  Or is this just socio-psychology and I am never going to find the answer I want sitting amongst the sociologists?  Craig has given me a book on Social Psychology, which I have been so tempted to read all week; but I am trying to stick with pure sociology for the first few weeks… we’ll see how that goes this week.

Sexuality (and a tiny bit of gender)

There’s just enough time to give a quick review of the chapter on Sex and Gender (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008: 90-142).  The section begins with a critique of ‘malestream sociology’ based on the work of P.Abbott, C.Wallace and M. Tyler (2005).  There is a mention of the biological differences between man and woman; sexual diomorphism (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008: 92-93), where sexual diomorphism is biological fact (cf. Warton, 2005: 18) and the distinction that sex and gender are different (cf. Stoller, 1968).  The chapter discusses the rhesus monkeys from Goy and Pheonix’s experiments (1971) and the work of Archer and Lloyd (2002) on testosterone and criminal records, and goes on to outline Oakley’s criticism of the rhesus monkey experiemnts as not including the social context affecting the hormone levels (1981) and also Halpern et al. work on aggression and testosterone in teenage boys (1994) that shows there is no correlation between testosterone levels and aggression.  Archer and Lloyd say that although hormones contribute to aggressive behaviour, peer groups also affect behaviour, they say that there is an ‘interaction between biological and social processes (Archer and Lloyd, 2002).  I think that this is interesting when considering the representation of gender online as the communication between groups needs to be considered when thinking about the way that an individual is choosing to present themselves (or feels that they have to present themselves) online.

Haralambos and Holborn go on to discuss sociobiology (2008: 94-96).  This is a topic that I am going to read more into as I think that it will have a lot to say about the links between genetics and behaviour and therefore could be useful when thinking about the presentation of sexual identity online.  Barash applies Wilson’s worn on sociobiology to gender and sex (Barash, 1979; Wilson, 1975) saying that reproductive strategies produce different behaviours between males and females, resulting in different social roles.  Looking at the literature for this subject available in the University of Southampton library, sociobiologists seem to use animal behaviour to explain their theories, and it seems to me that this may not therefore wash when you move the theories across to humans.  Blier writes against sociobiology, saying that they are ethnocentric (1984), this is a really interesting point.  If studying different societies results in different behaviours of men and women being observed, does this necessarily mean that sociobiology is wrong? Or does it mean that there are other factors at play that have resulted in an exceptional situation occurring? I don’t agree with this, but I am saying it as the internet is an exceptional situation perhaps? And so the work of sociobiologists, whether true or false in its statements, becomes irrelevant when all of the social norms are being broken and the communities are abnormal?  Looking at whether communities online are abnormal or not isn’t within the scope of this little project; I wish it was as I believe that they are not abnormal and that the world online is an exact copy of the world offline.

Haralambos and Holborn go on to discuss the sexual division of labour (cf. G.P.Murdock, 1949) and also the cultural division of labour (cf. A.Oakley, 1974).  Oakley looks to disprove Murdock’s idea that biology determines the division of labour between the sexes, she does this by looking at the labour divisions of a range of societies (1974), but again, she is using the sociologist’s approach of studying the behaviours of societies and then concluding that they are representative of all of the individuals, past and present, on earth.  Oakley identifies where socialisation into gender roles occurs: manipulation of child’s self-concept; canalization of boys and girls using objects; verbal appellations for children; exposure to different activities (1974).  But, as Haralambos and Holborn point out, Oakley misses the other reasons for this behaviour; Connell points out that it is not always passive, consider the active seeking out of pleasure he says (i.e. wanting to wear high heels because they make you feel sexy)(Connell, 2002:138-141) – not sure about this one: why do you feel sexy in high heels? Because of the societal behaviours, this is not an active seeking out, this is a passive enforced behaviour, I think.

The chapter then moves onto gender attribution, in particular the work of Kessler and McKenna, ethnomethodologists who look at how people characterise the world around them, where gender is socially produced, and that there is therefore no way to tell between a woman and a man easily (Kessler & McKenna, 1978:885-7).  It seems to me that they come to some of their conclusions using interviews to think about how transsexuals remove their perceived sexuality by others from their actual physical attributes that may make an individual make an assumption about their sexuality.  This is done by: content and manner of speech; public physical appearance; information about their past life; private body and how to hide details of their body that would point to a particular sexuality (Kessler & McKenna, 1978).  This is very interesting in the online world. Where do these four processes happen when you are online?  The private body is easier to conceal, but I would argue that the manner and content of speech, the public physical appearance (assuming that it has to be chosen by the individual from a selection of possibilities, as in SecondLife) and the past life are all just as difficult to construct online as they are offline.   I think that we are just as constrained by these processes online as we are offline.

Haralambos and Holborn introduce Fausto-Sterling and the idea of transgendered people, where dualistic views of being either male of female are not appropriate (Fausto-Sterling, 2000), her work is also based in the social processes that create gender, she says that gender is ‘embodied’.  Key to this is that the development of neural processes in the brain is connected to the experiences we have, so our social factors and our body’s factors reinforcing one another so that gender is materialised within the body (Fausto-Sterling, 2000).  The section ends with Connell’s idea that biology and culture are fused together (Connell, 2002).

Next Week

Feminism is discussed in depth in the introductory textbooks that I am using for this early stage of my reading.  I am going to read through Abbott et al., 2005. An Introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives, for this part of my research.   I know that I said that I would do it last week, but I have been quite surprised at how useful the undergraduate textbooks have been.  I am going to try to move onto biology also this coming week, I have the texts that I identified last week sitting on my desk staring at me.  I am loathe to start them as I think that I know already what they will contain…

Written by Nicole on November 9th, 2010

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Nicole – post no.2 – Sociology: the first two books…   no comments

Posted at 3:09 pm in Sociology

Blog Post two – Sociology.

I have been reading about Sociology and Gender from two main texts, Marsh et al. (2009) Sociology. Making Sense of Society and Haralambos & Holborn (2004) Sociology Themes and Perspectives.  Both have given me a really good broad overview into general sociological approaches, as well as more in-depth details of sociology’s approach to understanding gender.

I am particularly interested in the key issues as outlined by Marsh et al. of sociological perspectives in practice and how sociological knowledge is produced.

Sociological perspectives – key issues:

It seems from the readings that I have carried out so far that there is no unified body of approaches to/theories in sociology.  Sociologists seem to struggle to agree on concepts, I am particularly interested by Gouldner’s criticism describing social surveillance as ‘cow sociology’ (1975).

Sociology seems to claim to follow a scientific method to collect data with which it can make statements about behavioural patterns, but these tendency statements do presumably invest quite a high percentage of their accuracy on the dependency of regularity.  People are not necessarily always going to behave in a predictable manner, even if sociology has studied other individuals/groups in a similar situation in the past.   I like the idea of considering in every situation these factors: biological, psychological and social.  But, as my first book on sociology tells me, it is often difficult to distinguish between these factors.

Production of Sociological knowledge

Marsh et al. outline the cyclical trends in sociological research (2009:119), as highlighted by McNeill (1990), and also discuss the importance, as put by Pawson, in the differences between positivist and interpretivist approaches to understanding social research: “both qualitiative and quantitative approaches face identical problems and need to adopt common solutions.” (Pawson, 1989:31-2).

According to Marsh et al., sociologists like Karl Marx, Durkheim and Weber base their work on analysing second-hand evidence, such as historical sources and not on first-hand research.  Whereas Charles Booth and Seebohn Rowntree were all about the survey and qualitative research (Marsh et al.,2009:119).  So there seems to be a dichotomy with the forms of research most appropriate for generalising societal behaviours, or for making statements on a much smaller scale of individuals’ actual behaviours.

I wonder how this will all tie in with looking at gender from a sociological perspective. ..

Different approaches to sociology

Haralambos and Holborn’s publication has a good introduction to the differences between structural and social action theories (2004:855-856).  I found the outlines of functionalist (Durkheim, Merton and Parsons), social capital (Putnam), conflict perspectives, including Marxism (Marx), neo-Marxism (Gramsci), post-capitalism conflict theory (Dahrendorf), and social action and interpretive perspectives (Weber, Ritzer) really useful.  I struggled to understand symbolic interaction (Mead and Dewey) with its notion of the self (2004:881), although the argument put forward by Ropers that “the activities he [Mead] sees men engaged in are not historically determined relationships of social and historical continuity; they are merely episodes, interactions, encounters, and situations” (quoted in Meltzer et al., 1975) that Haralambos and Holborn include in this section (2004: 883) does make the approach of the symbolic interactionists a little easier to understand.  I loved the section on phenomenology (2004:885) (Schutz) with its wonderfully sensory approaches to understanding how people come into contact with the world.  As an Archaeologist, this is an approach that I have come across many times and feel quite comfortable with as a useful way to try to think about the way that knowledge is constructed and shared.  Humans creating their own idea that there is a society is something that I love the idea of, I wonder how far this approach could be used to think about the way that we understand our own gender and other individuals’ projections of their own gender (or notion of it)…

Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel) seems a bit off the wall (it was developed in the 1960s, so…).  It looks at social order as fiction, which I like, and which could be great when looking at gender constructs (can I say that it’s a ‘construct’ this early on; maybe not).  But I do not feel comfortable with the idea of social life as Garfinkel’s words here: “essentiall reflexive” (1967).  So an account of the social world actually constitutes that world (Haralambos & Holborn, 2004:885-7).  So that would mean that our attempts to define the world are what creates the world, and this really doesn’t sit well with me.  Haralambos and Holborn tell us that Gouldner was “scorn[ful]” of Garfinkel (1970) (I am liking Gouldner more and more), and Giddens apparently said that Garfinkel had little reference to “the pursuance of practical goals or interests” (1977).  I like to think that sociology will always look to try to understand why people behave in certain ways and look at the effects of external factors on individuals’ behaviours, and Garfinkel doesn’t seem to think that this is important.   Modernity, postmodernity and postmodernism (I had no idea that there was any difference between these two) are also outlined in this section of the book.

Postmodernism (Lyotard, Baudrillard, Philo and Miller) is discussed in terms of Lyotard’s work with language, knowledge and narrative (1984).  There is also a small paragraph tackling Lyotard’s  approach to computers and how they were the principal “force of production” (1984), and where knowledge has become commodified and will cause wars in the future.   Haralambos and Holborn comment that Postmodernism allows for the “possibility of tolerance and creative diversity, in which humans are not corrupted by some doctrinaire metanarrative” (2004: 893).  ‘High modernity and beyond’ is the subtitle of the next section, and this provided much opportunity for further reading.  The section looks at Giddens, with the heightened possibility for greater reflexivity, with sociology as “the most generalised type of reflection upon modern social life” (Giddens, 1991), the opportunities for globalization, and the transformations that were possible where capitalism becomes a ‘post-scarcity system’ – Are we there now with the web? I think I need to read a bit (lot!) more about this as it could be really relevant to the approaches to gender thinking about the ways that participation online is affected by ideas of who we are and what we want (of which I am sure gender is an inextricable factor).

Methods for looking at social life

Participant observation, Quantitative research in the form of surveys, questionnaires and interviews, and qualitative research in the form of interviews and observations are all outlined by Marsh et al. (2009:120-125).  Interestingly, there is also some time given in the book to the other methods of research, such as the use of secondary data, content analysis and discourse analysis, and case studies and life histories (2009:130-139), and these could be potentially very useful in looking towards understanding gender on the web.  I will look into these different methods in more detail as the weeks go on, but for now they have made me think about the tools that sociologists have available to them as being more than a survey, a questionnaire and an interview.  Even here, there has been a revelation, in the types of interviews possible: discussed by Marsh et al. as being: 1) in-depth, 2) interactive, and 3) the most fascinating for me, generative.  This comes from Gubrium and Holstein who say that both the interviewee and the interviewer are participants in a social process so the respondents are: “constructors of knowledge in collaboration with the interviewers” (1997:114).


Haralambos, M. & M. Holborn, 2004.  Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Collins: London

Marsh, I., M. Keating, S. Punch, J. Harden, 2009. Sociology. Making Sense of Society, Pearson Longman: London

Please note, I have not read the following books, but I have Googled the references that I have mentioned above from two books that I have read, so that if you are interested in looking up the various bits that I have mentioned in the whistle-stop tour of my reading this week, you can do so easily.

Garfinkel, H., 1970. Studies in Ethnomethodology, Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Giddens, A., 1977. Studies in Social and Political Theory, Hutchinson: London

Giddens, A., 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in Late Modern Age, Polity Press: Cambridge

Gouldner, A. W., 1975. For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Gubrium, J. F., & J. A. Holstein, 1997. The New Language of Qualitative Method, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Lyotard, J.F., 1984. The Postmodern Condition, Manchester University Press: Manchester

Meltzer, B.N., J.W. Petras, L.T. Reynolds, 1975. Symbolic Interactionism, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London

Pawson, R., 1989. A Measure for Measures: A Manifesto for Empirical Sociology, Routledge: London

Next week…

My plan is now to look a little more in detail at some of the sociological ideas that I have come across and to read some sections of general sociology books about Gender.  I’ll stick with Haralambos & Holborn and Marsh et al., but will also look at some more specifically gender related texts, including Abbott et al. (2005) An Introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives, Backett-Milburn & McKie (2001) Constructing Gendered Bodies, and the one that I am most excited about: Case (1990) Performing Feminisms. Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. That last one may seem a little off the wall, but I am thinking that the idea of feminist theory and theatre may translate quite nicely across to the web as at the moment I don’t see why actions within virtual communities can not be seen as being performative, and there are some good links to identity and gender online within these communities. I think.

Written by Nicole on November 3rd, 2010

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Initial Reading List – Gender from Sociological and Biological perspectives   no comments

Posted at 8:00 pm in Sociology

So I have been thinking alot about how to tackle the reading for this topic, and have identified some key texts for biology and sociology.  These are, as suggested, first year recommended reading ‘essential primers’.  They are heavy, and thick, and nice easy reads.  So I am going to work my way through them initially to get some ideas on what the main approaches to gender are from biologists’ and sociologists’ perspectives.  This is a massive oversimplification I know, but I think it is the best way to begin.  So this week and next week I am going to be reading:


Longenbaker, Susannah Nelson. (2008) Mader’s understanding human anatomy & physiology. 6th Edition. McGraw-Hill: London

Mader, Silvia S. (2009) Human Biology. 10th edition. McGraw Hill: London

Smith, Stephen W. and Ronan Deazley (eds.) (2009) The legal, medical and cultural regulation of the body : transformation and transgression. Ashgate Publishing: Farnham


Abbott, Pamela, Claire Wallace and Melissa Tyler (2005) An introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives. Third edition. Routledge: London

Haralambos, Michael and Martin Holborn (2008) Sociology. Themes and Perspectives. Seventh edition. Collins: London

Marsh, Ian, Mike Keating, Samantha Punch and Jeni Harden (2009) Sociology: making Sense of Society. Fourth edition. Pearson Education: London

Not the whole books of course; just the most relevant bits.  Then I am going to pull out of those books, some ideas for key approaches, and therefore key texts, around gender from those disciplines’ perspectives.  I have a list in my head already of books that I think look relevant (from Google searches and a couple of visits to the university library), but this may change as I work through the introductory texts.  In fact one would hope that it will, as that is in a way the whole point of this task, to develop our understandings of these disciplines.

So at the moment, I think that I am going to be reading something like this when I start to look at the disciplines when applied broadly to the topic of Gender:


Baron-Cohen, Simon (2004) The Essential Difference. Penguin: London

Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2001) Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. Basic Books: London

Keller, Evelyn Fox (2000) The Century of the Gene. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA

Schiebinger, Londa (1995) Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. Beacon Press: Boston and London


Archer, John and Barbara Lloyd (2002) Sex and Gender, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Backett-Milburn and Linda McKie (2001) Constructing Gendered Bodies. Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Butler, Judith (1993) Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’.Routledge: London

Mills, Sara (ed.) (1994) Gendering the Reader. Harvester: London

But who knows.  This is an exciting experiment in learning something completely new and anything could happen…

Written by Nicole on October 26th, 2010

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Thinking about Gender and Sexuality…   no comments

Posted at 5:42 pm in Sociology

So… I have chosen ‘gender’ as my topic for consideration.  Why am I looking at gender?  Over the past few years, whilst using social networking systems, and generally being ‘online’, I have become increasingly interested by the representation of identity online, in particular in virtual communities, and the ways in which social constructs in the real world, impact on, and in some cases dictate, social constructs in the online world.  I am going to be looking at the topic of gender over the next few weeks, concentrating on the ways in which gender (and perhaps also sexuality) are represented on the web, and how traditional ideas about gender are being challenged by the way that the web ‘works’.  By this I mean the ways in which the communities of the web work; how these communities communicate with one another, how they promote themselves, and how they understand one another through online profiles.

Some of the questions that I have been thinking about in the lead up to putting together my research question and looking to identify the best approaches to tackling these questions:

In some instances, is gender constructed online and then reified in the real world, rather than, as we would imagine, the other way round?  Are the possibilities identified in online communities really a way to escape hegemonic gender representations?  Does removal from the corporeal constraints of the real world allow for a reaffirmation of notions of gender, or do the social constructs that bind gender in the real world apply within those worlds that we have created on the web?  What are the differences online between actual and perceived gender and how do these manifest themselves? How would we begin to look at these from different perspectives to try to analyse the effects of adopting different genders online, or the effects of having to abide by the gender rules online, to which you are traditionally bound offline?

Themes in online communities like dynamics, harassment, recommendations, are all impacted on by understandings and interpretations of gender.  Sociology seemed like an obvious approach to tackling this issue, and I have chosen also to look at gender (and therefore identity) from the perspectives of biologists.  I think that this will provide me with two seemingly diametrically opposed perspectives to the construction of gender in the real world (although I am sure that this will not be the case when I start digging into the methods and methodologies of these two disciplines), and this could lead to some useful tools for looking at the construction of gender in the online world.  The use of gender to compartmentalise online users of virtual communities, for targeted advertising, gaming experiences, etc. could benefit from a better understanding of the ways in which gender can be constructed, and also deconstructed, online from both sociological and biological perspectives.

That’s all a bit repetitive!  I am going to put together a more concise research question and a list of expected key readings and key discipline perspectives later, I just thought I’d get my first thoughts up while they were fresh in my mind.

Written by Nicole on October 25th, 2010

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