Jump to content

Recommended Posts

So, given the tremendous lack of Latin@ academics around the country, I am curious if anybody other than me is Latin@, applying to sociology grad programs, and lurking around these forums with frequency. I really hope I'm not the only one, and it'd be a pleasant surprise if, in fact, I am not.

In the off chance that I'm not, then to which programs did you apply and what is it that you want to study?

*tossing bottle into ocean....

*bottle tossed...

*waiting for return of bottle...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

many folks in the Hispanic community use @ in place of o/a as a written inclusion mechanism re gender and sexuality identities outside the M-F/heterocentric binaries. lgbtq speak...but en español. Make sense?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey socioeconmist, I'm a Latina and applying for sociology grad programs. I live in Chicago (awesome city) and am pretty much geographically bound so I applied to the four PhD programs available which are UIC, University of Chicago, Northwestern, and Loyola. My main interests are in immigration, race and ethnicity, education, and social inequality. This is actually round two for me. Last year I did not get any bites. Unfortunately with my non-traditional background and unknown undergrad (and MA) institution, I worry that adcoms will not be able so see past my background to my potential. We will see I guess.

What about you? Where did you apply and what are you interested in? How confident are you feeling about your chances?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

WOOHOO!! Yay! At least one other :) I was really not hopeful to get a response! Anyway - Chicago is an awesome city - And those are great schools. Best of luck to you!

My interests are: immigration, economic sociology, historical sociology, ethnography. I applied to two schools; that's it: Princeton and UCDavis. I'm fairly confident about my chances. I guess I'd better be since I only applied to two! lol - if they don't pan out, then I suppose I'll widen the net next year... I suppose we'll know shortly, though, right? I think schools ought to be reaching back out for sure by mid-feb, yea? I don't know the schedules of your schools, but in general I suppose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for bringing this topic up, socieconomist. I think your observation that Latin@s (and people of color in general) are underrepresented in the profession is accurate, at least in my impression.

For the sake of conversation, I have a question for the OP and any other Latin@, Latin American, or other posters who care to weigh in. I am white and have an academic background in Latin American and Latino Studies. I also lived in Latin America for a while, speak Spanish, and grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood here in the States (where I also worked as a community organizer, tutor, counselor, etc.). That's all by way of saying that I'm neither Latin@ or Latin American nor am I totally stuck in the Ivory Tower. On the one hand, I am very interested in sociology of the Latin@ community and of Latin America. On the other hand, I have persistent doubts about how appropriate it is to study these communities as an outsider. That is, what are the ethical issues around being a white person studying Latin@s at the same time when Latin@s are underrepresented in our profession? I think the cultural divide is more pronounced because of my interest in ethnography, rather than larger n quant studies where the researcher is perhaps more removed from the subjects.

Also, I recognize the irony of the white guy hijacking the thread about Latin@ sociologists... :mellow:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for bringing this topic up, socieconomist. I think your observation that Latin@s (and people of color in general) are underrepresented in the profession is accurate, at least in my impression.

For the sake of conversation, I have a question for the OP and any other Latin@, Latin American, or other posters who care to weigh in. I am white and have an academic background in Latin American and Latino Studies. I also lived in Latin America for a while, speak Spanish, and grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood here in the States (where I also worked as a community organizer, tutor, counselor, etc.). That's all by way of saying that I'm neither Latin@ or Latin American nor am I totally stuck in the Ivory Tower. On the one hand, I am very interested in sociology of the Latin@ community and of Latin America. On the other hand, I have persistent doubts about how appropriate it is to study these communities as an outsider. That is, what are the ethical issues around being a white person studying Latin@s at the same time when Latin@s are underrepresented in our profession? I think the cultural divide is more pronounced because of my interest in ethnography, rather than larger n quant studies where the researcher is perhaps more removed from the subjects.

Also, I recognize the irony of the white guy hijacking the thread about Latin@ sociologists... :mellow:

The biggest issue is access. Can you get access to the group of people you want to work with? this is not just an issue for white studying latin@s, or a racial issue... this is an issue any ethnographer has to deal with. Being an outsider just makes it more complicated. In terms of how appropiate it is, I honestly don't think that's a problem. Just like it is okay for a latin@ to study things that are not related to latin@s (for example, I am interested in religious identity among white converts to Japanese Buddhism), I think it is perfectly fine to study latin@s as an outsiders.

I think there's a bigger issue here, which you kind of point out when you say "what are the ethical issues around being a white person studying Latin@s at the same time when Latin@s are underrepresented in our profession?". You're bringing up two completely different issues here:

1) Latin@s are underrepresented in the profession

2) Latin@s are understudied

While i think these are both very real issues (especially number 1), I don't think that they are the same.. and you're making it seem like Latin@s should only be represented in the profession so they can study themselves.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maximus82, thanks for your thoughtful response.

If I'm "making it seem like Latin@s should only be represented in the profession so they can study themselves," then I should rephrase my question, because that was not my intention.

My question is more about the power dynamic of insider/outsider. For instance, I lived in a Latino community in the States for most of my life. Although I speak Spanish, I would never speak to strangers in Spanish (as in, ordering food, asking for help at the library, asking directions, etc.) unless invited. My concern was that my learned code switching was invasive in a community that had language as a common bond.

If research is, on the one hand, telling a story and, on the other hand, understanding the twists in that story's plot (i.e. causes, effects, variables), then there is a power dynamic involved in an outsider telling the story of insiders. I think this issue of power becomes even more problematic when there are perfectly capable sociologists who are more socially proximate to the object of study, and (the figurative) I barge my way in nonetheless.

I think it's a question of "rights", broadly defined. That is, who gave me the right to study you? That's a question I often ask myself. I think when the me and the you come from very different places, then the researcher needs to tread lightly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The power dynamic of the insider/outsider is going to be there all the time. Language just makes that dynamic more visible and perhaps more complicated. But that dynamic is something most ethnographers deal with at one point in their careers... you can't study your own people ALL THE TIME. otherwise you'd have to go to school, get a job, and do research all in the same community within the same city for most of your career... I don't know about you but I don't know anyone who has pulled that off.

Regarding competency and proximity, I think that's something you need to think about really hard. What's more important, competency or proximity? and I don't mean "perfectly capable sociologists"... I mean, who has the really good questions and who is really good at answering them... regardless of how proximate you are to that group. Think about people like Venkatesh... While I find the whole insider/outsider thing a bit problematic, you should be aware of the fact that being an outside gives you a perspective that others don't have.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: no one gives anyone the right to study anyone... it's a privilege. And you have to be aware of that. It's something you (whether you are white, black, brown or whatever) have to earn, and once you've earned it you have to take care of.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: no one gives anyone the right to study anyone... it's a privilege. And you have to be aware of that. It's something you (whether you are white, black, brown or whatever) have to earn, and once you've earned it you have to take care of.

Well said. I guess the privilege to study others is tied up in white privilege in general, and that could perhaps be resolved if white privilege in academia is confronted.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry to take a while to weigh in - busy weekend. I think you both have valid points and equally valid concerns. I appreciate them both for different reasons, some from the perspective of scholar (also ethnographer) and some from the perspective of Latin@.

So, as a Latin@, I do find it really problematic that we are so heavily undrepresented in academia, across the board, not merely in sociology. This is true for the arts, for the social and physical sciences, and as well in the "professions". Obviously that's going to take some time to solve.

Then there's the question of "white" folks studying Latin@s, African Americans, etc. I think the first thing to acknowledge is that this is pretty much the historical norm. And there certainly is a problematique regarding this. Just like there is for outsider community organizers. So, on the one hand we have to recognize the irony of white folks coming in and "organizing" and "studying" (for example) Latin@ communities. I mean, Edward Said points out many of the problems here when talking about "Orientalism", yes? On the other hand, b/c of the color line embedded in high academia and the organizing community, we have to ask the question who else is there to do it? (re CO, I also come from that tradition and always looked around at my white colleagues thinking, "hm... why no more Latin@s?" A: it's complicated.)

So, among all of my academic advisors and mentors, across my undergraduate and m.a. program, you might ask how many have been Latin@... A: none. (I have a huge problem with this... b/c it's always in my face that I can't look to my own for guidance...that's hard on a person.) And some of those people have been researchers looking at immigrant, specifically Latin@ communities. But... here is the counterintuitive upshot - while my advisors have been White (mostly women), I as an aspiring Latin@ academic needed training, and the best people to give me that training were not Latin@... but they were conscious of their outsider position and the tenuousness of it. Because I am an insider, they recognized that there were a couple things going on... they were using me for my insider capacity so they could publish their papers, and (legitimately) help figure out possible solutions to complex problems, but also that they had to be willing to give back to me the things I needed and cautiously heed my advice while in the field (in this sense the power position was interestingly reversed whenever a P.I. and I were in the field together. And I too got the publications (not just mentions) I needed.)

I'm probably sounding a bit convoluted, but that's b/c it's too complex for a message board - lol. Anyway - I think the main point from my perspective is yes, there is absolutely a racial power problematique layered on top of other SES related privelege stuff... specifically for White folks studying any minority community. And this isn't necessarily something I as a Latin@ have to contend with while studying the Latin@ or my own community. I still have to contend with the SES stuff in general, however. But it is NOT the same. The absolute best a the former can do is try to remain grounded, and conscious of their relational position. I think Duneier does a great job talking about this very thing in Sidewalk. The fact that he was always the "outsider" even when he thought he had gotten "in"... something he figured out when he accidentally left his recorder going after he had walked away from it... it recorded the participants talking about him as though he weren't there (and as if the recorder were off). I mean, what else can you do though? You can't not be White—lol—but you also can't reject you research interests because of this. And in my own experience, plenty of white researchers (not so much organizers in my own experience) come up with some great solutions to complex problems that minorities face.

Best case scenario: I do think that the best case scenario is that Latin@s are studying Latin@s with some white folks (and other allies) in the mix as well. I also think that the Latin@ community is in its best position when Latin@s are organizing themselves. But these are also effects of other problems: how do we raise up leaders from within our ostrisized communities at the educational and organizing and political, etc. levels when we don't have but a handful of people from our community to look to for guidance? And sometimes they don't even care. I don't see Gov. Bill Richardson out cultivating a cadre of potential Latin@ political candidates, ya know? The answer is, as in my case, sometimes we have to look to white folks for guidance up front b/c they're the folks who already have the expertise. As more insider leaders develop, then we can turn that back on our own communities and develop from within. Does this make sense?

It's not entirely different from saying the LGBTQ community is at its strongest when it has LGBTQ leaders. The same goes for the African American community. Or the indiginous communities. But that doesn't mean these communities don't accept outsider allies to help in the struggle... right? So I don't get upset at white folks when I see them studying or organizing Latin@ communites. I get upset that we're still in a place where the white folks are leading and we're following, even w/n our own communities. I don't ask, how do we stop white folks from doing this. I ask how do we develop greater insider leadership so we can become stronger, more equal. Does that make sense..?

Sorry, could have been more cogent, I'm sure. But I hope my point(s) get through.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Caveat: I'm not Latin@ but I am a minority graduate student and I use ethnographic methods in my research to study a community that is NOT my own. And because people, for whatever reason, seem to think that minorities in the discipline are there studying people like them, I'm often dealing with the assumption that I study my own ethnic group, even though I don't.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: no one gives anyone the right to study anyone... it's a privilege. And you have to be aware of that. It's something you (whether you are white, black, brown or whatever) have to earn, and once you've earned it you have to take care of.

Well said, maximus, and something that applies to any community a researcher is studying.

If research is, on the one hand, telling a story and, on the other hand, understanding the twists in that story's plot (i.e. causes, effects, variables), then there is a power dynamic involved in an outsider telling the story of insiders. I think this issue of power becomes even more problematic when there are perfectly capable sociologists who are more socially proximate to the object of study, and (the figurative) I barge my way in nonetheless.

SocialGroovements, I may be "perfectly capable" of studying the group but that doesn't mean that I want to! If you're sensitive to the power dynamics and the issues that studying a group as an outsider poses. Moreover, the very idea that a Latin@ is more socially proximate to other Latin@s they might study is a bit jarring to me because it comes across as homogenizing the Latin@ (or any other) minority community. Just assuming that someone is more "socially proximate to the object of study" because they are also Latin@, Asian, African-American, etc. ignores the very real social and cultural differences that are within these communities and groups.

I guess I'm still trying to make sense of what it is you're suggesting and what you're looking for. Are you looking for reassurance that it's okay for you to study what you're studying? Or for us to say that you can code switch if you want to? (I have to admit, the code switching lost me but that's because 1) I do it fairly regularly* and 2) I have been friends with many Latin@s friends that "look white" and also do it and while people may have briefly looked askance [at them or me!] that didn't really become an obstacle of any sort.) Do you feel like someone else should be studying the topic or that people will think that it's weird for you and not someone else to be studying it or what?

I think there's starting to be a broader recognition that whites can study non-whites and do it in a sensitive way that doesn't reproduce colonial discourses and power dynamics. I say this because in searching for dissertation writing fellowships I've found quite a few aimed at "African or African diaspora studies" which seems to say that anyone studying those topics, regardless of his/her ethnicity, is eligible because those topics are still understudied.

If you're concerned with the power dynamics and the issue of speaking FOR someone else, you really should get into postcolonial theory if you haven't already. Read Spivak, Bhabha, Said, and other postcolonial theorists. And remember that sociology (and the social sciences more generally) has a broad tradition of people studying communities they aren't part of and writing about them in intelligent, honest ways. Think about Dunier's Sidewalk, where he took the time to go over the text with the people represented in it and gave them a chance to correct things. Maximus82's suggestion of Venkatesh is also a good one. I've used some of his work on gangs and the underground economy when teaching to show students an aspect of society they often haven't thought of as being something one can do research on.

Anyway, I hope this isn't too rambly and that we can engage in a productive dialogue on this topic because it's something that really interests me.

-----

*I live in a place where almost everyone is bilingual so conversations flow back and forth between English and Spanish all the time.

Edited by msafiri

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

msafiri, great response! I think you have brought up some good points, and I will try to deal with them all, but I'm at work so I may have to take a second look later on.

First off, offsetting "perfectly capable" in quotes does highlight what comes off as a condescending qualification. I apologize if that was the implication. I was trying to express the idea that people of color are both underrepresented in sociology AND assumed to study race or immigration, as you point out ("think that minorities in the discipline are there studying people like them"). I meant only to suggest that these conditions and stereotypes in our field constrict some sociologists from sorting themselves according to interest and skill AND shape hiring practices that reproduce these conditions. I'll expand on this thought in a moment, but first I'll share some anecdotes from my own experiences to set the stage for my response to your excellent questions:

Are you looking for reassurance that it's okay for you to study what you're studying? Or for us to say that you can code switch if you want to? (I have to admit, the code switching lost me but that's because 1) I do it fairly regularly* and 2) I have been friends with many Latin@s friends that "look white" and also do it and while people may have briefly looked askance [at them or me!] that didn't really become an obstacle of any sort.) Do you feel like someone else should be studying the topic or that people will think that it's weird for you and not someone else to be studying it or what?

So anecdote number one comes from my field work in Bolivia. I was researching social movements, including urban poor, indigenous, and feminist organizations. Note that I fall into none of these categories (well, feminist but not a woman). As a white North American man who has taken every step (observed the standards of ethno. research, speaks Spanish, lived locally, wrote and distributed my results in Spanish, politically sympathetic) to reduce the social, economic, and cultural gap, I was still very aware of the fact that, at the end of the day, I had no shared experience with the people I was studying. I could take every step to build shared experiences: I've been tear gassed, drank, worked, danced, everything in common with my subjects, but the reality was that I never have been poor, indigenous, or a woman. These insurmountable differences mean that, at best, I can empathize or come close to understanding. As a scientist, it feels like studying gravity without having ever experienced falling on my ass. I can rationalize the experiences I study, but I can't intuit them.

The second anecdote comes from community organizing. I actually also come from a multilingual community, where I grew up and returned to after college to work as an organizer. The organization where I worked was an early pioneer in "black/brown" alliance building between the black community and Latino community. Nowadays, lots of young white people are moving in to the neighborhood and it's in vogue to volunteer with community organizations. So if you look at the racial breakdown of a community organization, it's approximately half people of color and half white allies. While white allies are always welcome and never looked at askance, as you say, the larger trend of gentrification is shifting the locus of control in the neighborhood organizations away from people of color to educated, white, young activists. Now, to locate myself in this situation: I am from this neighborhood, and I emphasize from to highlight that I was educated there, my parents work there, I know the "who's who" of neighborhood family networks and local politics. Nevertheless, I will always fall on the white ally side of the cultural divide in the community. And you're right that the divide between white allies and people of color is something of a false dichotomy that obscures diversity within any social group. BUT, although the Dominicans in my neighborhood are, in some ways, a world apart from the Haitians (for example), both communities understand that they are on one side of a binary and white people are on the other. Despite the fact that I am from the same place, speak Spanish, my heart is in the right place, I am always on the white side of the binary. (And by "white" I don't strictly mean skin color. As you correctly noted, there are white Latin@s who, in the US, are not "the same" as whites from Northern Europe. This is a nuanced difference, but we recognize it on the census and we recognize it culturally.) This mirrors a larger condition in the US, whereby the incredible diversity of racial and ethnic groups is subsumed by the reality of there being "white mainstream America" and everybody else. "Everybody else" is a conflation of hundreds of cultures and different groups, true, but when we get down to the politics of the matter, they attend the same underfunded schools and are subject to similar institutional racism in the the justice system and job market, so on and so forth. Obviously there is variation, but there is less variation within the amalgamated "people of color" category than there is across the white folks/folks of color divide (look at the incarceration rates for blacks, whites and Latino men for illustration). So this whole anecdote is the rationale behind my use of the term socially proximate. Let's not ignore that the binary exists, and that there exists a gulf between the two sides that is qualitatively different and greater than the real and meaningful differences among peoples of color in the US.

As a small anecdote in support of that argument, I often am amused by comparing my experiences with those of a close friend of mine who is biracial, half French-Canadian and half East African (both Hutu and Tutsi from Burundi, so his ethnicity crosses some significant divides). This friend of mine went to elite boarding schools in France and the US, got a BA from an elite private college, and is now in an elite private school for grad school. He's the son of a diplomat and has lived in cities around the world, usually in comfort. I already went into my background a bit, which is basically under-performing metropolitan public schools (and then by the grace of someone, a great private college). The funny thing is that my biracial friend, according to US racial definitions, falls on the black side of the binary. By choice or not, he's culturally accepted as a black man. For example, he can switch into a language code that, although I grew up surrounded by it, I can't use. And I'm totally fine with this, I just recognize that some part of his identity allows him more proximity to groups that I will always be an outsider too.

So, to answer your questions more directly. I am not looking for personal reassurance that it's "okay" for me to study what I'm interested in. I understand the problematics of my work, both as researcher and activist. I also would never suggest that someone else should study a particular group or subject because I presume they have some personal connection to it. So when you say "I may be "perfectly capable" of studying the group but that doesn't mean that I want to!", that is a position I understand and respect. I wasn't suggesting you (or anyone) should.

My concern is less personal I guess, but I just use myself as a case study. I think you touched on my concern here, "whites can study non-whites and do it in a sensitive way that doesn't reproduce colonial discourses and power dynamics." This raises an interesting epistemological dilemma, because my conscious efforts to not reproduce these power dynamics may inadvertently do just that, and I may never know because of my place in society. So if we accept that, like Foucault said, any discourse that occurs in a system of social control necessarily reproduces that system (through successive iterations of rationalization, for example), then I would propose a more radical, grassroots research that circumvents and subverts the inevitable power dynamic implicated by me (outsider) researching them (insiders). It's like the white activists moving into the poor neighborhood to organize: their hearts are in the right place by they are actually reproducing the same inequalities they hope to solve.

Phew, that was a lot. Like I said, I'm at the office at the moment, so don't have a chance to make this more concise and well formed. But It's a start! Also, good suggestions on readings. I am familiar with some of that work, but will try to check out the others. I think that mentioning Duneier is a good direction. You may have already seen his Sociological Methodology paper "How Not to Lie with Ethnography" http://www.asanet.or...s.cfm?size=2571

I think my problem is not about doing "good" ethnography, where I tell the truth and respect my subjects. The point of standards in ethnography is making as good as possible under certain conditions. My problem is with resolving those background conditions. Does studying someone on the other side of an unequal binary reinforce the binary? I'm just trying to think very critically about this stuff.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.