Sei sulla pagina 1di 19
Pacific Sociological Association Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction Author(s): Jodi O'Brien Source:

Pacific Sociological Association

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction Author(s): Jodi O'Brien Source: Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Spring 2009), pp. 5-22 Published by: University of California Press

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sop.2009.52.1.5 .

Accessed: 05/11/2013 21:23

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

.

information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . University of California Press and Pacific Sociological

University of California Press and Pacific Sociological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Sociological Perspectives.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

SOCIOlOgy AS AN EPIStEmOlOgy Of CONtRADICtION

JODI O’BRIEN

Seattle University

ABStRACt: Human social life is messy, and as a result the practice of sociology is filled with tension, contradiction, conflict, and ambiguity. As a discipline, sociology has generated excellent theories and methodologies for dealing with this complexity. This presidential address suggests that the impact and resonance of sociological knowledge is enhanced further when we open ourselves to the tensions and contradictions we experience personally in our work as sociologists. Critical engagement with these personal conflicts deepens our understanding of the social subject and enriches the sociological imagination. Using the method of “auto-historia,” the author describes some of her own experiences of “going deeper into the contradictions” and the significance of this process for her professional evolution. Keywords: sociological imagination; theory; methodology

When I conceived this year’s Pacific Sociological Association (PSA) meeting theme, “The Messiness of Human Social Life,” I had in mind Herbert Blumer’s remark that “social life is messy” (Blumer 1969; cf., Goffman 1974; Schutz 1962; D. Smith 1987). His implication was that sociologists are uniquely suited to make sense of this messiness. This involves generating conceptual frameworks that render social life, in its obdurate forms, observable and comprehensible while at the same time acknowledging the multiple perspectives and shifting conditions from which these frameworks derive. Accordingly, the meeting theme is an invitation to reex- amine the ways in which our theories, scholarship, and teaching are resonant with this complexity. My impression is that, through the practice of the sociological imagination, we have demonstrated a tremendous ability to grapple with the complexities of social life. Sociologists were in the vanguard of the transition away from the pursuit of what we used to call “grand unifying theories,” or GUTs, to the acknowledgement of theoretical multivocality and ambiguity. This theoretical shift can be attrib- uted, in part, to the proliferation of studies that reflect the “lived experiences” of

Address correspondence to: Jodi O’Brien, Department of Sociology, Seattle University, 901 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122; e-mail: jobrien@seattleu.edu.

Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 52, Issue 1, pp. 5–22, ISSN 0731-1214, electronic ISSN 1533-8673. © 2009 by Pacific Sociological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photo- copy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/sop.2009.52.1.5.

SOP5201_02.indd

5
5
DOI: 10.1525/sop.2009.52.1.5. SOP5201_02.indd 5 2/20/09 5:47:18 PM This content downloaded from
DOI: 10.1525/sop.2009.52.1.5. SOP5201_02.indd 5 2/20/09 5:47:18 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

DOI: 10.1525/sop.2009.52.1.5. SOP5201_02.indd 5 2/20/09 5:47:18 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:18 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

6

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

underrepresented peoples and groups. The incorporation of these studies into our stockpile of knowledge has enabled the development of methodologies and forms of “theorizing from the margins” that are compelling us as practitioners of sociol- ogy to stretch in our awareness of, and ability to grapple with, complexity. In a world that is changing rapidly due to processes of urbanization, globaliza- tion, and technological development, sociology has had to rise to the challenge of how to develop analytical frameworks that take into account both particularistic and global contexts. For example, in my own area of research, sexuality studies, comprehending sexual practices and experiences requires that we take into ac- count the context of global processes of change such as the impact of neoliberal programs on reproductive health, an increasing number of women working out- side the home, expansion of international sex markets, and immigration and shifts in employment markets. The advancement of these richly complex descriptive studies has been facili- tated by methodological developments that also emphasize complexity or messi- ness. A partial list includes “grounded theory,” “situational analysis,” “naturalistic research,” “critical humanism,” “life histories,” “comparative case method,” and “participatory action research” (e.g., Charmaz 2006; Clarke 2006; Glaser and Strauss 1967; Lofland et al. 2006; Naples 2003; Plummer 2001; Ragin 2008). The practitioners of these approaches share a foundational appreciation of the contra- dictions and ambiguities that constitute social reality. A mere glance at the sessions scheduled for this 2008 meeting reveals the richness of our discipline in representing and analyzing complex social conditions. Many of the sessions included in this year’s meetings also address some of the additional contradictions, tensions, and ambiguities that have been revealed through more re-

cent critical sociological inquiries. These considerations include issues such as rep- resentations of subjectivity (who can speak for whom), the production of systems of knowledge (what counts and what doesn’t), and concerns about the perpetuation of systems of differentiation and oppression through conceptual reification (e.g., studies of “racial” and gender and sexual identities) (e.g., Naples 2003). The meeting program is only one of many indicators of our relative success as

a discipline in addressing the messiness of human social life. This success makes me proud to be a sociologist. At the same time, however, there are some additional tensions and contradictions with which we have been less critically engaged— tensions that reflect contradictions in our collective self-image or beliefs about who and what we are as a discipline. These conflicts include tension in our own understanding of ourselves as scholars (Do we want to be “dispassionate observ- ers of the world” or “passionate doers in the world”?), contradiction in the meth- odologies and theories we generate (Is there an observable social subject or not?), and ambiguity in our collective understanding of what constitutes cumulative so- ciological knowledge. I am not suggesting that we should resolve these tensions. In my experience, they are deeply embedded in the practice of sociology and are

a dynamic source of disciplinary creativity and evolution. In contemplating these

various tensions and contradictions, I have found myself wondering how the ex- perience of complexity and contradiction informs our standpoint and practice as sociologists. What happens when we go deeper into the contradiction and conflict

SOP5201_02.indd

6
6
deeper into the contradiction and conflict SOP5201_02.indd 6 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
deeper into the contradiction and conflict SOP5201_02.indd 6 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

the contradiction and conflict SOP5201_02.indd 6 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

7

and engage more fully with the tensions our work is intended to articulate and in which we are implicated? As the title of this talk suggests, these questions have led me to consider the implications of sociology as an epistemology of contradiction. Two ideas in particular have had a significant impact on my thinking about so- ciology as an epistemology of contradiction. The first is the idea of the “epistemol- ogy of the wound,” and the second is nepantla. In discussing her experiences in- terviewing adult survivors of incest in Mexico, Gloria González-López (2006) uses the phrase “epistemology of the wound” to describe her own process of engaging with her informants as well as their processes of healing from childhood abuse. In a reflective essay on this experience, González-López notes that this contradiction and conflict, when fully expressed, usually involves pain: the pain reflected in the inequities, indignities, and oppression experienced by so many who live in the marginal spaces represented in our work, and the pain we experience as we open ourselves to genuine comprehension of this lived experience. Nepantla is a concept used by Gloria Anzaldúa (Anzaldúa and Keating 2002:1) to describe the experience of being in between—we know where we’re coming from but aren’t sure yet where we’re going. In her words:

Bridges span liminal (threshold) spaces between worlds, spaces I call nepantla,

a Nahuatl word meaning tierra entre medio. Transformations occur in this in-

between space, an unstable, unpredictable, always-in-transition space lacking

[L]iving in this liminal zone means being in a constant state

of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling. Most of us dwell in nepantla so much of the time it’s becoming a sort of “home.” Though this state links us to other ideas, people, and worlds, we feel threatened by these new connections and the change they engender.

clear boundaries

For both Anzaldúa and González-López, the experience of pain, wounded- ness, in-betweenness, and confusion offer an ideal terrain for engaging in “auto- historia” as a method for generating a deeper understanding of both self and other. For González-López (2006:22), this involves “going inward and engaging with the conflict in order to evolve professionally.” In her words:

The production of sociological knowledge does not come from isolated intellec- tual processes. Thinking and generating knowledge from an “objective place”

is becoming a useless and naive theoretical fiction in this project. By becoming

completely awake and aware intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, I have learned to switch back and forth along and between multiple paths leading to new epistemologies guiding sociological research on sensitive topics.

My aim today is to foreground this process of “going inward.” I invite us to consider what sociology would look like (and what we would look like) if we were to bring this personal engagement with conflict, this “epistemology of the wound,” more systematically into our collective discourse. What if we focused on the experience of this “messy engagement” rather than dismiss it as an insignifi- cant or inconvenient byproduct of our work? Minimally the experience is likely to be disruptive and lead us into personal experiences of nepantla. My work- ing proposition is that when we embrace these contradictions as a basic point of

SOP5201_02.indd

7
7
these contradictions as a basic point of SOP5201_02.indd 7 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
these contradictions as a basic point of SOP5201_02.indd 7 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

contradictions as a basic point of SOP5201_02.indd 7 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

8

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

departure and incorporate them fully into the sociological perspective, the result is a resonant sociology that gives the discipline its unique heart and spirit and its timeless power to inspire. In other words, my impression is that our most engag- ing work—that which has the greatest impact—reflects a bold confrontation with the messiness of human social life, and this necessarily includes our personal ex- perience of this messiness. Accordingly, in the time that follows, I’d like to explore this prospect. To do so,

I offer myself as an example of the “lived experience” of a sociologist grappling with complexity, contradiction, and conflict. This “auto-historia” is a method for exploring how these tensions have shaped me intellectually and personally and, in turn, influenced my practice of sociology. My aim is to illustrate the idea that when we journey purposefully into this complexity, including the accompanying conflict and pain, we are in a position to map or articulate the standpoint from which our most significant contributions are formed. My claim is that a well-articulated com- prehension of this contradiction-forged standpoint is one foundation from which we can generate a sociology that has the potential to chart resonant courses through the terrain of complexity and to span significant chasms of difference. This would be a truly inspired and inspiring sociology to offer to future generations. I turn now to a series of vignettes that reflect my own “auto-historia” or going deeper inward as a way to evolve professionally and personally.

Academic Nepantla

My initial confrontation with subject complexity and disciplinary conflict oc- curred during my dissertation process. My early training was in the social psychol- ogy of decision-making and power dependence theory (e.g., Cook 1987; Emerson

and Cook 1978). This field of study derived largely from rational choice theory. As

a budding scholar, I adored rational choice theory. It was clean and precise. In the

parlance of the day, it was “elegant.” This much prized characterization was based on a notion widely held in mathematical modeling that the simpler the model, the more elegant the theory. In an attempt to elaborate theories of rational decision making, my dissertation advisors and I were searching for an anomalous case of voluntary solidarity. In other words, we needed a real-life example of a group in which the behavior of its members appeared to depart from the expectations of rational choice theory as applied to collective action. I recall vividly the afternoon when my advisor turned to me and exclaimed, “How about the Mormons! You should do a study of Mormons.” This suggestion took me completely by surprise for at least two reasons: I knew nothing about ethnographic fieldwork, and I had been fleeing my own Mormon background since my early teens. Returning to en- gage in a study of these people just didn’t seem realistic. But my advisors were persistent, and thus, somewhat reluctantly, I left the pristine cubicles of the experi- mental research lab and set off to do a field study that would involve participant observation and interview research with Mormons. In retrospect, I am appalled at my own hubris and ignorance. Not once in the en- tire dissertation do I mention the fact that I was raised in a Mormon family—a fact that had a lot to do with my access and insights but that didn’t seem relevant from

SOP5201_02.indd

8
8
but that didn’t seem relevant from SOP5201_02.indd 8 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
but that didn’t seem relevant from SOP5201_02.indd 8 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

that didn’t seem relevant from SOP5201_02.indd 8 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

9

the quasi-objective research modality in which I had been trained. At the time, my Mormon background was a source of shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t yet prepared to face so, without any guidance otherwise, I spent the duration of my fieldwork attempting to “pass” as a “disinterested observer.” In the end, the dis- sertation was well received. I had successfully demonstrated the utility of rational choice theory for explaining high rates of voluntary participation in the absence of monitoring and sanctioning. The University of Iowa offered me a position as an assistant professor and asked how soon I intended to use the dissertation research to “derive testable hypotheses” that I would then examine in the experimental research lab at my new job. Despite these apparent intellectual successes, something was nagging at me. Looking back over my field notes and related reading, I realized that I was most compelled by the historical accounts that contextualized Mormons as a kind of quasi-ethnic group held together by shared stories of persecution and “otherness.” Having grown up in this environment, I was familiar with these stories and the particular ways that Mormons have of making sense of themselves and their place in the world. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was of the vacuity of rational choice explanations for behavior that results in something as complex as Mormon social life. I longed for thicker, richer frameworks of analysis. I also realized that, because of my own pain and shame, I had not been able to give my attention to the factors that were the most compelling and most obvious as a basis for comprehending the field of relations I was studying. This realization had two immediate consequences for me. The first was a compre- hensive retooling of my theoretical and methodological training. I accomplished this in part by trying to write my way through the confusion and contradiction of my dissertation experience. This endeavor led to a paper called “Confessions of a Lapsed Rational Choice Theorist,” which I presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association in 1994. This new direction and the expanded horizons of knowledge were exciting, but I also felt cast adrift and concerned about betraying mentors and colleagues who had been extremely generous and encouraging and whose work I still understood and valued. This was a period of academic nepantla for me, and the tensions and contradic- tions it evoked have had a significant impact on my professional life. As a result of my initial training and subsequent revisioning of that training, I consider myself to be “sociologically multilingual.” I am inclined to look for value in all sociologi- cal tools and am less prone to disciplinary border skirmishes such as qualitative and quantitative approaches. Where others may see boundaries, I’m inclined to see opportunities to bridge and synthesize. The result has been a professional life that has unfolded in what might be called the academic borderlands—borderlands both in terms of significant interdisciplinary work and in terms of confronting nor- mative expectations of what kind of work “counts.” A second consequence was that the experience motivated me to critically reex- amine my personal history with Mormonism. As I learned more about cultural ideologies and collective belief systems, I was able to accept that Mormonism was my cultural heritage and also to understand why I had to leave it. By going deeper into my own shame, I realized that much of my struggle was a result of coming

SOP5201_02.indd

9
9
much of my struggle was a result of coming SOP5201_02.indd 9 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content
much of my struggle was a result of coming SOP5201_02.indd 9 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content

2/20/09

my struggle was a result of coming SOP5201_02.indd 9 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

10

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

from a cultural background, Mormonism, that is often stigmatized and misrepre- sented in society generally but that also positioned me personally as an outcast. Accordingly, I felt (and still feel) the need to “correct” expressions of prejudice regarding Mormons while also feeling the pain of exclusion I experienced among this group. My subsequent studies of religion and sexuality have been significantly informed by this experience. It has infused me with a much deeper comprehen- sion and compassion for the complex and seemingly contradictory strategies we use to manage social shame and prejudice.

Institutional Contradictions

After three years at the University of Iowa, I left to accept a new position at Seattle University. This was my first experience with Jesuit education, which I have since learned is a culture unto itself. My reasons for the move were personal, but on reflection, it occurs to me that my postdissertation state of nepantla probably led me to be more open to an institutional migration or cultural crossing of this magnitude than I might have been otherwise. Prior to the move, I was experienc- ing a tremendous unrest and a sense of dislocation regarding what kind of scholar I was becoming in my endeavor to live up to the expectations of my colleagues at Iowa. These colleagues were consistently supportive but also had a specific for- mula for acceptable sociology. Accordingly, they were somewhat concerned about the “nonnormative” academic tendencies I was exhibiting. For instance, I had recently signed a contract to produce The Production of Reality (O’Brien 2005), a project intended to bridge scholarship in social psychology with questions and is- sues resonant for contemporary students. My colleagues considered this endeavor utter folly. It certainly wasn’t the kind of sociology they had hoped I would pro- duce (i.e., sociological publications that would improve departmental standing in the “rankings”). After I arrived at Seattle University and became more literate in its distinctive teaching and research expectations (which include “demonstrated relevance in matters of social justice”), I encountered a vocabulary that helped me to articulate some of the tension and conflict I’d been experiencing in my early professional life. This tension is described in a paper I wrote for presentation at the 1998 PSA meet- ings titled “Reorganizing the Contradictions of Teaching and Research” (later pub- lished as O’Brien 2006). My intent in this paper was to define and explore some of the tensions underlying our expectations of scholarly life. In particular, I was inter- ested in the tensions regarding our sense of what we think our purpose as scholars is: knowledge sharing for the enhancement of individual and social life, or knowl- edge production for the advancement of trade and industry, or knowledge creation toward the sustainability of universities and academic communities? These tensions and more are discussed in an earlier article by sociologists William Rau and Paul Baker (1989) titled “The Organized Contradictions of Academe.” Rau and Baker (1989:162) describe “a number of contradictions that can be linked to the simultane- ous bureaucratization and professionalization of American academe.” These con- tradictions support, among other things, a “research-oriented political economy of academe [that has] rendered teaching a second-class, invisible enterprise” in spite

SOP5201_02.indd

10

invisible enterprise” in spite SOP5201_02.indd 10 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
invisible enterprise” in spite SOP5201_02.indd 10 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

invisible enterprise” in spite SOP5201_02.indd 10 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

11

of the fact that “like most forms of hidden, second-class work, teaching activities remain the life-blood of the university” (O’Brien 2006:19). In my own essay, I elabo- rated on Rau and Baker and articulated an additional level of critique:

Rau and Baker lamented the lack of a body of pedagogical theory and the pres- ence of “founding fathers,” which they assumed would locate the teaching of sociology as an intellectually worthy enterprise. It is interesting to note that even these critics were unaware of, or dismissive of, an impressive, useful and vigorously stimulating compendium of intellectual pedagogical writing pro- duced by critical theorists, many of them black feminist scholars. This work, which has recently gained center stage in some academic circles, is rich in both theory and practical suggestion. Its disenfranchisement within academe is in- dicative of a general ignorance regarding the intellectual relationship between teaching, research, and social practice. It is also an indicator that certain types of scholars have been encouraged and promoted while others, who are arguably, equally driven, prolific and capable of producing original scholarly material are dismissed. The differential valuation of professionalization-related vs. socially relevant research is signaled in the ways in which the latter is dismissed as not “real research” because it pertains to teaching and social action. (O’Brien

2006:20)

Rau and Baker had articulated the contradictions within an organizational structure that privileges research over teaching. I was interested in the ways in which these contradictions were reflected in normative discourse and re-inscribed through everyday practices that followed from this discourse, especially in con- versations and mentoring among sociologists. For me, the central contradictions included not only the tension between teaching and research but also an entire complex of institutionally supported hierarchies that are reflected and reinforced at every level of our professional lives. Grappling with these contradictions has enabled me to comprehend more fully the institutional realities, or what Dorothy Smith (1987) would term “working out how things really are,” regarding the “ruling rules” of academe. This comprehension, again motivated through an attempt to make sense of my own confusion and contradictory position in academe, has had significant conse- quences in my professional life. For instance, I have become a much better mentor to students and junior faculty and include among my professional accomplish- ments various presentations and workshops on how to deconstruct what I call training for the “mythical three percent” 1 and other disciplinary myths and prac- tices. On a personal level, this understanding has enabled me to chart a relatively unique career path and has helped me to navigate my way through various forms of academic marginalization into a position of relative empowerment. Rather than being perceived as a professional failure who abandoned her traditional training and “R-1” position for a “teaching” job, I have been able to fashion myself into what some might call an “intriguing rogue scholar.” This self-reformulation has been made possible through the application of sociological concepts to my own professional experience of tension and dislocation. During this process of professional migration and readjustment, I came to an- other useful realization: Teaching is a very “closeted” activity among academics.

SOP5201_02.indd

11

“closeted” activity among academics. SOP5201_02.indd 11 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
“closeted” activity among academics. SOP5201_02.indd 11 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

activity among academics. SOP5201_02.indd 11 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

12

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

As a result, we seldom consider collectively the power of teaching as a site of tension and conflict that has tremendous potential to transform us as well as our students. Which leads me to another vignette.

teaching “Challenging” material

An ongoing discussion among teachers of sociology is the issue of how to teach “social structure” effectively. For students, comprehending social structure can in- volve very complex and oftentimes painful feelings of dislocation as they attempt to situate personal experiences within a growing awareness of collective patterns. The process of gaining a genuine understanding of the sociological perspective is likely to be personally disruptive. Often, this disruption occurs in courses such as inequality, “race” and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and any subject that criti- cally examines the social hierarchies of difference and inequality in which we are all implicated. When their personal status quo is threatened with disruption, it is not uncom- mon for students to resist. This resistance takes a variety of forms including ag- gressive confrontations with the teacher and an unwillingness to grant the material the same legitimacy as the subject matter of other courses. 2 Some of this resistance, especially among predominantly white, middle-class students, is rooted in “white liberal guilt.” Students are reluctant to grant authority to knowledge that, in their perception, implicates them personally for historical conditions that they know are unfair but that they feel powerless to combat. Teaching conversations among colleagues often involve the sharing of frustrated anecdotes about students who “don’t get it” and pleas for creative ways to teach “challenging” material. My own discovery is that the best pedagogies are motivated by this frustration. When we ourselves are able to remain engaged with the challenge of how to teach this mate- rial effectively, we generate some of our most creative strategies for conveying the complexities of social structure and its implications. Over the years, my desire to comprehend students on their own terms, and my increasing comfort with using myself as an example of tension and contradiction, has led to more success with students “getting it.” However, I’ve noticed that as soon as they “get it,” they immediately want to “fix it.” This “fix it” attitude, while usually well intentioned, is most commonly expressed by middle-class, white stu- dents (those closest to the “mythic norm” in Anzaldúa’s term) and reflects a gen- eral middle-class avoidance of conflict and pain. Rather than go deeper into the conflict, the tendency is to try to maintain a position of power by managing the terms of resolution.

Inescapable Scratchiness. Accordingly, I have stepped up my own efforts to teach material that doesn’t sanitize or, worse yet, promise simple solutions to com- plex conditions of difference and inequality. This material has a quality of what I call “inescapable scratchiness.” By way of example, I mention three articles that have been particularly useful in this regard. They are “Branded with Infamy,” by Vivyan Adair (2002); “Broken Sentences,” by Ana Deveare Smith (1996); and “In- congruities,” by Irma McClaurin (1990). Each of these authors uses first-person ac- counts to convey the complexities of social marginality. Adair, who is the daughter

SOP5201_02.indd

12

marginality. Adair, who is the daughter SOP5201_02.indd 12 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
marginality. Adair, who is the daughter SOP5201_02.indd 12 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

Adair, who is the daughter SOP5201_02.indd 12 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

13

of migratory farm workers and now a college professor, gives a startlingly graphic account of the ways in which poverty writes itself on the bodies of its victims who are then judged as “unclean.” In a piece written for the New Yorker special issue on women (itself a study in contradiction), theatre professor and performance artist Ana Deveare Smith offers the stories of women who are in prison for injuring or killing the men who abused them and their children. To this day, I cannot read aloud to my students from either of these texts without crying. McClaurin, who is an anthropologist, juxtaposes her own “coming of age” story as a young black girl growing up in southern poverty with that of her classmate, Leanita McClain. McClain became the first black female journalist to be hired by the Chicago Tribune. In midlife (some would say, at the height of her career), she killed herself. In deciding to write about McClain, McClaurin remarks that as a life his- tory, this story obliges the author/reader to find diverse ways of rendering negoti- ated realities as multi-subjective, power-laden, and incongruent. In her words:

[she had] a foot in each world where

she was viewed ambivalently by both communities and experienced ambiva- lence toward them. By studying her life I hope to bring out the contradictory ele-

ments that emerge as a result of the complex intersections of race, class, and gen- der and the positioning of the individual in the construction of social In this analytical context, the lives of black and other women, whose social realities produce ‘fractured identities,’ form the critical juncture for feminist

inquiry

Leanita’s life history exemplifies that certain kinds of contradic-

McClain’s life was full of incongruities

tions are not only unjust at the social level, but also may be unendurable at the personal level. Yet, the analysis of her life demonstrates that as these very forces give rise to anger and self-consciousness, they can also become sources of creativity, achievement and self-awareness. (McClaurin 1990:317)

When we meet to discuss these articles as a class, the students share their reac- tions. For the most part, they report feeling shame and pain when reading these selections: shame at the recognition of their own relative privilege and pain at not knowing what to do about it. As we talk more about the material, they come to see that the challenge is not to erase these histories or to try to “fix” them but to stay in the stories rather than try to escape the scratchiness they elicit. Staying in the story is an exercise in learning to listen, to witness, and to grapple with our own feelings of recognition and/or dislocation as well as the disempowerment of not being able to make these histories and the painful conditions they reflect simply go away. When we stay present in them, these life histories are a site for fuller engagement with the “epistemology of the wound,” and they are a necessary basis for cultivat- ing what Anzaldúa (1987) calls “open-hearted listening.”

Lived Experience and Theorizing from the Margins. Open-hearted listening and an unflinching engagement with contradiction is a standpoint that can only be at- tained through practiced engagement with pain and conflict. This engagement re- quires a condition of inescapability in which, unlike the mostly technologically medi- ated ways in which we take in stories these days, you can’t just turn it off and walk away. Inescapable scratchiness also implies situations in which we cannot use posi- tions of relative power to ignore or dismiss uncomfortable or inconvenient truths.

SOP5201_02.indd

13
13
uncomfortable or inconvenient truths. SOP5201_02.indd 13 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
uncomfortable or inconvenient truths. SOP5201_02.indd 13 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

or inconvenient truths. SOP5201_02.indd 13 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

14

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

Life histories, such as those discussed here, enable a kind of theorizing from the margins that radically alters our comprehension and enables the teaching of complexities. This experience may be scratchy, disturbing, and disempowering, especially for those closest to “mythic norm,” but the scratchiness demands our attention and focus. This scratchiness compels us to go deeper in order to break down taken-for-granted perspectives. In doing so, we become more practiced at engaging with the contradictions our work inevitably yields. This engagement with contradiction is the basis for the kind of listening, witnessing, and “heart- wisdom” that is reflected in some of our most time-honored and widely acclaimed intellectual contributions. A question I’d like to pose at this point is where we are as a discipline in being “practiced” in this kind of engaged listening and the resulting “heart-wisdom.” My impression is that, as a discipline, our position as participant-listeners is some- thing that we’re still trying to articulate. This tension is exacerbated by yet another conflict located in our ambivalence about whether this kind of scholarship is ac- ceptable sociological knowledge. McClaurin (2001) advocates for its necessity, not- ing that it is only through these unconventional forms that we both gain knowl- edge of the complexity of conditions and also are compelled to discover the ways in which we ourselves are implicated. In her words:

In this respect, identity remains a contested and negotiated arena in which we

struggle to fashion transformative strategies that allow us to name and describe our diverse experiences. To represent these complex processes, we have engaged

Black feminist anthropol-

ogists, whose primary research tool is participant observation, are faced with the task of fashioning a research paradigm that decolonizes and transforms— in other words, one that seeks to alleviate conditions of oppression through scholarship and activism rather than support them. To do so means directly confronting the way in which our identities are implicated in the research process. (McClaurin 2001:55)

in “unconventional forms of writing” and praxis

marginal Contradictions

In considering these tensions, especially the issue of engaged listening, I’m reminded of yet another moment of disruption and transformation in my own professional life. Several years ago, a series of events provoked my curiosity re- garding the experiences of individuals who are openly gay and actively Christian. Traditionally, Christian spirituality and homosexual practices have been deemed irreconcilable. For many lesbians and gay men, a flight from the religious intoler- ance that characterized their youth is a central aspect of personal “coming out” stories. This was certainly true in my own case. Furthermore, at the time I began thinking about it (circa 1994), there was a pronounced secularism in the rhetoric of the small but prolific lesbian and gay elite whose writing was setting the tone for the emergence of a queer politics. The message from this sector was clear: Good queers are not religious. This apparent conflict led me to wonder about those who actively and openly identified as queer and Christian. Who were they, and what motivated their seemingly contradictory lives? My initial impression was that

SOP5201_02.indd

14

lives? My initial impression was that SOP5201_02.indd 14 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
lives? My initial impression was that SOP5201_02.indd 14 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

My initial impression was that SOP5201_02.indd 14 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

15

they must be “managing” some form of “double stigma.” Accordingly, this is how I framed the initial research question:

The concept of “double stigma” was sociologically rigorous enough to garner me research support for the project. Equipped with this idea and the financial blessing of the American Sociological Association I set off in search of answers. Five open-ended interviews into the project, I knew the concept of “double- stigma” was completely off the mark. I was missing the main point. When I raised the idea of “double-stigma” (How do you deal with it? Why do you deal with it?) the first round of interviewees all looked at me with similar confu- sion. Yes, they under-stood the question. Yes, they could understand how oth- ers would see it that way. But it did not resonate for them. Each of these five people, none of whom knew one another, said the same thing. This is not about stigma. It is about “living a contradiction that defines who I am.” Forty-two interviews and many hours of congregational participation later I was still hearing the same thing: the contradiction of being Christian and being lesbian or gay is who I am. When I gave talks describing the research project I noticed the vigorous head-nodding among self-described queer Christians at the mention of the phrase, “living the contradiction.” My orienting perspec- tive at the launch of this project reflected my penchant for sociological abstrac- tion and personal experiences that disincline me toward participation in main- stream religions. Through sustained contact and participatory experience with self-described “queer Christians” and the congregations that welcome them, I developed an understanding of the deeply complex process of living the con- tradiction of being queer and Christian. In fact, overtime, I have come to have considerable appreciation for this process. (O’Brien 2004:182)

The Self as a Process of Contradiction. This research experience had a tre- mendous impact on my work as a social psychologist focusing on differences and inequalities, and it also, once again, led to significant personal transformation. For many years in my scholarly work I’ve been striving to articulate a theory of self that is predicated on the recognition that selves are multiple, shifting, and con- tradictory. At the same time, a viable theory of the social self must take into ac- count what we know as sociologists, which is that behavior and self-awareness are shaped within situated conditions of obdurate patterns that provide “stories” and “ruling rules” for whom we think we can be and what we think we can do. Much of what appears to be stable behavior organized through a consistent self-concept can be explained by social considerations such as the norm of consistency. In the words of Philip Blumstein (1991:319), social expectations of a stable self (as well as our own cognitive need for consistency) operate as “anchors against drift” and result in interactional tendencies that drive the experience of multiplicity deeply inward, where it remains largely unexpressed. My research with queer Christians led me to understand and define the social self as a process of wrestling contradiction. We are in a constant state of becoming. This “becoming” is shaped through processes of interaction and revealed through the internal dialogues in which we observe, feel, comment on, and try to make sense of our own complexity. The process of self-understanding is a dialectical process of definition, a continual interplay between personal experiences and

SOP5201_02.indd

15

between personal experiences and SOP5201_02.indd 15 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
between personal experiences and SOP5201_02.indd 15 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

between personal experiences and SOP5201_02.indd 15 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

16

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

attempts to fit experience into existing conceptual categories and representations. All of us struggle to make sense of ourselves, to find ways of self-expression, and to be heard and understood. Our sense of self undergoes constant revision as it encounters friction, contradiction, and conflict along the various boundaries that constitute meaning (O’Brien 2005:440–41). For me, this theoretical articulation, which I attribute to a methodology of “theorizing from the margins,” has tremen- dous theoretical and methodological traction as well as resonance with everyday life as people experience it. On a personal level, the research experience compelled me, once again, into a deeper reexamination of my own fundamental religious background and my ex- perience with “deviant” social sexuality. I was both humbled and intrigued by the highly articulated spirituality of the individuals who were gracious enough to share their experiences with me as interviewees for my research. Listening to them, I felt an unfamiliar longing that I later came to recognize as a desire for a spirituality of my own that was not defined against or in reaction to Mormonism. By their own account, the critically reflective awareness of these self-described queer Christians was continually forged through the crucible of contradiction. As one of the interviewees pointed out to me, “being gay has made me very aware of my spirituality because it’s something I have to struggle with all the time to try to fit these two different worlds together. If I wasn’t gay I would probably be a very conservative, intolerant Christian because I have those tendencies.” The interviewees’ acknowledgement of this process prompted me to confront my own unexamined prejudices about religion and rekindled my desire to develop a spiritual intelligence. In addition to the benefits of a more resonant theory of the social self and an increased sensitivity to my own spiritual life, the individu- als I met through this research project modeled for me a way of engaging with one’s own contradictions as a means of both self-exploration and scholarly (in their case, theological) inquiry. This process is similar to Anzaldúa’s method of “auto-historia” and González-López’s exploration of “wounds” as a way of going more deeply inward, of engaging with conflict, in order to experience comprehen- sion. For Anzaldúa and González-López, this conflict-forged comprehension, or conocimiento, is a necessary basis for generating social observations that resonate with the complexity of human experience.

“Queer Tensions.” This was the mindset I was in when I wrote my most recent article on the politics of same-gender marriage. I must admit that by 2006 I had grown weary of the subject of “gay marriage.” I had already written and lectured extensively on why I thought this was a misplaced struggle for an LGBTQ social movement, but something about the issue was still gnawing at me. Inspired by my recent experiences with contradiction, self-exploration, and scholarly inquiry, I challenged myself to delve deeper into an acknowledgement and articulation of the conflict I was feeling. The discoveries of this inquiry took shape in an essay titled “Queer Tensions” (O’Brien 2007). The following excerpt is a brief glimpse at the process in which I was engaged:

On July 26, 2006 the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that existing legislation defining marriage as between a man and a woman is legal and

SOP5201_02.indd

16

as between a man and a woman is legal and SOP5201_02.indd 16 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This
as between a man and a woman is legal and SOP5201_02.indd 16 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This

2/20/09

a man and a woman is legal and SOP5201_02.indd 16 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

constitutional. In a 5-4 decision, the Court voted to sustain heterosexual unions as the only basis for legally recognizable marriage. I am a resident of Wash- ington State. On the day of the decision, I happened to be in Victoria, British Columbia where I was on holiday with my parents Throughout the ensuing days immediately following this long anticipated court decision, I was acutely aware that I was choosing not to broach the topic with my parents. I was also more than a little surprised at my own deeply emotional disappointment in the court decision. I was in a state of painful con- fusion and isolation but shared none of this with my parents during the many hours we spent together in the car. At a glance, my parents are cosmopolitan in appearance and demeanor. They have college degrees, they travel extensively and have nuanced (some would say progressive) political perspectives. They are also devout Mormons. Throughout my adult life they have been aware of my lesbian sexuality and, for the most part, give the appearance of being warm and accepting. However, without any conscious awareness that I can recall, we seem to have negotiated a terrain of acceptability that is bordered by a strong

wall of silence. In other words, their “tolerance” of my “lifestyle” is predicated on conflict avoidance [and] I have been complicit in this My unease with this pattern of silence has been exacerbated by the issue of same gender marriage. In recent years, watching as one state after another pursued anti-gay legislation, I’ve grown less and less comfortable with the real- ization that, for my parents, as well as many colleagues, friends and neighbors, individual lesbian and gay men are fine, but as a group, we remain sinners/ deviants/fill-in-the-blanks from whom the rest of the “normal” population de- serve protection. For my family, this translates as: we love our lesbian sinner

daughter, but

Within this discursive context, I have found it nearly impossible to gain any traction in discussions with my family about queer culture and politics. Over the years, I’ve stopped trying to talk with them about how much any of this matters to me. Instead, I focus on making a difference through the courses I teach on sexual politics at a Jesuit university, through my writing and public lectures (including, ironically, the many churches that invite me to speak), and related forms of education and activism. Still, my complicity in this family si- lence gnaws at me. It’s a tension I try both to live with and also to learn from. As we drove the countryside, this tension felt particularly acute. “Why do I care?” I asked myself repeatedly. Despite my chronically optimistic hope, I hadn’t actually expected the Court to legitimate same gender marriage. The matter is even more complicated for me in that I have many critical reservations about marriage as a social institution, especially as supported by the Intellectually, I have a well-articulated position on the matter: I oppose state sanctioned marriage. Yet, there I was, an emotional hostage trapped in a car with well-intentioned but clueless parents feeling angry, frustrated, and, per- haps most poignantly, betrayed. (O’Brien 2007:125–27)

[the class of people she represents is unacceptable].

17

The remainder of the article is an exploration of the question, Why, beyond the obvious state-sanctioned benefits and assurances (which, by the way, should be divorced from the institution of marriage), do we care about being included? We know that marriage is a coercive, patriarchal social institution that reproduces heteronormative forms of exclusion. Still, we become teary-eyed with an inexpli- cable joy when gay friends send pictures of their “ceremonies.” For me, “Queer

SOP5201_02.indd

17

their “ceremonies.” For me, “Queer SOP5201_02.indd 17 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from
their “ceremonies.” For me, “Queer SOP5201_02.indd 17 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

For me, “Queer SOP5201_02.indd 17 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

18

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

Tensions” was about going deeper into my own confusion to understand what

it is that prompts this desire for belonging to social institutions that we know are

oppressive. This methodology enabled me to gain both a better self-understanding and a richer comprehension of the psychology of inclusion in the significant cul- tural systems that imbue our lives with meaning.

CONClUSIONS: A SOCIOlOgy Of tHE HEARt

As I suggested in my introduction, sociology has an impressive history as a disci- pline that has generated many useful tools for mapping complexity and also for inspiring increasingly more sophisticated levels of critical inquiry. At the same time, our disciplinary potential is compromised or underdeveloped by our col- lective inattention to tensions in our beliefs about what we should and can be as

a discipline. I have not suggested that we should attempt to solve these tensions.

Rather, my assertion is that ambiguity, tension, and contradiction are basic to our discipline. Much to the chagrin of some students and university administrators seeking definable “learning objectives,” sociology remains largely a kaleidoscopic “perspective” as opposed to a catalogue of facts and figures. In other words, much like the shifting, contradictory, multifaceted nature of the social subjects that we study, the discipline itself represents a complex and shifting terrain. My thesis is that critical engagement with this complexity serves to deepen and enrich the sociological imagination. The integrity of our theories and methodologies can be seen in the ways in which they enable us to engage with the contradictions in- herent in our work. When we grapple directly with these contradictions, we are moving deeper into the heart of sociology and the result is work that resonates, work that matters. Accordingly, my central theme in these remarks is that we have much to gain from a renewed focus on the ambiguities, tensions, and contradictions that are at the heart of sociological inquiry. Working with this complexity is the basis for cultivating what Weber termed verstehen or what Anzaldúa (1987) terms cono- cimiento. What I hope my own remarks will contribute to this enterprise is a re- minder that the cultivation of these standpoints requires us to acknowledge and explore the personal tensions and contradictions that our work as sociologists inevitably provokes. In my foregoing remarks, I have offered an “auto-historia” of my own profes- sional development as an example of an epistemology of contradiction. At these meetings we are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of This Bridge Called My Back (Moraga and Anzaldúa 1984) and the hugely significant legacy of the work of Dorothy Smith. Both contributions are a tour de force in the study of complexity and contradiction. In closing, I invite you to share my reflections as I consider what these legacies have to teach us in terms of the contradictions and complexities that we struggle with as a discipline and as individual practitioners of sociology who endeavor to make lasting contributions. This Bridge called for a focus on shared differences as a way of achieving voice, gaining self-respect, healing, and becoming collectively empowered. Although This Bridge has been widely adopted and celebrated by white feminists as an entré into the

SOP5201_02.indd

18
18
by white feminists as an entré into the SOP5201_02.indd 18 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded
by white feminists as an entré into the SOP5201_02.indd 18 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded

2/20/09

feminists as an entré into the SOP5201_02.indd 18 2/20/09 5:47:19 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56

5:47:19 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

19

neglected experiences of women of color, I have the impression that many of us have not fully comprehended the fact that these essays speak mostly of pain—pain expe- rienced not only through historical social exclusion but through more immediate, persistent, everyday disenfranchisement, especially in the academy. What I take from this work, which to me represents a bold capacity for ambiguity, contradiction, and perhaps most significantly, conflict, is the importance of acknowledging the contributions of “lived experience” in the production of what counts as legitimate knowledge. In so doing, it’s also necessary to acknowledge the interplay between the contradictions in our own “lived experience” and the complexities of others. Through this awareness, we’re much more likely to be attuned to others, as my own experiences with queer Christians and theorizing from the margins indicates. In a follow-up volume titled This Bridge We Call Home, Gloria Anzaldúa and co-editor Analouise Keating (2002) elaborate on the methodology and emphasize that it pivots around a willingness to acknowledge the confusion, dislocation, and wounds of complexity both within ourselves and collectively. Building on her earlier concept of mestiza consciousness wherein la mestiza experiences the con- flict internally, Anzaldúa (Anzaldúa and Keating 2002:520–21) offers the idea of El Mundo Zurdo, or the “Left-Handed World”:

El Mundo Zurdo is a visionary place where people from diverse backgrounds with diverse needs and concerns co-exist and work together to bring about revolutionary change. We are the queer groups, the people that don’t belong anywhere, not in the dominant world nor completely within our own respec-

tive cultures. Combined, we cover so many oppressions. But the overwhelming

oppression is that we don’t fit

all interconnected

despite the many differences among us we are

we are “almas fines,” or “kindred spirits.”

The inhabitants of El Mundo Zurdo are joined through a rejection of the status quo, deviation from the dominant culture, and the strategic use of difference to

forge new alliances. When we really think about it, isn’t there a similar sensibility that brought many of us into sociology initially? What if we were to see ourselves as kindred spirits endeavoring to map the complexity of the social world, despite the shifting terrain, and to build bridges of mutuality and understanding across the chasms of difference that divide us? For Anzaldúa, this form of collective awareness involves a recognition that we are “living in a place/time of nepantla: exiting from the old worldview, we have not yet created new ones to replace it. We’re questioning

the barriers that divide us, and

opening the gate the stranger within and with-

out.” (Anzaldúa and Keating 2002:529) While I recognize the risks in mapping Anzaldúa’s metaphors onto the disci- plinary terrain of sociology, I nonetheless find her visions of El Mundo Zurdo and nepantla useful for imagining an enlivened future of sociology. For me, this final quotation serves as a rallying point:

Conflict, with its fiery nature, can trigger transformation depending on how we

respond to it. Often, delving deeply into conflict instead of fleeing from it can

Where

other saw borders, these nepantleras saw links; where others saw abysses, they saw bridges spanning these abysses. For nepantleras, to bridge is an act of will,

bring an understanding (conocimiento) that will turn things

SOP5201_02.indd

19

(conocimiento) that will turn things SOP5201_02.indd 19 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from
(conocimiento) that will turn things SOP5201_02.indd 19 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

that will turn things SOP5201_02.indd 19 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:20 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

20

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

an act of love, an attempt toward compassion and reconciliation, and a promise to be present with the pain of others without losing themselves to it. (Anzaldúa and Keating 2002:4)

Isn’t this what we’re doing as sociologists when we strive to practice scholarship that matters: finding connections, revealing patterns, striving to bridge seemingly contradictory perspectives by offering deeper, richer frameworks of understand- ing? My suggestion is that when we experience fully the contradiction, conflict, and pain of engaging with our own teaching and research, we can’t help but be transformed into nepantleras. Not only do we routinely disrupt the status quo, but we become uniquely practiced, through our critical engagement with the complex processes underlying the appearance of a stable social reality, in mapping com- plexity and journeying through difference to new frontiers. This produces an epis- temology of contradiction that, together with the principles of the “sociological imagination,” enables us to navigate through complex personal and professional terrain in ways that both resonate and inspire. Practicing sociology has enhanced my humanity, and my humanity deeply in- forms my practice of sociology. Fully engaging with the conflict inherent in my work literally transforms me and reshapes my sociological “imagination” as a result. The potential for this transforming and transformative sociology can be found, partly, in our time-honored tools for mapping and analyzing social pat- terns in all their complexity. The other necessary element is sustained, critical en- gagement with the vulnerability, tension, and conflict inherent in our work. When we open ourselves to confusion, conflict, and pain, when we truly wallow in the messiness of human social life, we cultivate empathy, and we develop minds and hearts practiced in contradiction. This kind of engaged empathy not only heals wounds, it is a necessary process for achieving conocimiento or verstehen. And this, I submit, is the heart of sociology.

Acknowledgments: This article was originally presented as the Presidential Ad- dress at the annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association in 2008. The au- thor wishes to acknowledge her gratitude to Michele Berger, Dean Dorn, Mako Fitts, Judy Howard, Val Jenness, Peter Nardi, Ron Obvious, Ken Plummer, Gary Perry, and Eve Shapiro for their support in the preparation of this presentation. Y también, mi gratitud profunda para mi compañera, mi nepantlera hermosa. Gracias por todo.

NOtES

1. The “mythical three percent” refers to the tendency of the top-ranked graduate programs to train graduate students exclusively (and uncritically) with the expectation that they will obtain jobs in similar institutions, even though, statistically, these positions make up only 3 percent of the positions occupied by persons with PhDs in sociology.

2. These responses are well documented in the teaching literature, which indicates that the instructors in these courses, a majority of whom are women and/or “faculty of color,” receive comparatively lower teaching evaluations. These teaching evaluations indicate persistent racism and sexism among students who perceive that the teachers of this ma- terial lack authority and legitimacy and are overly “politically” motivated.

SOP5201_02.indd

20

are overly “politically” motivated. SOP5201_02.indd 20 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from
are overly “politically” motivated. SOP5201_02.indd 20 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

“politically” motivated. SOP5201_02.indd 20 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:20 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sociology as an Epistemology of Contradiction

REfERENCES

21

 

Adair, Vivyan. 2002. “Branded with Infamy: Inscriptions of Poverty and Class in the United States.” SIGNS 27:451–71. Anzaldúa, Gloria E. 1987. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books. ——— and Analouise Keating. 2002. This Bridge We Call Home. New York: Routledge. Blumer, Herbert. 1969. Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press. Blumstein, Philip. 1991. “The Production of Selves in Personal Relationships.” Pp. 305–22 in The Self-Society Dynamic: Cognition, Emotion and Action, edited by J. A. Howard and P. Callero. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Charmaz, Kathy. 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Clarke, Adele. 2006. Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory after the Postmodern Turn. Thou- sand Oaks, CA: Sage.

 

Cook, Karen S. 1987. Social Exchange Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

   

Emerson, Richard and Karen S. Cook. 1978. “Power, Equity and Commitment in Exchange Networks.” American Sociological Review 43:721–39. Glaser, Barney and Anselm Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Chicago: Aldine. Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Boston:

   

Northeastern University Press. González-López, Gloria. 2006. “Epistemology of the Wound.” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge IV:17–24. Lofland, John, David Snow, Leon Anderson, and Lynn H. Lofland. 2006. Analyzing So- cial Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis, 4th Edition. New York:

 

Wadsworth. McClaurin, Irma. 1990. “Incongruities: Dissonance and Contradiction in the Life of a Black Middle-Class Woman.” Pp. 315–33 in Uncertain Terms: Negotiating Gender in American Culture, edited by F. Ginsburg and A. Tsing. Boston: Beacon. ———. 2001. “Theorizing a Black Feminist Identity.” Pp. 49–76 in Black Feminist Anthropology, edited by I. McClaurin. New York: Routledge. Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria E. Anzaldúa. 1984. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, 2nd Edition. Boston: Kitchen Table-Women of Color Press. Naples, Nancy. 2003. Feminism and Method: Ethnography, Discourse Analysis and Activist Re- search. New York: Routledge.

   

O’Brien,Jodi.2004.“WrestlingtheAngelofContradiction:QueerChristianIdentities.” Culture and Religion 5:179–202. ———. 2005. The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings in Social Interaction, 4th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press (Sage). ———. 2006. “Reorganizing the Contradictions of Teaching and Research.” Pp. 16–38 in Excellent Teaching in the Excellent University, edited by J. Rabow. Bethesda, MD: Aca- demica Press. ———. 2007. “Queer Tensions: The Cultural Politics of Belonging and Exclusion in Same Gender Marriage Debates.” Pp. 125–49 in Interdisciplinary Readings on Sex and Sexuality, edited by N. Rumens. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Plummer, Kenneth. 2001. Documents of Life 2: An Invitation to a Critical Humanism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Ragin, Charles. 2008. Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

SOP5201_02.indd

21

. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. SOP5201_02.indd 21 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from
. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. SOP5201_02.indd 21 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

University of Chicago Press. SOP5201_02.indd 21 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:20 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

22

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Volume 52, Number 1, 2009

 

Rau, William and Paul J. Baker, 1989. “The Organized Contradictions of Academe: Barriers Facing the Next Academic Revolution.” Teaching Sociology 17:161–75. Schutz, Alfred. 1962. Collected Papers, Volume 1: The Problem of Social Reality. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff. Smith, Ana Deveare. 1996. “Broken Sentences.” The New Yorker, February 26, pp. 158–59. Smith, Dorothy. 1987. The Everyday World as Problematic: AFeminist Sociology. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

SOP5201_02.indd

22

Canada: University of Toronto Press. SOP5201_02.indd 22 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from
Canada: University of Toronto Press. SOP5201_02.indd 22 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from

2/20/09

University of Toronto Press. SOP5201_02.indd 22 2/20/09 5:47:20 PM This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on

5:47:20 PM

This content downloaded from 202.92.130.56 on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 21:23:09 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions