Year of Publication

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Claire M. Renzetti

Abstract

This dissertation project seeks to address the sociological processes, dynamics, and mechanisms inflecting how and why U.S. society reproduces a sexually dimorphic, binary gender structure. The project builds upon the work of sociologists of gender on the doing gender framework, intersectional feminist approaches to identity formation, and hegemonic masculinity and relational theories of gender. In a 2012 article in Social Science and Medicine presenting contemporary concepts in gender theory to the health-oriented readers of the journal, R. W. Connell argues that much public policy on gender and health relies on categorical understandings of gender that are now inadequate. Connell contends that poststructuralist theories highlighting the performativity of gender improve on the assumption of a categorical binary typical in public policy, but they ignore the insights of sociological theories emphasizing gender as a structure comprising emotional and material constraints of the complex inter-relations among social institutions in which performances of gender are embedded. According to Connell, it is the task of social scientists to uncover “the processes by which social worlds are brought into being through time – the ontoformativity, not just the performativity, of gender.”

This project explores the ontoformativity of gender in consideration of Patricia Hill Collins’ concept of the four domains of power. According to Collins, matrices of domination are intersecting and interlocking axes of oppression including but not limited to race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, nation, age, ability, place, and religion that reproduce social inequalities through their interoperation in the cultural, interpersonal, structural, and disciplinary domains of power. West and Zimmerman contrast gender as an axis in the matrix of oppression with site-specific roles, arguing that gender is a master status that is omnirelevant to all situations such that a person is assessed in terms of their competences in performing activities as a man or a woman. The doing gender approach has been accused of theorizing gender as an immutably monolithic social inequality. This project seeks to explicate the dynamics of gender ideology by probing its weaknesses in the interpersonal and cultural domains of power. As Collins and coauthor Sirma Bilge posit, for people oppressed along axes of gender, race/ethnicity, class, age, place, ability, and other binaries that constrain their actions in the structural and disciplinary domains of power, “the music, dance, poetry, and art of the cultural domain of power and personal politics of the interpersonal domain grow in significance.”

Each of the three components of the dissertation project addresses a facet of mechanisms and processes of the interpersonal and cultural domains of power in (re)producing the binary gender structure in U.S. society. Paper #1, titled, “Integrating Black Feminist Thought into Canonical Social Change Theory,” explicates how people in marginalized social locations mount definitional challenges to their received classifications in the cultural domain of power by rejecting the consciousness of the oppressor and wielding rearticulated collective identity-based standpoints as contextually attuned technologies of power to recast historical narratives. Paper #2, with teenaged co-researcher Emma Draper, titled “Ordering Gender: Interactional Accountability and the Social Accomplishment of Gender Among Adolescents in the U.S. South,” maps how youth theorize interactional accountability processes to binary gender expectations in the interlocking social institutions of medicine, the family, schools, and peer social networks. Paper #3 is a book proposal comprising an introductory chapter. The book will tell the story of how young feminist arts-activists challenge the binary gender structure through resistance in the cultural and interpersonal domains.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2018.147

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