With a diverse research portfolio in sociology of health and medicine, my research program is integrally linked to other substantive areas like sociology of gender and sexualities, mental health, families, education, and science and technology studies.
Current, Ongoing, and Future Research
1) Technologies of Sexuality: The HPV Vaccine and an Investigation into Parental Responsibility, Progressive Sex-Education, and Adolescent Girls’ Subjectivities
This SSHRC funded research problematizes responsibility and the persistent tensions that accompanying vaccines, sexual health, and sex-education in contemporary society. I connect the everyday micro-level of parents, teachers, and adolescent girls, with macro-politics of biomedicine, good parenting, and progressive sex-ed to understand how vaccine politics and sex-education i) manage and generate surprising forms of inequality, and ii) relate to girls’ development of their own subjectivities. I argue that while parents and teachers work to be responsible to girls’ health and sexual health, their actions and may not support adolescents in ways they imagined.
i) The first paper developed from this research uses data from 28 qualitative semi-structured interviews with Canadian mothers tasked with consenting to the HPV vaccine. In this paper, I challenge the overly narrow binary where parents are labeled as “responsible” if they vaccinate, “irresponsible” if they do not. I find that HPV vaccine-consenting mothers have a normative conceptualization of responsibility aligned with this vaccine. Some non-HPV vaccine-consenting mothers exercised alternate responsibilities, aligned with broad efforts to manage their teens’ sexual health and sexuality. They extend responsibility beyond cancer protection vis-à-vis vaccines to a more general responsibility for their daughters’ sexual health and self-esteem. While medical research clearly establishes that vaccination is beneficial, I argue that non-HPV vaccine-consenting mothers may nonetheless engage in practices that do have a positive contribution to their daughters’ sexual health and well-being, even if their decision to not vaccinate does not do so. By taking seriously these multiple accounts of responsibility -- that which is normative, as well as alternative — my research re-ignites conversations about the taken-for-grantedness of biotechnical interventions into the management of adolescent health, sexual health, and sexuality.
ii) The second paper from this research is based on ethnographic observations of public school sex-education classrooms and interviews with Ontario teachers, to uncover the complexity of teaching sex-education in Ontario, Canada. Situated in a context of controversial sex-education curriculum, multiculturalism, and student diversity, I show that these sex-ed teachers deliver lessons in ways that align with key dimensions of “progressiveness” – facts, choice, and promoting diversity. This chapter not only outlines how teachers use facts, teach choice, and promote diversity, but also uncovers the outcomes of their efforts, explicating how systems of gender, sexual, class, racial, and ethnic inequalities are reproduced in their efforts towards progressive education. I highlight consequences of secularizing sex-ed, of employing neoliberal and rational-actor approaches to choice, and of teaching “bias-free” sex-ed. This research offers a point of reflection into progressive varieties of sex-education, reminding scholars and educators of the taken-for-granted inequalities that persist, despite best intentions.
iii) The third paper developed from this project is based on 19 qualitative interviews with girls (aged 11-17; grades 7-12), as well as separate interviews with their parents (mostly mothers), this paper investigate the “push and pull” of girls’ narration as they discuss themselves, their families, mothers, schools, and teachers as it relates to conversations on the HPV vaccine, their health, sexual health, and sexuality. I find that other people, negotiations of independence and autonomy, and trust (as in, who girls look to) are main themes in all the interviews. Reading girls’ narratives with these themes in mind, three particular types of selfhood emerged. Some girls: 1) prioritize their mother’s narratives, presenting a type of “tethered self”; 2) explore enactments of agency, autonomy, and independence (although, with varied success), presenting an “autonomous self”; 3) have confidence in the accountability that is diffused between their parents, schools, and doctors -- instilling trust in these institutions gives them a sense of assurance in their stance on these topics. This is the “trusting self.” Highlighting four girls as exemplars of these types, this research reveals the patterns through which girls’ subjectivities, sexual health knowledge, and thoughts on the HPV vaccine are intertwined and operate in relation to other people and larger sociocultural structures. In short, this research focuses on how girls’ sense of self emerges in relation to topics like the HPV vaccine, health, and sexual health.
This research is supported by a Doctoral Award from the Social Science & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) as well two Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS).
2) Sexual Health, Sexual Experiences, and Unwanted Sexual Contact
In another strand of my research, I am co-leading a collaborative research project examining undergraduate students’ unwanted sexual experiences and mental health on university campuses. We designed and used a 60-day e-diary tool to collect longitudinal data. I am currently co-authoring three papers based from this data. The first, examines happened during that 60 days -- analyzing the “real time” reported incidents of unwanted sexual experiences in the context of campus culture. The second paper empirically and conceptually demarcates consent and wantedness in sexual experiences in dating relationships. We investigate how mental health, substance use, and sexual satisfaction are related to levels of consent and wantedness. The third paper is a qualitative analysis of students’ self-reported daily highs and lows, offering insight into students’ subjectivities alongside their daily reporting of mental health.
Sexual health and violence on campus is a growing concern, and a key area for future research. I plan to seek funding to replicate the diary tool at other Canadian universities, and to also extend this research to investigate how youth-based formal and informal sexual health education and post-secondary sexual experiences are connected -- contexts that are commonly studied in isolation. My goal is to understand how health knowledge operates over key life course transitions by investigating the ways in which students’ prior youth-based sex-education relates to their post-secondary sexual experiences -- whether risky, safe, pleasurable, dangerous, wanted, or unwanted.
In the future, my interest in how life course transitions interact with health and health knowledge will be extended to other life periods, particularly as people age and become “linked” or “de-linked” to others (e.g., partnering, divorcing, housing changes etc.).
3) The Dynamics of Knowledge Production, Interdisciplinary, and Philosophy of Science
In addition to my research in sociology of health, medicine, and sexuality, I also have active research agenda in social and sociological theory, knowledge politics, philosophy of science. One article, Erasing the Social From Social Science: The Intellectual Costs Of Boundary-Work And The Canadian Institute Of Health Research (Canadian Journal of Sociology, 2014), examines the role of health-research funding structures in legitimizing and/or delimiting what counts as “good” social science health research, and reveals the erasure of feminist praxis, critical research strategies, and creative scholarship. My interest in this topic continues, and I am currently co-authoring an empirical piece on the “undone” and “rearranged” science that occurs within Canadian health research, tracking scholars’ project trajectories alongside Canadian health funding policy changes.
I have also recently published another article titled, "Towards a New Normal: Emergent Elites and Feminist Scholarship,” written as part of an invited ASA author-meets-critic dialogue with Neil Gross, Eleanor Townsley, and Peter Baehr on Stephen Turner’s new book American Sociology: From Pre-disciplinary to Post-Normal. This paper expands Turner’s conversation about the contributions of feminist sociology. I offer this critique to function as an entry point through which to contemplate what elite sociology is, and how it relates to feminist sociology. I argue that Turner under-explores the contributions of feminist sociology by reducing its contributions to advocacy-based scholarship. By placing feminist sociology in opposition to elite sociology, he simplifies the important discussion of elite sociology, and loses sight of feminist sociology’s theoretical and methodological strengths.
Another co-authored theoretical piece critiques realist approaches that not only ignore the knowledge producer, but that also, in an ontic fallacy, reduce epistemology to questions of ontology.