Gender and Society

Discipline: Sociology
Instructor: Pugh
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1425
End: 1540
Field Work: Day 2 - Tuesday, 21 October | Spain Download Syllabus

The sociology of gender can be a very powerful experience, even if studied at a standard college campus somewhere in the United States; one can only imagine how the course material will take flight on the global journey that is Semester at Sea.  Wherever the encounter, the material can be both deeply personal and profoundly intellectual, and students can feel at once newly free and yet as if they all of a sudden see the way their choices are actually constrained.  The goal is for this course to serve as but the briefest of guides to a wildly prolific sociological field. How to introduce gender as an intellectual paradigm, not to mention a political revolution, or even a personal revelation?  How to equip you with tools not just to “add women and stir,” but to take up the challenge of the sociology of gender and grapple with its deconstructive, profoundly egalitarian, critical perspectives?


The course is divided into three parts.  First, we orient ourselves by considering how to think and talk about gender, we’ll come up with some class rules in the first meeting, and we’ll consider a particularly influential approach to gender.  Second, we’ll delve into gender and the body, as it is disciplined by cultural debates, regulated by states, and conceptualized by science.  In the third part, we will consider the daily experience of gender in work, play and care, while in the fourth, we’ll explore the everyday making of sex, gender and sexuality.  Finally in the fifth segment, we’ll touch on contemporary experiences of gender inequality.  Throughout, we’ll consider influential perspectives about how gender works (such as “doing gender,” and intersectionalities), and we’ll read work that engage with the larger themes of the course while also discussing issues in the local ports.  In keeping with the theme of the course and of the sociology of gender generally, we’ll destabilize the white, middle-class, heterosexual, etc. perspective with considerations of race/ethnicity, class, sexuality, postcolonial and other social categories.

Field Work

Country: Spain
Day: 2 - Tuesday, 21 October

Contemporary Western/affluent industrialized nations increasingly feature low-income single mothers with children, a family pattern that might seem to stem from personal troubles and/or choices, but that have their roots in the interplay of gender, the state and the market.  A number of different factors contribute to the proliferation of these kinds of families; in the United States, these include: how women and men conceive of their care responsibilities; how employers, state policies and the court system institutionalize particular models of gendered obligations at work and at home (and punish those who diverge from these models); how gender-based violence and kinship systems can shore up inequalities between men and women; how increasing incarceration and the evisceration of stable jobs for men with HS degrees have led to men’s decreasing attachment to families; how low-income women view children as a sign of conventional adulthood responsibility but marriage as a capstone event signaling financial and relationships stability.   Yet these families also involve special challenges, including how to simultaneously care for and provide for young children.  What are the most important factors generating Spain’s single mothers, and how does that country handle its neediest cases?  What is the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in their support? In this fieldlab, we will visit the Fundació Maria Raventós, an NGO that for more than sixty years has been dedicated to helping single mothers without resources, who are “at risk of social exclusion” and in need of help.  We will meet with the NGO’s current president, who will explain the group’s current projects and how they try to help women suffering from difficult circumstances.  We will then eat lunch in a local vegetarian restaurant.  Finally, we will cap off the fieldlab with a walking visit to Barcelona’s famous market La Boqueria, passing through Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter (sites where the state has an express interest in enabling tourism), and where we will observe gender, the state and the market in action. Assignment:  Students will be asked to read an excerpt of Sharon Hays’ Flat Broke with Children (Oxford 2003) before writing their fieldlab reflection.  Students will record their fieldlab observations in a concise 2-3 page reflection graded on a check plus/minus basis.  Guidelines will be posted. Academic Objectives:

  1. Read and reflect upon the multiple factors generating both the proliferation and the experience of low-income single mothers in advanced industrialized countries;
  2. Observe the efforts of one enduring NGO focusing on women in need, evaluating the way they analyze and conceive of how and why the women are there, and how best to help them;
  3. Observe instances of gender on the Barcelona street, at tourism sites, and at La Boqueria market.
  4. Evaluate the interplay of gender, the state and the market for different sub-groups in Spain