Laura Hurd Clarke
In this chapter, the author considers some of the theoretical and methodological conundrums that she encountered in her qualitative research that has focused on later life experiences of the aging body as a site of inequality. Western culture is replete with deeply entrenched ageist stereotypes, which position old bodies as inherently asexual, dependent, frail, obsolete, senile, unproductive, and undesirable. Negative cultural constructions of old bodies are further reflected in and buttressed by masculinity and femininity ideals as well as societal assumptions concerning personal responsibility for health. Collectively, these cultural norms shape research in powerful ways as they lead to the avoidance of certain topics, taken-for-granted assumptions that are difficult to elicit or interrogate, and complex power dynamics between researchers and study participants. Reflecting on the intricacies of researching later life body image and embodiment, I offer some suggestions about how the challenges might be reframed as opportunities.
In this chapter, the author examines his embodied experience with Lyme disease to chart how power and knowledge within the dominant biomedical framework were produced via engagement with medical providers. Analyzing the medical governance of Lyme disease through actors’ everyday decision-making practices, the author shows how, in failing to accurately diagnose and treat his sick body and depriving him of treatment, credentialed health care providers reproduced culturally dominant, institutionalized, yet inadequate formations of medical power-knowledge. The author’s experience of this disease illustrates how the manufacture of disease categories and their ascription regulates bodies that do not fit into established categories. Analyzing data from his own life in light of medical science research, the author advances an analytical autoethnography and dissenting embodied knowledge, legitimizing the diagnostic category of chronic Lyme disease, and introducing two concepts—contested disease and contested care—to theorize the complex phenomenon of Lyme disease.
Rose McDermott and Peter K. Hatemi
Genetic influences are often misinterpreted to mean that an individual with a particular genotype is inevitably predisposed to engage in a given behavior or that genetic influences operate outside of human agency and social context. This chapter undertakes a qualitative investigation of a genetically informed (MAOA) sample to illustrate the critical differences between population estimates and individual accountability. The sample includes those whose lives have revolved around violence (e.g., gang members) and those whose lives are committed to peace (e.g., Buddhist monks). It is found that genotype alone cannot predict any one individual’s social behaviors, and it is argued that any decisions or legal precedents targeted toward predicting how a specific individual may act based on his or her DNA sequence require a more nuanced appreciation of how social factors, genetic dispositions, and personal experience intertwine in the context of human agency.
Marion Blute and Fiona M. Jordan
There are three forms of modern Darwinian evolutionism in the social sciences and humanities: the gene-based biological, the social learning-based sociocultural, and gene–culture coevolution dealing with their interaction. This chapter focuses on cultural or sociocultural evolution. It begins with a discussion of the Darwinian-inspired evolutionary approach to history. It then outlines modern evolutionary phylogenetic methods borrowed from biology but now used extensively in the social sciences and humanities. The chapter provides examples of how language trees may be inferred; phylogenetic comparative methods that use language trees to answer questions about aspects of geographical, social, political, cultural, or economic organization; and phylogenetic investigations of material culture and traditions. It is concluded that culture does indeed “descend with modification.”
A number of human traits that are predictive of socioeconomic success (e.g., intelligence, certain personality traits, and educational attainment) or reflective of success (e.g., occupational prestige and earnings) have been found to be substantially affected by individual genetic endowments; some outcomes, such as educational attainment, are also affected by the family environment, although usually to a lesser extent. The associations among status-related traits are themselves largely due to genetic causes. By reshuffling the genes of parents at each generation, sexual reproduction produces a regression of status-relevant traits of offspring toward the population mean—downward for high-status parents, upward for low-status parents—generating social mobility in an achievement-oriented society. Incorporating the quantitative genetic decomposition of trait variance into genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental sources into the classic sociological model of status achievement allows for a better understanding and measurement of central social stratification concepts, such as opportunity and ascription.
This chapter examines the recent massive expansion of genetic research into human behavior. Based on decades of twin research, there were high expectations of strong genetic effects for almost all behavior. Further work on candidate genes from animal research proved initially exciting. Although that research continues, it now currently receives much less attention, in contrast to whole-genome examinations. This chapter provides insight into the whole-genome era of behavioral research and the extent to which it may or may not be a profitable endeavor. Sociologists are generally unaware of this body of research, but it will likely continue to grow. The methods, strengths, and limitations of genome-wide work are discussed. A discussion of the future of this area and the extent to which this provides any leverage for social research of human behavior concludes the chapter.
Jennifer A. Reich
Health risk is increasingly calculable, often with new ways to surveil the body, in hopes of enacting change that might treat, manage, or lower that identifiable risk. Nowhere is this more evident than in pregnancy management and childhood vaccination. This chapter examines how women encounter discourses of risk during pregnancy as well as when they consider childhood vaccination and make decisions for themselves and their children. Using two case examples from a larger qualitative study of perceptions of risk and vaccine refusal, this chapter shows how women’s decisions reflect the ways their pregnancy and parenting decisions are driven by perceptions of risk that are embodied, subjective, and contextual, and that reflect different social locations and processes of management.
Kathryn H. Jacobsen
This chapter discusses the history of and responses to global epidemics of serious diseases. Case studies of cholera, influenza, and HIV/AIDS illustrate typical reactions to pandemic events. The initial stages of a pandemic are often characterized by collective anxiety and a desire for isolation. As the pandemic progresses, there are calls for collective global responses to protect human security and contain outbreaks while maintaining international trade and travel. As pandemics enter a recovery phase, there is often a shift toward the use of advocacy to promote international cooperation, secure continued funding for global health activities, and advance other strategic goals. The rhetoric of pandemics is now being used to describe obesity and other emerging noncommunicable diseases because the language of pandemics connotes risk and demands global action. Pandemics are the result of global interactions and globalization processes, and studies of pandemics are, by definition, global studies.
Face-to-face competition for rank in human status hierarchies is similar to “dominance competition” in other primate species, particularly the African apes. Each individual has signs or signals showing that it has or ought to have high or low status. Group members may accept these signs at face value, or one individual may challenge another for high rank. Among apes and humans, such dominance contests are usually nonviolent, often taking the form of an exchange of stressful signals. Eventually, one contestant withdraws or concedes the higher rank, thus lowering the stress level. Serious competition with important stakes is influenced by a physiological substrate of the hormones testosterone and cortisol and the enzyme α-amylase. Among humans, language is an important channel for exchanging dominant and deferent signals. Apart from the physiological substrate, instantaneous stress responses underlie status allocation. These mechanisms are illustrated with recent experimental results.
Feminist scholars have long argued for embodied reflexivity that involves accounting for how embodiment shapes qualitative field research as an intersubjective process. This chapter draws on ethnographic research with sixty-four low-income men of color who participated in a US government-funded fatherhood program conducted when the author was visibly pregnant with her first child. It analyzes pregnant embodiment as a strategy for facilitating rapport and credibility with socially dissimilar respondents and contributes to an epistemology of embodiment that attends to how researchers’ bodily states and experiences are sources of both data and analysis in field research. It concludes with insights generated from the project about how attention to embodiment is a valuable and illuminating reflexive space from which to better understand and empathize with respondents.
Ronald J. Angel
This article explores major themes related to the association among social factors that generate and maintain poverty and that determine health outcomes among different income groups. It first considers the social class factors that affect health and persistent socially based inequities in health before explaining the meaning and measurement of poverty. It then examines the effect of childhood poverty on adult outcomes, along with the phenomenon known as the “Hispanic paradox.” It also assesses the interrelationships among poverty, mental illness, and health care, the concept of “social capital,” the so-called “new morbidity,” and the health implications of health care reform for poor and minority Americans. Finally, it reflects on the potential role of nongovernmental and faith-based organizations in enhancing the health of disadvantaged individuals and communities.
Jeff Davis and Kristen Damron
During the past four decades, numerous reviews have been published on biological responses to stressful social environments. Reviews targeted for audiences in the social sciences emphasized biological outcomes while skipping over explanations of biological mechanisms. This chapter focuses on the details of the hormonal processes that “report” the state of the environment to the nervous system and regulate cognitive and motor responses to stressful social stimuli. Steroid hormones receive most attention. The chapter concludes with an outline of a sociological model of social action based on current knowledge of hormone actions. It shares some of the basic ideas of previous models such as affect control theory. However, the model proposes a broader role of stress hormones in human social behavior.
Natalie Kay Fullenkamp
In this chapter we present a methodological template for the use of video diaries (vlogs) as data in social science research, with a particular eye toward the selection, coding, and analysis of vlogs as data. Amid the sea of YouTube content, vlogs provide a medium for ordinary people to tell and share sobering stories about coming to terms with profound life events. YouTube vlogs that present individuals’ experiences with illness are a case in point. Considered as illness narratives, vlogs afford a new way to both document and study the experience of illness. Of importance to us here, vlogs project the physical body into cyberspace in ways that shape how “wounded storytellers” (Frank 1995) perform their illness. Beyond the specifics of our empirical case, therefore, a study of illness vlogs is relevant to body scholars interested in the representation and construction of bodies in online spaces.