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Mary Bernstein, University of Connecticut
One of the unique programs that ASA sponsors, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, is the Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline (FAD). While the FAD grants fund individual research projects, they also can provide support for exciting and innovative conferences designed to map a developing field, and promote networking and collaborative research. Support for conferences, though, is contingent on the innovativeness of the proposal. In particular, the conference should not replicate a traditional paper/presentation/discussant format. After all, we have the ASA meetings for that.
In 2011, as past chair of the ASA Section on the Sociology of Sexualities, I agreed to chair the Section’s first ever pre-ASA conference, which we called "Crossing Boundaries: Workshopping Sexualities." I wrote and was awarded a FAD grant to support the conference. The steering committee for the 2012 two-day conference in Denver included Tey Meadow, Kristen Schilt, Vrushali Patil, Laura Carpenter, Lucy Dwight, Karl Bryant, Steven Epstein, David Paternotte, Antonio (Jay) Pastrana, Jr., Jessie Daniels, Jennifer Reich, Vernisa Donaldson, Carlos M. Camacho, and Juan Battle.
We envisioned an innovative conference designed to contribute to developing the infrastructure of the field of sexualities and to help foster a scholarly community between junior and senior scholars and between qualitative and quantitative researchers. The conference also provided a unique opportunity to chart the field of the sociology of sexualities. The sociological study of sexualities has only recently become a recognized area of research in sociology, with the formation of the Section within ASA in 1997. Since its formation, the Section has grown to more than 500 members. As of October 2011, when I wrote the FAD grant, the Sociology of Sexualities Section had a membership that is 45% graduate students. "Crossing Boundaries" allowed for cross-fertilization of ideas between faculty and graduate students.
One of the reasons I was successful in receiving a FAD grant was because of the innovative conference format. In order to spark maximum discussion, we decided to have five different types of sessions: keynote panels, dissertation master classes, critical issues sessions, works-in-progress, and roundtables. In addition to these sessions, every conference member participated in a workgroup that met twice to address a different subfield within the sociology of sexualities. In this way, we were able to encourage discussion among more junior and senior members of the field and to ensure that everyone could be well networked and heard.
The keynote sessions were designed to address major questions in the field and to point the way toward future research. The first panel, titled “The Sociology of Sexualities, Past, Present, and Future,” took stock of areas that have developed a rich research tradition within the field and presented an agenda for the future study of sexualities that builds on these traditions and explores new areas.
The second keynote panel, titled “Crossing Boundaries,” included panelists with expertise in the study of sexualities as well as the study of immigration, social theory, political economy, transnational issues, the family, and race. This panel illustrated how these other areas within sociology can benefit from including the study of sexualities and how those studying sexualities can benefit from incorporating key research questions and methods from these other areas as they are studying sexualities. This is particularly important in ensuring that the study of sexualities is taken seriously across the discipline. A third panel included one speaker, Janice Irvine, who reported on a study that she conducted of the experiences of sociologists who conduct sexualities research.
The dissertation master classes were particularly important, given how many graduate students are in the Section. For the dissertation master classes, participants were grouped with other scholars working in related areas. A senior scholar led each group and provided feedback on the methodological approach, research design, theoretical import, and feasibility of the proposed research. This form of methodological mentorship was particularly important given that many scholars who have served on the Council of the Sexualities Section are routinely asked to mentor graduate students from other universities whose departments lack an expert in the area.
The “Critical Issues” format for participation departed from traditional paper and discussant panels to foster insight and innovation on particular issues. The panels were designed to foster common investigations of theoretical and methodological approaches across specific research topics and to focus on subsidiary questions and extensions of major themes in sexualities. These panels ranged from sessions on quantitative and qualitative research methods in the sociology of sexualities to theorizing, for example, how the Internet age has affected sexualities, sex and justice, the interSections between race and sexuality, bullying and transnational issues.
All registered participants were assigned, based on preferences indicated on the registration form, a topical workgroup. The workgroups met twice during the conference. Each group was charged with producing a document to serve as a resource for faculty and graduate students working in their area. As a result, the groups produced 16 working papers that lay out the key theoretical questions in each area within the study of sexualities and assess the most significant areas for future research. Each working paper also addressed methodological concerns and ways to negotiate them. The result is a 64-page document archived on the ASA Section on the Sociology of Sexualities’ webpage (www.asanet.org/Sectionsex/crossingboundaries/index.html). These working papers provide a useful resource for graduate students as well as faculty whose research and teaching intersect with the concerns of the workgroup.
The conference was a resounding success. The 193 attendees included 88 faculty and 105 graduate students.
Because our focus was on helping mentor junior scholars, we used the bulk of our FAD funds to give 24 graduate students $200 scholarships to help defray the cost of attending the conference. The remainder of the money was used to pay for meals at the conference. Having the FAD grant helped in our other fundraising efforts and, in the end, the conference was supported by a donation from the ASA Sections on the Sociology of Sexualities and on Sex & Gender and a grant from the CUNY Graduate Center through Juan Battle, one of the conference organizers, as well as funding from the University of Denver and the University of Colorado-Denver.
The most significant contribution of the FAD funds was in the building of the infrastructure of the field of sexualities. In addition to the working papers, which are a resource for all, new collaborative research projects have started, and the conference has helped to ensure that the sociology of sexualities will continue to be a thriving and growing area of sociological research.
For more information on FAD and to apply, see www.asanet.org/funding/fad.cfm.