Friday, February 16, 2007

carnal sociology

“Can’t you see Carmen just once more before you leave?” she asked. I said the plane left early in the morning. “Couldn’t you get a job in California, move here, and maybe settle down with Peggy and the baby?” she implored, almost whining.

For a moment, I had the wind knocked out of me. “Listen, Pearl, the fact is, the academic job market doesn’t allow that kind of move. I mean, it’s not that easy just to pick up and get a job wherever you want, especially in California. Those jobs are scarce and hard to get,” I told her. “Anyway, uh, I’m actually involved with someone. I hate to say this, but your daughter and I barely know each other. We’re practically strangers. We just had that one date, that was it. I’m sorry, Pearl, you’re being very nice, I’m sure you’re a wonderful mother, and Peggy’s a wonderful woman. I’m sure she’ll meet a man who wants to settle down with her.” Man, this is painful, I thought, agonizing over every sentence. Finally, Peggy’s mother allowed me to hang up. At seven the next morning, Pearl called again and asked me to meet her and her husband at their produce market, accept some fruit, and talk about the situation. I declined. I have a plane to catch, I insisted. These phone calls are causing me considerable guilt, I told myself when I hung up.

Peggy and I corresponded for almost two years. She even sent several pictures of our daughter. She’s cute, I thought, little more. How could I possibly feel the complete father? I asked myself. For a brief period of time, I paid her monthly medical insurance, then she got a job that offered coverage. And then the letters stopped. I figured she’s met someone. It’s for the best, I thought.
Deadbeat dad? No, deadbeat sociologist dad! Scene from a novel? No, scene from an article on ethnographic fieldwork methods!

Despite my having a zillion pressing things to do, a friend set me off on the digression of reading Erich Goode's article "Sexual Involvement and Social Research in a Fat Civil Rights Organization." (Qualitative Sociology, 2002, pp. 501-534). Other selections from the same article, with a brief italicized response:
1. "To be accepted in NAAFA, I had to prove my lust for fat women, and I had to prove it by having affairs with them. At the same time, I realized only much later, by having affairs with NAAFA women, I became entangled in the emotional complexities such affairs entailed, making my job of gathering information problematic." [A professional observer of social behavior, and he only realizes 'much later' that having affairs with multiple women might add emotional complications to a social research project.]

2. “She said you poured glass after glass of wine for yourself and never offered her one.”
“I did?” I asked. “Maybe I did, I don’t remember. If I did, it was a mistake. I don’t know, I guess I figured if she wanted some, she’d ask. Why didn’t she ask?” My head swam with the triviality of it all. How could I have been so damn stupid and insensitive? How could I have made such moronic mistakes? I was screwing up in the fundamentals of social research! [I suppose he can't be blamed if his social research methods instructor never told him to be sure to offer to refill his research subject's wine glass whenever he refilled his own.]

3. "I suppressed the idea that sleeping with my subjects was an inherently tricky proposition. It was only much later that I became fully aware of the almost self-contradictory nature of what I was doing. Sure, all researchers who participate in what they are studying run into these problems."[Actually, I have no response here other than to repeat the last sentence in a slow, incredulous voice]
Recently, I was so indignant about some problems in a quantitative research article that was published in a high-profile venue that I sent off a comment on the article to the journal. The comment was pretty unremittingly negative. In retrospect, I suppose I should have at least credited the author with not impregnating any respondents in the course of doing the analysis.


rps said...

Qualitative Sociology published four responses to this article (by Susan Bell, Peter Manning, Abigail Saguy, and Christine Williams) in which Goode gets called out for being "spectacularly self indulgent," failing to understand dynamics of sex, gender, and power, neglecting to consult with other sociologists (or an IRB?) about his "challenges" in the field, representing himself as if he has no agency (or, I might add, research skills - there's a lengthy passage in the article where one of his informants schools him on the basics of field research), having no research agenda, being "a sexual predator," and producing work that is "baffling in its superficiality."

To be sure, I'm not saying there isn't ample room for more criticism here on JFW. Indeed, I may ask my methods class to visit this post in advance of our discussion of these articles to benefit from your (witty, insightful, provocative, etc.) comments.

For actual scholarship on NAFAA and the politics of obesity, see the work of Debra Gimlin and Abigail Saguy.

jeremy said...

I have to admit that, above all else, I'm struck perhaps less by the conduct described in the article than by the wild rationalizing self-absorbed cluelessness with which he recounts it, which mostly crowds out my capacity for more deliberate response and depresses me about the amount of sheer nutjobbery there is around My Chosen Profession.

Someone should track down the child as an autoethnographic postscript.

Anonymous said...

There is so much in this article that made me cringe. But this line put me over the edge, referring to the woman who became the mother of his child, "Putting her hand over mine, she suggested, 'Why don’t we go to a hot tub?' Damn, I thought, I barely know this woman! But she was cute, she was short, she was chubby, she was brown —- why the hell not?" I could think of a few reasons why not, Erich.

Anonymous said...

Pearl called again and asked me to meet her and her husband at their produce market, accept some fruit, and talk about the situation

Accept some fruit?

Anonymous said...

mein gott! i remember hearing about this a while back, but there is no subtitute for going to the source. what a wonderful article! an instant classic that is sure to be passed around grad student offices for a generation. thank you! i know where i'm sending my next autoethnography! it is important to be reminded now and then that type is still very much with us...a legion of drug-addled "ethnographers" tucked away in various nooks and crannies, occasionally called back into service by their left coast masters or by the latest stirring asa resolution, but otherwise blending seamlessly into the background of general academic nutjobbery. terrrre heeerrre. let's see the boy detective sell this group on 'replication standards.'

Tom Volscho said...

The daughter?

Maybe when she seeks out her father he could write another chapter. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

The daughter!

I wonder if he's in touch with her. Because otherwise, by publishing this, he risks that one day she will read the article for a class (not to underestimate the number of young people these days for whom Qual Soc is favored beach reading!) and have to contend with the twin dreadful realizations that 1) she is Carmen (I assume someone told him to use pseudonyms?); 2) her father is a creep.

Anonymous said...

He did the research a while back. His daughter's in her mid-twenties now.

Wouldn't it be interesting if she's become a sociologist and there's a sociology legacy that wasn't raised by their academic parent? Would it be a case of nature vs. nurture or the sociology of me?

Shamus said...

This article has sent me into a blind rage. I can't even say more...

Anonymous said...

You guys are so smug, perched on your IRB-sanctioned stools. If we let the corporate lawyers of the universities determine everything about our research practices, we would have to wrap people in latex before we talked with them.

It's obvious that abandoning a child is a bad idea, but is it really so bad to have consensual sex with adult research participants? How different is that from, say, joining the social movement that you are studying, or living in someone's house during ethnographic field work?

Shamus said...

My concern isn't so much with IRB. It's that such a self-indulgent article with no clear addition to our general scholarship got published.

Also, if a woman did this she'd publicly be seen as "unstable" because of what people privately would think of as her "whorish" practices.

Have you read the article, Anon 10:00AM?

Anonymous said...

"...perched on your IRB-sanctioned it really so bad to have consensual sex with adult research participants..."

Wow, this blog is becoming so popular that it is even attracting trolls! A shout out to Field Marshal Cinque, General Gelina and my other Bay Area sisters and brothers!

Anonymous said...

"is it really so bad to have consensual sex with adult research participants?"

Erich, is that you?

carly said...

"It's obvious that abandoning a child is a bad idea, but is it really so bad to have consensual sex with adult research participants? "

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

rps said...

Goode has published at least one other article on sleeping with his informants.

Sex with informants as deviant behavior: an account and commentary. Deviant Behavior 20, no. 4 (1999): 301

In this one, he reveals that he's slept with informants in three different research projects.

Indeed, he seems to have a knack for finding ways to do this. For example, he also did research on response to personal ads [Gender and courtship entitlement: responses to personal ads. Sex Roles v. 34 (1996) p. 141-69]. The other project was a study of drug users. And as Goode puts it:
"In the marijuana research, the conjunction between sex and marijuana use was a major component, and in the personals ad and the NAAFA studies, sex and romance were more or less what they were all about."

life_of_a_fool said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

OK, I'm in a hurry so admittedly, somewhat random thoughts here. I'm not trying to be a Goode apologist, but if you read the entire article, (which I just did ... argh! Thanks for the tangent :) I think you can see why it was published. Listen, the guy admits he was a jerk. Yeah, lots of what he says is extremely cringe inducing. Honesty (yes, even about our own research) is like that sometimes. He wasn't writing the article to claim that what he did was a good, moral thing. Done any fieldwork lately? There are all sorts of challenges that you just don't get working in the slightly more sanitized world of "data sets." Does that mean we shouldn't do fieldwork? I don't think so. Have I done fieldwork, yes. Have I been propositioned for sex while in the field, yes. Have I had sex with "informants", no. No matter how much of a "participant-observer" I was, it didn't seem like a good idea then and it still doesn't seem like a good idea. Do I teach, yes. Have I been propositioned by students for sex, yes. Did I have sex with them, no. Do I think it's a good idea to have sex with students, no, I do not think it's a good idea. Do all professors avoid sex with their students? Well, I think we all know the answer to that.

All I'm saying is that sometimes it's good to talk about the challenges and the dirty little secrets of our profession and before we get all haughty about the horrors of Goode's confession, maybe we should consider the good that might come from it (and also check our own behavior). Are there deadbeat sociologist Dads (and Moms), uhm, of course there are. In all sorts of ways. Let's don't pretend to be so shocked at all manner of behavior even amongst our own, that's all I'm saying (seeing as how we're, uhm, human-- ivory-towered perches notwithstandig--like everyone else).

Anonymous said...

I basically agree with anon 12:40. I disagree with Goode's decisions and his apparent cluelessness while making them, and was creeped out by the article. But, these issues do come up frequently in field work and he's hardly the only ethnographer to make the decision to have sex with research participants. Normally, this gets lost behind the polished final products, but it should be talked about more. It speaks to the role of the researcher, power dynamics, gender dynamics, etc.

Gwen said...

But as a sociologist, I'm kinda disturbed by how non-sociological he often is about stuff. For instance, when he talks about attraction, he talks about it as this overwhelming instinctual reaction that just overwhelms us and there's nothing we can do. Where's at least a little sociological analysis of the role of socialization in creating attractions to certain body types? He seems to fall back on strictly biological explanations for behavior when it's convenient for him.

I also don't like how he just asserts that he HAD to have sex with the women to gain access to the group. He bases this on one (male) board member challenging him about his intentions. He never seems to at all question whether he actually "had" to have sex to do his research. It seems like a very convenient justification, rather than just admitting he wanted to.

And dude...just on a totally non-professional level, how can anyone be that CLUELESS about the emotional complications that may occur when you have sex with a string of women who all know each other and hang out together? I am just stunned by the tone of total shock and innocent confusion.

Anonymous said...

I swear, only in sociology would people line up to defend this schmuck. I sincerely hope that you all develop some research ethics. As for the whole, less-shocked-than-thou position....what's your point? The guy had sex with his informants on multiple research sites, had a child with one of them that he didn't make any significant effort to care for, and now is self-indulgently publishing these exploits in numerous journal articles. You would have to have essentially zero sense of ethics in research to defend this pig. If he was just a guy who had kids out of wedlock and didn't take care of them, you would be critical right? Is his status as a qualitative sociologist the reason it's OK?

Anonymous said...

"Let's don't pretend to be so shocked at all manner of behavior even amongst our own, that's all I'm saying"

Why should we NOT be shocked at Goode's complete lack of research ethics? Is there some community of researchers within which this is typical and not shockingly unethical? Are you defending his behavior, or just looking for some devil's advocacy position?

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is defending his actions; what compassionate, sane person of any ilk would? Rather some of us are defending the decision to admit them, write about them, have some dialogue about them, since it seems the best way to avoid such spectacular failures in the future.

And the article was not framed as "look-at-my-successful-research-project," by the way. For those who might not have taken the time to read the article, here's how it begins ... "This is the story of a spectacularly failed research project. The events I narrate
here took place a generation ago. Babies born at that time are young adults today; men and women then in their early middle age are now standing on the threshold of their dotage. Who is the man who animates the pages of this arrative? Today, gazing back across such an enormous temporal distance, I barely recognize him.
Reading over this account causes me to wince and squirm in discomfort and embarrassment. I did that? I gasp. I said that? I ask. This is not me, I object.
But the fact is, I was who I was and I did what I did. What follows, while not intended to be an atonement for my sins, is a more-or-less conventionally faithful description of them. And as I see the matter today, the worm in the apple of my sins was sex."

As I noted, I would not have made the choices he did in the field but the point is that "mistakes" get made because we're human and life in the field is never easy, whether your dilemma involves how you write about your "subjects", how you interact with them while you're there and the guilt you often feel coming away and writing ANYthing about them ... all things that need to be (and are) written about and talked about amongst qualitative researchers.

Anonymous said...

"... all things that need to be (and are) written about and talked about amongst qualitative researchers."

I don't think you're giving qualitative researchers much credit if you are suggesting that it needs to seriously be disucssed whether or not researchers ought to have unprotected sex with their research subjects. There's been over 100 years of qualitative research in sociology, and I think people knew by about year 1 that this would be unethical and poor research practice. Qualitative researchers are not morons; they know basic ethics and that researchers should minimze their effect on what they're observing.

Besides, even if hypothetically qualitative researchers were such ridiculous people that they could not figure this out (and I do not concede this), I'm in no hurry to give Goode any credit for this article. His methodological reasoning in the aricle is remarkably poor for someone who is paid to conduct social research. Further, he's published multiple articles on this subject including justifications for why he did it. He seems a) like he's trying to profit from this, and b) not to have realized how dumb and unethical what he did was.

Anonymous said...

I don't care what our leader says, I ain't replicatin' this one...

Shamus said...

What's the record number of comments on this blog? Was it the great Deflem posting of 2005? i wonder.

jeremy said...

I've had over 50 comments a few times. I don't remember exactly which posts.