New Publication: “Tissue-Fragments” in McGill Sociological Review

McGill Sociological Review is a graduate, peer-reviewed academic journal housed in the Department of Sociology at McGill University. I’m a big supporter of graduate journals and very much value the professionalizing role they play in the development of the skills and careers of emerging researchers. Having worked for two graduate journals myself, I understand the tremendous amount of effort it takes to turn them into successful and thriving sites of academic exchange, so I appreciate the effort that the editors, peer-reviewers, and others commit to the journal.

McGill Sociological Review has just launched its second volume, which contains an article of mine entitled “Tissue-Fragments.” Here is the abstract:

Matter from bodies becomes tissue, rather than this being an ontological given. Practices and heterogeneous collectives of actors, including histological study, organ donation, biopsies, hospital waste collection, and therapeutic uses of tissue products imbue tissues with complex social and cultural lives. These tissue lives are contradictory, producing tissue as an intelligible and acceptable object as well as a contested and unstable one. I argue that tissues represent a duality of fragmentation and wholeness, sometimes metonymically standing in for the body in which they originated (e.g. biopsies), sometimes associated solely with a “laboratory life” (e.g. tissue cultures), and sometimes becoming a new part of an existing body (e.g. transplants). While these processes have been elaborated in the literature, we lack a terminology that captures and accounts for them. As such, in this paper I propose the notion of the “tissue-fragment” as a way to conceptualize these entities more fully in their biotechnological and embodied existence.

I’d be pleased to hear any comments you may have!

So You’ve Been Recruited: Why Would a Sociologist Ask a Scientist to Participate in a Study?

Having more or less completed the data collection for my PhD research, I have started to reflect on the reaction and reception I received from scientists and physicians when I asked them to participate in my study. Much to my surprise and utter gratitude, almost all the people I approached were happy to help me. I think part of this comes from their appreciation for research in general, their shared experiences with the frustrations of recruitment, and their knowledge of and concern for social issues. So, instead of facing the typical and often major problems associated with recruitment, I now face what I think is a much more difficult obstacle that weighs quite heavily on me: how will I ever pay back the generosity, kindness and contribution of these scientists? I do not know if it is possible that I could balance out this debt. I hope that having a unique opportunity to share their experiences and ideas with me was personally fulfilling and interesting for them. I hope that my dissertation can make a contribution to scientific and social scientific knowledge that in some way resonates with changes they would like to see in science or in society. I hope my study will raise the profile of the scientists with whom I have worked. And I hope I exposed them, even if just a little bit, to sociological ways of thinking that they find valuable.

Yet despite not having faced significant problems with recruitment, I still feel that many scientists I talked with were not at first sure of why I would want to talk to them or what contribution they could possibly make to a sociological study. I often heard the following:

– I’m not the best person to talk to.

– This part is really boring and there is nothing to see.

– I’m not really an expert in social issues.

– I just do lab work so I’m not sure that is relevant for you.

– I’m just starting out my career so I don’t have much to say.

I can completely understand where these concerns come from. Indeed, as much as their world was a mystery to me at first, mine must be quite removed from their experiences. Some even told me they had never spoken with a sociologist before. However, the kind of thinking reflected in the statements above actually reflects the exact opposite of what many sociologists believe about people. A foundational assumption in much of sociology is that all people are experts in their lives and experiences. This is an expertise that is a consequence of just being in this world, and it is this expertise that sociologists want to explore. While I can’t speak for all sociologists who study science, each of whom would have a different focus, motivation, and methodology behind their studies, the following are points that might be helpful for scientists who are asked to participate in sociological studies:

  1. All people are experts in their lives and experiences. You do not need to prepare anything for your interaction with a sociologist. You come pre-equipped with all the ideas, opinions, and experiences required.
  2. In particular, what is mundane and “everyday” for you is fascinating for a sociologist.
  3. Sociologists are not journalists. They are not looking for “sound bites” or “lay explanations”; rather, they are looking to understand your ideas, opinions, and experiences.
  4. You do not have to answer any questions you find objectionable, and you can always withdraw from the study without providing a reason. Sociologists are trained to be mindful and protective of your anonymity and privacy.
  5. In sum, your opinions, ideas, and experiences are not inconsequential or unimportant; they are integral to empirical sociology.

I value the contribution of the participants in my study greatly. To everyone that has helped me with my study in even a small way, THANK YOU.

Announcement: ‘Environmental Responsibility without Limits’ Symposium

On April 19th, Queen’s University will have the privilege of hosting scholars Nigel Clark and Peter Van Wyck for a symposium entitled “Environmental Responsibility without Limits.” Click here for the promotional poster.

There is a graduate student chat session with the two from 10-11:30am in room WAT 517, followed by the symposium from 1-3:30pm in the Robert Sutherland Building room 202. Nigel Clark’s talk is entitled “Climate Justice: Indifferent Nature, Indifferent Responsibility”; Peter Van Wyck’s talk is entitled “Memory, Witness, and the Archive: At Work on the Highway of the Atom.”

The event is sponsored by the genera Research Group, Network in Canadian History and Environment, and the School of Environmental Studies, the School of Policy Studies, the Department of Geography, and the Department of Sociology at Queen’s University. Many thanks to Myra J. Hird for organizing the event.

All welcome! It’s sure to be an engaging event.