research & academia

Highlights from a conference: Thoughts on theory, method, and practice

Before I leave for my next conference, I want to write about the one from which I just returned, a Themed Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development on The Positive Development of Minority Children.

I’d hoped this conference would help me be a better ally and a better researcher, and it did. Furthermore, it strengthened my ability to take an intersectional lens when studying sexuality and gender. Most of all, the theoretical and methodological approaches used to study racial diversity and racial socialization are quite exciting to me as I explore what it means to be a feminist scientist. I came home from this conference truly believing that doing the kind of research I want to do is both important and possible.

I want to summarize three of the major highlights of the weekend.

1. Methodology with Niobe Way: Push yourself to the limits of what you know and pose research questions at those limits. Using herself as an example, she walked us step by step through her research methods. Then we conducted our own research on the person sitting next to us (bless the sweet professor sitting next to me who blushed when I posed my interview question to her). Way focused throughout the whole workshop on the importance of understanding your own assumptions in the questions you pose, the methods you choose, and the analysis you conduct. As I begin to plan and conduct my own research projects, I hope to demonstrate some of what I learned from Way’s approach through reflections posted here. I also hope to keep learning from Niobe Way…

2. Intervention theory with Margaret Beale Spencer: Make sure the support you provide is actually experienced as supportive. Words that make so much sense on paper, but are too rarely pursued in practice. An intervention can have the best of intentions, but it just will not work if it does not address the lived experiences of the people it is designed to help. Spencer talks (and writes) a lot about phenomenology—how individuals experience their own lives and their own development. Reality varies from person to person. Strengths and vulnerabilities vary from person to person—but everyone has both. What makes research a little more complicated can then make intervention and practice a lot more effective.

3. Intersectionality symposium: Identity is messy, and power structures are inherently intertwined. One of the last sessions of the conference, I was looking forward to this symposium from the beginning. Three presenters shared their research on intersecting identities in school contexts: wealth disparities among black students at elite independent schools; perceptions of race and gender among students at an all-male, all-black charter school; and messages that black college students receive around homosexuality. I started thinking about the intersection of gender and sexual orientation. Specifically: What does it mean, as researchers, when we hear “that’s so gay” in response to a male enacting stereotypically female behavior and then label it homophobia OR label it sexism? Does it depend on context? Alternatively, do we need an expanded concept that includes both, perhaps something like “homophobic gender policing”? (Warning: mouth-full!) And whether we call it homophobia, sexism, homophobic gender policing, or something else, we must continue to emphasize that it hurts all children, and all teens, and all adults, not just the ones who are “different.”

I look forward to many more thoughts and ideas about theory, method, and practice at my next conference, with the Society for Research on Adolescence, coming up in Vancouver this week!

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

One thought on “Highlights from a conference: Thoughts on theory, method, and practice”

  1. Allie M. says:

    Mimi, You may want to check out this conference in April (recommended by my mom): 24th annual culture conference, April 13-14, co-sponsored by the Multicultural Family Institute of NJ and the Center for Family , Community and Social Justice, in Princeton, NJ. It sounds right up your alley. In general, my mom could probably recommend a bunch of resources/conferences that deal with intersectionality (something she has been exploring for a long time in the context of families)!

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