- Feminist Images of Public Intellectualism:An Interview with Lisa Wade, PhD
Perhaps, given Feminist Teacher’s interdisciplinary readership, the name Lisa Wade is unfamiliar. But whether you know it or not, you’ve encountered her work via Sociological Images. The blog has taken public intellectualism to a new level and introduced feminist criticism to an audience of startling proportions. The site, which offers savvy criticism of popular imagery and insightful discussion of current events, receives five hundred thousand visits per month.
The Fall 2010 issue of the magazine Contexts describes Sociological Images in this way: “[I]nstructors discover the blog is a great resource on media and culture. Activists find insightful media criticism and a passionate community discussing each post in the blog’s comments section . . . Its content begs to be shared—whether it’s insightful, clever, outrageous, or just plain funny—with friends and colleagues.”
Lisa Wade may be best known for Sociological Images (a collaboration with sociologist Gwen Sharp), but her scholarly work on college hook-up culture, female genital cutting, and the potential of putting biology into conversation with social theories of the body help to further feminist questions. Yet Wade stands as an exemplary feminist teacher, too, especially in the ways she allies students. She demonstrates unyielding support for students at Occidental College in their legal struggle against the university for deliberate indifference to sexual assault on campus—both as an active participant in the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition and through writings for media outlets including The Huffington Post and the Ms. Magazine blog.
Here, Wade talks about Sociological Images, public intellectualism, and teaching a new generation of feminists:
Sociological Images is widely used in classroom teaching, not only in sociology but also in the humanities and social sciences. The site also has a sizeable following outside of higher education. How do you see public intellectualism, generally, and public sociology, specifically, as a form of teaching?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about being a feminist public sociologist and the kind words about Sociological Images. I don’t think I would rush to say that my public work is a form of teaching, at least not formal teaching as it’s been institutionalized [End Page 158] in the U.S. and elsewhere. Some really important things differentiate what I do on the blog and what I do in the classroom. Students in the classroom are more or less required to be there. If they want the institutional capital that comes with a degree, they have to enroll in and get credit for someone’s class. Given attendance policy and participation grades, they have to actually show up. I get them for an entire semester, during which I can carefully craft a trajectory of ideas that build upon one another and lead to true shifts of knowledge and understanding. Throughout, I have the opportunity to give verbal and written feedback, to which the student can respond. And, ultimately, I decide whether the student has absorbed these ideas through evaluation and the assigning of a final grade.
None of these things are true on Sociological Images or the other sites on which I’m able to talk about sociological ideas. Everyone is there voluntarily and can move away at any time. They are exposed to limited ideas—one blog post, a couple quotes in a newspaper article, a five-minute video—many won’t read or watch it in its entirety. Most, I’m guessing, will come across my work only once in a lifetime. There is little to no back-and-forth, and the reader has essentially no incentive to listen carefully to what I’m saying, nor much of an opportunity to elicit feedback. Finally, I have absolutely no power over the readers: I offer no grades and am not part of a process through which they attain institutional capital.
In other words, if a college class is a nutritious meal, Sociological Images posts are candy: they’re colorful sociological tidbits. Delicious, but minimally nutritious.
Is this teaching? For some, maybe. For the minority who delve into the archives with gusto or read the blog for a...