Broadly, my research and teaching interests include medical sociology, gender, inequality,
and social movements. An overarching emphasis within these areas is examining “evidence,”
what constitutes evidence, and how evidence is mobilized in different organizational fields
and institutional contexts. My current research engages these questions of evidence in two
domains including: 1) how medical providers negotiate and construct evidence to make
medical decisions within uncertain terrains; and 2) how social movement activists use
evidence to make claims about social issues.
A feminist qualitative methodologist by training, I use mixed-methods strategies including in-depth
interviews, participatory observations, and archival methods.
My current book project is entitled, Treating Gender: Transgender Medicine and Uncertain
Expertise. While healthcare practices operate from the premise that doctors are informed
experts, providers have debated over the last two decades what constitutes expertise and
whether medical practice should be based on clinical experience or scientific evidence. In the
emergent field of transgender medicine, providers work in contexts where they have little to
no clinical experience or no scientific research upon which to base medical decisions. This
lack of evidence directly conflicts with expectations for providers’ expertise. Using a mixed-
methods strategy, I found that 1950s-era U.S. trans medicine was deeply pathologizing of
trans people’s experiences, and contemporary practices have not necessarily improved. I
argue that the drive to normalize trans people in the 1950s has been replaced by normalizing
the practice of trans medicine, which has been and is being achieved by constructing
standardized forms of evidence such as diagnostic criteria and clinical guidelines, that are
institutionally legitimated, yet medically unsubstantiated.
Treating Gender extends current knowledge on uncertainty and decision-making in the fields
of trans studies and medical sociology by examining how the gender identity component of
trans healthcare raises distinct concerns for providers using familiar tools, like clinical
guidelines, in an unfamiliar arena. Increasing reliance upon standardized medical practices
for the treatment of gender may be detrimental to patients, as providers are unable to
accommodate nuances in gender identity and expression. Treating Gender also lends
empirical support to meta-theoretical concerns regarding the problem with ‘evidence’ in evidence-based medicine.
A rich tradition of scholarship in the social sciences makes clear various forms of overt and
covert discrimination occurs against racial minorities and women. Yet, scholars have tended
to exclude transgender people from studies of gender inequality and stratification. A side
project that stems from my previous research on transgender people’s everyday experiences
in social life reveals how microaggressions - micro-level interactional inequalities - regulate
gender presentation and reinforce gender norms. Using in-depth interviews with trans
people, I examine how language shapes the everyday experiences of trans people in
interactions, and specifically produces microaggressions.
To date, much research in microaggressions has focused on developing taxonomies for
distinguishing types of microaggressions that occur against subjugated groups. While this
approach is valuable for naming previously overlooked phenomena, it leaves unaddressed
how microaggressions are embedded in social processes. I extend how this concept has been
used, by situating microaggressive encounters in relation to how normative expectations, and
deeply entrenched cultural norms, come to life and regulate (trans) people through interactions.
A planned future project will explore Appalachian healthcare inequalities. In this longer
research agenda, I will build upon my interest in the construction of knowledge and evidence
to explore: 1) how do categories of difference play out for marginalized communities in
Appalachian healthcare encounters; and 2) how do healthcare providers make meaning of
the work they with different populations of people living in Appalachia? As Barbara Ellen
Smith and others have noted, marginalized populations of people are often left out of
Appalachian scholarship but can tell us much about the region, and broader concerns
regarding healthcare, medicine, and oppression.
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