CSOC Faculty Update: Jennifer Utrata

Jennifer Utrata

Apart from several scattered weekend trips to Mount Rainier and the central Oregon coast, this past summer was a fairly quiet one. Shortly before summer break began, however, I had the chance to spend a few days in Washington, D.C. participating in the 2011 Regional Policy Symposium on Gender Issues in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Title VIII Program. It was a bit strange being sequestered in the new waterfront “development” called National Harbor in Maryland (10 miles outside of downtown D.C.), but overall it was a refreshing change of pace from most conferences! As one of ten junior scholars, I was paired with a senior scholar working on gender issues in the region, allowing me to get valuable substantive feedback. We collectively pondered various gender issues in Russia and the former Soviet bloc from a policy perspective, attempting to bridge the academia vs. policy divide. On the last day we passed through a mind-boggling number of security checkpoints to participate in a networking event at the U.S. Department of State, where we shared our research with gender and policy experts working on the region.

Mostly I spent the summer revising (May) and revising once more (half of July) an article on Russian single mothers and the grandmothers who shore up families in the region. I have long been bothered by the simplistic assumption that grandmothers in Russia help their adult daughters automatically, with scant attention to age and gender power relations. My article uses ethnographic data to theorize instead the more complex negotiations for support occurring between single mothers and grandmothers. In Russia single mothers typically benefit from “youth privilege” in labor and marriage markets, and grandmothers fear for their own future in old age given the retrenchment of the state since the collapse of communism. These factors shape negotiations for support among women, and these negotiations are critical for understanding how families are managing in the transition to market capitalism in Russia. My article will appear in the October 2011 issue of Gender & Society. Besides this article, I also worked on a co-authored book chapter about fatherhood in Russia that will appear sometime in 2012 in a book about fathers around the world, published by Routledge. Russian fathers tend to be on the margins of family life in Russia, at least compared to mothers and grandmothers, but attitudes towards fatherhood are changing (albeit more slowly than many would like).

I am excited about teaching the latest variations of my Sociology of Gender (212A) and Families in Society (202AB) courses this semester. I love discussing new theories and developments in these fields with students and am pleased to find my students as critically reflective and engaged as ever.

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