Carole Joffe. Studying Abortion Providers: The Challenges and Gratifications of Public Sociology in a Contested Area

Monday, March 30, 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Studying Abortion Providers: The Challenges and Gratifications of Public Sociology in a Contested Area

This presentation is conceived as a workshop on conducting public sociology in a particularly challenging area--abortion, and specifically, abortion providers—rather than as a  straight presentation of research findings. I will discuss the pathways that led to my focusing the bulk of my career on studying abortion providers, how I negotiated access to this group, and the various issues that have presented themselves while doing this work. I wish to highlight three major challenges involved with studying abortion providers. First and foremost, there are questions of security of my respondents—given the extreme violence and harassment that has long been a factor in this world. Beyond that, I have struggled with issues of adequate representation; given the relentless demonization of abortion providers by opponents, how does one avoid overcompensating via hagiography? Yet another issue is whether the marginalization and stigma faced by this group spreads to researchers themselves in professional circles, e.g. the ban on public funding for studies involving abortion, the fears of controversy raised by the issue of abortion, even in academic circles, that arguably leads to the omission of abortion in conferences, etc. Finally, I will also address some of the potential career consequences of committing to public sociology more generally, and I will attempt to appraise what impact—if any-- my decades of work in this field may have had.

Carole Joffe is a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.  She is also professor emerita of sociology at the U. of California, Davis, where she additionally taught in the Women and Gender Studies program. In 2015, Prof. Joffe received the Dr. David Gunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Abortion Care Network, and in 2013, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Family Planning.  She received her PhD in sociology from the U. of California, Berkeley. Her most recent book is Reproduction and Society: Interdisciplinary Readings, co-edited with Jennifer Reich, and she is the author as well of four additional books, including Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion before and after Roe v Wade,  and Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients and the Rest of Us.  Besides writing for an academic audience, Joffe has throughout her career written for the general public as well, publishing op-eds and letters in leading newspapers (Los Angeles Times. Washington Post, New York Times, etc) and websites, such as RHRealitycheck.org, Huffington Post, Salon, Slate and others.