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Dorothy Smith Essay

Dorothy Smith was born in North England in 1929. At a young age she did various jobs as a secretary before realizing that she needed to study in order to get a well paying job. In the early 1950’s she studied at the London School of Economics where she specialized in sociology. In 1955 Dorothy moved to the University of Berkeley where she got her doctorate. (Gardiner 180). While at Berkeley, she was exposed to sociological thinkers like Mead, Irving Goffman and Merleau. For two decades up from 1950, Dorothy was involved in many leftist organizations and attended various anti war demonstrations.

She divorced her husband when her second son was nine months and faced many difficulties and challenges raising them. (classiques. uqac. ca). During her times, there was an outright gender discrimination against women. She sought the Marxist ideologies to explain the on goings and she clearly realized the differences in power on the lines of gender in the society. To her, males dominated the most important sectors like education, politics, medical as well as the economic field. This way, the female gender was marginalized and their interests and aspirations suppressed.

(Gardiner 180). Dorothy graduated in 1963 after which she went into teaching in Berkeley, Essex and British Columbia. She continued with her institutional ethnographic studies after her retirement. As one of the renowned feminists, Dorothy argued that the society was male dominated, with the laws and the existing legal structures being highly patriarchal. Her research therefore focused on how men who had the power in economic terms dominated women. She also argued that even the religion was male dominated and the women were the ‘dormant gender’ whose voices were rarely heard.

(Gardiner 180). To her, the domination was so severe that some women would end up using male figures. For instance, a female author would use a male name probably to attract an audience. The male dominance had been made universal and it appeared as if the women’s fate had been sealed. In education, women were denied formal education as well as positions; an example is in medicine where the society accepted male dominance as universal. Again, those seeking education in the male dominated schools would be influenced by the system.

Most references in the schools portrayed male as the dominant gender and the female related studies were poorly funded or dismissed as of less importance. (classiques. uqac. ca). Institutional ethnography was a form of sociological inquiry introduced by Smith to explain how social relations influenced people’s everyday lives. The sociology for the people encompassed all people in the society and tried to establish the contradictions between people’s experiences in their every day lives as well as the way their social relations were organized. (Smith 1-6).

Their approach differed from other theories in the sense that it placed more emphasis on people’s experiences rather than the predetermined social relations in the society. To illustrate her theory, she carried out various researches like the effect of single mothers and schooling of their children as well as alienation of middle class managers and the role their wives played. Smith and a colleague in the teaching career, Alison, researched on single parents and their effect on the education of their children. This “research focused on the socially organized processes which structured some families as different in the schooling environment.

”(Smith129). Single parenthood was deemed as a social problem. Such parents were viewed as ineffective especially in bringing up children due to the purported negative influences on the children’s emotional development as well as their long term behaviors (Smith 130). Dorothy and Alison critically analyzed the existing literature on single parents. They established that most of what was depicted in the media was very different from what was happening on the ground. The media was a reflection of the works of some professionals such as teachers, administrators as well as social workers but it had an overall effect on the society.

(Smith 137). Their research clearly explained the variances between what is depicted in the media (literature) and what actually happens. In her article, women, the family and the corporate capitalism, Dorothy tried to establish the alienation of a middle class manager and the role played by his wife to reinforce the man’s alienation. To Smith, the middle class manager was different from the working class man whose alienation was more to the ownership of the means of production as opposed to the woman who was a ‘personal service to him’.

Smith established that when the man ceased to provide for his family the relationship changed, a clear indication that male dominance is highly correlated to the economic dependence which is an external force as neither of them has control over it. To Smith, “monopoly or the corporate capitalism alienated both the men and women of the middle classes while eliminating the socio economic basis for an autonomous selfhood for women”. (Sydie & Adams 560). To Dorothy, there was a general consent of how laws, courts and welfare agencies helped enforce certain understandings of how the entire world was expected to work.

The prevailing understanding seemed to favor men at the expense of women and there was a general association of women and child bearing. Dorothy made a major contribution to sociology as it is today. In her new sociological inquiry, she advocated that researchers be on the same critical plane as the subject of the research. Here, researchers were to look deeper rather than just the objects of the research if their research was to be effective. Conducting research in the traditional way would not reveal how the object was constructed or what it consisted of when relating it to the social relations that affected peoples every day lives.

Although women problems demanded for a sociological explanation as their experiences created problems, their experiences alone would not suffice to offer solutions. Their experiences would be as a result of the social, political as well as the economic organization. Dorothy’s work made sociologists especially the researcher focus on the factors that influence people before making final conclusions as people’s experiences alone would be effectively addressed by monitoring their social relations in everyday activities.

To Denise and Cheryl, in their extinguished book nursing research, Dorothy Smith’s ‘institutional ethnography’ has been applied in various fields such as nursing, social work, and community health as well as in the study of professional services. It focuses on the social organization as well as the institutional work processes and consequently the outcome of the research plays a significant role in the establishment of organizational changes as the real problems are established. (Polit & Beck 227).

Like other feminist theorists, Dorothy posits that sociology as well as other social science disciplines was constructed by males in the highly patriarchal society. To resolve women problems would therefore only be successful if the female stand point was considered. Smith used the Marxism approach and highlighted the aspect of alienation, capitalism as well as the economic aspects in the society. To her, there was need to focus more on the alienated in the society, these being women as well as other groups who were oppressed. (uregina. ca).

To Dorothy, there was a need to research more on people’s experiences as well as situations as what was present in the prevailing literature was inaccurate in explaining their actual fate. As Johnson in ‘contemporary sociology theory’ noted, Dorothy Smith’s ideologies could differ from those of other feminist theorists. Some feminists unlike Dorothy tried to show how variations on the lines of racial or class backgrounds as well as sexual orientation intersected with gender bringing about different experiences across the various categories of women.

This is to say that other feminists considered other factors and their role in influencing the plight of women rather than focusing strictly on male dominance in addressing the problems of women. Location was also another issue considered as it was clearly established that women from different regions say the developed world would experience different issues or problems as opposed to those in the less developed countries. The contemporary sociologists will therefore incorporate such variations in their studies. (Johnson 432-3)

Major concerns that can be raised against Dorothy’s work are the overemphasis on the male dominance in the society. The queries here are that sociology is not always related with the ruling or power games in the society. (uregina. ca). Her argument that sociology as well as other social sciences had been established by man, the dominant gender in the society, is therefore untrue as in most cases sociology seeks to establish the social problems in the society, an example being the plight of immigrants as well as the poor in society.

Dorothy emphasized on every day experiences or situations in relation to the social relations that one had. Critics would argue that she underestimated the inner self or being of people which also has a role to play in influencing who they are. She also failed to explain the role played by other groups in the society and only focused on male and their dominance. (uregina. ca). Works Cited: Adams Bert N and Sydie Rosalind Ann. Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press, 2001 Dorothy E. Smith. retrieved on 29th April from

http://classiques. uqac. ca/contemporains/smith_dorothy/smith_dorothy_photo/smith_dorothy_photo. html Feminist Standpoint Theory – Dorothy Smith. Retrieved on 29th April from http://uregina. ca/~gingrich/319m2206. htm. Gardiner Michael. Critiques of everyday life. Routledge Publishers. 2000 Polit Denise F and Beck Cheryl Tatano. Nursing research: principles and methods. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Publishers. 2003 Smith Dorothy E. Institutional ethnography as practice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2006

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