What gender does to survey data

The SED seminar session on June 3 was devoted to “What Gender Does to Survey Data”. While the theme of this session responds to an interest in the sociology of gender, it was also chosen for its epistemological heuristic value. Here I will develop three points that echo this.

First, the question of the gender of data underlies, in my opinion, the implementation of a real research program around the gendered division of scientific work in the social sciences. This program can be situated upstream by considering, for example, from a gender perspective, the choice between qualitative and quantitative approaches, and then, among these, the methods and techniques that are privileged (interviews or observation, descriptive statistics or modeling, etc.). As Catherine Achin and Sandrine Lévèque have already initiated in an article in which they show that studies of electoral behavior do indeed point to gender differences but do not explain them very well (a classic effect of the quantitative approach being blind to the qualitative), we can therefore also look downstream of the scientific work to analyze the way in which gender affects the data produced.

Secondly, understanding data through a gender lens opens the way to research that is even better equipped theoretically to take on reflective practices. Isabelle Clair’s article “Faire du terrain en féministe” (Doing fieldwork as a feminist) and Delphine Naudier and Maud Simonet’s introduction to their book “Des sociologues sans qualités?” (Sociologists without qualities?) both stress the importance of using feminist theories/epistemologies, since gender is so deeply rooted in social domination. Moreover, I am grateful to Delphine Naudier and Maud Simonet for having taken advantage of this introduction to challenge the argument that feminist epistemology is not neutral with regard to the Weberian concept of “axiological neutrality” reinterpreted by Raymond Aron. The authors rightly remind us that this concept is anything but neutral in Aron, referring to his anti-Marxism and, I would also add, to a conservatism that leads him to have nothing to say about the social order as it is. Now, defined in this way, “axiological neutrality” is particularly problematic not so much because it is not neutral, but rather because it excludes any reflexivity with respect to its lack of neutrality. I also had the opportunity to point out this bias in a note devoted to Nathalie Heinich’s book “De la visibilité”. Indeed, by replacing Marx with Bourdieu, the use she makes of “axiological neutrality” coincides in every respect with that of Aron and leads to a presumed value-free sociology which, having denied them, no longer has to objectify them. In this respect, it seems to me quite appropriate to mention what Bourdieu had described under the name of “law of blindness and crossed lucidities” taking the example of Aron in L’Opium des intellectuels and Simone de Beauvoir in La pensée de droite aujourd’hui, where the predispositions of each to objectify the other mask the sociological truth that resides in the relation between the two camps and requires for that to reintroduce in the analysis the position and the point of view of the one who objectifies.

Third and finally, systematically interrogating gender in data provides reflexive gains in the practice of inquiry itself. On reading the book “Le sexe de l’enquête. Approches sociologiques et anthropologiques”, edited by Anne Monjaret and Catherine Pugeault, one can measure the extent to which the gender variable weighs in the researcher’s adjustments when interacting with respondents. Similarly, in the last chapter of her book devoted to the ethnographic method for studying work, Marie Buscatto argues for the use of a focus that is attentive to hierarchization and to the constraints naturalized by male behaviors and solidarities. If I have mentioned these two aspects in relation to gender, it is mainly because they proved decisive during phases of participant observation carried out during my thesis within several institutions of intellectual visibility. The exploration of this universe has highlighted the strong anchoring of a gendered division of labor where the government of male behaviors is legitimized by conceding to women two service roles: while those who are more endowed with capital inherit the management of relational capital (a salon role), the less well endowed are assigned the material tasks of reception, organization and communication (a reinforcement role). However, when I looked back at the survey, it became clear that a large part of my immersion had been played out in the homology that these dominated female roles could have with the role that I had been led to assume in the survey situations of the thesis student who is always quick to play the “little hands”.

Boris Attencourt (Université Paris Cité, DGDBM – CESSP)

To cite this article: Boris Attencourt, “What gender does to survey data”, carnet Hypothèses « La science à l’épreuve des données », published on June 9, 2022, https://sed.hypotheses.org/605.

Indicative bibliography:

– Catherine Achin et Sandrine. Lévêque, « Mind the Gap ! De la variable sexe au genre des comportements électoraux », Travail Genre et Sociétés, 40, 2, 2018, p. 33-50 (https://www.cairn.info/revue-travail-genre-et-societes-2018-2-page-33.htm).

– Isabelle Clair, “Faire du terrain en féministe”, Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 223, 3, 2016, p. 66-83 (https://www.cairn.info/revue-actes-de-la-recherche-en-sciences-sociales-2016-3-page-66.htm).

– Delphine Naudier et Maud Simonet, « L’impossible neutralité : les féministes contre Raymond Aron », in Delphine Naudier et Maud Simonet (dir.), Des Sociologues sans qualités ? Pratiques de recherche et engagements, Paris, La Découverte, 2011, p. 9-11.

– Anne Monjaret et Catherine Pugeault, Le sexe de l’enquête. Approches sociologiques et anthropologiques, Lyon, ENS éditions, 2014.

– Marie Buscatto, La fabrique de l’ethnographe. Dans les rouages du travail organisé, Toulouse, Octarès Éditions, 2010 (et, tout particulièrement, le dernier chapitre).

– Eleni Varikas, Penser le sexe et le genre, Paris, PUF, 2006.





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