Jennifer Utrata Wins Distinguished Article Award for Research in Russia

August 21, 2012

Sociological inquiry reveals how gender and age relations shape Russian family life

TACOMA, Wash. – Jennifer Utrata, assistant professor of comparative sociology, has been recognized with a prestigious national award for an article she wrote in a leading sociology journal.

The article, “Youth Privilege: Doing Age and Gender in Russia's Single-Mother Families," was awarded the Distinguished Article honor in the sex and gender section of the awards at the American Sociological Association’s 2012 annual meeting on Friday, Aug. 17, in Denver. The article was first published in the October 2011 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Gender & Society.

Award committee members said Utrata’s article exemplified the best of recent scholarship in the field and stood out amongst “an impressive slate of nominees.” The annual award recognizes research that makes a significant contribution to the field of sex and gender on the cutting edge of sociological inquiry. Utrata’s article was described as “sophisticated, theoretically and empirically rich, and an excellent example of intersectional analysis.”

The article describes how Russia’s transition to capitalism is playing out in families, with a focus on grandmothers who support single-mother family members. Much of today’s sociological research focuses on relationships as they are defined by race, class, gender, and sexuality. Utrata argues that age is a socially constructed power relation that is produced, enacted, and wielded in tandem with gender.     

In Russia labor and marriage markets tip the balance of power in favor of single mothers, rather than grandmothers, privileging the relative youth of single mothers. This compels many grandmothers to step up as the “reserve army of feminine self-sacrifice,” regardless of their desires.

Due to cutbacks in state support and grandmothers’ concerns about their own futures, older women feel they have little choice but to take on much of the unpaid care work that is holding Russian society together during the transition to neoliberal market capitalism. Utrata’s research demonstrates how inequalities among women are produced in everyday life, with any effort for change constrained by broader institutions. Using extensive ethnographic and in-depth interview data collected in Russia, Utrata makes visible both single mothers’ relative youth privilege and grandmothers’ unpaid, and often devalued, caregiving work.

To hear Jennifer Utrata discuss her article in a podcast featured on the Gender & Society website visit:

Jennifer Utrata, assistant professor of comparative sociology at Puget Sound, has published articles in Gender & Society and the Journal of Marriage and Family. She is the lead author of a book chapter on Russian fatherhood, to be published in Fathers in Cultural Context (Routledge, Aug.30, 2012). Currently Utrata is completing work on a book manuscript titled Women Without Men: Single Mothers and Gender Crisis in the New Russia. Her research interests include contested cultural meanings of gender and family change, especially forms of motherhood and fatherhood, both in Russia and in the United States. Utrata received her doctoral and master’s degrees in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts in history, with highest honors, from The University of Chicago.

Photos on page: Top right: A Russian grandmother and single mother at home. Above left: Jennifer Utrata. Photos courtesy of Jennifer Utrata.

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