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Lecture Abstracts and Slides

This page includes abstracts and slideshows for talks concerning friendshiphookup culture, American discourses about female genital cuttinginequality and the body, sexuality and sexual pleasure, and the value of public sociology.


A Feminist Defense of Friendship

In American culture we tend to elevate family – both the kind we are born into and the kind we form through romantic relationships – above friendship.  Research shows, however, that having non-romantic confidants is more strongly related to physical and mental health than romantic partnership.  In this talk — originally written and presented with my friend, Caroline Heldman — I offer a feminist defense of friendship.  I challenge the idea that forming healthy, supportive friendships is less important than finding Mr. or Mrs. Right.  I review cultural messages about friendship and show how these messages intersect with an emphasis on heterosexual relationships in ways that undermine women’s ability to be friends with women, men’s ability to be friends with men, and men and women’s ability to befriend each other.

“Adorable animals soften the uncomfortable truths Dr. Wade shares about how my generation forms platonic attachments. I left with both a general sense of urgency and an acute desire to cook dinner for my guy friends.”

–Paul Holmes (student, Yale University)

For an excerpt, read my article at Salon or view the slideshow for more (warning: extreme cuteness):


The New Culture of Sex on Campus

The media both celebrates and condemns “hookup culture,” a mythical environment in which college students have an endless string of casual sexual partners.  In fact, students are having a lot less sex than these stories suggest.  More, they report that the sex they are having is disappointing, to say the least.  In this talk, I discuss the difference between hooking up as a behavior, a script, and a culture; what it means to live in a hookup culture; and why students report distress, disappointment, and trauma. The solution? Not to abandon the casual hookup (it has some interesting advantages), but to even the playing field on college campuses by taking power away from privileged students, giving everyone the information they need to make informed decisions, and then let students themselves nurture and innovate new sexual cultures, thus diversifying sexual options on campus.

Lisa Wade’s presentation was stimulating, informative, and thought-provoking—everything you want a guest speaker to be. Her mix of humor and research drew in the audience and kept them talking for weeks after.

— Jennifer Smith, PhD (Pacific Lutheran University)

For more, read an excerpt from American Hookup at TIME or the Guardian, see the book, listen on NPR, or read a review.

A Social History of Hookup Culture

The media claim, and parents fear, that college students’ embrace of casual sex reflects waning values and a disintegrating morals. In fact, there are reasons why we see hookup culture on college campuses that far transcend individual beliefs and choices. In this talk, I’ll take students on a fascinating trip through the history of courtship and the evolution of higher education. As we go, we’ll reflect on how institutional, economic, social, and technological change explain the contemporary sexual culture on college campuses, and maybe even their own sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Hookup Culture: …to the Best of Our Knowledge

Hookup culture is far more interesting, complicated, comforting, and concerning than you think!  Aimed at higher education health, counseling, and residence life staff, this lecture — full of surprises — offers an overview of everything we know about hookup culture, closing with a discussion of the theoretical issues and recommendations for institutions.

“Lisa was very current in her material and able to flawlessly answer audience questions, tailoring her talk to the needs of those around her.”

– Mary Walsh BNSc., RN., MA., CCC (Outreach Counsellor, Queen’s University)


Female Genital “Mutilation” in the American Imagination

There is one thing that most Americans know about female genital mutilation… that it is very, very bad.  In this talk I take apart the logic by which we demonize female genital mutilation.  I do so not to question whether we should oppose all or some of these practices, but in order to explore how we decide what bodily alterations count as good, bad, or neutral.  I ask two questions: (1) How do Americans articulate their opposition to the practice?  And (2) What are the consequences of opposing it on those bases and not others?  I show that the dominant framing of “female genital mutilation” in the U.S. aims our condemnation very carefully at the practices of others, ensuring that American genital cutting practices stay out of range of our outrage.  I conclude by asking us to use our feelings about “mutilation” to think again about male circumcision, surgery on children with ambiguous genitalia, sex reassignment surgery, and cosmetic surgery.

For more, explore the research or view the slideshow (NSFW):

Anatomy of an Outrage: Female Genital Cutting and the Challenge of Building Multicultural Democracies

In response to requests from Somali immigrants to “circumcise” both their daughters and their sons, doctors at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle considered offering a procedure in local clinics.  The “nick” would consist of a one-centimeter incision in the clitoral hood of girls.  This lecture tells the story of this provocative idea and the battle between feminists and physicians that ensued.  In addition to being fascinating in its own right, the tale has important lessons.  In particular, it illuminates the power of and problems with politicizing “culture,” with important implications of interest to anyone who cares about building multicultural democracies.

For more, explore the research: “The Politics of Acculturation: Female Genital Cutting and the Challenge of Building Multicultural Democracies” (published in Social Problems) or view the slideshow:


Biology and the Gender Binary: The Surprising New Science of Sex Difference

Is it nature or nurture?  Yes!  In this lecture I offer a different perspective on the  nature/nurture debate, using striking and often amusing evidence for the influences of society on our biology. Ranging across the biological sciences — genetics, hormones, and neuroscience — I discuss the newest research on society-biology interactions, paying special attention to the implications for understanding gender differences and similarities.  The article closes with an argument that embracing these developments can enhance rather than harm ongoing efforts to reduce social inequalities of all kinds.

View the slideshow:

For more, explore the research: “The New Science of Sex Differences” (published in Sociology Compass) and “The Potential Relevances of Biology to Social Inquiry” (published in the Annual Review of Sociology).

The Emancipatory Promise of the Habitus: The Body and Progressive Social Change

This talk, aimed at advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students, shows how scholars use research to build theory with an ethnography that offers a new perspective on Bourdieu’s habitus. While most research on the habitus has emphasized how it inhibits social mobility, I draw on scholars who argue that the uneven nature of the social world can create a fractured habitus.  If we stumble upon emancipatory spaces, then, we may learn bodily habits that empower us.  Drawing on an ethnography of lindy hop — a vintage swing dance — I show that dancers are taught to use their bodies in ways that disrupt the conventional masculine and feminine habitus.  I conclude that progressive social change may very well be advanced by focusing on the body as well of, or ahead of, the mind.

For more, read the research or view the slideshow:


Exploring the Rainbow: Genders and Sexualities across Cultures and Time

From inside one’s own culture, gender and sexual orientation usually seem like rather straightforward phenomenon. In cross-cultural and historical perspective, however, there is nothing straightforward about it. This talk is a shallow but broad overview of a range of ways that different groups have organized gender and sexuality. It’s an extraordinary tour that will make audiences take another look at their own cultural assumptions.

Flip through the slideshow:



The Power of Public Sociology (for undergraduates)

Anyone with a sociological imagination can make a difference and together we can change the world! In this inspirational talk, the founder and editor of Sociological Images traces its humble beginnings and surprising impact. Drawing on inspiration from C. Wright Mills, she argues that each and every one of us can contribute to ensuring that sociology guides our national conversation and shapes our policy.

Her talk really made me realize that my interests and dreams for the future are achievable and all I need to do is just get out there and try!

— Marissa Vakiner (student, University of Nebraska-Omaha)

Doing Public Sociology: Notes from a Practitioner (for professionals)

The most widely-read sociology blog on the web, Sociological Images helps a broad public audience develop and apply a sociological imagination. In addition to offering an overview of the blog’s reach and impact, Lisa Wade, PhD – founder, author, and editor – will narrate the blog’s unlikely beginnings, reveal the “behind the scenes” workings, and share its evolving philosophy, including those features that have contributed to its success.  Lisa will close with an optimistic call to take advantage of the keen and eager public interest in the social sciences.

For more, read about the blog, visit Sociological Images, or see the slideshow:

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