Recent PhD graduate, Katelin Albert will begin a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Department of Sociology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Katelin graduated on June 13, 2019. Her dissertation is entitled, Technologies of Sexuality: The HPV Vaccine and an Investigation into Parental Responsibility, Progressive Sex-Education, and Adolescent Girls’ Subjectivities, and was completed under the supervision of Hae Yeon Choo, Anna Korteweg, Melissa Milkie, and Zaheer Baber.
Katelin’s dissertation problematizes responsibility and the persistent tensions accompanying vaccines, sexual health, and sex-education in contemporary society. She connect the everyday micro-level of parents, teachers, and adolescent girls, with macro-politics of biomedicine, “good parenting,” and progressive sex-ed to understand how vaccine politics and sex-education relate to girls’ development of their own subjectivities. She argues that while parents and teachers work to be responsible to girls’ health and sexual health, their actions may not support adolescents in ways they imagined. Frist, and beginning with data from 28 qualitative semi-structured interviews with Canadian mothers tasked with consenting to the HPV vaccine, Katelin challenges the overly narrow binary where parents are labeled as “responsible” if they vaccinate, “irresponsible” if they do not. She finds that HPV vaccine-consenting mothers follow normative conceptualizations of responsibility, aligned with HPV vaccination. Some non-HPV vaccine-consenting mothers exercised alternate responsibilities, aligned with broad efforts to manage their teens’ sexual health and sexuality. They extend responsibility beyond cancer protection vis-à-vis vaccines to a more general responsibility for their daughters’ sexual health and self-esteem. Second, and drawing on data generated from observations of four public school sex-education classrooms and interviews with Ontario teachers, she shows that these sex-ed teachers deliver lessons in ways that align with key dimensions of “progressiveness” – facts, choice, and promoting diversity. This piece uncovers how systems of gender, sexual, class, religious, racial, and ethnic inequalities are reproduced despite progressiveness. Finally, and based on 19 qualitative interviews with girls (aged 11-16) and paired interviews with their mothers, Katelin outlines the patterns through which girls’ subjectivities, sexual health knowledge, and thoughts on the HPV vaccine are linked, intertwined, and operate in relation to other people and larger sociocultural structures. This dissertation serves as a call to challenge and reflect on the taken-for-grantedness of biotechnical inventions, like the HPV vaccine, and progressive sex-education in contemporary society.
Katelin’s new position is in Sociology of Health within the Department of Sociology, and she looks forward to collaborating with interdisciplinary colleagues as she continues to explore health decision-making, the diffusion of health responsibility in Canadian society, and how health and sexual health knowledge moves and operates between people and places. In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, she plans to investigate the current socio-political landscape surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Further, sexual health, sexual experiences, and mental health on campus are growing concerns, and are a key area for her future research. In general, her current and future research program reflects her desire to assess the relationship between health knowledge/information and health experiences. At the University of Victoria, she will teach classes in gender, race, and medicine; health over the life course; and a graduate course in foundations of social theory.