In much of my research, I attempt to document how gender is constructed in relation to other axes of identity resulting in significant implications for organizational processes and outcomes. For example, in an article published in Organization Science, a U.S. based top ranked journal in organization studies, titled “Anticipated Status Decline for Locals Entering Global Employment” my collaborators and I explore the psychological experience of university-educated local workers from emerging economies striving to enter the global job market for managerial positions. Building on qualitative data from sub-Saharan Africa and the Gulf, we conducted two experimental studies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to test whether local job candidates feel inhibited to negotiate in global employment contexts and whether they believe that such negotiating behavior is less appropriate in global than in local work contexts. We theorize that shifting from local to global employment contexts, university-educated locals experience a decline in their status as workers because of a perceived lack of fit with the cosmopolitan “ideal worker.” We find that this status decline is gendered: local men experience a greater shift in status between local and global employment contexts than do women. We question the assumption that is taken for granted in the field of social psychology that gender and status are simply interchangeable and instead we show that intersecting status-linked social identities need to be understood in relation to their specific context.
Similarly, my earlier social psychology research on a variety of social processes (leadership, negotiation, and conflict management) in the UAE and Saudi Arabia has unpacked how seemingly universal theories are in fact “culture bound”. Through collaborative projects with U.S. based social psychologists interested in advancing a more universal psychology, we have demonstrated the limitations of basing theory on geographically privileged locations. In my research on cultural differences in negotiation (with Michelle Gelfand, Oxford University Press, 2012) my co-authors and I show that 90 percent of the samples in negotiation studies in “top journals” were based in the United States, Europe, and English-speaking countries (with 74 percent of these from the US) and that the authors of these papers are disproportionately based in the U.S. and Europe. Along a similar line, based on a qualitative study of women’s groups in Saudi Arabia I argued that social identity theory, as it has been construed so far, is limited in accounting for contextual factors across intersecting domains (Harvard Business Review Press, 2009).
More recently, I have contributed to a peer reviewed interdisciplinary volume on Arab Families which contains critical reviews of all 22 Arab countries and includes an extensive bibliography on Arab Family Studies- over 3,000 entries in four languages (English, Arabic, French, and German). My chapter on Saudi Family Studies critically reviews the academic literature in Arabic and English, situates it historically, and identifies how “what we know” about Saudi families in English is siloed and limited by institutions, approaches, and methods. The book, still in press, has received incredibly positive reviews by top U.S. based scholars on the Middle East. For example, in a review by Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University) it is described as “a landmark in the social studies of the Arab world. . . Expert contributors at the cutting edge of their fields redefine the core issues, moving us beyond tired clichés about culture to exhilarating appreciations of the dynamic ways ‘the Arab family’ lies at the nexus of the politics of states, economies, and meaning.”
Finally, I also explicitly engaged with Arabic speaking academic audiences by publishing in Arabic. “Idafat” is the top journal in sociology in the Arab world. My co-author at Zayed University and I wrote a paper that describes the politics of translation surrounding the term “gender” from English and situates how the term has been used in Arabic in academic and policy discourses in distinct ways. We were then asked to include a chapter based on that paper in an edited volume titled “The Future of Social Science in the Arab World" which includes chapters by leading social scientists in Arab universities. Similarly, during my time as director of a Gender and Public Policy Program at a domestic think tank, I produced numerous reports in Arabic that have turned out to be useful references for gender scholars and students. For example, my report “Women in Parliament and Politics: A Study of the First Elections in the Federal National Council” remains the sole report on the topic and is cited in almost all studies on gender and politics in the UAE.
In terms of my future research, I have two projects that are at the intersection of organizational sociology, gender and the Middle East. The first is a book project about the construction of modern motherhood and work in sites not yet theorized in the US academy. In this project, I investigate the experiences of expatriate women in the UAE who decide to leave full-time professional employment and establish an entrepreneurial business after becoming mothers. These entrepreneurs specialize in mother or child-related services or products and identify with the term “Mompreneur” in ways that distinguish them from “mothers” and from “entrepreneurs”. Through a 3 year ethnographic investigation and 40 in-depth interviews with “mompreneurs” I explore how they attempt to reimagine their “mothering” in market terms, how they describe the emotions involved in mothering and working, and how they craft new managerial practices that prioritize care as a “work” value for their employees. I argue that momprenuers craft a class-based career mobility strategy that allows them to make certain types of care recognized as “work”.
The second project is Self Tracing, a pedagogical and research tool I have developed for teaching about gender. This method allows people to understand the concept of intersectionality not by reading a text but by dialogically documenting their own experiences in different physical spaces.