My work is motivated by an enduring interest in how existing members of groups share common histories and practices, and how they work together to enculturate new members. Rather than focusing solely on the identity transformations of the new members themselves, I use the presence of novices as a way of gaining a window into the perceptions of existing group members and group culture. By studying the enculturation process and focusing on those doing the enculturation, I can understand how group practices accommodate changing social forces and structural conditions. A better understanding of these phenomena can also help sociologists theorize how membership in social groups is related to the reproduction or redress of social inequalities.
Below are detailed descriptions of my two main projects with links to publications.
Teaching the Work of Doctoring:
How the Medical Profession Adapts to Change
Foundational ethnographers of medical education investigated how medical students take up the social role of the physician by examining the professional norms and values students learn during training. Researchers in broader medical sociology, for their part, have focused on the macrosocial relationship of the medical profession to other stakeholders, such as government, insurance and consumers. While healthcare is shaped by evolving professional dynamics, the everyday work of healthcare occurs on the interactional level–in individual patient-provider encounters. I argue that the dominant sociological focus on the medical student in ethnographies of medical training has left the professional context of medical work, and the physicians who carry out medical teaching, unexamined. By conceptualizing the medical school as an institution populated by physicians who actively adapt their practice and teaching to new constraints in healthcare work, I present an analysis of medical education that situates professional socialization in the context of the ongoing social transformation of medicine.
This NSF-supported research is based on a four-year ethnography of the training of medical students by teaching physicians and administrators at “West Coast Medical School” and “University Hospital.”
Learning Ethnographies of New Engineers
From 2015-2017 I worked with colleagues Reed Stevens & Pryce Davis on an NSF-funded study that investigated how undergraduate engineering majors transitioned from college to the workplace. We used ethnographic methods, including semi-structured interviewing and video-based interaction analysis to understand changes in skills and identity as the engineers moved into full-time work. We also examined the role of mentors, curricula, early work experiences, parents, and other factors in shaping engineers’ workplace learning and career trajectories.
We carried out our research at five field sites: a large steel mill, a third-party medical device testing company, a supply chain management company, a product design/implementation team at an elevator manufacturer, and a small R&D company specializing in containerless processing.
Our findings speak to disciplinary concerns in sociology, STS, and learning sciences, as well as to engineering educators.
Vinson, Alexandra H., Pryce Davis & Reed Stevens (2017). “Problem Solving in Engineering Education & Professional Engineering Work.” Proceedings of the 2017 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. (Peer-reviewed)
Vinson, Alexandra H., Pryce Davis & Reed Stevens (2017). “Learning to Anticipate the User in Professional Engineering Work.” Proceedings of the 2017 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. (Peer-reviewed)
Davis, Pryce, Alexandra H. Vinson & Reed Stevens (2017). “Informal Mentorship of New Engineers in the Workplace.” Proceedings of the 2017 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. (Peer-reviewed)
Vinson, Alexandra H. & Reed Stevens (2016). “Staying In or Getting Out: The Relationship Between Undergraduate Work Exposure and Job Satisfaction After Graduation.” Proceedings of the 2016 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. (Peer-reviewed)
Stevens, Reed & Alexandra H. Vinson (2016). “Institutional Obstacles to Ethnographic Observation in Engineering Industry.” Proceedings of the 2016 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. (Peer-reviewed)