Student Profile: PhD Candidate Isabel Pike

Name: Isabel Pike, PhD candidate in sociology

Hometown: Kampala, Uganda (that is where I spent my whole childhood until college but I was born in England and am a UK citizen)

Educational background: Princeton University, BA in Anthropology

Can you describe your research interests? Current research projects?
My research focuses on gender and socioeconomic change in sub-Saharan Africa. I enjoy drawing on a range of data depending on the question, from in-depth interviews, to survey data and newspaper articles. The first strand of my research focuses on the transition to adulthood and how gender shapes the experience of this pivotal stage of life. The second strand focuses on discourse around gender, specifically the narrative in Kenya that the boy child has been forgotten after years of focus on the girl child. In my dissertation, I have tried to bring these two strands together, interviewing more than 150 men and women across a wide age range (18 to 65 years) to explore how shifting patterns of education and work shape gendered attitudes and experiences across the life course at a rural and urban site in central Kenya and Nairobi.

How did you get into your field of research?
My research interests are in part rooted in my childhood in Uganda. My mother ran a sexual health NGO for secondary school students, so I grew up thinking, seeing, and talking about issues related to youth and gender. Then, at college, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on public debates around bride price in Uganda. I think this is where my academic interest in the interconnections between demography, gender, and socio-economic change really took off. I was wondering, if bride price was a traditional, longstanding cornerstone of marriage, why was it suddenly a source of debate? What had changed in society to spark this debate?

What attracted you to UW–Madison? CDE?
After having majored in anthropology for undergrad, I knew I wanted to study similar issues but with a more diverse methodological toolkit. I was pointed in the direction of UW–Madison as an incredible place to study sociology and demography with a regional focus on Africa.

What’s one thing you hope people who are exposed to your research will come away with?

I know this might sound strange, but I hope they come away feeling that the world is a complex place. That, though it might be frustrating, there rarely is a simple story. Through researching the forgotten boy child narrative in Kenya, for example, I have found that it is not simply a backlash against a rise in women’s rights—though some men do use it to lament a decline in male power, some women use this language too to point to issues that affect them such as violence and alcoholism.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
I hope so. I hope that illustrating the complex connections between gender and socioeconomic change will in some small way contribute to nuanced, thoughtful solutions to make the world a more just place, more leveled in terms of gender, wealth, and other forms of inequality.

Hobbies/other interests:
I love baking sourdough bread and finding hidden-gem podcasts.