In Memoriam: Dr. Sinikka Elliott

May 16 2021

Dr. Sinikka Elliott, dear colleague, friend, mentor, and teacher, was found deceased May 15, 2021, after going missing on Salt Spring Island, BC.

Dr. Elliott had an international reputation as a scholar of the family, inequality, and health. Sinikka was an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. She came to UBC in 2017 from North Carolina State University, which she joined in 2008 after completing her doctorate in sociology at the University of Texas, Austin.

In her work, Sinikka sought to understand how social inequality is reproduced, resisted, and transformed by examining the specific social contexts in which the families she studied were embedded, and how they responded creatively to the difficult situations they often faced. In 2012, she published her first book, Not My Kid: What Parents Believe About the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers. Sinikka sought to understand how American parents addressed their own teenager’s sexuality when teen sexuality is deemed to be a major social problem. She found that while parents saw teen sexuality as risky, they didn’t believe their own child engaged in such behaviour, drawing upon gender, racial, class, and sexual inequalities to draw a boundary between their own child and the stereotypical “risky” teen. Sinikka argued that parents’ beliefs about teen sexuality were shaped by a social discourse that represents parents as morally responsible for teaching children about and protecting them from the negative consequences of sex. Offloading of the social problem of teen sexuality from educational or health care systems onto parents made parental attitudes about sex ripe for the reproduction of inequality.

Sinikka Elliott’s 2019 book, Pressure Cooker, co-authored with Sarah Bowen and Joslyn Brenton, was based on a major study of childhood obesity and food insecurity among low-income American families. Pressure Cooker explores the stories of nine families to illustrate broader patterns among low-income families, documenting how family food practices are shaped by access to transportation, income insecurity, precarious employment, unpredictable work hours, and lack of access to affordable childcare. The authors argued that both policy and popular discourses that represent home cooking as the solution to childhood obesity fail to recognize the powerful structural constraints that poor families face in feeding their children. As with her other work, in this book Sinikka and her collaborators sought to promote policies for a more just society offering better family supports.

In addition to these major works, Sinikka published articles on the parenting experiences and strategies of low-income Black mothers in the United States, how low-income mothers navigate medical and governmental surveillance of their children’s body size, and the importance of orientations towards time in conducting ethnographic field work. In all her work, Sinikka adopted a profoundly collaborative approach. She regularly partnered not only with students and with scholars from other disciplines but also with community partners, such as a recent partnership with the New Westminster school district in British Columbia on the development of a school lunch program. Sinikka regarded her research participants as research partners. She informed them of research findings and consulted with participants during the analysis process, allowing them to register their own reactions to her scholarly interpretations of their lives. This sense of responsibility towards the people she studied deeply informed Sinikka’s scholarship and her concerns with social inequality.

Throughout her career as a sociologist, Sinikka left her mark as an exceptional teacher and mentor. She was devoted to her students, nurturing them into budding scholars with compassion and generosity. As a colleague, Sinikka was steadfast in her commitment to a supportive, equitable and diverse academia. We are heartbroken to lose her.

Shared by Dr. Amy Hanser, University of British Columbia

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University of British Columbia Notice May 15, 2021

Dr. Guy Stecklov, Professor and Department Head, University of British Columbia Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology

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We at the CSA and the entire community of sociologists in Canada deeply mourn the loss of Dr. Sinikka Elliott. We offer our deepest condolences to all those whose lives she had touched.

Dr. Xiaobei Chen, President of the Canadian Sociological Association

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