Political Scientist Yasmeen Abu-Laban named Canada Research Chair

The backlash environment against elites, democratic values and stigmatized groups has yet to be fully analyzed, says Abu-Laban

Donna McKinnon - 14 November 2018

On October 29, Jair Bolsonaro was declared the winner of Brazil's presidential elections. His misogynistic, racist and homophobic remarks in the weeks leading up to the election drew comparisons to US President Donald Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Across the globe, far-right extremism has challenged established institutions and governing bodies, polarizing populations and leaving its most vulnerable reeling.

"It's a form of xenophobic populism, saysYasmeen Abu-Laban, a professor in the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts. "It's encouraged by new forms of digital communication which have come into widespread use just as the global flow of migrants and refugees has also dramatically increased."

Abu-Laban says this distinct "backlash environment" against elites, democratic values and stigmatized groups has yet to be fully analyzed for its citizenship and human rights implications.

Until now.

Today, the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program announced its2018 Fall appointments, naming Abu-Laban a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Politics of Citizenship and Human Rights. Her research will address how marginalized groups are impacted by contemporary large-scale changes like neoliberal governance, the rationales and technological advances that have enabled a deepening of surveillance since 9/11, and the rising populist backlash against minorities, immigrants and democratic values.

Tier 1 Chairs, such as Abu-Laban's, recognize outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. She joinssix other CRCs in the Faculty of Arts.

"The CRC provides an incredible opportunity as well as responsibility to better understand policy responses to vulnerable populations over time, as well as what works and what is problematic," says Abu-Laban, who will hold the CRC for seven years. "This is especially important today when we see so many examples of closure and backlash toward those deemed to be refugees or different."

Abu-Laban's research will involve a comparison of policies and outcomes in Canada, the United States and Australia over time - countries that are uniquely characterized by a similar colonial foundation shaped by frontier expansion, as well as ongoing immigration. She will assess the stability, expansion or contraction in the citizenship and human rights of refugees and immigrants to understand continuity and change in the late 20th century (1975-2000) and the early 21st (2000-2025).

Ultimately, her research will aid scholarly and practical understanding of citizenship and human rights over the past half-century, and contribute policy-relevant findings for human betterment.

"I am thrilled and appreciative," says Abu-Laban, who will have new resources and support for her research, teaching, training and public outreach thanks to the funding provided by the CRC program.

"Our government is committed to promoting equity and diversity within research and to supporting the next generation of research leaders," says Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport. "These prestigious Canada Research Chairs are improving the lives of Canadians and pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, helping ensure a bright future for Canada."