Open Minds: Celebration of Social Sciences and Humanities Research

Humanities and social science research open minds and helps shape a better, brighter future and quality of life for us all by advancing our understanding of social, cultural, political, legal, technological, economic and environmental issues. By exploring our place in the world now and in the past, humanities and social scientists help identify what we need to survive and thrive in current and future complex and challenging times. 

Each fall, the Office of the Vice-President (Research) and the Kule Institute for Advanced Study co-host Open Minds in celebration of talented and innovative humanities and social sciences colleagues at the University of Alberta. The event features lightning talks from researchers funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). It showcases the importance of their work in helping us better understand ourselves and our world through the study of people and society.

This year's event took place on Tuesday, November 1st, 4:00 - 5:00pm in the Telus Centre. For further information see the 2016 speaker list and abstracts below.

Presentations in previous years covered topics such as growing resilience among sexual and gender minority youth, energy transition in Canada, using art and creative practices to commemorate and help the public in understanding difficult times in Aboriginal history from residential schools to post-war hospital programs in Canada, the impact of social concerns on business, culture and institutions, and the complexities of watershed governance. You can browse our video archive by clicking on the image to the right!

Open Minds 2016 Abstracts

Sandra Bucerius (Sociology, Arts): You Can’t Arrest Your Way Out Of A Problem
Trust and a belief in the legitimacy of law enforcement are key from a community safety perspective, given the research that suggests that community members are more likely to cooperate with the police if they trust that the police take them seriously and that Canadian legal institutions are legitimate. Indeed, research has consistently demonstrated that when people feel they are treated fairly they will also have stronger levels of trust and confidence in our legal institutions, and in turn they will see these institutions as legitimate authorities. We know that by encouraging trust and confidence in law enforcement, we can build stronger police and community partnerships that can have a lasting impact on the security and safety of all citizens. Beyond this, strong partnerships may also result in communities gaining greater access to police and other social services, such as victim services and youth programming. However, when it comes to young people, and young people of racialized communities in particular, police are often seen not as a source of protection and security, but rather a source of harassment for many. Based on 301 qualitative interviews with Somali community members (ages 16-30) and 57 qualitative interviews with EPS officers across all ranks and divisions, in this talk I will examine how community partnership building works between these two groups that have traditionally had a tenuous relationship.

Maite Snauwaert (Literature, Campus St Jean): Do We Know How to Die in the 21st Century?
While the human lifespan is expanding, few new cultural discourses have tried to address and accompany this change. Yet, what does it mean to live longer, if we cannot make sense of it? or if this prolongation is only medical and biological, but without meaning and quality attached to it? Literary writers, I will endeavor to demonstrate, can help us face this most significant moment.

Natalie Van Deusen (MLCS, Arts): Virgins & Virtue: How the Past Still Controls the Present 
This presentation describes my SSHRC Insight Grant-funded research project, which aims to examine a large body of poetry on virgin martyr saints composed and circulated in Early Modern Iceland (ca. 1500-1800). These poems, the majority of which were composed well after the Protestant Reformation (officially 1550 in Iceland), focus on the stories of young Christian maidens who were subject to violent torture at the hands of pagan suitors, and were willing to die before sacrificing their chastity. I intend to argue that the popularity of the poems about virgin martyr saints in Iceland well beyond the Catholic era can be explained by their exemplary function. I will argue that these poems played an important role in the prescription of ideal womanly behaviour in Early Modern Iceland, particularly within the context of sexuality.

David Lewkowich (Secondary Education, Education): The Curious Bedfellows of Comics and Teaching
This presentation asks how the experience of reading comics about adolescence and educational life might be enjoyable and educative for adults who desire to become teachers. In brief, I pose the question: In their close and collaborative readings of graphic novels, how do future educators narrate their fears, anxieties, desires and dreams about educational life? Working in collaboration with a colleague at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCADU), and building on previous research on embodied, collaborative and close reading, we aim to discover what adults with the ambition to educate adolescents have to gain from sustained engagements with graphic narrative. Our development of a psychoanalytic theory of multimodal textual engagement will also emphasize the ways in which reading persists as an emotional endeavour, where the interpretive process involves an interweaving of memory, desire, and always emergent (teaching) identity. Responding to these comics, participants will also be asked to construct a series of visual artifacts, fashioning an image inspired by a memory of their adolescence. Through thinking in visual form, and in correspondence with the aesthetic structure of comics, the readers might therefore allow their readings to be shaped and articulated in a variety of extra-lingual ways: giving to it something indefinite that comes from within, while also inviting the potential for nebulous play. 

Kimberly Tall-Bear (Native Studies): Decolonizing Science and Technology
Indigenous peoples are usually at the receiving end of the scientific gaze. Biomedical and policy interventions aimed at Indigenous populations have often been structured by colonial worldviews. As Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, & Environment my work helps transform this state of affairs. I study and promote Indigenous resistance to colonial research and Indigenous peoples’ efforts to govern and transform technoscience for the benefit of our peoples.

Michael Woolley (Art & Design, Arts): Queering the Documenting Eye
Heather Cassils is a trans-masculine performance artist born in Canada, and currently living and practicing in Los Angeles. As a performance artist, they take up their own body and lived experiences as an artistic medium. Their work frequently intervenes into normative modes of understanding and knowing the world by questioning how we understand the materiality of our own bodies and the semiotic residues that accrue to them. In particular, Cassils employs novel modes of documenting their works of performance that not only serve an archival function but also destabilize conventional ways of experiencing performance art. In this presentation, I would like to suggest that this points towards an ethical framework founded upon queer(ed) ways of being and knowing.

Mary Ingraham (Music, Arts): Bridging Canada's Musical Cultures
This project employs the new possibilities inherent in a linked data (digital) resource to recontextualize musical activities in Canada in a way that will facilitate ongoing historical research across interdisciplinary, multicultural, and multifaceted cultural resources. The diversity of activities that constitute music in Canada—chronologically and geographically dispersed, stylistically varied, and originating in multiple social, cultural, and political contexts—creates enormous intellectual and practical challenges for scholars and students. Existing music histories explicitly or implicitly narrow their scope, often linking history to a narrative of national development that focuses largely on works following European cultures and traditions to the exclusion of indigenous and new Canadian cultures as well as the oral traditions and voices of folk and popular musics that nonetheless resonate across our communities. This project challenges the foundational assumptions of a history inherited from colonizing peoples, and encourages the reading of cultural histories as fluid networks of relationships across styles, genres, time, and place. Such reframing facilitates more inclusive, pluralistic, and transdiciplinary study and more effectively reflects the real, or lived, experiences of music and music-making in Canada. Building on the communicative potential of searchable knowledge networks, the project will develop an accessible, searchable multimedia web portal for histories of music and music-making in Canada that will link digitized cultural resources across distinct collections and create a multi-stranded network of histories that intersect, influence, complement, and exist in tension with one another.

Bonnie Stelmach (Educational Policy Studies, Education): School Community as Zombie Category
"How can we increase parent involvement?" is a persistent question among teachers and principals.  Parents are automatically enrolled as members of their children's school community, yet few seem to engage in the way teachers would like, especially at the secondary school level.  But what IS 'school community'?  School community has the characteristics of what Beck and Beck-Gersheim (2001) call a zombie category: it is alive in educational discourse but has diminishing effectiveness because the term has undergone little or cursory theoretical debate.  I know from past research that parents feel displaced when physically in their children's schools, yet educators continue to think physical presence is the metric for parent involvement.  In this study, instead of asking "how do we increase parent involvement?", I am asking: what makes parents feel IN COMMUNITY in their children's schools?  What do we mean by 'community' in the school context?  This study explores the discourses that shape school community through a sociomaterial approach, which means I am not simply interested in parents' definitions of community, I want to know how words, objects, symbols, gestures form a discourse of community, and contribute to its meaning FOR parents. I will use Mulligan's idea of community as projected and grounded to dislodge the idea that geography and proximity are the defining features of community.  Rural communities are romanticized for their quaintness and kinship, where community is assumed to be unproblematic. Educational scholarship suffers from a metro centric bias.  My aim is to address this by conducting rural-specific research in secondary schools in Alberta's provincial north.