Semi-Annual General Meeting [April 8]

The agenda for our semi-annual general meeting on April 8, 2014 included a business meeting with updates from Drs. Mary Breunig (SJRI Director) and Andrea Doucet (Chair of SJRI’s Congress Committee), reflections from Dr. Rachel Hirsch (SJRI Projects Facilitator) about “collaborative potential within the SJRI”, and an interactive “transdisciplinary moments” exercise. This article provides an overview of key points and highlights from the meeting including opportunities for those who are interested in working more closely with SJRI’s Projects Facilitator or other SJRI members this year.

Meeting minutes from the AGM are available here.

Included in this post, you will find:

  1. Business Meeting/Updates
  2. Collaborative Potential within the SJRI
  3. “Transdisciplinary Moments” Exercise

Business Meeting/Updates

While SJRI is still newly emerging, progress has been made to support transdisciplinary social justice research initiatives at Brock University. SJRI members and staff have successfully launched a granting program funding 6 local engagement grants and 3 seed grants; hosted 2 semi-annual general meetings; welcomed new affiliates and participating members; co-sponsored 7 interdisciplinary events on campus; and participated in Brock’s annual research celebration.

Progress has also been made in the operations and overall governance of the SJRI. A full staff compliment is now in place with a director (Dr. Mary Breunig) appointed in July 2013, a full-time projects facilitator (Dr. Rachel Hirsch) hired in January 2014, and a half-time administrative assistant (Mary Montgomery) employed since March 2013. SJRI staff members are located in Walker Complex 251. We are grateful to SJRI Faculty Steering Committee Members (FSC), Dr. Janet Conway and Dr. Andrea Doucet, for the provision of this beautiful space. You are welcome to visit!

Prior to the AGM, SJRI’s membership consisted of 45 affiliated and 22 participating members. Two additional faculty affiliates were voted in unanimously at the AGM. We extend a very warm welcome to our newest affiliated faculty members, Dr. Darlene Ciuffetelli-Parker and Dr. Janique Dubois as well as our new FSC members, Dr. Susan Spearey and Dr. Jennifer Rowsell. We are also excited to be working with our first SJRI MA Fellow, Blaire Hinsperger-Fox, starting this May.

SJRI is aiming to have a dynamic presence at this year’s Congress from May 24-30, 2014. We are co-sponsoring 11 high profile events in partnership with multiple academic associations. We will also be hosting a SJRI reception on Thursday, May 29 from 5 to 6:30 pm in the Congress wine and beer tent. We have launched a Congress page on the SJRI website where you can locate all the most up-to-date information on social justice events and activities.

If you are organizing sessions/panels and you think that these have a broad or specific social justice focus, we invite you to consider having SJRI promote your session. Rachel Hirsch (SJRI Projects Facilitator) will be compiling lists of ‘daily highlights’ to email to affiliated members during Congress. If you have session information to share, please contact Dr. Hirsch.

For more updates including SJRI’s organizational chart and budget please click here.

For more information about SJRI’s congress activities please click here.

Collaborative Potential within the SJRI

The overall vision of the SJRI is to establish Brock University as a Canadian and International leader in transdisciplinary social justice scholarship. The SJRI Projects Facilitator (Dr. Rachel Hirsch) was hired to help SJRI achieve its vision by working closely with affiliated members to help develop and implement their research plans and build connections. From January to March 2014, Dr. Hirsch conducted a baseline scan including introductory interviews with 33 SJRI affiliates to better understand the emergent research and collaborative potential housed within SJRI including opportunities to better engage members.

Content from these interviews revealed a diversity of both research interests and more specific problems or concepts that faculty members are interested in exploring. A great strength of SJRI is the variety of research areas of interest to its members. To illustrate the diversity of research interests associated with SJRI affiliates keywords were visualized so that those mentioned most frequently appeared the largest in a ‘word cloud’ formation. Affiliates used many of the following keywords to describe their research interests: “gender”, “post-colonial”, “animal”, “critical”, “history”, “resistance”, “labour”, and “economics”. When affiliates described potential venues for action, they imagined a variety of activities often focused on particular problems or concepts. The majority of affiliates were interested in how to develop and maintain meaningful relationships both within SJRI and with external partners.

Affiliates were interested in three broad, if not mutually exclusive, venues for action. Almost half of the possible actions mentioned were focused on creating spaces for face-to-face engagement with a variety of different audiences (e.g., community groups or other SJRI affiliates). Affiliates mentioned discussion groups, symposia, conferences and other possible venues where direct engagement could occur. Thirty-five percent of the opportunities for action mentioned were focused on funding opportunities such as external grants or community-controlled funding sources. Sixteen percent of the opportunities for action mentioned were focused on disseminating information in various forums such as through collaborative writing projects, films or other creative outputs.

Affiliates also indicated varying degrees of readiness to engage in such activities with 27% being immediately available, 45% being prospectively available, and 27% being currently unavailable to engage in new projects. For those who are already engaged or looking for ways to get more involved in the SJRI community, we highlighted opportunities both to self-organize as well as those services offered by the SJRI Projects Facilitator. Many affiliates are already actively involved in upcoming Congress events or have long running relationships with partner organizations. We would like to ‘spotlight’ this type of work by encouraging affiliates to submit content (photos, articles, video etc.) for the SJRI newsletter and/or website. Other more direct services offered by the Projects Facilitator include building connections between Institute members, consultation regarding project ideas, and review/assistance with grant application materials (with sufficient notice). Affiliates are encouraged, in particular, to contact Dr. Hirsch in advance of upcoming SJRI and SSHRC deadlines.

To view the full presentation on “collaborative potential within the SJRI” please click here.

We welcome your participation and would like to know how you would like to be engaged within the SJRI community. Please contact Dr. Hirsch if you are interested in discussing opportunities for action related to SJRI or SSHRC funding, stakeholder engagement, or knowledge dissemination.

“Transdisciplinary Moments” Exercise

The baseline scan of collaborative potential within the SJRI revealed that affiliates are interested primarily in the creation of spaces to promote meaningful relationship building to address a variety of social problems. Dr. Rachel Hirsch and Dr. Mary-Beth Raddon developed an exercise to help reveal the form and content that these sorts of transdisciplinary (TD) social justice spaces might take. The overall goal of this exercise was to better understand how attendees define “TD” and to identify any moments or processes that are important facilitators enabling the production and mobilization of TD knowledge.

Attendees at the semi-annual general meeting were asked to reflect individually about a “moment” (e.g., a practice, process, context, epistemology or research design) that resonates with their understanding of transdisciplinarity. In designing this exercise Drs. Hirsch and Raddon were interested in exploring a range of possible encounters with TD knowledge that could be experienced by, for example, reading scholarly works, watching a film, conversing, listening to a research talk, engaging in research collaborations, participating in a community event, attending or participating in a public exhibit or performance, etc. For those attendees who were less familiar with TD knowledge, groups were also provided with an envelope of “TD definitions”.

Please click here for a list of TD quotes that were provided to meeting attendees.

Attendees were instructed to divide into small groups and after introductions and sharing of these “TD moments”, were asked to discuss:

  • What created that moment?
  • Why did you identify this as a “TD moment or practice”?
  • What new TD moments might you seek?

We were unable to gather extensive notes on all the small group discussions but reflections from one group revealed that attendees reflected on the differences in meaning between multi-, inter- and trans- disciplinarity.  Transdisciplinary research was distinguished by the originality of the approach or knowledge that is generated by bringing together disciplinary knowledge or approaches in new ways.  Trans- in TD refers not only to transcending disciplinary boundaries, but also to transforming knowledge as the result.

Several groups reflected on the difference between disciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge. TD has a different starting point, which is not disciplinary debates and conventions, but problematics, especially problematics grounded in social justice struggles and movements for alternatives. Many of the groups seemed to find it useful to be able to refer to the TD quotes as a discussion prompt to explore and reflect on how well (or poorly) these definitions described the ways they understood TD, both in the abstract and as expressed through their research.  Some of the formulations of TD in the quotes are too prescriptive or ambitious.  For example, TD research is not always community-based or engaged with community at all stages.

Several groups also reflected on the continuing value of disciplinary knowledge, and suggested that SJRI may be transdisciplinary on the whole (the body of research) without each researcher or project necessarily transcending disciplines.  TD may result in new disciplines, but not necessarily. Established disciplines may have been TD at their inception. Emphasis was placed on maintaining broad parameters for TD in the SJRI, and concern for inclusivity in how we define TD (SJRI is a big tent).

Overall, discussions focused on sharing examples of scholarly work we think of as TD, even if it is based in a (sub)discipline, were quite animated. Some attendees felt that these “moments” could be most easily located and identified in the arts as TD because TD and the arts seem to be characterized by creativity. For others these “moments” were marked by stark differences, failures, and even the traumas that we might encounter in our work. SJRI was encouraged to consider how to support TD research processes that operate on the margins of scholarly knowledge production. Some suggestions about possible next steps included opportunities for members to “witness collaborations” in action or development, the use of the SJRI newsletter or website to “spotlight” TD in action within the SJRI, and to encourage ongoing dialogue about how to create/support a dialectic approach to TD research within the SJRI.

We welcome your input about possible activities or events that you believe would help us further conceptualize and enact TD social justice scholarship that resonates with our collective vision for SJRI. Please contact Dr. Hirsch if you have ideas about activities or would like to spotlight your views and experiences with TD research as a blog article or video.

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