Witnessing Transdisciplinarity in St. Catharines | Rachel Hirsch

Art, Archives and Affinities: Exploring Social Justice across Disciplinary Boundaries

A public event hosted by the Social Justice Research Institute (SJRI) “Art, Archives, and Affinities” was held at the Mahtay Café Thursday, December 4, 2014 in downtown St. Catharines to celebrate the diversity of social justice research at Brock University.

Special guests at this event included Christine Kim and Gregory Betts. Christine Kim has been involved in social work with the homeless for the past six years, focusing on the Skid Row neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles. Though her work, she has found that, although an estimated 10-25 per cent of the homeless have animals, there are only a handful of shelters in the U.S. designed to take in interspecies families. Her project, “My Dog is My Home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness,” is a multi-media online and offline exhibition displayed at Mahtay Café in St. Catharines.

Gregory Betts, a Professor in English, explores the representation of revolution, insurrection, dislocation, and linguistic error in Canadian literature. In his 2012 book, Boycott, from Make Now Press, he examines boycott culture in Canada through the lens of social media and produces a found poem of collected internet comments that records the world threatening to negate itself. Gregory reveals the messiness of boycott culture and challenges readers to reflect on the degree of privilege required for participation in this social act of resistance.

A panel of SJRI faculty affiliates was asked to share details about their research and teaching illustrating how social justice issues and principles guide their work.

David Butz (Geography) described how his work involves interactions with and within areas, such as Northern Pakistan, that have colonial histories. The social justice character of his work is in how he conducts himself as a researcher by recognizing that research produces and transforms knowledge in unequal ways. Dr. Butz practices a collaborative type of research called “auto-ethnography” focused on learning to listen deeply to community members and then responding through self-reflection in order to facilitate powerful trans-cultural interactions.

Tami Friedman (History) explained how her work is about understanding and tracing the roots of industrial relocation and capital flight in US history. Her interest in and focus on historical approaches to social justice issues comes from what she identifies as a “presentist” tendency to focus only on present day contexts; a problematic approach which she believed left gaps in her knowledge as a political activist. Now, she looks to the past to understand why capitalists have so much power while workers have so little and she aims to inform current movements by learning from past responses to capital flight.

Sue Spearey (English) self-identifies as a post-colonial scholar who takes action through classroom activism. She was among the first group of scholars at Brock that were interested in interrogating disciplinary boundaries to find a route to social justice. She works with her students and colleagues to identify slow, less visible forms of violence evoking a “politic of recognition” as a strategy for resistance. Her goal is to draw from the arts generating an intimate sense of responsibility through ethical spaces for dialogue in the classroom.

David Fancy (Dramatic Arts) describes how he has been caught up in a revolution away from examining text to exploring embodiment in performance studies. His work has proceeded in collaboration with minoritized populations such as a Marxist reading group of local migrant labourers. Engaging with these groups through creative activities releases cultural capital allowing for a range of interventions. By working together in this way, Dr. Fancy has found that spaces of injustice can further be revealed facilitating dialogue and critical action. He suggests that the SJRI itself can act as a radical space for critical reflection and collective action.

The Social Justice Research Institute (SJRI) is one of Brock’s five hubs for transdisciplinary research. The SJRI is composed of researchers from a number of disciplines, academic backgrounds, and political positions. The SJRI is dedicated to dialogue about a range of social justice interests and initiatives such as those explored as part of the “Art, Archives and Affinities” research celebration. Event organizers, Keri Cronin (Visual Arts) and Rebecca Raby (Child and Youth Studies), say that the response from this event was very positive and that they are looking forward to future SJRI-sponsored events to celebrate social justice research at Brock.

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