Last night, I read this article detailing the lead up to the murder of family physician, Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji, by her husband, neurosurgeon Dr. Mohammed Shamji. I tweeted out my thoughts on the matter this afternoon. Here’s a summary.
This past weekend, I had the privilege and honour of speaking at Queen’s Park in Toronto to the crowds gathered for the March for Science. Here’s a transcript of my speech.
Hello everyone. If you’re here, you might know that our government hasn’t always had the best record when it comes to preserving the ethos of science needed for research to be free from political bias. I’m here to tell you, that science is almost never free from cultural and political bias. But where does that leave us, striving to make our governments more transparent, our laws more just, and economy more ethical? As a society, we have to become more conscientious about the ways in which science has been used to advance the interests of our governments and corporations, but also the ways in which it impacts scientific research policy itself, and at what cost.
Since the Harper government’s infamous muzzling of federal scientists, we have become aware of how power structures in this country can jeopardize science, and in turn, our collective health and well-being. What we might not realize is how Canadian extractive industries, namely, the oil and gas and mining industries, continue with impunity, to use the expertise, economic and political support of our nation’s scientists and engineers, to violate human and environmental rights in vulnerable communities within Canada and overseas.
I was trained in chemical engineering at the University of Toronto. During my education, while we considered legal and ethical issues, I, along with others, felt that we needed more preparation in this area. Engineers as professionals, were advised to be apolitical, in that their expertise was to serve the public good, but we were not to question who and what factors defined what the public good was. Moreover, once I was in industry, I began to see how current laws and policies governing the activities of Canadian engineering, procurement, construction and management firms fall short in their promises of accountability in Canada and abroad. To this day, and in spite of criticism from many stakeholders, very few of these companies have faced legal, social and political repercussions, and their dominance in the world extractive market continues unaffected. Just recently, in late March, after being held responsible for many other infractions, Barrick Gold has been accused of using the Papua New Guinea police force to destroy up to 150 households in order to unlawfully evict villagers near a gold mine. In British Columbia, just last week, the Mount Polley Mining Corporation was granted permission to drain its waste into Lake Quesnel, which is used for the livelihoods of many residents in the area, including several Indigenous communities. This is barely three years after the the collapse and spill of a Mount Polley tailings pond into Lake Quesnel, an event considered to be one of the worst mining disasters in Canada.
During the Harper government, Canadians acknowledged the need to hold our government accountable for all the harm and negligence that was to befall this country’s environment and health. It’s time we extend this push for accountability and transparency to our homegrown technocrats and their enablers who exploit Canadian laws and scientific and technical expertise to reap profits. We as a country cannot claim to be a leader in human rights and environmental protection, while our private sector is continually rewarded for contentious standards of transparency, innumerable human rights violations, especially with respect to Indigenous communities, and an appalling environmental record. In fact, we are complicit in these infractions, as long as we create the sociocultural and political space to tolerate these practices.
As an engineer-turned-social scientist in training, I am in a unique position to consider divergent perspectives in this matter. And I know, that in their ideal states, both the science and technology sectors, and the social welfare proponents want a more prosperous, healthier and sustainable future. It’s time we finally let them hear each other out, create the space for collaboration and let that goal come to fruition.
*Caveat: I speak from the perspective of an immigrant, citizen and settler ally to Indigenous peoples. If I have been out of line anywhere, please let me know*
Dear Senator Beyak,
My name is Aadita Chaudhury. I’m an immigrant who is a Canadian citizen, who like you, is a settler in the traditional territories of First Nations people, much of which is unlawfully occupied – this is a fact that cannot be denied. I live in Toronto, the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. I wanted to write to you with regards to your comments about the residential school system, as I’m sure numerous others already have. You spoke about the “unacknowledged” “well-intentioned” “good deeds” done by the residential school system, and how recent conversations have unfairly gloss over this “different side of the residential school story”.
Senator Beyak, I’m not here to convince you of the violence of atrocities of residential schools, the rampant, physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse, the nonconsensual and grossly unethical nutritional experiments on Indigenous children, because I don’t think it is my job to convince you that residential schools have left a deep legacy of pain in Indigenous communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done an excellent job of that, and numerous Indigenous scholars, thinkers and artists continue to speak about their experiences today. Perhaps you should seek out more of these voices yourself and consider them without attending to your imperialist biases, which you seem oblivious to, since you have the nerve to attempt a revisionist history of residential schools while standing on stolen land.
I would like to talk to you about this issue as a descendant of citizens from another British colony – India, as to how your recent notions about residential schools and Trudeau’s 1969 white paper are misguided and insidiously hateful. I’m no stranger to stories of dispossession, discrimination and cultural genocide from my own country of origin. I am deeply uncomfortable at your attempt at Whig history, because if successful, it would imply the success of the original residential school strategy, which was to “kill the Indian in the child”. In fact, your example of a good deed that has been done in residential schools referring to the mass conversion of Indigenous children into Christianity to me sounds like nothing more than spiritual abuse at best, and you condoning this is furthermore disturbing. Your support for the Trudeau white papers with the hope that we could all be “Canadians together” shows your support for systemic and epistemic violence against non-British and non-French communities in Canada, by which the government would effectively incentivize the destruction of the Indigenous psyche perhaps to further legitimize it claims on Indigenous territory while creating mass amnesia about its own hypocrisy.
As a person living currently in Toronto, I often feel very disconnected, and even unwelcome in these lands. This is not because I have real fears for my safety, but somewhere deep down, I know I have not been invited here in the terms of the original custodians of the land, and I have not made a space for myself within their relations. To me, this feels like grief at the loss of possible connections I could have made, the cultural landscapes I could have been part of ethically and the knowledges and practices I could have honoured, instead of having to bow to my ancestors’ colonial masters once again. Every time I see someone like you who shuts down Indigenous claims to sovereignty, I feel revictimized by imperialism. One of the biggest regrets in my life was being welcomed into Canada without any Indigenous perspectives or presence, without living, working and going to school for years until I met an Indigenous person. It was as if the odds were already stacked against me in trying to understand its history. It’s as if, everything from my school textbooks to many public space, wanted to convince me of the timelessness of British common law across time in these lands, erasing Indigenous history. To naturalize the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in this way not only trains immigrants to believe the “official story of Canada” from which the violence of colonialism and slavery are erased, it sets them up to not believe and honour the Indigenous perspectives.
I would request you, as an immigrant and Canadian, to resign from our Senate. I think enough damage has been done to the memories, spirits, and psyches of our Indigenous communities, and in my case, it has bled into my own intergenerational trauma. I do not want to live in a Canada where people in political power continue to gaslight and manipulate the marginalized with impunity. Thus, I ask, if you have any love for this country, however shallow and problematic that may be, please step down.
PhD Candidate, Department of Science and Technology Studies, York University
Television has long been a site of impermanent knowledge production in societies all around the world. Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser linked the mass appeal of television to his notion of Ideological State Apparatuses, whereby ideological hegemony could be achieved and reinforced through its programming. Conversely, according to film theorist Andre Bazin, each shot in film was a revelation of God expressed through images of creation. While scientific educational programs have aimed at creating public awareness of science, fiction-based television programming has also been equally responsible for creating new ways of thinking about scientific practices and technologies in a rapidly changing political, ecological and social landscape. As historian David Kirby has suggested, television allows viewers to virtually witness science. Yet, the impermanence of the medium also leads viewers to question the supposed objective reality of science. This panel seeks to explore the ways television programming has co-produced social imaginaries and situated knowledges in a variety of realms and societies, and the ways in which television programming and their appeal can teach us about the salience of specific public imaginations concerning the state of the world, the presentation of varying knowledge systems from feminist, postcolonial, indigenous and other ideological standpoints. We are seeking to create a relatively informal discussion regarding the impacts of television programming on science, science research and education and the field of science and technology studies itself.
Submission Deadline: March 1, 2017.
Submit paper, session, and making and doing proposals here:
Please check the box to submit your paper to open panel “Television as a Contested Site of the Creation of Knowledge and Social Imaginaries”
You can find more details about the conference on
For more information contact:
Aadita Chaudhury, York University: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ingrid Ockert, Princeton University: email@example.com
I find myself often thinking about the sexual politics of academia. This is not simply because of the barrage of sexual harassment cases to have appeared in the limelight in the last few years, but also because of the systemic aspects and contextual culture that make certain kinds of dynamics possible, and normalized to begin with.
The traditional model asks for a male professor with a dedicated wife in tow, who never leaves his side no matter what. The image is romanticized, but is in fact jarring, because it normalizes the unequal distribution of emotional labour. In a different domain, it is exemplified in Donald and Melania. What’s more, we know that women in abusive situations cannot always leave due to complex reasons, and so the iterative performance of the “brilliant” man and his sidekick woman continues to perpetuate itself. It is codified into the heterosexual matrix, the associated gender norms and relationships. What this often means is that female academics get the short end of the stick. Either their male peers choose non-academic women over them, or when they do choose each other, female academics are forced to compromise their careers in favour of that of the men, which impacts the already sordid figures and environment for women in the academy.
Of course, this isn’t the case with everyone. My own parents for example; my father had no major commitments to his engineering career, and followed my mother’s career around through her PhD and postdoc taking up whatever job suited him in the interim. I realize this is a small minority, and is largely eclipsed by some version of the Donald-Melania dynamic.
It doesn’t take much to see that this dynamic of a man as the leader of the household has salient effects on any job market, because women, especially women of colour seem to earn significantly less than men, while doing most of the household duties. There is something rotten in this perversion of romantic love and monogamy, that asks the dynamic to be preserved through the eternal sacrifices of the woman, just so that she can be seen as the normative model of the female partner or wife. I’ve heard far too many stories from female academics careers and lives ruined by these expectations, and I haven’t even started talking about sexual predators within academia yet. I believe “good men”, whoever they may be, have to be held accountable too, for their choices and the kinds of sacrifices (or lack there of) they have made in favour of gender equality. It seems like for the most part, it’s still a woman’s burden.
I refuse to stand for this.
I just started my PhD (I believe it’s the third week now), and I am already able to see the differences in lifestyle, outlook and social norms that differentiate it from my Master’s experience. To be fair, I am in a different department (currently in Science and Technology Studies , but was previously in Faculty of Environmental Studies), my previous department had far more people (think 100+) and now I have 5 people in my cohort. FES also is the kind of place where people are using vastly different pedagogical methods to fulfill their degree criteria – from arts-based practices, historical/archival research, ethnography and GIS, and it wouldn’t be weird to hear singing in classrooms, or people running around barefoot in the common areas. My current department, on the other hand, is far more academic in the mainstream sense, but the members come from vastly different disciplines, which makes the feel of it very similar to FES. Interdisciplinarity is something common to both of the programs, however, the feel of the PhD program in STS is remarkably different from anything else I’ve experienced.
One of the key features that I have began to notice about higher levels of academia (think PhD programs and beyond) is the culture of busy-ness, and the frequency of social alienation and other more serious mental health problems like depression, anxiety and panic disorders that many students seem riddled with. It seems that the never-ending demands of the academy even produces bad research, along with the vast emotional, social and physical toll it takes on many of its participants.
How is it, that one of the treasured parts of society, where ideals of inquiry and rationality are valourized that such problems continue to exist? I thought to myself. Of course, the interior contradictions of academic culture have been noted by many people before me, but what continues to fascinate me is the sustained privileging of certain kinds of knowledge practices over others. This has included the exclusion of indigenous, postcolonial and gendered lenses on topics of academic inquiry in the past, and currently manifest themselves in other more insidious ways.
When will the academy start to value emotional intelligence and networks of care and accountability? We already have some sort of, rather imperfect peer-review process, some cohesive ideas about academic integrity and how to enforce it, but how about, for a change, and for the improvement of our research outcomes, we start fostering emotional health in a more involved basis, and focus on, in our own limited ways, to create loving bonds of nurturance and care and collective personal development? I believe that if starting from the undergraduate levels, professors, TAs, instructors, or bureaucrats involved in the academic process were to become more conscientious and empathetic towards students, there would be better outcomes all around, academically or otherwise. I realize that most campuses have some kind of mental health and counselling facilities, however, let us not outsource all the care to another institutional structure and wash our hands clean of the emotional labour required to sustain a healthy community. I know personally that many TAs, professors and instructors are already doing the emotional and social labour required for this, yet on a whole, the academy remains for many people a fundamentally hostile and competitive environment, and I think it’s time we looked at some alternative approaches.
To give you an example, here’s a simple story. Recently, I had lunch to catch up with a friend of mine. Within our conversations, came up the topic of toxic masculinity in the academy parading as “feminist, progressives”. This is perhaps a trope that many people have had to contend with, especially after the Hugo Schwyzer debacle of 2013 and the Jian Ghomeshi allegations came to surface in 2014, and most recently, with the abuses of power by Yale “ethicist” Thomas Pogge. Sadly, within the generally left-leaning culture of the academy, predators exist, and they often find refuge in progressive politics. Such characters have made occasional appearances in my experience, however, I did not benefit from any network of care and accountability when I needed it the most, which would have enabled me to escape situations and relationships that would prove injurious to me for quite a while. Speaking of such a character, I heard from my friend that he has been on an abusive tangent since his undergraduate days, and that he goes uncorrected based on the reputation of his alma mater, his academic credentials and just being a white man of privilege. Had I known of this abusive trajectory, I, along with a few others I have come to know, would have been better able to protect ourselves and create networks of accountability and care for each other.
This is just one example, but I am not alone with stories like this. Every university in Canada and beyond probably has someone like this who is able to get away with egregious harm on their peers, and are able to escape the scrutiny of institutions. The current infrastructure fails most people who suffer the abuses, but survivors of abuse are often aided by informal networks of accountability and care that are maintained by their peer groups. How can these networks further create influence beyond their immediate circles? How would you set up accountability, empathy and duties of care *within* such circles?
These are questions that have puzzled me in the last few weeks. More than anything, I want the academy to be a place of mutual nurturance, care and love (I don’t believe love is an exclusive emotion we can choose to cater to an exclusive view, but a responsibility towards our fellow citizen in building sustainable communities). While the question of care and accountability in academia seem like an elusive pipe dream, as scholars of STS Aryn Martin, Natasha Myers and Ana Viseu have pointed out, they remain a critical aspect of research and citizenship.
As I begin my PhD journey, I have met many people who make care and accountability a basic priority in their academic practice, however, they remain a minority. I want to hear of more people like this, more practices of such nature and of a salient drive to change the sterile nature of the academy. Surprise me with stories of academic kindness, care and accountability!
Welp, despite many assertions to the contrary, I have been thus far entirely unable to keep up with any kind of non-academic writing since I started my thesis, with very limited exceptions. I think I’m about done apologizing to myself for this, because it is only now with the experience of being devoted to a singularly focused project for a long time that I see how it can potentially sap one’s creative energies if one is not careful. I think most of the creative or non-academic ideas I had during the last year currently exist as point-form scribblings in a notebook that I keep with me everywhere with a particularly superstitious regard. Perhaps it’s time to revisit some of those ideas.
I’d love to talk to you about my thesis in detail now that it’s submitted and that I’m indeed on track to graduate this October, but I just defended it on August 23rd, and presented it at an international conference in Barcelona on September 1presented it at an international conference in Barcelona on September 1, and I’m still here, couped up in a student residence in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, wondering why I feel so tired.
I make my way back across the pond tomorrow morning, and immediately after I land I go off to my PhD orientation at the program in Science and Technology Studies at York University. In the meantime, I’ve had to apply for conference funding, apply to attend a workshop on postcolonial and feminist science and technology at Harvard, and complete my initial applications for the Trudeau and Vanier Scholarship Programs. I am sure there was some way I could have planned this which would have avoided me feeling so drained at this moment, but such is life, and from what I’ve been told, the norm in PhD programs – so I’m seeing it as preparation for it. Sigh. I really need a nap. I’ll get on that now.