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: email@example.com
Ingrid Ockert, Princeton University: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
So, my masters in environmental studies degree is nearly done. What does this mean for me? This is a question that has me simultaneously very excited, ambivalent, numb and generally horrified. Initially when I was finishing the thesis, I thought it was the stress of the thesis itself that felt like it was tearing me apart (yes, think of that scene from The Room), but I realized I was in fact responding to an earlier self-made prophecy about my career trajectory. This is kind of a big deal. There’s also the non-academic repercussions of the whole masters experience to process, which means I will have to contend with both the academic and the personal experiences that have passed. I want to say that I’m a stronger person, but I feel very amorphous in my ambitions and identity right now. I posted a status on Facebook the other day, which I think illustrates, what I mean rather well.
The closer I get to completing my thesis, the heavier everything feels. I was, at first, surprised by this, because the less work I had, the less stress I felt and the closer I got to the finish line, the more vulnerable I became. I went about my daily business as if nothing was out of the ordinary, but I eventually realized what I was reacting to was not finishing that one thing I need to graduate, but the culmination of experiences that led up to that point, and I was finally acknowledging the masters experience in its totality.
In 2014, when I started, I felt a mix of naive optimism, self-consciousness about my limited and amateur engagement with social theory up to that point and a vague but overwhelming desire to sever ties with an older identity.
Throughout this journey, I’ve met scholars who went through a similar process of ‘conversion’ (in their words) from the STEM fields to the social sciences/humanities, and I know that I’m not alone in my Phoenix complex. I saw myself burning down, and I feel like I’m still in ashes, and it’s a peaceful way to be. I will go where the wind takes me, and one day, I’ll fly again.
This is to say that I feel all kinds of weird about what lies ahead, and that is not unusual at all. I remember feeling similarly when I completed my undergraduate, then left engineering and now. What is life if not a series of Phoenix-like transformations? It’s true that for some these transitions are far more gradual and less jarring than what has been in my experience, but with any kind of change, there is a sense of discomfort, and if one happens to lean into the discomfort, it can get really debilitating at certain times.
Despite the uncertainties and The Discomfort, there’s a few things that are certainly looking good for me. In August/September, I will be attending the Social Studies of Science Conference in Barcelona, and presenting my masters research on ‘The Naturecultures of Lyme disease in North America’ in a panel entitled ‘Biosocial futures: from interaction to entanglement in the postgenomic age‘. This is a great honour, as I will be surrounded by some very established scholars in my field, and I will get to meet many people who share my academic interests. Then afterwards, if everything goes according to plan, I will begin my PhD in science and technology studies at York University.
It may seem bizarre that I feel sometimes very depressed about my prospects in the world given all of this, and the fact that I just came back from France after completing a prestigious internship at the United Nations Environment Programme. Somehow, I am plagued by the thought that I am not doing enough, or the right kind of enough, that I am at the wrong place, and should have tried harder. I have long been upset at the prospect of prolonging my stay in Toronto (frankly, world cities like Paris, New York and even Bangkok seem like a better fit for me as a person, and there are no long term attachments here in Toronto that are keeping me here) because I feel constantly stifled here. I realize that a PhD is by no means another sentence to stay in Toronto indefinitely, but part of me wonders what other opportunities await me elsewhere in the world and whether I would have achieved them had I tried harder. I’ve been living in Toronto without break (unless you count summers) since 2002, and I’m itching for bigger things that take me places. I realize that it’s already happening, but somehow I want more, I want something different. Maybe things will be different once I’m in a PhD program. Maybe I should chuck it all and move to New York and fulfill my lifelong dream of training at the Upright Citizens Brigade, get a TV show like Broad City and just make it (if only it was that easy). Perhaps I’m impatient, perhaps it’s academia that I’m tired of. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
I’ll be over here watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Drop me a line if you have any advice. I surely am in need of some.
Last week, something truly bizarre happened.
The internet had a meltdown over a paper on environmental humanities in a prestigious geography journal.
It seemed that those skeptical (and some that are actually not at all skeptical) of climate change, and those who find feminist research methodologies largely a “waste of time” and just “PC bullshit” found something that brings them together. Indeed, for an academic paper, even more so in the area of human geography/posthumanist research, perhaps nothing in recent memory has attracted so much wrath and ridicule both within and outside academic spheres. I’m of course talking about the “feminist glaciology” paper.
Now, I realize that climate skeptics and anti-feminists are groups that exist in the real world, and there may even be a large overlap in their ideologies. But in the case about the outrage about the feminist glaciology paper, these two groups found common ground to bitch about things like how such studies are federally funded, among other perspectives completely disregarding the merits of study based on the title and abstract only, creating culture wars very reminiscent of the 1990s Sokal Hoax. Nonetheless, this was a weirdly exciting time for me. This is perhaps the first time that the environmental humanities have achieved mainstream coverage.
On a more personal level, I was shocked, baffled and appalled by the way many have reacted to the paper, and those defending it and trying to explain it in context over social media. Just by tweeting about this paper, I have had people attack me and tell me to “go find [my] safe place”. It’s truly weird to see anti-feminists trolls take time out of their busy schedules to target environmental humanities scholars and their proponents, all of a sudden. It’s even more disappointing to see the resistance to feminist-oriented research and epistemologies that exist even amongst well-established academics.
On the other hand, the reaction to this paper is also very illustrative of the gaps that exist in the current academic environment that the field of environmental humanities and cultural studies have long tried to address, as well as the general nature of the Eurocentric heteropatriarchal academy and its resistance to feminist pedagogies. Among people for whom the feminist orientation of the papers were not the source of their ridicule, the understanding of the basic claims of the paper seemed to be something difficult to grasp. I had a few Twitter conversations with folks who didn’t mind the feminist epistemology, but failed to see why such a paper is anything beyond mere intellectual masturbation on the part of the authors. Indeed, there is a critique of similar postmodern rhetoric for being simply the jargon-intensive fluff that scientists are wary of, but in the case of “feminist glaciology”, I found this was not the case. To me, it seems like a standard, high quality paper in feminist science studies that seeks to make the larger field aware of the intersectionalities in which they are implicated. I’m sure to those who are unfamiliar with the field, or even science studies in general, any suggestion to theorize the social context of scientific knowledge may sound like bullshit. I cannot help those with this prejudice in any way other than pointing out why this kind of research is important. As the first author of the paper, science historian Mark Carey himself said to Science:
“Professional research is published in journals for specialists in a given field. When removed from that context and described to nonspecialists, the research can be misunderstood and potentially misrepresented. What is surprising about the brouhaha is the high level of misinterpretations, mischaracterization, and misinformation that circulate about research and researchers—though this has, unfortunately, been happening to scientists for centuries, especially climate researchers in recent decades.”
In the case of feminist glaciology, this is no different, and is perhaps exacerbated by a lack of scientific literacy and awareness of the history and sociology of scientific practice.
I am writing this as an attempt to correct some of the biases against such pieces of scholarly work, as part of my larger project of situating science amidst its social, cultural AND historic context, and these things could not be more relevant that in the study of arctic glaciology. I’ll explain why.
Firstly, this is not the first work of its kind. Canadian anthropologist Julie Cruikshank has an ethnography of “human-ice interactions” in the context of Canadian arctic inhabitants, in particular the indigenous peoples of Northern Canada in her book Do Glaciers Listen?: Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters and Social Imagination. I don’t remember anyone raising hell about the state of the education system and tax dollars going into this research, so I was quite taken aback when I realized this was the case with feminist glaciology.
The biggest reason why feminist glaciology was not out of the ordinary or unusual for me and many others like with similar academic backgrounds is the steadfast acknowledgement that the development of the ecological and earth sciences as a field has almost always been a site of colonialism, and thereby rich with racial and gendered elements. Modern ecology as formulated by western academies owe a lot to the history of colonialism in the Americas, Oceania and Asia, and therefore is mired in racialized and gendered hierarchies and knowledge systems that are sometimes appropriated by or dismissed by the Western academy. I cannot stress this enough. This fact, is, or at least should be, completely transparent to those engaging with the natural sciences and their history. Thus the idea of a “feminist glaciology” is nothing at all to dismiss, if we are to look at the history and the factual context in which glaciology as a field has developed and continues to do so. In fact, not taking into consideration these elements of scientific knowledge production is what would create lousy science and arguably, bullshit.
Some facts to consider:
It’s time scientists owned the part their establishments have played in oppressive regimes around the world. Considering themselves as instruments of objectivity, inquiry and impartial judgement does not inoculate them against the biases and prejudices of society at large. Perhaps a deeper awareness of present scientific institutions and hierarchies will help students of science understand the continued follies of scientific positivism and ahistoricism, and we are no longer in an era where the scientific establishment can afford to keep operating in such a way.
The biggest takeaway from the entire #FeministGlaciology debacle is perhaps the extent to which working scientists and academics remain oblivious to the history and power relations of their own fields, and thereby risk perpetuating the same errors as their predecessors in producing not only biased and flawed results, but an exclusionary epistemology, and by extension work environment. In 2016, this will simply not do.