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Big-Thinking-LogoBig Thinking

The Big Thinking lecture series is the cornerstone of Congress, bringing together influential thinkers and policy-makers to talk about social issues that affect all Canadians. Big Thinking lectures are free and open to both Congress attendees and members of the community.

Kim Thúy

A long journey

Saturday, May 26, 09:30 to 10:30
Dining Hall (WLU), Senate and Board Chamber

For this Big Thinking event author Kim Thúy will share her life’s journey, fleeing Vietnam as a young refugee with her family and eventually making Canada her home. Her tale is captured in her autobiographical, award-winning book Ru, which has made waves in her home province of Quebec and has recently been released in English Canada. In speaking about her novel, Thúy will explore the impact that war has on families, the role of memory in her story and the privilege of history.

Kim Thúy left Vietnam as a boat person when she was ten years old. She has worked as a seamstress, an interpreter, a lawyer, a restaurant chef-owner and a guest chef on various radio and television stations. Ru is her first novel, published by Libre Expression in October 2009. The rights have been sold in 20 countries. It was a finalist on different prizes and has won the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Grand Prix RTL/Lire 2010 and the Grand Prix du Salon du Livre de Montréal 2010

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His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston

Democratizing knowledge: The key to progress

Saturday, May 26, 12:15 to 13:20
John Aird Centre (WLU), Maureen Forrester Recital Hall

Addressing today’s complex, global issues effectively and equitably are well beyond the purview of any one discipline, sector or country. Working collaboratively and sharing the best knowledge available is the most effective strategy if true social innovation—that which affects behaviour and improves quality of life—is to be realized for the benefit of all citizens.

In this Big Thinking address of the 2012 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, will speak about the significance of scholarship and collaboration in today’s world. This discussion will illuminate the role of scholarship in society and the importance of collaboration across university, community and private sectors to solve today’s and tomorrow’s most pressing issues. His remarks will be followed by a moderated armchair discussion with public figures tackling key questions: how can we deepen university-community engagement, what are the impediments to effective coalitions and what tools or strategies do we need to overcome them?

His Excellency has served as professor, dean and president at several Canadian universities. He served as the president of the University of Waterloo before becoming Canada’s 28th governor general.

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Gilles Patry, Reeta Tremblay, Jeffrey Keshen, Yves Mauffette

Research, education and service to the community: New ideas for a world with new demands

Saturday, May 26, 14:30 to 15:30
Dining Hall (WLU), Senate and Board Chamber

Sponsored by the Canada Foundation for Innovation

As governments embrace the goal of innovation and look to our national institutions for support, they are placing new demands on universities to play a larger role in the cultural, economic and social lives of the communities in which they operate. This expanded role is creating new opportunities for universities to serve their communities and stakeholders in more complex and dynamic ways.

What do we mean by “service,” and how is the meaning changing? How do we define “community,” and how can we understand how working academics relate to the communities in which they work?

This panel, sponsored by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, brings together Gilles G. Patry, President and CEO, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Reeta Tremblay, Vice-President Academic and Provost, University of Victoria, Jeffrey Keshen, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Mount Royal University, and Yves Mauffette, Vice-recteur à la recherche et à la creation, Université de Québec à Montréal. The panelists will investigate new models of service in Canadian universities, looking specifically at how university leaders are defining “service” in their institutional, regional, national and global contexts.

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Sidonie Smith

Toward a sustainable Humanities: Reconceptualizing doctoral education for the 21st century

Sunday, May 27, 12:15 to 13:20
Modern Languages (UW), Theatre of the Arts

Sidonie Smith is Martha Guernsey Colby Collegiate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and was the 2010 President of the Modern Language Association of America. Her fields of interest include human rights and personal narrative, autobiography studies, feminist theory, and postcolonial literatures. Some of her recent books on these subjects include Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (with Julia Watson, 2001), Moving Lives: Women’s Twentieth Century Travel Narratives (2001), and Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition (with Kay Schaffer, 2004). The second expanded edition of Reading Autobiography appeared in May 2010.

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Jane Urquhart

Intertextuality or Easter egg hunt: A Canadian writer’s adventures in the library

Monday, May 28, 07:45 to 08:55
Dining Hall (WLU), Senate and Board Chamber

This Big Thinking lecture at Congress 2012 explores the role libraries and archives have played in the development of Jane Urquhart’s fiction. In her talk, Urquhart discusses how texts she accidentally discovered in libraries have affected the writing of her novels, including The Stone Carvers (2001) and Away (1993), winner of the Trillium Award and a finalist for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She also delves into the ways in which intentional research works its way onto her page.

Jane Urquhart is the prize-winning author of seven internationally published novels, and is a Chevalier of the Ordre des arts et des lettres in France as well as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

She has been writer-in-residence on several occasions, and has received 9 honorary doctorates from Canadian Universities. During the winter and spring of 1997, she held the Presidential Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at the University of Toronto.

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Mary Eberts

Professor as citizen

Monday, May 28, 12:15 to 13:20
Modern Languages (UW), Theatre of the Arts

University faculty have specialized knowledge and a privileged position in society. But do they use that knowledge and privilege to inform their role as citizens, or are there constraints within the university that inhibit their full democratic engagement? Is it possible for idealism and a robust commitment to social justice to flourish, or even endure, in the modern Canadian university? Or are the roles of academic and citizen in fact contradictory? In her Big Thinking lecture at Congress 2012, Mary Eberts suggests that these questions hit hardest for junior academics who are dependent on the good opinion of colleagues for tenure and promotion, and on finding favour with funders.

Mary Eberts is currently the Ariel F. Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan. In 2004–2005, she held the Gordon F. Henderson Chair in Human Rights at the University of Ottawa, and for the past several years she has taught in the summer program on International Women’s Human Rights at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). She was involved in the crafting of the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is a co-founder of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), and has been litigation counsel to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) for twenty years. Recognition of her work includes the Governor-General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons’ Case, the Law Society of Upper Canada Gold Medal and several honorary degrees.

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Dan Gardner, Don Tapscott, Diana Carney

Panel Discussion: Imagining Canada’s Future

Tuesday, May 29, 09:30 to 11:30
Dining Hall (WLU), Paul Martin Centre

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

The world is continually evolving. Are we prepared for what lies ahead?
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has embarked on a forward-thinking initiative to identify key future challenge areas for Canada, in an evolving global context. If our country is to continue to be a successful society in the 21st century, we need to think ahead and collectively imagine our possible futures in order to anticipate potential emergent issues, societal needs, and knowledge needs.

In this Big Thinking panel discussion, SSHRC invites you to join Don Tapscott, Dan Gardner and Diana Carney in an invigorating discussion on Canada’s future. Don Tapscott is one of the world’s leading authorities on innovation, media and the economic and social impact of technology; Dan Gardner is a best-selling author and award-winning columnist for the Ottawa Citizen; and Diana Carney is Vice-President, Projects at the think tank Canada 2020.

With their fingers on the pulse of Canadian and global issues, these leading thinkers are well-placed to help identify emerging issues and areas that matter to Canadians and to the world.

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Margaret Atwood

Bedtime Stories

Tuesday, May 29, 12:15 to 13:20
J.G. Hagey Hall of the Humanities (UW), Humanities Theatre

In partnership with the Royal Society of Canada

When Survival hit the stands forty years ago,Margaret Atwood was already a literary success. But it quickly became a game-changing book, in which she set out to define what is ‘Canadian’ about Canadian literature at a time when our country’s literary scene was still finding its ground. For this Big Thinking lecture Margaret Atwood will talk about the writing of Survival and will explore story as a key characteristic of human beings and code to cultures, including ours.

Margaret Atwood is a giant of modern literature who has anticipated, explored, satirized—and even changed—the popular preoccupations of our time. She is the rare writer whose work is adored by the public, acclaimed by the critics, and studied on university campuses around the world. Although her subject matter varies, the precise crafting of her language gives her body of work a sensibility entirely its own.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards including the prestigious Booker Prize. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction and non-fiction. Her 2008 non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the CBC Massey Lecture series, is now the subject of a documentary film. Her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, was published in the autumn of 2009. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination is her latest non-fiction book.

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Don Tapscott

Macrowikinomics: Social Sciences and Social Change in the Age of Social Media

Tuesday, May 29, 19:00 to 20:00
Modern Languages (UW), Theatre of the Arts

In partnership with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

The current global economic crisis is not just cyclical, but rather symptomatic of a deeper secular change. There is growing evidence that we need to rethink and rebuild many of the organizations and institutions that have served us well for decades, but now have come to the end of their life cycle.

At the same time the contours of new enterprises and industries are becoming clear. With the Internet, society has at its disposal the most powerful platform ever for bringing together the people, skills and knowledge we need to ensure growth, social development and a just and sustainable world. And all around the world there is the first generation to “grown up digital” are entering the workforce and becoming citizens. These “digital natives” are a powerful force for change.

People everywhere are collaborating like never before. From education, science and the humanities to new approaches to citizen engagement and democracy, sparkling new initiatives are underway, embracing a new set of principles for the 21st century — collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity.

Don Tapscott, for 3 decades arguably the world’s leading thinker about the impact of the digital revolution on business and society, argues that this is an age of participation where the humanities and social sciences have a central role to play.

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Janine Brodie

Social literacy and social justice in times of crisis

Wednesday, May 30, 12:15 to 13:20
John Aird Centre (WLU), Maureen Forrester Hall

In partnership with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation

This lecture explores the relationship between social literacy, social justice, and the social sciences, historically and in the contemporary era of financial insecurity and public austerity. Ongoing financial crises have undermined the legitimacy of the market-friendly governing assumptions, which have informed policy-making for more than a generation. Citizens and their governments have entered unchartered waters but pervasive uncertainty has not dampened popular demands for equity, voice and social justice, in fact these have intensified. The social sciences have been too timid in entering public debates in these uncertain times. They have been remarkably successful, however, in demonstrating the social and political costs of income disparities, financial insecurity and social inequality, three critical markers of this moment. The social sciences have a great deal to say about just societies amidst the growing uncertainties of in the early 21st century. It is time for social science to rediscover its original mission of imagining better societies and, with robust critique and social research, opening windows on different choices about what is equitable, politically possible, and socially responsible.

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Chris Hedges

Death of the liberal class

Thursday, May 31, 07:45 to 08:55
Dining Hall (WLU), Senate and Board Chamber

According to Chris Hedges, liberal institutions are to blame for the downward spiral of the American political system. In his Big Thinkinglecture at Congress 2012, he argues that the liberal class—the press, universities, liberal religious institutions, labour unions and the Democratic Party—have forsaken their core values and sold out to corporate interests.

Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent for nearly two decades for The New York TimesThe Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitorand National Public Radio, and the author of such books as War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), American Fascists (2007), I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008) and Empire of Illusion(2009). He is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University.

For more information on this Speaker/Performer please visit

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Thomas Homer-Dixon

New tools for of understanding a turbulent world: Complexity theory and the social sciences

Thursday, May 31, 12:15 to 13:20
John Aird Centre (WLU), Maureen Forrester Hall

Today’s social sciences have difficulty providing conceptual, analytic and predictive tools that help policy-makers and the public address contemporary global problems such as financial crises, energy shocks, food price spikes and climate change. In his Big Thinking lecture at Congress 2012, Thomas Homer-Dixon provides some guideposts to understanding complexity science and its potential relevance to practical social science. He suggests that policy advice from the social sciences often assumes individual rationality, an aggregation of individual rational choice into group behavior, the progression of social systems towards equilibrium, and, ultimately, calculable risk. Homer-Dixon argues that humankind’s most critical problems arise from emergent complex social and natural systems marked by deep uncertainty, positive and negative feedbacks and frequent instability.

Thomas Homer-Dixon holds the CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. He is Director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation and Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development in the Faculty of Environment. Born in Victoria, British Columbia, he received his PhD from MIT in international relations and defense and arms control policy in 1989. His books include The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (2006), which won the 2006 National Business Book Award, The Ingenuity Gap (2000), winner of the 2001 Governor General’s Non-fiction Award, and Environment, Scarcity, and Violence (1999), which won the Caldwell Prize of the American Political Science Association. His recent research has focused on threats to global security in the 21st century and how societies adapt to complex economic, ecological, and technological change.

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