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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.
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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According to Chris Hedges, liberal institutions are to blame for the downward spiral of the American political system. In his Big Thinking lecture 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 Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and 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.
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In partnership with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation
Janine Brodie holds a Canada Research Chair in Political Economy and Social Governance at the University of Alberta. She earned a Ph.D. in Political Science at Carleton University in 1981, a
year after accepting her first teaching position at Queen's University. In 1982, Dr. Brodie went to York University where, within nine years she was appointed full Professor as well as a Faculty Fellow of the Institute for Social Research, inaugural Director of the York Centre for Feminist Research, and John Robarts Chair in Canadian Studies. Dr. Brodie also held the University of Western Ontario Visiting Chair in Public Policy in 1995. From 1997 to 2004, she was Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. In 2002, Dr Brodie was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in recognition, read the RSC Citation, of "the breadth of her scholarship and the strength of her academic leadership". Currently, she serves as Director of the RSC's Academy II. She was nominated a Trudeau Fellow in 2010.
Dr. Brodie's research critically engages with many of the core challenges in Canadian politics and public policy: citizenship, gender equality, political representation, social policy, globalization and contemporary transformations in governance. Her influential and innovative work in these areas is substantial and extensive. To date, she has written or co-written eight books, and edited or co-edited three others. Dr Brodie also publishes in a wide range of national and international scholarly journals, and she has written some seventy book chapters, most recently investigating the multiple and complex effects of neoliberal governing practices on social citizenship, and national governance. She also co-edits Critical Concepts, an introductory political science text, now in its fourth edition, which has been widely adopted by political science departments across Canada. Dr Brodie's current research focuses on contemporary social policies and anti-poverty strategies and challenges to democratic citizenship arising from continentalization and globalization.
Social Literacy and Social Justice
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.
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.
Born in Ottawa in 1939, Margaret Atwood grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College. Throughout her writing career, she has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996) and The Blind Assassin (2000), which won the prestigious Booker Prize. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the CBC Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, was published in the autumn of 2009.
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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.
Photo credit: John CarterClose Add to My Schedule
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.Close Add to My Schedule
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