Tag Archives: Sociology

Unpacking the Everyday

Newly released from UTP, Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition is an innovative text that provides undergraduate students with tools to think sociologically through the lens of everyday life. In this post, the authors explain the book and why they encourage students to turn their social worlds inside out and explore alternatives to the dominant social order.

By Deborah Brock, Aryn Martin, Rebecca Raby, and Mark P. Thomas.

Our new book Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition encourages students to explore everyday practices that are familiar and that might, at first glance, seem benign: online shopping, using a credit card, buying a cup of coffee, even taking an online quiz. By “everyday” we mean the practices that are a part of people’s commonplace and taken-for-granted activities. But people’s everyday activities reflect, reproduce, and sometimes challenge a wide range of power relations. In Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition we will encourage you to ask questions about these kinds of practices. We ask how: How are everyday occurrences connected to the social organization of power? How are gender, class, race, citizenship and age shaped and reflected in many such taken-for-granted practices? How are the goods that we are buying produced, and by whom? How do practices such as travelling, shopping, and getting a credit card reflect and reproduce power, even creating our very sense of who we are? We also address the why questions that these examples will no doubt bring to mind: Why are certain patterns of consumption encouraged and facilitated? And who benefits from these patterns?

For example, even that café latte some cherish as an everyday ritual reflects a geography, history, and economy of power relations. These relations become visible when we begin to study where coffee beans come from, who grows and harvests them, how they come to be ground and sold in drinks, and how they are marketed to the North American consumer. The choice to buy a cup of coffee— including what kind of coffee and where it is bought—is a practice embedded in a global web of power relations. The places we shop, the products we buy, and the websites we visit are all a part of a system of consumption that links us to people, places, and things that seem very distant from our own lives.

We ask students to explore popular culture and mass media to understand how they are permeated with power relations: selling certain kinds of images, promoting individualized self-improvement, cultivating desires that support a consumer culture, and through these practices, reproducing power relations of race, gender, heterosexuality, ability, and a narrow concept of beauty. How are we pressured to try to shape ourselves to better fit a presumed ideal?

The chapters in this textbook address the diverse power relations embedded in such everyday objects and practices. They complicate objects and practices that many of us take for granted and offer new, sometimes unsettling ways of thinking about them. They illustrate how a cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee and why a quiz is never just a quiz. When we begin to examine everyday objects and practices in this way, we also begin a process of “unpacking the centre.”

Most sociological textbooks do not directly investigate what we will refer to here as the centre. It is much more common for them to analyze social deviance through the lens of the normative social order, or to focus on what happens to people who exist at the margins: the racialized, the colonized, the so-called sexual “minorities,” the poor, and so on. Some scholars have instead focused on studying the centre in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how power relations are organized. They “unpack” the centre—just like taking apart a piece of mechanical equipment—in order to find out how it works. To focus almost exclusively on the deviant or the marginalized without interrogating the centre is to risk reproducing a pattern that defines the margins as the location of the problem.

For example, we think it imperative to conduct sociological research on same-gender sexuality in order to document the forms of systemic and attitudinal inequality that marginalize people because of their sexual desires and practices. However, when scholars focus on same-gender sexuality while ignoring the social construction of heterosexuality, we continue to name same-gender attraction, including being gay, lesbian or bisexual as, in effect, the problem for sociological inquiry, even though our objective may be to explain why these forms of sexuality should not be considered a problem. Heterosexuality is able to maintain its privileged position as the normal and natural form of sexual expression.  The binary two-gender system is another way in which our relation to ourselves and others is normatively, and narrowly, organized. Yet this system de-legitimates or erases a vast array of possibilities for living one’s life. Why the insistence that there are only two genders, when they limit possibilities for so many of us, and substantial numbers of people refuse to be contained by them?  Whiteness is another social characteristic that occupies the centre. Academic and public accounts of racism commonly focus on the impact of racism on people of colour, and ignore the social construction of whiteness and the relations of power and privilege connected to whiteness. The social organization of whiteness, however, is an important part of practices of racialization and the problems of racism. Racism is also perpetuated when those who occupy the centre fail to acknowledge systematic historic and current racial and cultural ideas and practices that are deeply connected to colonialism and the marginalization of Indigenous peoples.

This approach to studying the social organization of everyday objects and practices draws attention to what sociologists have long referred to as patterns of social inequality. We are interested in power primarily because of the ways it produces and sustains inequalities between social groups. We do not, however, simply focus on patterns of social inequality as the outcome of power. While themes of inequality are certainly present in the chapters in this book, our approach seeks to understand the social organization of dominant power relations in terms of the ways in which these power relations shape both broad patterns of inequality and everyday experiences. In other words, we do not simply aim to document different levels of socioeconomic status, as stratification theorists often do (Aronowitz 2003); rather, we are interested in the social relations that produce and reproduce the “normal,” the dominant, and the “centre.” This means our analysis focuses on understanding relationships between social processes, social groups, and individuals as they live their daily lives.

To unpack the centre is to explore the taken for granted features of dominant forms of social organization. It is the most difficult to see that a centre exists when you occupy it— for example, when you are white, heterosexual, a citizen, or someone with an ample secure income. It is not so difficult when you are an Indigenous person, a non-citizen, do not identify as straight, are racialized, or are in some way minoritized. We want you to become particularly aware of the ways in which centuries of colonization have placed the descendants of colonizers in a position of assumed ownership of the homelands of Indigenous peoples, for which they typically never ceded title. Finally, the experiences of migrant workers reveal how citizenship and national belonging are part of the centre, even while they might wish such acceptance for themselves. In Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition we aim to show how these active and ongoing social processes are integral to everyday life.

Want to learn more from Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition?

  • Purchase your copy of the book.
  • Read an exclusive chapter.
  • Email us at requests@utorontopress.com to request exam or desk copies of this or any other UTP title. Please be sure to include the course name and number, start date, and estimated enrollment.

Deborah Brock is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at York University.

Aryn Martin is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at York University.

Rebecca Raby is a professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University.

Mark P. Thomas is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at York University.

Human Teaching in Hard Times: An Interview with Dr. Alan Sears by Dr. Tonya Davidson

In this guest post, Tonya Davidson (Carleton University), sociology professor and co-editor (with Ondine Park) of the forthcoming book Seasonal Sociology, talks with Alan Sears (Ryerson University) about teaching in higher education during these dark times. From the cost of tuition to the challenge of making liberal arts relevant, and the search for a pedagogy that forges not just practical but human relationships, this wide-ranging discussion tackles the contradictions of teaching and learning in a neoliberal age.

In October 2018, Dr. Alan Sears visited Carleton University to be featured in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology’s Colloquium Series. He gave an excellent talk titled, “Resistance in Right Populist Times.”

Alan is an accomplished scholar of sexualities, left politics, social movements, and education. His writing includes Retooling the Mind Factory: Education in a Lean StateThe Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood) and (with James Cairns) The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century, as well as the now-classic A Good Book in Theory. While celebrated for his scholarship, Alan is also a very dedicated and thoughtful teacher. When I was his colleague at Ryerson University for four years, he was one of my key teaching mentors so I jumped at the chance to ask Alan to also be our guest for the first “Teaching Talk” of the semester in the Sociology-Anthropology Department. Predicting that his thoughts on teaching could easily find a wider audience than the group of colleagues gathered in our departmental lounge, I transcribed that interview and present it for you here.

TD: You proposed the title for this talk, “Human Teaching in Hard Times.” Can you tell us what hard times you’re referring to?

AS: I guess the hard times I am thinking of probably have geo-political origins. The long impact of neoliberalism and cutbacks and austerity have had a huge effect on what it is like to be teaching at a post-secondary level. One of the aspects of this is the stress that students are under because of tuition fees, because of the employment they are doing to get by, because of what housing is like now, and because of their deep anxieties about the future. The questions that are always in their minds are: what are they going to do with their degrees and what’s next in their lives?

And then the character of instruction is increasingly supposed to be efficient in content delivery with a real emphasis on information transfer. I think that the shift in the idea of what learning and teaching is supposed to be is increasingly to think of students as materials we are mass producing and the final consumer of what we are producing is the employer. So that has an impact on us in terms of metrics, which in post-secondary education means measurable outcomes in terms of what students could do before and after. Look, I think we can learn a lot by focusing on the learning that is accomplished rather than the teaching that we do, but I also think there is a whole human growth element in education that is flattened by a lot of outcomes discussions.

The scale, at least at Ryerson where I teach, is that most classes are 70 students or more. I teach our capstone course and it’s 100 plus students. The nature of that makes human relations very difficult. I think the most transformative part of any educational relationship, which are always mutual relationships if they work properly, is a human relationship.

TD: Students have always had anxiety to a degree. Have you noticed a change in your thirty years of teaching?

AS: Absolutely.

TD: How do you deal with that within your own institutional constraints? How do you deal with student anxiety?

AS: I find it a real challenge. I saw a chart recently that someone had developed showing the history of tuition fee increases in Ontario and the pay rates for summer employment. I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University in 1973 which happened to be the year that tuition in Ontario was at its lowest in real dollars. That corresponded with, because of government funding, relative ease at getting summer jobs that paid quite well, so I could earn enough money in the summer to pretty much cover my year, including tuition. Now tuition fees are higher and there are fewer summer jobs with decent pay. Students are working more hours for less pay, building up higher debts, and they are worried about their future given the difficulty of obtaining secure employment.

I think that is a formula for generating anxiety, and it’s really noticeable in all kinds of ways. We’ve never been particularly good at raising a discussion about what comes after a degree, but I notice it particularly now in a very sharp anxiety about what the relationship is between an undergraduate education in sociology and what follows.

It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?”

I think that the model we have is an elite model that presumes that when people graduate, their class-based networks that are gendered and racialized and have a lot to do with migration status, will surf them between graduation and wherever they’re going next. So if they’re interested in a job in so and so, their mother will call their uncle who works in that area. And that works for some. In the film The Graduate, the summer after graduation was spent by the pool with parents’ friends advising you to get into plastics or whatever was hot at the time. Very few students have the luxury of a summer by the pool or parents’ friends who can give them advice about various sectors, or who can afford a free internship, or who have a way of knowing about occupations that are different from what they’ve been exposed to so far in their lives.

So I think the anxiety is real, and I think it’s incredibly sharp, and it sometimes plays itself out as hostility towards us. I’ve noticed a certain tension around grades, a kind of a more hostile bargaining because that seems to be something that you can deal with more directly. And textbooks, that’s another pain point: “why is this book so expensive?” Sadly, for a lot of other things, like tuition fees or class sizes, there’s little active opposition because there is a feeling that you can’t do anything about it. I think the anxiety plays out in many ways.

TD: Professors have different attitudes about whether there is a place in a sociology program for teaching school-to-work transition skills, or other career-focused projects. How do you approach that, especially in your capstone course?

AS: This is one of the contradictions I continually negotiate. Because I am a committed political critic of the system, I understand when people talk about concern that the neoliberalization of the post-secondary system means, for working class people, a much more occupational focus, and there’s no doubt this happens. And yet if you look at what’s happening in Britain and the US for example, there is a desire to preserve liberal arts education, but only for the elite. It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?” That message is something that is very specifically aimed at institutions with a working-class clientele. And I think the concern is that a liberal arts education creates inflated expectations for everyone without differentiating between students with varying life trajectories. Policy-makers are interested in changing that system, particularly in Canada where the university system tends to be more social democratic, to create a more hierarchical system where liberal arts play a smaller role. This is especially the case in institutions that have historically included a higher proportion of working class and first-generation students, like Ryerson or Windsor where I have taught. There’s a part of me that thinks, well let’s resist that push and let’s fight and honour a liberal arts education. I really do believe that that’s necessary and I think the greatest bulk of a student’s education in sociology or anthropology or whatever they are taking should absolutely be in a proud liberal arts tradition that’s challenging students to think critically and so on.

I also think there’s a serious equity issue around being honest about the fact that the transition to work is difficult and we have really failed on our end. We feel like we’ve done our job by pushing them off a cliff at graduation and waving goodbye and giving them a certificate. I think we owe them more. I don’t think career integration needs to consume a lot of the curriculum. I think little bits of it, strategically inserted, can go a long way. We shouldn’t distort the curriculum.

We’re doing a pilot course this year called “career integration” for fourth-year students where they’ll get to do a job shadow experience in a workplace that’s of interest. We’re also building in self-advocacy around worker rights and the like, but also stuff like resume preparation, sample interviews, and how to claim a sociology education in a job interview so you don’t just say “well it’s because I hated English.” At the very least, it gives students a way of describing what they got out of their degree, or, in some cases, just creating space for them to figure out if they got anything out of it. I believe seriously that there’s a class, racial, equity, and migration justice built into this experiment. If we want to simply claim that we do liberal arts in a pure way, we are ignoring the socio-economic relations that surround the institution and the histories that inform our ideas about what a liberal arts education is.

TD: Have you noticed in shifting hard times, different types of student engagement with questions of free speech, bias, and felt that through hostility?

AS: I think I’m fairly fortunate that Ryerson is a downtown Toronto campus with a very high first-generation student body; roughly 60% of the students in our program identify as racialized. The nature of who the student body is means that a lot of the pro-equity ideas are taken for granted, and few students will stand up and challenge fundamental notions of social justice. And I think there’s some self-selection there too because our program is quite equity-focused. I think the students who are most likely going to be upset about that transfer out of our program. I personally haven’t faced it that much.

One of the things that’s happened is that we’ve made our “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course required, and it is taught with a very Indigenous-centric perspective that presumes settler colonialism, presumes Indigenous sovereignty, and presumes that universities are colonial institutions. I would guess that course will be one of the litmus tests in our department. I would guess that will be one of the places where even people who know that they’re not supposed to say something racist might express discomfort. That’s the way that settler colonialism operates, it creates a kind of entitlement that may lead to a different order of challenges from students. Certainly, I know people who teach in the US, and other places in Ontario who talk about how much their students have been emboldened to challenge even the most basic equity stuff in classes, but so far, I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble around that.

TD: Those two initiatives at Ryerson – the “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course as a mandatory course and the “Career Integration” course both sound like great responses, or pedagogical forms of resistance to these hard times. One of the things that has always struck me about you, Alan, is how you are simultaneously very critical of post-secondary education, and broader political and social structures, but somehow seem stubbornly optimistic. So my final question is: what do you find hopeful about teaching sociology in “hard times”?

AS: I think that most students are very perceptive and critical about the injustice in the world today. They do not have illusions that this is the “best of all worlds” or a meritocracy. They know someone is making a killing off of the precariousness and suffering so many face.

The challenge is that they might think that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – and that they do not see a better world as possible, particularly through their own actions. So there is a real base among our students for a new radicalization, if they can begin to realize the power they have to change the world. But that radicalization will not happen through the classroom, which even at its best is a site of alienated labour. For me, human teaching is about trying to reduce the damage done in post-secondary education while working outside the institution to build the movements and counter-power that can challenge these injustices.

For more on millennials, education, and social movements we suggest: The Democratic Imagination and The Myth of the Age of Entitlement.


Unlocking Gentrifier

Schlichtman_comp_ID5295.inddJohn Joe Schlichtman discusses what prompted him, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill to write Gentrifier.

The motivation for Gentrifier is rooted in my deep frustration regarding the ways in which the gentrification conversation has gone in circles for decades.

I found that one way to cut to the core of a middle-class person’s take on gentrification (be they an academic, activist, or any other resident) was simply to ask: “Well, where do you live and how does that help you to understand the issue?” People’s responses—both verbal and non-verbal—to such a question are rather profound. There is often a “well, what does that have to do with it?” appearance in one’s countenance—never articulated because people know full well that their worldview ought to apply to their own life.

Yet such tension remains at the heart of the gentrification discussion. I imagine one set of speakers circling the globe decrying gentrification as an abstract force of evil and another set of speakers—also on a global lecture circuit—pitching it as a salvation. What gets lost in these perspectives is the combinations of larger scale trends and smaller scale decisions that result in an experience of gentrification on the ground.  There have been attempts to bridge this gap, but they seem to avoid the crux of things. And as my co-author Jason Patch often mentioned, the best attempts have been within the appendices of ethnographic studies. To us, this means that the researcher views such analyses as secondary—we wanted to make it central.

This gap is part of a longstanding tension in gentrification research, one that I have observed thoughtful people navigate by arguing in silos. It is very easy to lapse into such an approach. Yet as Jason pointed out, if you push any one of the arguments within these silos to their natural limit, they are actually quite contradictory. We call these contradictions “collisions.”

When we looked at any particular area of urban research, such as health research or community development research, we observed the same issue. We find well-intentioned people—often the same person—arguing within conflicting silos. On one hand, gentrification seems a solution to be encouraged. It promotes increases in walkability, safety, food options, and infrastructure. On the other hand, gentrification seems a problem to be resisted. Economically, it can displace and isolate, causing great stress on low-income households. Culturally, it removes the longstanding markers of ‘home’ spaces, decreasing longtime residents’ feeling of well-being. Socially, it can break up neighborly support networks and alter policing strategies to the detriment of longtime residents.

I approached Jason with my excitement regarding how fruitful this simple question “where do you live?” seemed to be. It brought out tensions in a person’s own biography that I viewed as the “black box” to understanding various strands that composed the fabric of gentrification. In our experience, most scholars critical of gentrification were actually gentrifiers—that is, they chose to live in gentrifying contexts. I pitched the idea of doing a study that drew on their accounts.

What a valuable take, I thought: someone who seems to be against gentrification but nonetheless choses to be a gentrifier—even when there are residential choices beyond the gentrifying context. However, people were not warm to this format. Having met resistance, someone suggested that we turn the mirror on ourselves and model the approach we were describing. This resulted in our article “Gentrifier? Who Me?” in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

17_East_97th_StreetThis article generated some general attention and new interest, including from editor Doug Hildebrand at UTP. And one of the journalists to cover the article was Marc Lamont Hill, who is also a very compelling anthropologist and critical race scholar. Shortly after Marc and I spoke about gentrification, Marc interviewed Spike Lee about various topics. Interestingly, the topic turned to gentrification in Lee’s native Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Spike Lee spoke with a tacit assumption that Marc was not a gentrifier (an object of Lee’s vitriol) in Fort Greene. Marc pushed back and suggested that he was indeed a gentrifier—which he was, by most any definition. I was surprised that despite having received an ‘out’ from a figure of Lee’s New York prominence and legitimacy in a live interview, Marc did not take it.  What’s more, I had already hoped to make Spike Lee’s take on gentrification—raw and brilliant—a thread of the book. Given Marc’s scholarly expertise and his reflectiveness in engaging Lee, I thought Marc would be a great fit for the project. Thankfully, Marc was immediately receptive to joining in.

Jason, Marc, and I wanted the book to reorient the gentrification conversation. We want to illuminate the areas that get glossed over when people debate, research, or teach about gentrification. We provide a backpack of conceptual tools to empower local actors—from health care providers to non-profit directors to urban planners to college students—to assess the context of the neighborhood they impact. We seek to clarify the macro- and city-level dynamics of gentrification, the facets that make up a housing consumer’s residential decision, and the way that these factors can combine into different ‘types’ of gentrifiers and different contexts of gentrification.

These combinations produce outcomes that are very similar in some ways but very different in others.  Resisting or encouraging gentrification is extremely context-dependent: it matters if one is in London, Cape Town, São Paulo, Vancouver, or Des Moines.  Yet the most-used guides to understanding gentrification—dating back to the coining of the term itself in 1964—are rooted in cities like New York and London.

In Chicago, for instance, neighborhood decline is considerably more common than gentrification. Among other things, this implies that much of the story of neighborhood reinvestment lies ahead. But what I want to point to here is that leaders in many of the Chicago neighborhoods that have seen long-term decline have been mobilizing for investment.  These efforts have crystalized in developments such as a Whole Foods in the Englewood neighborhood and local grocery store Mariano’s locating in Bronzeville.

Both of these stores could be portrayed as either colonization or reinvigoration. People tend to choose their portrayal based on their silo.  I have colleagues, then, who express a sentiment like “It’s a shame—that news about the food desert getting a grocery store.” We need to unpack statements like this. If we do not, the decisions we make founded upon them will be errant.

To cite another example, when the politically left-leaning Pastor Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood came to my university for a talk, he asked why on his drive to DePaul from 79th Street he began seeing so many cranes as he travelled north, probably around 31st Street.  These cranes for Pfleger symbolized investment—residential, retail, government and other types of development. His Auburn-Gresham needs some of those cranes, Pfleger expressed. There is a correlation, of course, between cranes and gentrification—as Pfleger well knows.

His invitation is neither naïve nor is it an outlier—it is grounded in a context in which investment is not a problem but a solution to many pressing needs. And for that investment to be just, it requires a plan—a plan I might add that, no matter how thorough, will never be implemented perfectly.

Green_Line_ChicagoThere are also neighborhoods in Chicago that are seeing intense gentrification.  Others would describe them as solidly middle class, with the process of gentrification having come and gone.  Where is the affordable housing in these neighborhoods?  How much attention should go into fighting for this?  And to what extent does this fight come at the expense of making housing more safe and livable in disinvested neighborhoods?

We cannot engage in productive debate, policy-making discussion, and teaching about gentrification when our understanding—our personal underlying theory—of gentrification stands on murky foundations. The main thrust of Gentrifier is to equip as many people as possible to participate in this complex conversation—in all of its nuance—as it relates to their neighborhood, their block, and their own lives.

What People Are Saying about GENTRIFIER

“GENTRIFIER is the sort of book that vintage, pre-Kardashian Kanye West might have written had he had a PhD in urban policy, supplying it with an irresistible hook: ‘We’re all gentrifiers, I’m just the first to admit it.’ Schlichtman, Patch, and Hill help us shelve what we thought we knew about gentrification, and give us instead a brutally honest reckoning with the ills, conveniences and virtues – but especially the consequences on the vulnerable – of gentrification. They ably wrestle with a characteristic facet of modern existence, rescuing the term from automatic demonization while never once letting it off the hook for the damage it can do.”
Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University and author of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

“This is a brave book. It tackles a set of problems that bedevil academic and policy oriented urban planners but that also confront many young urbanites…”
Peter Marcuse, Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning, Columbia University,  Foreword to GENTRIFIER

“GENTRIFIER does a masterful job of explaining, unpacking, and grounding the key analytical concepts that underpin debates on gentrification. In clear, readable, and entertaining prose, John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch and Marc Lamont Hill make gentrification more tangible and relevant as an important social topic worthy of rigorous and careful understanding.”
John L. Jackson, Jr., Richard Perry University Professor and Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania

“John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch and Marc Lamont Hill clearly engage in the theoretical and policy debates surrounding gentrification while offering very smart analyses of their own narratives. There is a lot out there on gentrification but GENTRIFIER is most definitely fresh!”
Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University

Unlocking Making a Global City

Vipond_MakingaGlobalCityRobert Vipond discusses how Making a Global City: How One Toronto School Embraced Diversity came to be and why we must defend diversity.

This is a book I had no intention of writing.  It is not the culmination of a career-long scholarly interest in the history of public education.  It does not draw on a deep reservoir of research money generated by national granting agencies.  (In fact, my grant proposals were consistently consigned to the purgatory known as SSHRC’s Category 4A – “fundable but not funded.”)  And it does not reflect a burning desire to contribute to a well-established body of literature in my home discipline, political science.  Instead, it owes its existence to a more or less chance conversation I had, in the spring of 2012, with the principal of Clinton Street Public School in Toronto’s west end.  The principal intercepted me one morning after I had dropped my daughter off at her Grade 5 classroom.  “Are you interested in history?,” she asked.  There was, of course, only one possible answer to that question, and before I knew it I had volunteered to be part of the organizing committee for the school’s 125th anniversary in 2013.

Like most parents at Clinton Street School I had a vague sense of the school’s history.  I knew that it had been a “gateway” school for several generations of immigrant families, but I knew precious little about who those families were or what their school life was like.  All that changed when I discovered the school held a complete set of student registration cards covering the period bookended by this study, 1920-1990.  The information contained on these cards made it possible to generate a fine-grained, dynamic, demographic portrait of the school.  And from that portrait I was able to identify three distinct school communities in three distinct historical periods – what I call Jewish Clinton (1920s to early 1950s), southern European Clinton (1950s to mid-1970s), and global Clinton (mid-1970s-1990).

But what to make of this portrait?  What stories did these three Clintons tell?  I was tempted, initially, to use Clinton Street School to understand how the “crucible” of integration actually works.  For the rich sub-discipline of immigration studies, understanding the process of integration is a core question.  Yet most of the work on integration, whether scholarly or popular, deals with adults, not children.  There, perhaps, was my opportunity to make a scholarly contribution.

In the course of conducting about 75 interviews with former students, teachers, and parents, I did indeed learn a lot about what it had been like, on the ground, for immigrant students.  I came to realize, however, that focusing on integration by itself was not really the best way to understand the Clinton experience.   For one thing, if you really want to know whether and how individuals and groups integrate into a society, you have to be able to follow them over the long term.   I couldn’t do that.  I had school records, but I had no systematic way to see my students through to adulthood.  Besides, it struck me that the process of integration itself depends on how you define the goal of that integration.  You need to know what citizenship means (in the broadest sense) before you can measure whether and why immigrants have “made it” to that destination.  But if what it means to “be” Canadian has changed over the years – and it has – then to understand the immigrant experience you have to understand the moving target of citizenship as well.

This is why I ultimately circled back to a subject I have written and thought about a lot over the course of my career, namely citizenship – who belongs, under what terms, and to what end.   And this is why the history of a school like Clinton is so interesting and revealing.  What I came to see is that Clinton Street School was a sort of laboratory for working out what Canadian citizenship means – from the bottom up.  As it turns out, each of the three Clinton communities addressed a signature issue that crystallized ideas about, and kindled controversies surrounding, the definition of citizenship.  Jewish Clinton was provoked by the provincial government’s imposition of system-wide religious instruction in the 1940s in ways that led it to mark the place of religious minorities as equal citizens.  European Clinton began to work out the difference, both in theory and practice, between integration and assimilation, a critical distinction that led directly to the rise of multicultural citizenship.  And Global Clinton, in the face of mounting pressure to include heritage language instruction as a regular part of the curriculum, set about to define the boundaries of multicultural citizenship.

Making a Global City is the history of a single school, but it is easy enough to see the larger story of citizenship in Canada, indeed in liberal democracies more generally, reflected in its pages.  While I was writing it, the Harper government was going to court to prohibit a Muslim woman from wearing a niqab at her citizenship ceremony, Nigel Farage was stirring the anti-immigration pot in the lead up to the Brexit vote, and Donald Trump was making all manner of mischief, first in the Republican primaries, then in the general election campaign.  Immersed as I have been in the history of Clinton Street School, it strikes me that one of the problems with the current debate is that too many people who control too much band width have forgotten why diversity is important, valuable, and worth defending.  For all its faults – and there were many – the three incarnations of Clinton Street School willingly embraced diversity.  Making a Global City is an attempt to recover the reasons why.

UTP Titles for Back to School

The start of the school year is just around the corner, and while all of our scholarly books and textbooks are certainly school-appropriate we have few titles that we would like to highlight for the return to the classroom.

For the stressed professor:

 Berg&Seeber_Jacket_5065_R2.inddThe Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

By Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber

If there is one sector of society that should be cultivating deep thought in itself and others, it is academia. Yet the corporatisation of the contemporary university has sped up the clock, demanding increased speed and efficiency from faculty regardless of the consequences for education and scholarship.

In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber discuss how adopting the principles of the Slow movement in academic life can counter this erosion of humanistic education. Focusing on the individual faculty member and his or her own professional practice, Berg and Seeber present both an analysis of the culture of speed in the academy and ways of alleviating stress while improving teaching, research, and collegiality. The Slow Professor will be a must-read for anyone in academia concerned about the frantic pace of contemporary university life.

For the (almost finished) PhD candidate:

harman_thesisandthebook2-cThe Thesis and the Book: A Guide for First-Time Academic Authors

By Eleanor Harman, Ian Montagnes, Siobham McMenemy, and Chris Bucci

The academic caveat Publish or Perish is not a new one, and for over a quarter of a century, The Thesis and the Book has come to the aid of graduate students in their quest for publication. The doctoral dissertation, usually the first book-length study completed by a scholar, is, however, only rarely publishable as a book. Understanding the differences between the two forms is a crucial part of one’s education as a scholar and is equally important in appreciating the endeavours of scholarly publishers. The Thesis and the Book: A Guide for First-Time Academic Authors, revised and expanded in this second edition, will continue to provide the best overview of the process of revising a dissertation for publication.

Drawing on the expertise of the contributors, all of whom are editors, publishers, and scholars themselves, the chapters present the rudimentary differences between a thesis and a book (including matters of purpose and audience), give guidance on the necessary stylistic, technical, and structural revisions to the dissertation, and offer advice to first-time authors who must not only revise their work to satisfy prospective publishers, but also learn a good deal of the ins and outs of scholarly publishing.

The Thesis and the Book will continue to be of great value to graduating doctoral students seeking publication and to the faculty members who supervise these students. It will also be of value to acquisitions editors at scholarly presses, who must contend with the submission of revised dissertations for publication.

For those interested in learning about or changing school policy:

VanWynsberghe_AdaptiveEducationAdaptive Education: An Inquiry-Based Institution

By Robert VanWynsberghe and Andrew C. Herman

The obstacles that prevent the latest educational research reaching the classroom are daunting: few channels to communicate the results of educational research, fewer opportunities for teachers to participate in research themselves, and little support for honing a scientific approach to teaching.

The solution, according to Robert VanWynsberghe and Andrew C. Herman, is radical but simple: transform the educational institution itself into a laboratory for continuous experimentation. Inspired by the pragmatist theories of John Dewey and Roberto Unger, Adaptive Education explains how schools and universities can incorporate research processes into their activities, institutionalize a policy of inquiry and experimentation, and make teaching an evidence-based profession.

An audacious proposal to reform the education system from the ground up, Adaptive Education is a roadmap for creating an institution that empowers teachers, parents, and the community to innovate, adapt, and explore.

Bosetti_UnderstandingSchoolChoiceUnderstanding School Choice in Canada

By Lynn Bosetti and Diane Gereluk

Understanding School Choice in Canada provides a nuanced and theoretical overview of the formation and rise of school choice policies in Canada. Drawing on twenty years of work, Lynn Bosetti and Dianne Gereluk analyze the philosophical, historical, political, and social principles that underpin the formation and implementation of school choice policies in the provinces and territories.

Bosetti and Gereluk offer theoretical frameworks for considering the parameters of school choice policies that are aligned and attentive to Canadian educational contexts. This robust overview successfully shifts the debate away from ideology in order to facilitate an understanding that the spectrum of school choice policy in Canada is a response to the varying political challenges in society at large. This book is essential reading for those who desire a deeper understanding of school choice policies in Canada.