Sociology and Anthropology - Theses, Dissertations, and other Required Graduate Degree Essays

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Voices from a buried past: Recovering dis/ability histories through the Woodlands Memorial Garden

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-10-22
Abstract: 

In 2007, the Woodlands Memorial Garden (WMG) was installed in New Westminster, British Columbia, on the site of a long-forgotten cemetery, active between 1920 and 1958, for people diagnosed as mentally “unfit” who were institutionalized at the Public Hospital for the Insane and/or at Essondale Hospital for the Mind (later known as Woodlands and Riverview). Unique in Canada, the WMG recognizes 3200 individuals whose burial places were erased by the provincial government’s removal of gravestones from the Woodlands cemetery in 1976 to transform the site into a “park.” The 2007 installation of a public memorial created not just a material, geographic space for collective recognition and remembrance, but a symbolic, discursive space that prompted individuals to enquire about relatives buried at the site and to explore suppressed family histories related to the history of dis/ability and ableism in BC. Interpreting the WMG as a hybrid counter-memorial, I conducted a collaborative ethnographic study with relatives of people buried at the Woodlands cemetery, engaging in and tracking their research of “lost” family members, inviting responses to the WMG, and co-creating stories, while examining the entanglements between personal, familial, and public remembrance and forgetting. Emerging participant stories addressed the affective, ethical, and sociopolitical dimensions of researching a stigmatized and suppressed family past, while presenting a range of creative strategies for reinstating and including institutionalized relatives in family narratives and the public record. Through storytelling, participants extended the meaning of family advocacy by “rewriting kinship” (Rapp & Ginsberg 2001) across generations of the living and the dead: intervening in family silences, addressing historical erasure, and challenging persistent ableist exclusions in contemporary society. This study offers insights into collaborative ethnographic practice and demonstrates how anthropology can contribute valuable knowledge to disability studies. It contributes to an under-explored area of disability studies – the advocacy and caring role of families in the lives of people with dis/abilities, and their social and political potential. It highlights intersections between colonialism and ableism in dis/ability history and expands historical memory work and commemorative studies by drawing attention to ableism and dis/ability as social justice issues.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Dara Culhane
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

"The People's Republic of Mirkwood": Economic subjectivity, utopian practice, and play in an intentional community

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-08-16
Abstract: 

What kinds of spaces do intentional communities create? How do everyday practices and interactions shape the lives of intentional community members? What can their participation in diverse economic practices tell us about contemporary avenues for resisting or subverting capitalist norms? What kinds of subjectivities are formed in such communities? These questions are inspired by theoretical works from scholars such as Ernst Bloch, J.K. Gibson-Graham, Kathi Weeks, and Donna Haraway, but also the everyday practices of becoming in which activists and community builders engage. In this thesis, I explore Mirkwood House members’ experiences “becoming-with” as a community, engaging in diverse economic practices, and building utopian projects. I argue that these experiences reflect those of seriously playful subjects capable of long-term, enduring, dynamic experimentation and creation of other worlds, ones that make utopian projects not only possible, but pleasurable.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Parin Dossa
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Canadian housing policy as “passive revolution"

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-08-19
Abstract: 

This thesis argues that national housing policy has evolved as a crisis management strategy designed for capital rather than to address the housing needs of the working class. I employ Gramsci’s ‘passive revolution’ in an attempt to show that state intervention in housing mediates the contradictions of capital by restoring the balance of class forces and transforming housing from a ‘public good’ into an ‘investment’ in order to ensure the conditions of accumulation in the housing sector. By analyzing the historical development of the federal government’s housing policy through three phases – the interwar and the postwar regime from 1919-1975, the neoliberal regime from 1975-2008, and the global regime from 2008-2019 – I argue that the chief characteristics of each policy regime were shaped by the instances of passive revolution through which the state reorganizes the regime of accumulation and submerges class conflict. The findings conclude that globalization has rendered national level policies ineffective for managing the global contradictions that define the current housing crisis.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Gary Teeple
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Negotiating borders: The ‘everyday’ encounters of Black African immigrant caregivers in Vancouver, British Columbia

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-05-22
Abstract: 

Organized around the central question of how transnational migration in a global neoliberal era has left unchallenged the gendered and racialized nature of caregiving work, my dissertation focuses on the experiences of racialized Black African immigrant caregivers in lower mainland Vancouver. In this context, my dissertation evaluates how power relations that are entrenched in social and political constructs of race, ethnicity, class, gender, immigration status etc., - as intersecting networks - administer and reinforce distinctive social inequalities, reproducing hierarchies upon which material and symbolic powers are based. Based on a life-work framework interrogating caregivers’ sense of belonging, my project identifies and discusses border encounters, as described by Black immigrant caregivers. Largely through discursive covert processes and practices, caregivers described being often singled out, and or assigned less desirable or more dangerous work. Caregivers demonstrated these border encounters through stories and narratives that epitomized their “not quite fitting in” and hence, their contradictory sense of belonging and exclusion. Indicative of the liminal experiences that often pervades the lives of racialized immigrants; these border testimonies belied the principles of a pluralistic multicultural Canada. Centered on the lives and material realities of eight respondents, this feminist ethnography was formulated through anti-racist, Black and feminist intersectional theoretical perspectives. Inspired by these theoretical foundations, the study applies the witness accounts of caregivers to explicate how they navigated isolating encounters. Through a critical re-examination of their own history, which caregivers engaged in by re-formulating social and political factors that determined their lives, my dissertation holds that this group of immigrants sought to transform their sense of selves as empowered and active agents in the work spaces they occupied. Although the caregivers employed critical approaches in negotiating contradictory encounters and resisting isolating experiences, this project finds that racialized and ethnicized social identities remained a salient theme in how the respondents interpreted and made sense of their work-related encounters. Thus, my discussion grapples with understanding how sources of, and shifts in, social identities such as race, class, ethnicity, gender etc. – as sites of (dis) empowerment – influence ‘everyday’ lived experience, and how this is negotiated and contested.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Cynthia Patton
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

"Institutional childhood: Negotiating identities post-orphanage in Kazakhstan"

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-04-08
Abstract: 

This ethnography is based on 28 interviews with orphanage graduates, orphanage staff, volunteers, NGOs and adoptive parents conducted in February, 2018 in Almaty and Taraz, Kazakhstan. Former President Nazarbayev’s call for deinstitutionalization of orphanages following a similar program in Russia, put orphans and orphanages under the spotlight. However, the increasing number of discussions and public activism around deinstitutionalization of orphanages in Kazakhstan does not adequately address the issues faced by orphanage graduates. Specifically, public discourse still stigmatizes orphans and orphanage graduates as indicated by low adoption rates, and high adoptee return rates. I employ Michel Foucault’s (1975) productivity of power, and Erving Goffman’s (1963) stigma to discuss the effects of institutional childhood and the ways orphanage graduates make sense of their experiences during and post-institutionalization. I argue against criminalizing and victimizing narratives of orphanhood in Kazakhstan, and instead suggest that orphanage graduates can employ strategies to negotiate their identities, and exercise agency in navigating their institutional and post-institutional lives.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Sonja Luehrmann
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

"No somos maquinas" (We aren't machines): Emotional dimensions of precarious labour in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-04-10
Abstract: 

This study concerns the social and emotional dimensions of Mexican migrant workers’ temporary labour migration experience as they relate to precarity and unfreedom within the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). My principle inquiry centers around understanding migrant workers’ subjective and emotional experiences of being away from home and family. This study makes the case that migration and family separation, as requirements of SAWP employment, are precarious labour conditions that result overwhelmingly in distressing emotional experiences that go unseen in workers’ daily lives. I draw on a deeply qualitative methodological approach and theories of precarity, emotion and practice to explore the ways that SAWP workers navigate their labour migration experience through a series of practices in their daily lives. I conclude by sharing my participants’ recommendations for a more dignified and humanized labour experience and with their insistence that they are not maquinas (machines).

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Kendra Strauss
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

What if there is a cure somewhere in the jungle? Seeking and plant medicine becomings

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-12-10
Abstract: 

This thesis is a critical ethnographic exploration of meanings emerging at the plant-health nexus and the in-between spaces when seekers and healers meet in efforts to heal across epistemological borderlands. In both British Columbia, Canada and Talamanca, Costa Rica I investigated the motivations underpinning seeking trajectories structured around plant medicine and the experiences and critical reflections on these encounters made by healers and people who work with plant medicines. In this dissertation, I expose the contested space around understandings of efficacy and highlight the epistemological politics emphasized by participants who seek to de-center plants in popular therapeutic imaginaries, to bring out these tensions and the way they interpolate ideas about sustainability and traditional knowledge conservation. Field research was carried out in 2013 during a period of one year with the support of an SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. Over fifty participants who work with plant medicines were consulted for this research, including healers, apprentices, herbalists, ethnobotanists, forestry specialists, and anthropologists of varying backgrounds- Afro-Caribbean, Bribri, Cabécar, Tican, American, Canadian, Hawaiian, and Anishinaabe. Their concerns around the sustainability of traditional healing practices are juxtaposed to the various ways plant medicinal identities are being constituted and instrumentalized, as subjective beings, actants, causal agents, material objects, alkaloids, teachers, relatives, or parts of “nature on the move” (Igoe, 2014). I discuss the way the burgeoning popularity of plant medicine today in some ways challenges the mainstream biomedical paradigm for thinking about medicine, as plants are re-animated with identities adopted from their cultural origins, exemplified with the popularity of ayahuasca in British Columbia. However, there is a proviso in that emerging anthropomorphisms in some instances repeat colonizing gestures even as they reflect agency and counter-hegemonic challenges, by upholding dualisms in understandings of efficacy that separate plants and healing practices from their local contexts. I argue the impactful ways thinking about plant medicine as becoming, as a verb rather than a noun, can support the sustainability of traditional healing practices and economic opportunities for the cottage industry production of plant medicine by de-centering plants in constructions of medicine.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Marianne Ignace
Dara Culhane
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

Conversations of reconciliation: A participatory ethnographic case study in the United Church of Canada

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-11-28
Abstract: 

This thesis explores how conversation and storytelling can contribute to the process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Alberni Valley of British Columbia. Collaborating with Alberni Valley United Church, this participatory ethnography details the planning and hosting of a conversation on reconciliation between members of the congregation and others from the community, including members of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. Through personal storytelling, participants described their experience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in the valley and the impact of these experiences on their understanding of reconciliation. Using a Collective Story Harvest process, participants reflected together on what they learned from the stories. By weaving together insights from the storytelling with theoretical reflections on truth, relationships, decolonization, and the moral imagination, this thesis considers how hearing another’s story and allowing it to disrupt the dominant colonial narrative can lead to a transformed understanding and the possibility of transformed relations.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Ann Travers
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Studenthood: An ethnography of post-secondary student life

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-12-05
Abstract: 

In this thesis, I argue that studenthood is a distinct phase of the life course for many Canadian youth. I argue that just as childhood and adolescence became new life course categories during the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, Studenthood has recently emerged as a distinct life stage and subjectivity. Through ethnographic research at three Metro Vancouver post-secondary institutions, I explore how the shared activities of post-secondary students, the common environments in which they act, and the social discourses and relations they engage in contribute to this demarcated period in the life course. Life course theory and the related concepts of tacking and vital conjunctures allow me to explore student navigational strategies. A tacking model assists in rethinking what is often perceived as adolescent indecisiveness encapsulated as liminality. I further suggest that higher education marketing fosters an environment of student fragility that necessitates numerous institutionally sanctioned stress-relief practices.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Pamela Stern
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

The colonial dynamics of health care: An ethnographic study in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-10-09
Abstract: 

This study examines how colonialism continues to be enacted in encounters between health care providers and people (‘residents’) who live with HIV and use illicit drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Canada. I extend critiques of colonialism to analyse the health care experiences of Indigenous and settler residents, based on two years of participant observation and interviews at a medical clinic and drop-in centre, in an organization known as Vancouver Native Health Society. I contend that colonialism continues to be enacted through multiple interacting hierarchies of power which accentuate the knowledge, agency and contributions of providers and the vulnerability, disorder and needs of residents. With particular attention to the political economy and moral dimensions of care, I conceptualize these hierarchies of power as ‘colonial dynamics’. The heightened importance of professional boundaries in this setting, I argue, is a response to the risks that relationships with residents were seen to present, and that elisions in conceptualizing these boundaries often caused providers to be unaware of harms they enacted in the delivery of care. Residents negotiated the asymmetries of power by engaging in covert strategies I refer to as ‘health work’. I argue that the negative impacts of colonial dynamics, combined with residents’ ongoing exposure to inequities and the broader regulation of their lives, could harm their sense of themselves as persons. I conceptualize this as moral violence. I suggest that the colonial dynamics of health care can also negatively impact providers by subordinating their personhood to the temporal and functional aspects of their roles and by exaggerating their responsibilities for residents’ lives and behaviors. I argue that the power of personhood in supportive relationships with providers temporarily mediates residents’ experiences of the asymmetries of power in health care and constitutes relational medicine which, for many, is important to their experiences and the efficacy of care.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Dara Culhane
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.