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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

(Re)negotiating meaning, dismantling patriarchy: the politics of translation in a Bolivian, feminist NGO

Date created: 
2018-09-06
Abstract: 

Between 2003 and 2017, Bolivia elected its first indigenous president, redrafted its constitution, “re-founded” the Plurinational State to reflect its indigenous majority, and engaged in a multi-faceted decolonization project. Amidst these transitions, a parallel despatriarcalización project – in short, the dismantling of patriarchy - emerged out of Bolivian, feminist social movements. I employ feminist analyses of NGOs in combination with ethnographic research to examine how State-making projects like decolonization and despatriarcalización are “lived” by employees of a foreign-funded, feminist NGO in El Alto, Bolivia. Feminist NGOs face critique from the Bolivian State and feminist social movements for being colonial, patriarchal institutions. I argue that NGO employees carve out their role in Bolivian State-making through enacting a politics of translation. NGO employees act as translators as they renegotiate the meanings of key terms, such as patriarchy, gender, feminism, and women’s rights, within the Bolivian women’s movement and re-signify despatriarcalización in their daily work.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Kathleen Millar
Gerardo Otero
Department: 
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Up in the air: examining the experiences of Chinese mainland “satellite children” in Vancouver

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-09-14
Abstract: 

This thesis seeks to better understand a unique migrant group, Mainland Chinese “astronaut” families, through an examination of the experiences of “satellite” children. Employing an interpretivist-idealist perspective and using grounded theoretical qualitative methods, this study critically investigates the family practices and identity processes of these migrants. Using data from eight in-depth interviews with young adults aged 21-32, this study explores how these actors practice complex cosmopolitan identities while alternating between “full” and “displaced” moments of family life. Results show that these individuals negotiate unique dual realities in which systemic alternation, or “world-switching”, becomes incorporated into daily life planning. Furthermore, their lives are filled with moments of self-suspension and sacrifice as they adhere to their familial obligations. Moreover, these young adults actively accept the notion of uncertain and unsteady futures within their own lives. Indeed, these “satellite kids” creatively negotiate these uncertainties while also staying practical and with careful optimism.

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

Political-cultural formation and food sovereignty: Constituting the indigenous peasantry in Argentina

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-04-30
Abstract: 

Under what conditions does social mobilization for food sovereignty (FS) lead to agrarian class formation (CF)? This question concerns the constitution of the indigenous peasantry into a social agent that gets organized to struggle beyond bread-and-butter demands. I address CF based on the case of Argentina's National Peasant and Indigenous Movement (MNCI). My aim is both to develop a class-analytical approach to FS and contribute to the theory of CF while advancing empirical knowledge on Argentina’s FS movements. My integrative literature review identifies a total of five challenges on the conceptual ambiguities of FS, which mostly revolve around tensions between (a) state-movement relationships, (b) local-national interests, (c) rural-urban conflicts, (d) individual-collective choices, and (e) sporadic mobilization-organizational continuity. I conceptualize FS as a mobilization outcome that potentially leads to agrarian CF beyond class-reductionist, culturalist and state-centric approaches to collective action. Four determinants of CF are distilled from the literature on social movements and FS: economic-class structures, regional cultures, state intervention, and leadership. Drawing on fieldwork evidence and secondary sources, I argue that the class-structural context in which Argentina’s FS struggles emerge is marked by the decline of small farming, deterioration of public health, destruction of native forests and violent land evictions under the state-promoted soy monoculture. Most agrarian mobilization instances do not result in CF, as the groupings may become coopted or dispersed by failing to sustain their collective position and unity. How grievances generated by class-structural processes become elevated to CF depends on the mediation of the three other factors. First, regional cultures speak to the creation of a unifying movement language organized around indigenous communitarianism and a broader claim to re-peasantization. Second, class agents’ collective position and unity are mediated by MNCI’s ability to interact with the state extracting popular-democratic policies without giving up its independence. Third is MNCI’s close coordination of active, participatory leadership mechanisms from the ground-up. This unified and engaged leadership at the community, provincial and national level is further consolidated thanks to the presence of movement-institutionalized mechanisms of leader training and stronger alliances with the classes of labor extended towards urban slums and student mobilization.

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

The social life of monitoring and evaluation: An ethnography of the monitoring and evaluation of an HIV/AIDS prevention program in Ghana

Date created: 
2018-03-14
Abstract: 

Globally, HIV/AIDS programs face pressure to document accountability and achievement via “evidence-based” criteria or “monitoring and evaluation” (“M&E”). Donors have increasingly made M&E a funding stipulation funding. They want numeric data that speak to universal indicators of efficacy, a newly hegemonic means of assessment in the field of governance based in business management. Advanced by major global institutions like the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AID Relief (PEPFAR), M&E systems—structures of metrics, procedures, people, and technology—are variously set up around the globe. M&E plays an increasingly deeper role through a program’s entire lifespan and in the daily activities of program workers. Yet surprisingly, little is known about how M&E occurs on the ground and the social and political effects: What kinds of actions and social relations does M&E instigate? How does its practice maintain or challenge the status quo? Furthermore, “developing” countries, incredibly dependent on foreign program funding, encounter M&E through uneven postcolonial relations. How does M&E reflect and possibly influence postcolonial relationships, and country sovereignty? My dissertation explores these questions through an ethnographic study of the M&E of an HIV/AIDS prevention program in Ghana called BRIDGES, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For 20 months I followed the M&E of BRIDGES through a focus on one non-governmental organization (NGO). I argue that M&E is a key site through which HIV/AIDS intervention is trans/formed. It not only reflects but also produces (unexpected) social relations and habits, which shape how HIV/AIDS intervention operates. In Ghana, M&E unintentionally deepened unequal relations between donor-recipient, organizations, and personnel. I demonstrate that this effect occurred on and through the practices and agency of those governed by M&E. M&E is not an agent in its own right, but is deployed in particular ways by actors in fields of power.

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

Muslim youths in British Columbia: The implications of multiculturalism for everyday life

Date created: 
2018-04-06
Abstract: 

This thesis explores the implications of multiculturalism for the everyday life of Muslim youths, focusing on the discrepancies between everyday understandings and theoretical critiques of multiculturalism. Ethnographic research was conducted amongst Muslim youths in the lower mainland of B.C. during two events, which aim to change the misconceptions of non-Muslims about Islam: 1) Islam Awareness Week at Simon Fraser University; and, 2) A Journey Into Islam at Az-Zahraa Islamic Center. The comparison between multiculturalism and secularism, both important theoretical stances on the role of religion in society, is used to argue that the participants have internalized and appropriated the multicultural narrative. Lastly, the thesis argues that the events studied not only counter misconceptions but also fulfill the Islamic duty of da’wa.

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

“To Live My Life”: An ethnography of cross-border life and kinship from the perspectives of Filipina/o-Canadian youths

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-01-24
Abstract: 

This dissertation concerns the labour youths perform in their search for well-being across borders. I draw from ethnographic, life story, and visual methods following 15 months of research with ten young people. These youths lived apart from and later reunited with their mothers who moved from the Philippines to Canada to perform domestic work. Through their stories of precarity, care, and hope, participants reveal how a good life or a better life is a relational construct with shifting significations depending on their past experiences, present conditions, and hopes for the future. Their imaginings of a better life, grounded in their understandings of happiness, hardship, and sacrifice, often defy neoliberal and capitalist emphasis on work and money associated with personal success, and instead are oriented towards time with loved ones, relational senses of happiness, and, in some cases, a return “home.” What they also revealed is the complex reconfiguration of home across borders where reunification creates and disrupts more complex social worlds that include but also extend beyond parents and nuclear family settings. Stories of friendships, romantic relationships, music, poetry, and photography illustrate how these young people formed relations and coped in ways often missed in literature pertaining to family migration and reunification. Placing youths’ perspectives at the centre of this ethnography ultimately reveals the living labour they inject into their social, familial, and economic lives to hold their worlds together through precarious times as they persist in living and dreaming otherwise.

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