BU researchers score unprecedented success in Insight Development Grant competition

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Four researchers have made history at Brandon University (BU), leading the first BU-based projects to earn prestigious Insight Development Grants (IDG).

The IDGs, a program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), were first awarded in 2011. They support research in its early stage of development, promoting new ideas, theories and innovation.

The SSHRC announced on Friday that eight BU researchers have received grants this year. Along with the four principal investigators, who have received two-year grants for projects based at BU, three more were named as co-applicants for projects at other institutions, and one was awarded a different SSHRC grant as co-applicant.

The BU-based projects are:

  • Dr. Jonathan Allan, Discursive Analysis of Circumcision and Masculinity, $27,917;
  • Dr. Patricia Douglas, Enacting Critical Disability Communities in Education, $58,747;
  • Dr. Corinne Mason, Queering the Mainstream: LGBT Rights and the Development Industrial Complex, $21,597;
  • Dr. Allison McCulloch, Power Sharing and the External Governance of Self Determination Disputes, $38,379.
Dr. Corinne Mason sits on a desk in her office with books behind her
Dr. Corinne Mason

“This success is unprecedented at Brandon University and a credit to all of the researchers involved,” says Dr. Heather Duncan, BU’s Associate Vice-President (Research) and Dean of Education. “The professionalism and commitment to innovative research displayed by our faculty is inspiring to our students and other researchers. Their work is lighting the way for future success at BU.”

In previous years, BU researchers have been successful as IDG co-applicants for projects based at other universities. Three more successful IDG co-applicants from BU were announced on Friday. Dr. Kelly Saunders is a co-applicant for a University of Ottawa-based project on Métis self-government, Dr. Rachel Herron is a co-applicant for a University of Manitoba look at violence, victimization and older adults, and Dr. Emily Holland is a co-applicant for a Simon Fraser University study examining juvenile skeletal remains to determine how social and cultural influences in the past affected growth and development.

Brandon University Prof. Peter Morin received an Insight Grant recipient as a co-applicant for a four-year UBC-Okanagan project looking at artistic production across Canada. In addition to her latest grant, Dr. McCulloch is also currently the co-investigator on a 4-year Insight Grant that examines the gendered implications of power sharing arrangements in violently divided societies. The SSHRC awards Insight Grants to support long-term projects.

“These works provide us with a lens through which we can examine and understand society,” says Dr. Demetres Tryphonopoulos, Dean of Arts. “Through them we gain a greater comprehension of the world around us, and of ourselves. More importantly, BU students’ lives and learning will be enriched by the work of a new generation of intellectually daring researchers.”

Friday’s announcement adds to a banner year for research at BU. Earlier this year, five BU researchers were recipients of coveted Discovery Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, exceeding the total of Discovery Grants awarded to BU faculty over the previous four years combined.

“I congratulate all of these grant recipients for their accomplishments in conducting world-class research at Brandon University,” says Dr. Steven Robinson, Vice-President (Academic and Provost) at BU.

“The scope of their work across a wide variety of topics is incredible. We are fortunate to have so many talented individuals who also contribute to the growth of others by sharing their knowledge and ideas on a daily basis.”

Brandon University, founded in 1899, promotes excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship, and educates students so that they can make a meaningful difference as engaged citizens and leaders.

Research summaries

Dr. Jonathan Allan

Discursive Analysis of Circumcision and Masculinity (two years, $27,917)

“It’s not normal,” declares Charlotte in an episode of Sex and the City, what’s not normal, she insists, is the foreskin. The foreskin—“a double­folded tissue of skin on the outside and mucosal membrane on the inside” (Wilde 72) that covers and uncovers the head of the penis—has become, in our times, hotly debated, deeply suspicious, ephemeral, enigmatic, perhaps a mere curiosity. The debates over “to circumcise or not” are so complicated and so vexed that one hardly knows where to begin. Circumcision involves the “removal of the foreskin from genitalia,” and more particularly, “in male circumcision, the foreskin is removed from the glans, or head, of the
penis” (Sardi 39).

The medical community is divided on the foreskin/circumcision decision. The Canadian Pediatric Society reports that the rate of routine neonatal circumcision in Canada is 32% and in its most recent statement (2015) on Neonatal Male Circumcision cautiously concludes that the Canadian Pediatric Society “does not recommend routine circumcision of every newborn male” while still acknowledging that “there may be a benefit for some boys in high­risk populations.” Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics concludes, “although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure.” Likewise, the American Urological Association “believes that neonatal circumcision has potential benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks.”

But in all of these reports, despite their disagreements, we see very little discussion about the foreskin itself. This research is born out of a deep curiosity about these debates and how we might reframe questions so as to focus on the foreskin instead of circumcision. This project, therefore, asks that scholars of gender and sexuality turn attention to the foreskin. What might it mean to think explicitly about the foreskin rather than circumcision? What does it mean to think about “normalcy” and the “abnormal” in these discussions? How do we measure or construct a normal penis? What do we mean by “normal” when we speak about the penis and what makes it “normal”? How do we go about theorizing the foreskin? How do we account for and think about representations of the foreskin in popular media, scientific and academic research, and the parenting advice we accept and give? If “the penis stands in for and up for the man” (Potts 85), what then can we say about the place of the foreskin?

Dr. Patricia Douglas

Enacting Critical Disability Communities in Education (two years, $58,747)

Enacting Critical Disability Communities in Education brings together a high-caliber, interdisciplinary and international team to enhance educational inclusion for persons with autism and those who work with and care for them.

The project’s main goal is to collaboratively advance inclusion through engagement with the arts as a vehicle for marginalized persons to speak back to historical exclusions. Exploring the intimate experiences and knowledge of persons with autism about schooling through key informant interviews, digital storytelling and arts-informed documentary, this project will yield insights into the policies, practices, and actions necessary to enhance inclusive school communities. This research will advance scholarly understandings of how to provide meaningful professional development that enables a change in practice, moving away from dominant representations of autism as a deficit in need of remediation and toward valuing difference as a site of new knowledge about difference, belonging, and life in school communities.

These insights promise to extend beyond autism-identified students, providing a model of professional development about disability in education that could be adopted by school boards, universities, and teacher education programs across Canada and internationally. The project will also provide high quality research training experiences for students in qualitative and arts-informed research within an innovative, expert interdisciplinary research environment.
This project aligns with SSHRC’s future challenge area in education, exploring approaches with the potential to shift educational cultures and enhance inclusion and social well-being in Canada through the co-creation of knowledge and engagement of the arts and digital media within interdisciplinary and international research collaborations.

Dr. Corinne Mason

Queering the Mainstream: LGBT Rights and the Development Industrial Complex (two years, $21,597)

In her 2011 speech for the Recognition of International Human Rights Day, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” This speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council broke the gay glass ceiling, and effectively ushered in a new era for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights globally. Today, the development industry (institutional, discursive, and ideological arrangements that make up the field of international development) is focused on global LGBT rights, and with good reason; the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals are being violated around the world. LGBTIQ people are attacked, kidnapped, raped, and murdered based on their real or perceived sexuality, gender identity and expression. In one third of the world’s countries, LGBTIQ people can be arrested and jailed, and in five countries, they may be executed for engaging in same-sex relationships and acts.

As a response to the overwhelming need to address LGBT right globally, The United Nations launched the “Free and Equal” campaign in 2013 to create global awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination. The World Bank published it first report on the cost of homophobia in 2014, subsequently, the organization began the process of reviewing their safeguards to standardize protect mechanism for LGBT people in all major projects. In 2015, the United States appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons and the first LGBT Coordinator of United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Finally, United States-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which supports domestic LGBT rights on such issues as marriage equality and military inclusion, has expanded their work beyond national boundaries.

Such forays into what we might call “global homotolerance” is untrodden territory for the development industry. According to a 2013 report published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), countries that are often labeled ‘Third World’ or ‘developing’ are the most homophobic and transphobic globally. Worldwide mappings of ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ are functions as a grid of interpreting global inequalities along evolutionary timelines, where homophobia is ‘backward’ and can be overcome through all the benefits that development and globalization have to offer. In the words of popular gay activist Dan Savage “it gets better” for the so-called Third World.

This project, entitled Queering the Mainstream: LGBT Rights and the Development Industrial Complex, critically analyzes the “mainstreaming” of Sexuality, Gender Identity and Expression (or SOGIE) analyses in the development industry. Mainstreaming is the crosscutting integration and institutionalization of particular analyses into policy and programming, the most popular of which is “gender mainstreaming.” For feminist critics, mainstreaming has become technocratic approach to gender equality—a far reach from its original feminist visions. Queering the Mainstream will be the first study to bring feminist critiques of gender mainstreaming into the same theoretical arena as unfolding and critical dialogues about global LGBT rights, homophobia and transphobia, and the development industry.

For the project, Dr. Mason will conduct four case studies, including interviews with practitioners at the United Nations, World Bank, Human Rights Campaign and USAID to think seriously about how the development industry frames solutions to LGBT issues through the technique of mainstreaming.

Given the emphasis on global LGBTIQ rights in academic scholarship, and policy-making in development and human rights organizations, not to mention the popular concern with global gay marriage, criminalization of same-sex relations, and the like, Queering the Mainstream will provide insight into the behind-the-scenes advocacy and activism that has encourage the development industry to pay attention to LGBTIQ rights. It will also theorize the impact of mainstreaming methods on the lives of sexual and gender minorities, which is a timely concern since development organizations are just now rolling-out policies and platforms on this emerging issue in the field.

Dr. Allison McCulloch

Power Sharing and the External Governance of Self Determination Disputes (two years, $38,379)

In conflict zones around the world, from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo to Cyprus and Syria, international third-party conflict mediators are increasingly recommending power-sharing pacts between rival ethnic and ethnonational groups as a means of ending wars and building peace. Yet because the operation of power sharing may be prone to ongoing challenges and even political crises arising from the legacy of the conflict, ongoing third party governance is often needed to re-stabilize the original agreement.

This project investigates both the normative and instrumental reasons why third-party mediators turn to power-sharing strategies during peace negotiations. It asks what role external actors envision for themselves in the post-conflict period and why external actors promote power sharing when its maintenance is likely to depend on their ongoing commitment and governance involvement. It examines the role of external actors at two critical statebuilding moments: the negotiation stage that culminates in the adoption of an inclusive and sustainable institutional package and the post-conflict implementation stage, when third parties find themselves re-engaged in the external governance of self-determination disputes.

For the project, Dr. McCulloch and her co-investigator, Dr. Joanne McEvoy (Senior Lecturer, University of Aberdeen, Scotland) will undertake semi-structured interviews with representatives of international organizations, focusing on the United Nations Standby Meditation Team and the European Union Mediation Support Unit; they will also conduct a content analysis of official mediation documents, the published memoirs of conflict negotiators, NGO reports, and peace agreements.

Dr. McCulloch is also currently the co-investigator on a 4-year SSHRC Insight Grant that examines the gendered implications of power sharing arrangements and which articulates a feminist theory of power sharing.


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