York CRC Rosemary Coombe organizes unique conference

The work of several York faculty and graduate students will be showcased this week during two unique events, a faculty conference and a graduate-student symposium, hosted by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Left: Harvard University

The events share a common concern of exploring changing relationships between communications technologies and national identities, with particular emphasis on the Canadian example.

The conference and symposium have been organized by York University’s Canada Research Chair in Law, Communication and Cultural Studies Rosemary Coombe (as William Lyon Mackenzie King Chair of Canadian Studies at Harvard University, 2003-2004) and Andrew Herman, visiting associate professor and research fellow in digital communications and cultural policy at York (2003-2004).

                                                         Right: Rosemary Coombe

The faculty conference, “Canadianation: Negotiating New Spaces, Politics, and Identities in and through Global Cultural Flows”, will take place Thursday to Saturday, May 27 to 29. It is preceded by a day-long graduate-student symposium entitled “Trans[National] Identities: New Media and Global Cultural Flows.”

As Coombe explained, “Canada has been described as the first postmodern nation because of its remarkable cultural pluralism, but it might better be understood as a multinational democracy that negotiates and embraces (or contains) relations between founding nations, first nations, diasporic nations, an ethos of multiculturalism and various forms of transnationalism under neo-colonial and postcolonial conditions.

“Canadians have always been attentive to cultural flows and possibilities of cultural imperialism due to the nation-state’s proximity to the United States, but new media have enabled new forms of cultural hybridizations and new representations of cultural pluralism, cultural tension and cultural transformation that are arguably unprecedented,” said Coombe.

“Canada is a place in which nations are simultaneously deterritorialized and reterritorialized, and these processes are represented in the creation of new cultural texts that define a specific form of identity that mediates social differences in unique ways. Canadians are also increasingly aware of their environmental interdependence with other nations and other knowledges of nature, which are themselves mediated by transnational institutions and demands.”

Faculty conference

The faculty conference features the work of internationally renowned scholars, including such York faculty members as the following:

  • Daniel Drache, senior research fellow and associate director of York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, on “Global Cultural Dissent”;
  • Seth Feldman, director of York’s Robarts Centre and professor in the Department of Film & Video, Faculty of Fine Arts, on “Documentary Film as Political Provocation”;
  • Janine Marchessault, Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization, and professor in the Department of Film & Video, Faculty of Fine Arts, on “Remaking Urban Spaces through Global Cultural Flows”;
  • Daniel Salée, Chair of the Quebec Studies Program at York’s Glendon College & professor of Community and Public Affairs at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, on “Negotiating the Tension between the National and the Transnational: Indigenous Peoples and Quebec’s National Project”.  

Left: A view of part of the Weatherhead Center at Harvard University

Participating faculty from other universities include Valerie Alia, University of Sunderland, speaking on indigenous communications networks and identities; Boulou de B’Bberi, Northeastern University, showing his new film exploring the issue of black diasporic identity in Quebec; Simon Dalb, Carleton University, on “Postcolonial Spaces of Empire”; Karim Karim, Carleton University, considering diasporic media and the deterritorialization of the nation; Geraldine Pratt, University of British Columbia, discussing second generation Filipino Canadian youth; and Nandita Sharma, University of British Columbia, focusing upon “no borders” movements and the emergence of transnational imaginations. A full list of participating scholars may be found here.

Student symposium

Left: Another view of the Weatherhead Center area

At the student symposium, graduate students from the York/Ryerson Joint Program in Communications & Culture, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are presenting research they conducted for the course “[Trans]National Identities, New Media/tions and the Place of the Public”. This course was jointly taught during the winter semester by Coombe in the Harvard University Department of Anthropology and by Herman in the York/Ryerson program. York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation have generously provided travel support for York graduate students to present and share their research at the symposium.

Participating York students are as follows:

  • Carmen Benoit, “Mapleleaf Blogs: Expressions of Canadian Identity in Cyberland”
  • Naomi Fraser, “From the Arctic to the Temperate Zone: Urban Interpretations of the Canadian North as Place.”
  • Mari Lessment, “Toward Errant National Monuments”
  • Lucinda McDonald, “Talking Canadian: A Tool for Nation Building”
  • Sascha Marchang, “Tales of the Cities: Transnationalism and Socio-Cultural Aspects of Citizenship in Berlin, London, and Toronto”
  • Rebecca Roberts, “Apocalypse Now: Canada, Crisis and the National Sublime”
  • Zenia Wadhwani, “Personals and Pappadam: The Negotiation of Hindu Sindhi [Trans]National Identities”

Coombe’s term at Harvard

The faculty conference and student seminar mark the culmination of Coombe’s academic year as Mackenzie King Chair at Harvard University. In addition to the [Tran]national Identities course, she has taught a graduate course on Intellectual Property, Human Rights and Development, and led a group of anthropology PhD students in directed reading on contemporary issues in Legal and Political Anthropology.

These activities have significantly advanced Coombe’s CRC research agenda, which involves exploring global cultural flows – particularly the globalization of intellectual property norms, emerging cultural claims in informational capitalism and the influence of human rights norms in environmental politics.

Coombe has recently given plenary addresses at the Canadian Anthropology Society annual meetings; Seeds of Resistance, Seeds of Hope conference at the University of Georgia; Battling for the Ownership of the Arts conference at Florida Atlantic University; and Micropolis Group at the Academy of Arts, Maastrict University in Belgium.