Negotiating a multiverse within and across borders

While York University’s Centre for International & Security Studies (YCISS) is internationally known for its scholarship in issues such as 21st-century arms control, its researchers also pursue topics on the possibilities of nonviolent co-existence within a society – a value very much at the heart of what’s known as multiversality.

This is of particular interest to Professor Robert Latham (right), director of YCISS and professor in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts. Canada demonstrated significant social innovation in 1971 by becoming the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. By recognizing the broad array of races, classes, nationalisms, sexualities, localities, diasporas and cultures that make up Canada, Latham believes the government has an opportunity to demonstrate international leadership by moving beyond multiculturalism and its associated citizenship policies to reflect the complexities of contemporary social life.

“Canadian society is too complex to be captured by categories of culture and ethnicity,” Latham says. “People live their lives in an overlapping plurality of spaces and subjectivities within and across borders. A powerful first step toward recognizing itself as multiversal would be for Canada to proactively support dual and multiple citizenship. It could also take the lead in bringing other governments together to build an international regime for multiple citizenship.”

Questions of citizenship and locality assumed personal relevance for Latham on July 1, 2006, when he was appointed director of YCISS. With the centre’s deputy director, Professor David Mutimer, assuming the role of acting director, Latham spent his first six months on the job commuting between Toronto, New York and Chicago while completing a visiting fellowship at the University of Chicago. He moved his family to Canada and took up his position on a full-time basis in January 2007.

Latham sites York University’s research strengths in the social sciences as a major factor in his decision to relocate. “York University and its institutions, such as YCISS, produce a tremendous range of social science and humanities research in areas that are critically important to me,” says Latham. “The campus’ commitment to social justice issues also makes it unique in North America. There’s a willingness to embrace a wide range of interdisciplinary methods and approaches.”

Before his appointment with the University of Chicago, Latham was an adjunct professor at Columbia University and held two directorships within the Social Science Research Council in New York City, a private, non-governmental organization run by social scientists. There, Latham first directed the MacArthur Foundation Program on International Peace and Security and then the Program on Information Technology and International Cooperation.

“Professor Latham has extensive experience managing large, multilateral, trans-disciplinary, collaborative projects involving international scholars from a wide range of countries, colleges and cultures,” says David Dewitt, associate vice-president research, social sciences and humanities. “Beyond his interdisciplinary background, strong record of empirical research and engagement in international and comparative theory, he understands that sustainable research cultures need secure funding to support faculty and students engaged in collaborative projects.”

Professor Sandra Whitworth, graduate program director in the Department of Political Science and a faculty associate with YCISS, agrees. She chaired the search committee for the new director and says Latham’s combination of academic and fundraising strengths is hard to find.

“As YCISS works to secure a long-term funding basis, we need a director who can position our research in critical security studies in ways that are appealing to traditionally-minded funding agencies,” says Whitworth. “Professor Latham has considerable experience in this area and is working hard to get to know our researchers and their specialties to ensure that diversity can be creatively reflected in our fundraising efforts.”

From the start of his time at York, Latham has been struck by the range of high quality research underway on transnational and translocal issues. He is currently trying to get a collaborative initiative started in this area, and the development of YCISS’ collaborative connections within and beyond the campus is high on his priority list.

“YCISS is very interested in building upon the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of academic work,” Latham says. “We want to expand our research connections with other York departments and organized research units in the natural sciences as well as the social sciences and humanities. We want to explore common research themes that will allow mutual collaboration on equal terms for individuals, departments and research units.”

Latham hopes these efforts will create collaborative opportunities among the centre’s 16 faculty members, 41 graduate students and 11 research associates, as well as with its 42 associate members based in other universities, governments and non-governmental organizations. “We want to redefine our research agenda around issues that reflect changing forms of social and political life.”

About the York Centre for International & Security Studies

YCISS is dedicated to the study of international peace and security issues within a triple mandate of research, graduate teaching and outreach. Its members undertake critical and theoretically-informed research that is driven by a concern with the ethical-political dimensions of national defence and international security. As participants in policy debates, YCISS members recognize that foreign and defence policies succeed or fail based on the specifics of the people, places, and situations they emerge from and transform.

Submitted to YFile by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer in York’s Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation.