Six receive Susan Mann Dissertation Scholarships

What do vision research, same-sex migration and sonic art installations have in common? They’re the kind of research several York doctoral students, winners of the 15th annual Susan Mann Dissertation Scholarships, are engaged in at the University.

Six York doctoral students recently received Susan Mann Dissertation Scholarships worth about $22,000, designed to help them complete their dissertations in their fifth year of study. All six, with average marks of A or higher, were nominated by their various programs as exceptional candidates.

The scholarships were awarded to Michelle Palmer from biology, Gjergji Shore from chemistry, Vanessa Harrar (BA Hons. ’04, MA ’06) from psychology, Anna Friz from communication & culture, Adrienne Roberts (BA Spec. Hons. ’04) from political science and Melissa White from women’s studies.

Right: Melissa White

White, a researcher at the York Centre for International & Security Studies, is looking at the governance of same-sex migration in Canada. Her research is transdisciplinary in methodology and scope and is broadly concerned with critical feminist, queer and transnational approaches to global governance, security, migration, political economy and geopolitics. Particularly interested in the psychic and social dynamics of transnational constellations of power, White is exploring the ways that governance operates through the regulation of emotions, affects, bodily capacities and relational possibilities in a qualitative study of the regulation of queer migration in Canada.

Her dissertation, Intimate Archives, Migrant Negotiations: Affective Governance and the Recognition of "Same-Sex" Family Class Migration in Canada, develops a theory of affective governance through an interpretive analysis of the “intimate archives” that self-identified queer, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered migrants and sponsors put together as a crucial aspect of their same-sex family class immigration claims in Canada.

A recipient of the Department of Sociology’s 2005 John O’Neill Award for Teaching Excellence, White argues that these queer “proof-of-relationship” dossiers are not only poignant "theses of love", as one of her research participants sardonically put it, but that they are simultaneously indices of micro-political struggles for recognition, belonging and regulation. In other words, they are archives of governance as much as archives of intimacy or love.

Left: Vanessa Harrar

Harrar’s thesis, The Effect of Arm and Eye Position on the Perceived Location of Touches on the Arm, explores the perceptual consequences of the viewing angle on tactile spatial perception. “For humans to perceive visual, auditory and tactile stimuli relative to each other, there must be a system in place that transfers the information from the different senses into a common frame of reference. If not for combining different modalities into a single spatial frame of reference, we would not be able to determine the position of a visual object relative to, for example, a sound,” says Harrar, a PhD candidate in York’s Centre for Vision Research and a recipient of a Natural Science & Engineering Research Council of Canada PhD Scholarship from 2006 to 2009.

While research on sound and visual objects relative to eye position has been conducted, little is known about the effect of eye position on the perceived location of touch, says Harrar. To fill this gap, she designed and conducted psychophysical experiments which found that when subjects fixate to the left, touches on the forearm appear shifted to the left and vice versa. These results show the role of eye position in the coding of tactile stimuli, suggesting a spatial transformation of touch into eye coordinates. Harrar then tested the effect of posture and found that the transformation of touch into eye coordinates occurs before limb position is taken into account.

"My doctoral research has found that, counter-intuitively, tactile stimuli are actually coded relative to the eyes," says Harrar. This research is important for understanding how the brain works, specifically in developing general principles for how the brain uses maps to represent the body and space, she says. It has direct consequences for sensory substitutions systems, such as visual or tactile inputs to mimic auditory inputs for people who are deaf. Other implications include developing the uses of touch as an information channel for improving virtual reality or for understanding brain remapping in clinical conditions, such as following the loss of a limb or other somatosensory disorders.

Left: Anna Friz

Friz is a sound and radio artist in the York & Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture. She is reconsidering radio to rethink questions of communication, affect and historical artistic practices in wireless media.

Her dissertation, titled The Dream Life of Radio, is characterized by the deployment of a method termed "research-creation" and involves such non-traditional research processes and publication strategies as art-making and performance. As part of her doctoral dissertation, Friz will submit three new multi-channel radio art installation and performance works, which have already been shown at festivals worldwide, including in Toronto, Vienna, Brussels, Lisbon and Berlin, and at universities in California, Estonia and British Columbia.

Friz received a Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship from 2005 to 2009. She is a transmission artist at, a New York State-based non-profit arts organization, and founding member of LOT: Experiments in Urban Research at York. In the past, her work has been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Society of Composers, Authors & Music Publishers of Canada. She has performed and exhibited installation works at festivals and venues across North America, Europe and in Mexico. Her radio artworks have been commissioned by national public radio in Canada, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Mexico, and heard on independent airwaves in more than 15 countries.

The Susan Mann Dissertation Scholarships are administrated through the Faculty of Graduate Studies.