Susan Hodgett: A Truly Canadian Adventure

31/05/2013 09:33

From October 12-14, 2012 our university had the honor of hosting the 6th Triennial International Conference of Central European Canadianists. Researchers from all over the world involved in Canadian studies came to our university to give lectures that would intellectually enrich our academia. One of these researchers was the conference’s key-note speaker Dr. Susan Hodgett who discussed a capabilities framework for investigating human well-being in multicultural settings in her key-note lecture. Dr. Susan Hodgett is the Past-President of the British Association for Canadian Studies, the Secretary to the International Council for Canadian Studies and a professor at the University of Ulster, teaching at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Thus, a true authority in the world of Canadian studies.


Photo: University of Ulster


Perspectives (P): It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Hodgett. To start with, I would like to ask you what made you become interested in Canadian studies.

Susan Hodgett (SH): It was one of those strange things that happen in your life. I was an academic in Northern Ireland and I was working with a colleague to research economic development issues in Northern Ireland. We were looking at how the European Union was trying to invest in Northern Ireland, particularly in the period of the troubles we lived in during the 1980s and the 1990s. I was looking at how regional policy worked out in the EU and played out in Northern Ireland. A colleague came over from Canada and was talking about issues in Nova Scotia, and I realized that many of these issues were similar in both places. I shared an office with a person who was the director for Canadian studies in Queens University in Belfast. He was retired and I was asked if I might take over part of his responsibilities. Before he retired, we have applied for a research grant to do a comparison on the issue of economic development between Canada and the EU, and we got the grant. That was the beginning of my work with Canada.


P: You are the Past-President of the British Association for Canadian Studies. What was the situation of the Canadian studies in the UK back then and how is it now?

SH: Well, Canadian studies in the UK are doing quite well. I was the president until two years ago and one of the things that have been common in many Canadian studies associations around the world is that they often historically started off as studies of Canadian literature. In the UK there were many academics who were studying Canadian literature, but one of the things I was particularly interested in was to widen out that perspective of studying Canada. I was interested in looking at other ways of studying the country. We are interested in literature, but we are also looking at other social issues and a more sociological view of examining Canada. My own research as I already told you started off by looking at issues concerning economic development, but over the last 15 years I have taken few other turns. One of which is looking at broader issues of social development. In recent years, I have been looking at issues concerning multiculturalism and immigration. Then, I was also looking at aspects of well-being of people who live in Canada and in other places. I was really trying to broaden out Canadian studies, so I can say that during the three years that I was president of the Canadian studies in the UK, what I was very interested to do, was to put the focus on studying Canada from an another perspective. Maybe I was interested in studying Canada from a more social science perspective other than the arts and humanities perspective, and to investigate other ways of understanding the whole Canadian experience.


P: Your presentation here at the 6th international conference for Central European Canadianists in Bratislava involves an integrating capabilities framework that you have created in order to investigate human well-being in multicultural settings. Could you please tell our readers more about this topic?

SH: I started to work with a friend of mine, David Clark, who had done work in South Africa and who is a development economist. We talked about what we had seen in Northern Ireland, and what he had seen in South Africa in the transition away from apartheid. We decided that we would think about how we might find some way of theorizing what we had seen. Both of us were interested in the works of Amartya Sen, who you may know as a Nobel Laureate, a philosopher, and an economist. Sen had come up with the idea of something that has later become known as “the capability approach”. The thinking behind his idea was that rather than looking at GDP as a means of saying how developed a country was, we should be looking at the quality of life of its people and that we need to measure that quality of life on a scale of whether the individuals who live in that region or area are able to do what they want to and be the best they can be. David and I started to look whether we could start exploring if public policy was helping people to maximize their potential or if that was actually hindering people. We started to develop an asking instrument that would allow us to investigate people’s capabilities, so we created an instrument which would help us do that and we piloted it in Canada. Now, we did this because we were both interested in working on the capability approach. What I am going to talk about in my lecture is really how we have come up with this instrument which brings together three different theoretical perspectives, but measures the success or failure of new immigrants to Canada and their integration into, in this case, the city of Ottawa.


Photo: By courtesy of Dr. Otrísalová


P: You are also the Secretary to the International Council for Canadian Studies. How does the council try to develop Canadian studies on the world stage, and what countries do you think are the most active in Canadian studies?

SH: Well that’s a difficult question. Canadian studies can mean a lot of different things to different people of course and there are many associations around the world. The largest association in terms of membership is the association in the United States, but that is not to say anyone is better than the other. There are very many different identities for different Canadian studies associations, as I have said before some tend to be very focused on literature and others tend to be focused on other issues. Some associations are divided half and half between arts and humanities and social science approaches. Others tend to be either one or the other, but the thing that is so interesting about all of it is that they are so different. I find fascinating and intriguing that wherever I have gone to meet people who are studying Canada, we always find something in common. We always find shared interests of one kind or another. When I was leaving the British association for Canadian studies, one of the things that really intrigued me about the conferences was that as a social scientist I was able to sit in on many of the literature sessions and find out things that I have never heard before. Writers I have never heard of, ideas I have never contemplated and I found that incredibly rich and rewarding. I think that is the wonderful thing about Canadian studies, it allows people from different disciplines and different places to get exposure to new ideas and new approaches. So, personally I find it very rewarding as an experience and I think most of the other Canadianists I have met also found that to be the case. I wouldn’t like to say one association is better than other, I am just saying that they are all different but they all offer some richness of experience of Canada and insight into complexity of that country.


P: As of this year the Canadian government has decided to slash funding of all Canadianist programmes threatening the existence of the CEACS and some of its youth wings such as the Young Canadianists. How will the cut influence Canadian studies in your own country, specifically the British Association for Canadian Studies?

SH: Well obviously all Canadian studies associations are in a new environment from this year. It is a very, very challenging environment for all of us. I am no longer the president of the British association so it is no longer my responsibility to find a way through this, but I am still on the board and working with the existing president. I think it is forcing us all to find other ways to generate income. I would certainly recommend to all Canadian studies associations that we find ways of working with other colleagues in other Canadian studies associations to set up research networks.  This would allow us to apply for international research funds from both our national research councils, working cooperatively with each other. That is what I am hoping to do in the future with some of my colleagues, to find other Canadianists who are interested in similar issues internationally and to make research applications which will allow us to continue our work by finding the funding elsewhere. It is not going to be an easy thing to do, but I think that is what we got to do in the future.


Thank you very much for the interview.


Dr. Susan Hodgett is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies at the University of Ulster (Northern Ireland), where she is Director of the Canadian Studies Research Programme at the Institute for Research in Social Science. She has worked closely with Canada House in London to develop Canadian studies in the UK and has research interests in the areas of managing diversity and economic development. Susan's doctoral study at the University of Sheffield concentrated on regional development policy in Canada and Europe. She is Past President of the British Association for Canadian Studies and Secretary to the International Council for Canadian Studies in Ottawa. In recent years she has worked with Canadian Federal Government on issues in relation to economic and rural development in Atlantic Canada where she was Adjunct Professor at the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia.


Tomáš Buš



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