Taking on Anti-Oppression through Interdisciplinary Research

June 1, 2021
Megan Perram (she/her), PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta 

Congress 2021 blog edition 

In an interdisciplinary feminist panel, hosted by the Canadian Sociological Association (CSA), speakers explore difficult and important issues of settler colonialism responsibility, the gendered implications of colonial violence, Black resistance to ongoing white supremacy, and violence against disabled women. A stand out aspect of the “Bridging Divides, Building Solidarity for Change: Feminists Confronting Colonialism, Anti-Black Racism and Patriarchy” panel is its centreing of new scholars and PhD students doing exceptional work in anti-oppression.  

The first speaker, Sheri McConnell, Assistant Professor at Memorial University, focused her talk on a call for collective reckoning with the responsibilities of settler colonialism. McConnell structured her talk in a series of powerful queries to the audience. “Have you met the settler?” McConnell begins as she explains various acts of settler complacency, ending each statement with: “Yet we say that we support decolonization.” In a particularly striking moment, the professor asks: have you met the “settler who, because of their or their ancestors’ experiences with oppression and colonization, feels justified in disclaiming their role in the colonization of Turtle Island, despite the fact that no matter where we came from, or how we got here, all of us who have come to this land in the last 500 or so years have done so as uninvited guests. Yet we say that we support decolonization.” 

Dean Ray, scholar from York University, brings the audience on a difficult but important journey through various experiences of colonial violence. He tells the story Cherish Oppenheim, a 16-year-old Indigenous girl, who was murdered by Robert Raymond Dezwaan in 2001 Merritt, British Columbia. Ray contrasts this narrative to the experience of William Andrew, a 20-year-old Indigenous man, who went missing after attending a party with his sister, Sunshine, in 2002. Ray recalls meeting Sunshine in a bar years later, where she shared her feelings: “She still feels not enough was done to bring her brother’s killers to justice...And we both cried.” Ray uses these two stories to raise awareness of how violence against Indigenous men is routinely constructed as individualized rather than a product of colonialism.  

K. Melchor Hall, scholar from the Centre for Feminist Research at York University, asks the audience to think deeply about the power implications that sprout from borders and boundaries. In a particularly poignant moment, Hall brings into question the work of map-making. She notes a: “recognition of the existence of geographically bound groups that are not mapped at the level of the state... we can think about how maps and public education are presented and who is present on those maps and who's missing?” Hall considers how map inventors hold immense power to write dynamics of privilege and access into being.  

The intriguing panel closed with the work of Valérie Grand'Maison, a disability scholar from the University of Guelph. Grand'Maison draws the audience into a compelling discussion of the politics of non-normative, feminized bodies. The scholar argues: “Women's complex embodiments are not typically valuable because they also shed light on the global relations of production, reproduction and representation that makes these bodies disposable.” Ultimately, Grand'Maison explains that disabled bodies are created through mechanisms of transnational relations of goods production. The result is commodification, in all its forms.