The Authoritative Voice in the Pronoun Debate

Please read this piece on the linguistics of pronoun usage as it relates to people being “too PC.”

Anthropology As....


I have often said that it can be frustrating to be an expert in language, because our expertise often goes unrecognized. Language (like culture, or society, or education) is something that is a significant part of everyone’s life, and, it seems, it is therefore something that most everyone feels qualified to speak on. This is especially true among the extremely well educated circles of academia. I often find myself trying to unpack the assumptions held by colleagues in other disciplines in a way that I suspect nuclear physicists never have to do, for example.

It’s hard to imagine a more obvious illustration of this frustration than the continuing saga of University of Toronto psychology professor Dr. Jordan Peterson and his crusade against gender neutral pronouns. If you are unfamiliar with the story (ed: If you are, can I come live where you are?), here are a couple of articles from…

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Random, Non-Academic Thought of the Day

I would much rather spend money on tattoos than a wedding.

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Conferencing While Dis/abled

I was at a conference recently that claimed it was mindful of accessibility when it seems–at least to me–as though it was more of an afterthought. Now, I understand that planning events is very difficult: I have volunteered at conferences many times, and have done event planning for campus-wide events. I’ve had to develop and implement Plan E.

But at the same time, this conference was about challenging norms. Granted, these norms were more about structures and histories than about bodies. But nonetheless, I had assumed there would have been more understanding of intersectionality.

Now, this is not a post with the intention to shame. Rather, it is a piece that I hope other folks who are organizing conferences will heed in the future. Making mistakes helps us learn. But in order to learn we need to recognize when our actions are problematic: if there is no critique there will be no learning.

Another caveat that I think most folks don’t consider is how hard it can be to be chronically ill, and/or have a dis/ability. You know when you’re sick or have an injury and you feel awful for a few days? Some days are better than others in that period, but overall you’re not feeling all that great, right? Well, imagine feeling like that ALL THE TIME. Yeah, some days you function better than others, but on the whole, things aren’t good.  It’s exhausting, frustrating, isolating, and any number of things I’ve written about in the past.

Aidan Gowling, friend of mine–though talking about the fuckery surrounding the recent US election–made a comment that I believe does a great job of analogizing living with a chronic condition: “I just want to abandon everything right now and like….lock myself in an abandoned warehouse with 10000000 dogs that don’t ever need to be fed or walked or have their poop picked up because they’re secretly robots but I don’t know that so it doesn’t ruin the illusion.” I pretty much feel the same (because, really, who enjoys picking up poop?).

The following is a list of tweets I began writing around 3:30AM because I couldn’t get my pain levels under control. In the spoonie world, we call that painsomnia. In case you were wondering, it is no fun whatsoever.

I was disappointed when not one attendee (out of hundreds) at the conference engaged with me (during the hours of the conference; I didn’t expect anyone else to be up at 3AM!). Not one person who was at the conference and used twitter said a thing. Really disheartening for a social justice/activist-type area(s) of academia. It also made me have a lot of questions about praxis.

At the same time, I wasn’t surprised because folks don’t seem to want to engage with discussions of disability. If you bring up ableism in a discussion often you will get a knee jerk defensive reaction as you would when discussing something like white privilege. Maybe this is because dis/ability has a history of being put “out of sight and out of mind” (as in sanitariums, asylums, and the like).

On the other hand, I’m really fucking tired of going to conferences that don’t–or don’t seem–to  consider how accessibility works for their attendees. Moreover, I’m really really fucking tired of the assumption that only ‘certain people’ (read: abled folks) can be academics. But you know what, we exist, and we may just be your students. We may even want to be academics one day.

Please, please remember some of the things I addressed here and in my tweets (which are storified, here) when you are planning a conference.  I know I am not the only person who thinks like me and who is chronically ill and/or dis/abled and in academia. It would be nice for there to be more folks doing what they can in solidarity and in acknowledgment of the fact that not everyone has a ‘normal’ body.

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Listening, Making Space, and Amplifying

Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States. Words I cannot bear to say aloud (and can barely bring myself to type). Words I had predicted but hoped were too cynical to come true.

Two days before the election a boy in a wheelchair was pushed and mocked by Trump supporters at a rally. Violence against people of colour in America is up since Trump was elected, as a number of folks are beginning to chronicle on social media as is the Southern Poverty Law Center. VP-elect Mike Pence is anti-LGBTQ and appears to support conversion therapy. If you’re not a straight white abled cismale in America right now, you’re probably scared.

I’m also scared for my friends that live in the US: many of them have an even higher probability of facing violence than they did prior to November 8th 2016. I’m also scared for anyone traveling in the US, because nationality probably doesn’t make a difference.

This notwithstanding, at the same time I know that Canada has people that support Trump and his rhetoric. The difference is, at least for now, bigots have not been given the ‘okay’ to openly display their hate without fear of reprisal. But I’m not sure how long that will last.

We (that is, white folks) have to recognize and accept that white people voted for Trump. College educated and not college educated white people; white men and white women all voted for Trump in higher numbers than they did Hilary Clinton. It is wrong (that is, ableist) to call these white people stupid. It is also wrong to infantilize the white people that are from rural areas. However, it is also wrong to ignore the fact that America is in this situation because of white people. We have to come to terms with the fact that there are no good white people.

Sit with this reality and be uncomfortable with it, as you should be.

So what can we do?

First, we need to listen (not just hear – there is a distinct and important difference) to those who are facing or will be facing violence as a result of Trump being president. Judging by the preliminary list of those that will make up his cabinet, it will be an incredibly awful four years for minoritized peoples. Listen to their fear, listen to their stories, and listen to they ways they say you can help.

Second, we need to make space for marginalized peoples. In order to do that we need to listen to these voices, and bring them forward.  Let me explain this in more detail.

If you are a settler, you need to listen to Indigenous peoples and their experiences, and do what they say is best. This means you do not talk unless you are directly asked for your opinion. You do the grunt work and you do not act as a spokesperson for the cause. You stay at the back of the room, only taking a seat if there are some leftover.

If you are white, you need to listen to people of colour and their experiences, and do what they say is best. This means you do not talk unless you are directly asked for your opinion. You do the grunt work and you do not act as a spokesperson for the cause. You stay at the back of the room, only taking a seat if there are some leftover.

If you are straight, you need to listen to queer folks and their experiences, and do what they say is best. This means you do not talk unless you are directly asked for your opinion. You do the grunt work and you do not act as a spokesperson for the cause. You stay at the back of the room, only taking a seat if there are some leftover.

If you are a man, you need to listen to women and femme-presenting people and their experiences, and do what they say is best. This means you do not talk unless you are directly asked for your opinion. You do the grunt work and you do not act as a spokesperson for the cause. You stay at the back of the room, only taking a seat if there are some leftover.

If you are cis, you need to listen to trans and gender non-conforming people and their experiences, and do what they say is best. This means you do not talk unless you are directly asked for your opinion. You do the grunt work and you do not act as a spokesperson for the cause. You stay at the back of the room, only taking a seat if there are some leftover.

If you are able-bodied, you need to listen to dis/abled people and their experiences, and do what they say is best. This means you do not talk unless you are directly asked for your opinion. You do the grunt work and you do not act as a spokesperson for the cause. You stay at the back of the room, only taking a seat if there are some leftover.

In short, if a minoritized person is speaking about their experiences, they know what it is like through their lived experiences. You do not know more. Period. End of story.

Third, now that we have listened to minoritized peoples and made space for them, we amplify their voices. This means using social media to share minoritized experiences to greater audiences. This means asking them to comment on issues that affect them in the media. This means purchasing toys and books for our kids that focus on positive representations of minoritized peoples. This means supporting small businesses owned by minorities.

If we do these things, hopefully, maybe, we can make a difference. This will not make this entire situation better, nor will it make it go away. But we have to stand against this abled settler colonial cisheteropatriachal fuckery in every way that we can. We must.

Oh, and for the record, a) reverse racism doesn’t exist b) white fragility is nauseating, and c) I’m not having any of your white tears.

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Eight Tasks of the PhD

As of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a PhD program constitutes, and how best to explain that to those outside of academia, but also to folks who are not sure if they should embark on a doctoral degree.

For the record, if you are planning on doing a PhD, somewhere between 25% and 50% of students do not complete their PhD in six years according to a study from a decade ago. A more recent study claims it takes an average of 5 years to complete a PhD in the sciences and engineering while the average is 6.25 years in arts-based disciplines. An important thing to also note is that the number of students enrolled in each program and the cost of tuition has been steadily increasing while available funding has been on the decline. In short, more students have to seek employment in order to pay for their degree, which increases the time to completion. A PhD also does not guarantee a job in academia or any other field. It’s also really, really hard work.

As much as bachelors and Masters degrees are stepping stones to the PhD, they aren’t really all that similar because the level of academic rigor and the resulting expectations that separate them require rather large leaps from program to program. To analogize, a bachelor’s degree is like walking a 5K, a Master’s degree is like finishing a mud run, and a PhD is like competing on American Ninja Warrior. The higher your climb on the academic mountain, the more difficult the elements you need to finish become.

My PhD program requires eight ‘tasks,’ some of which require more than one step. Not all PhD programs are set up in the same way, however; some Social Sciences/Humanities/Arts programs require comprehensive exams and a research proposal instead of a candidacy proposal. This is true of North American schools, at least: the UK is a whole different kind of animal.  To use another analogy (because hi, it’s me), you can think of the tasks needed to finish a PhD as similar to Scott Pilgrim needing to defeat Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes.

Task One: Course Work. My program required that I complete eight courses. Completion of each course meant finishing a number of other sub-sub tasks as per the syllabus (presentations, essays, etc).

Task Two: Candidacy Proposal. In my program, you write (and re-write and re-write some more) a 75-100 page paper that requires you to a) analyze and synthesize the work of other academics (a review of the literature), b) explain your theoretical approach (which academic theories will be used to explain your work), c) an explanation of your proposed research (what you want to examine and why). My proposal was longer than 100 pages. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

Task Three: Candidacy Defense. Once your candidacy proposal is to the standards of your committee (your supervisor and other academics whose work is in your field of study) you go through an oral exam process where you defend your choices of theory and methods to your committee. In essence, the committee is making sure you are ready to go do original research, meaning, you go out into the world rather than relying on work by other scholars.

Task Four: Ethics Approval. In my program, this was composed of two parts. In order to pass one of my courses I needed to complete a series of ethics modules created by the Tri-Councils Agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada [NSERC] and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC]). In the second part, a body of scholars not connected to your work assess your proposed research for possible ethical issues. Again, here you are explaining what you plan to do, and how you will keep those involved safe (emotionally, physically, socially etc). Depending on the nature of the research–especially if you are involving human subjects–this can be an extremely involved process.

Task Five: Data Collection. Here, you are collecting data that you will use to develop theories and ideas that you proposed in your candidacy proposal. I used a combination of survey data (to get a broad understanding of teachers in Alberta) and interviews (to get a more ‘in depth’ understanding). If you are conducting interviews, you often have to transcribe them and verify them with your participants (this is part of conducting ethical research).

Task Six: Data Analysis: Once you are finished collecting data, you have to analyze it. By this I mean you are looking for certain trends in your data. For example, if your study examines how teachers feel about changes to curriculum, you will want to see if newer teachers are more likely to be ‘for’ these changes while teachers who have been working for over 11 years are ‘not.’ You can do similar analyses with gender orientations, racial identifiers etc depending on the data you collect.

Task Seven: Dissertation Draft. Here you are building off of your candidacy proposal (provided your work hasn’t changed significantly!) and writing about what you did versus what you propose to do. After a significant amount of writing and re-writing, you will end up with a document that’s 250-300 pages or so.

Task Eight: Dissertation Defense. In the final task, you go through another oral exam from your committee (which has grown in size since your candidacy exam) who ask you to defend the conclusions you make from the research you conducted. So long as you pass, you will get the fancy shmancy piece of paper that allows you to be called a doctor (but not that kind of doctor [M.D.]).

And there you have it: the eight tasks of a PhD . Or, at least, my PhD degree. With my committee’s approval I hope to be given the go-ahead to move on to the sixth task, as I have collected what I believe is a sufficient amount of data. I shall find out soon…

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Storify Post: Thoughts on the Government of Canada Accessibility Legislation Questionnaire

//[<a href=”//” target=”_blank”>View the story “Thoughts on the Government of Canada Accessibility Legislation Questionnaire” on Storify</a>]
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Decolonization for the Masses? Seeking Survey Participants

Dr. Adam Gaudry (Assistant Professor of Native Studies and Political Science, University of Alberta) and Danielle Lorenz (PhD Candidate, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta [AKA me]) are working on a project together that explores the structural, pedagogical, and ideological challenges of effective Indigenous course requirement implementation. If you are a faculty member, administrator, or instructor at a Canadian university or college that has experience teaching Indigenous content, we were hoping you could answer a short (10ish minutes) anonymous online survey which you can access here.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at and/or

Moreover, if you could share the survey among your networks, that would be incredibly helpful as well.

Thanks kindly!

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