Kathy has been invited to present at Wilfrid Laurier University later this month, discussing the social construction of poverty through mainstream and social media.
This week is Freedom to Read Week, an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to freedom of expression and intellectual freedom, guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Carleton University has a series of events planned throughout the week; As the author of a challenged book, Kathy will be kicking off Carleton’s ‘Readings from Banned and Challenged Materials’ event by reading from her book With a Closed Fist. Members of the Carleton community will also be reading from other challenged and/or banned books.
Check it out Feb 24th, in the Main Floor Reading Room (lvl 2) of Carleton’s MacOdrum Library Main Reading Room @ 12:00pm.
Hope to see you there!
From Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication News page:
“A book written by PhD student Kathy Dobson, in the School of Journalism and Communication, will be the focus of a panel at the How Class Works – 2016 conference at Stony Brook, New York, this coming June.
The panel, “Writing the Class Out of Poverty: Autobiography, Gender and Consciousness in With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood,” was proposed by Dr. Herbert Pimlott, a professor in the department of communication at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.
The panel will be addressing the themes of class and culture, and race, gender, power, and social structure. Presentations will introduce and discuss Dobson’s 2011 memoir, which provides an account of the challenges facing a poor family headed by a single mother on welfare in Montréal in the late 1960s from the perspective of an eight-year-old child.
Dr. Pimlott says Dobson’s memoir is both an exemplar of the long tradition of the classic working-class cultural form, the autobiography or memoir, and a unique perspective of telling the story of growing up poor without judgment.
“This presentation will position Dobson’s memoir within the larger tradition of working-class writing in the Canadian context, and with reference to developments in working-class writing since the 1970s, including references to particular writers, such as Helen Potrebenko and her 1975 novel, Taxi,” says Dr. Pimlott.
The presentation will also argue that Dobson’s work is significant because it illustrates the issues that fuel divisions within the poor in a large city but also implicitly addresses the issue of whether the poor can be considered a separate category to or part of the working class, as Michael Zweig, Jack Metzgar and others have considered.
Kathy Dobson is looking forward to discussing her current research in an additional panel, where she will be presenting a paper on how people living in poverty are represented on social media.”
Kathy was a guest on CBC Ottawa Morning on November 9th (2015).
She was interviewed after she was awarded a Vanier Scholarship. The segment, How are Canada’s poor being misrepresented?, highlights the focus of her research as a PhD student at Carleton University.
Kathy discuses her research into ‘poor bashing’ and the narratives that are told about those living in poverty. Part of her research focus is on how the poor are portrayed in the news media, social media and government reports, and how these shape and influence the public’s perception of those living in poverty, as well as how these portrayals ‘shame and blame’ those who have lived or continue to live in poverty- the impact these portrayals have on the victims of poverty in Canada.
No, I didn’t actually have a five-minute meeting with Justin Trudeau. But after being asked by a CBC reporter last week what’s the one thing I would tell Canadians about poverty if I could, I started thinking about how much I wish I could have a conversation with Mr. Trudeau about the ugly side of poverty nobody wants to talk about.
Let’s be honest here; we want our poor to be grateful, deserving, quiet, and ideally, not
embarrass us with anything that might make us feel uncomfortable. In other words, don’t talk about food bank lines, broken or missing teeth, a lack of shampoo, soap or toilet paper, being hungry and cold, or the dozens of other daily indignities that often accompany being among some of the poorest in Canada. Let’s not put anyone on the spot by talking about that deep sense of shame, lack of hope, and overwhelming sense of sadness that I know I grew up with, along with my five sisters and our single mother, while trying to make ends meet on social assistance.
I’ve learned over the years that if you dare, however, to even hint at such ugly truths, you often actually make it easier to be dismissed because the ugly truth is that plenty of us don’t really want to help someone whom we consider to be icky, or worse, embarrassing. (Maybe this is partly why so many people find it easy to walk by that homeless person, the one holding out an old Starbucks or Tim Horton’s paper cup, hoping for some coins? They are literally invisible to some. Or perhaps just repulsive?)
As I share in my book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood, in the early 70s, while growing up on welfare, my younger sister Barbara wrote a letter to then Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. She was nine years old and had recently learned that letters to the Prime Minister didn’t require a stamp. So she wrote him quite a lengthy letter, telling him all about herself, her family, and asked if he’d like to be pen pals. After all, it wouldn’t cost more than an envelope for either of them. Although our mother was shocked, my sister wasn’t when a few weeks later she received a personally written reply from the Prime Minister, saying his secretary, who apparently shared the same name as my sister, Barbara, had just shown her letter to him and they had both been “so charmed and delighted” he had decided to write back. It was a kind and friendly letter, one my entire family lived off of for weeks. Suddenly we weren’t invisible. My little sister had said all of our names in her letter. As a kid at the time myself, I remember somehow taking comfort in the idea that the Boss of Canada had read my name, even if only in his head, while reading Barbara’s letter. It was a powerful moment for all of us. We existed. We mattered. At least for a while.
The CBC reporter had called me because of a Vanier Scholarship I’ve recently won, and she was doing a pre-interview about my research. Her last question was: what did I wish I could tell Canadians about poverty? Although I instantly answered the question, I’ve been thinking it over ever since.
I told the reporter that if I could tell Canadians one thing about poverty, it would be that poverty is not a choice. And if we would stop treating it as if it were, it could change everything.
Child poverty in Canada is three to five times higher than countries that make it a priority to eliminate it, and there is still no national plan in place to reduce poverty and child poverty in Canada. Obviously poverty in Canada is a complicated issue with no easy answers. But I think the first steps are simple – just acknowledging and seeing, rather than turning away from, that ugly side of poverty, so that we can start working towards making a real difference for those one in seven children in Canada still going to bed hungry each night.
I believe we need to have a conversation about how much, whether consciously or not – our government policies, and attitudes towards those in poverty – are shaped by our belief that it is somehow a choice. Poverty is not a choice. So let’s stop treating it like it is.
Maybe I should ask my sister if she wants to write another letter to another Trudeau.
Kathy will be a guest on CBC Ottawa Morning on November 9th @ 8:20am.
From the Carleton Newsroom:
Carleton Graduate Students Win Eminent Awards
Two Carleton University graduate students, Kathy Dobson and Colin Miyata have won prestigious Vanier Scholarships worth $50,000 per year for up to three years.
Miyata works in Mojtaba Ahmadi’s Advanced Biomechatronics and Locomotion (ABL) laboratory in the research intensive Faculty of Engineering and Design at Carleton, where researchers are working on developing devices to help people learn how to walk again and prevent patient falls after a stroke, injury or accident.
Miyata believes safety procedures should be in place to ensure safe human-robot interaction. He is developing a process that will help. His research will develop a sensor on the surface of a robot that will them to sense contact with the environment. When contact is detected, the robot will avoid it while continuing its task.
Dobson, now doing her PhD with the School of Journalism and Communication, looks at representations of the poor, including representations by social welfare and government agencies, media platforms and how these can reinforce self-conceptions of those living in poverty.
In addition to their Vanier awards, Dobson has also been offered a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, while Miyata has been offered an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship.
As a single parent on welfare, my mother fought for social justice, improved health care and education. She was always asking whose voices are missing whenever social workers and policy-makers would talk about the cycle of poverty and insisted we needed to develop a common language when speaking about poverty and the poor.
During my time at Carleton, I have had many opportunities to research a wide variety of biomedical engineering applications including implant materials, assistive devices, crash test dummy instrumentation and robotics. — Miyata.
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613-520-2600 ext. 8718
People on welfare shouldn’t be allowed to buy booze, cigarettes or TVs. Why should we be paying for that kind of stuff?
If you spend any time on social media then you’ve probably seen these kinds of poor bashing memes that pop up on a regular basis, including those that demand welfare recipients be drug tested in order to keep receiving government assistance. They not only piss me off, they also make me cringe and make my blood pressure go up when they pop up in my own Facebook feed. After all, it means some of my own friends are perpetuating many of the worst myths about people who live in poverty.
These memes suggest that people on welfare shouldn’t be using any of their welfare check on alcohol, cigarettes or electronics. Some memes take it even further.
It’s not enough to claim that – apparently unlike the rest of us – welfare recipients should be banned from having electronics, booze, tattoos, cigarettes or lotteries, they should also have to undergo regular blood tests to make sure they’re not on drugs.
This kind of ignorance annoys the hell out of me. For one thing, moral panics concerning people on welfare have always blown the problem vastly out of proportion, with plenty of research finding that not only is welfare fraud rare, these tests actually waste millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money, while also adding to the shame and stigmatization of welfare recipients.
In fact, drug tests for welfare recipients are not only expensive and inefficient (What 7 States Discovered After Spending More than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients), pilot studies have found virtually no evidence of any drug abuse. Of course, these are all rational, logical arguments for why this kind of thinking is flawed, never mind the questionable ethics of bashing marginalized people with a lack of power. So how come we don’t have more memes which highlight and mock all of the tax dollars and breaks going to large corporations? Why aren’t there more comments on Facebook about all of the taxpayers’ money going to rich corporations in the form of tax subsidies?
And why do we love bashing poor people on the Internet?
That’s just a few of the many questions I’ve been considering and plan to continue to explore over the next few years, as a PhD student in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.
I grew up in Point St. Charles, an industrial slum in Montréal that was then described in a documentary by the National Film Board as the “Toughest Neighbourhood in Canada.” Along with my five sisters, I was raised by a militant community activist single mom, Eileen Dobson, who didn’t hesitate to use guerilla style tactics while fighting for social justice in our neighbourhood. Although I grew up on welfare and dropped out of high school at the age of 15, I did eventually manage to go back to school and went on to complete an undergraduate and master’s degree.
A few years ago my book, With a Closed Fist: Growing Up In Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood (Véhicule Press) was published. It shares the social history of some of the grassroots organizations that fought for healthcare and educational reform in Montréal during the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the development of Québec’s first Community based Healthcare Clinic (which went on to serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country’s socialized healthcare system). My book also shares an insider’s view of the culture of poverty and examines the impact and ripple effect it can have on all aspects of one’s life. Although she passed away nine years ago, my mother continues to be my inspiration and the reason I want to examine, and perhaps even challenge, some of the ‘official’ dominant discourses around poverty. I hope to continue my mother’s work.
My research at Carleton University is looking at the construction, circulation, and reinforcement of particular cultural narratives concerning poverty issues and those living in poverty. In other words, I’m examining how the poor are represented, including by social welfare and government agencies, media platforms (such as the news media and also social media such as Facebook and Twitter), etc., and how this perhaps reinforces certain self-conceptions of those living in poverty.
For instance, the idea that people living on welfare are lazy – is this narrative in part propagated by the actions of particular social agencies, programs and initiatives? How is this narrative constructed in the public consciousness? At the same time, is it a way of thinking that is internalized by people living in poverty themselves?
I think we need to stop blaming the poor for their own poverty.
Calling bullshit on some of those Facebook memes might be an important first step.
This past week I presented a paper, “Media narratives surrounding the Idle No More movement: The role of social and alternative media in framing Canada’s largest Indigenous mass protest,” at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, hosted at the University of Ottawa. My book With a Closed Fist was part of Congress Expo, on exhibit with the Literary Press Group of Canada. The young woman in the picture, Tanya, is with the Literary Press Group of Canada.
Kathy often visits colleges and universities across Canada to discuss poverty issues. Last month she gave a guest lecture at Dawson College in Montreal, and spoke about the impact of poverty on individuals and families, as well as her book With a Closed Fist.
If you’d like to have Kathy speak at your school, please email us here.
Next week I’ll be starting a PhD in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, and to be honest I still feel like I’m making that up.
I’m the same kid who dropped out of high school when I was fifteen years old, after failing grades seven, eight and nine. Flash forward about a million years, after going back to school at 17, graduating two years later with a high school diploma and a certificate in hairdressing, I eventually went on to do an undergraduate degree, though it took me forever to complete it. School and I hadn’t exactly clicked yet. But last year I completed a master’s in Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. And that’s when everything changed for me. While completing my master’s degree I made a shocking discovery.
I like school.
No one was more surprised than me to learn that I enjoy all the writing, readings and research. And perhaps even more, all of the classroom discussions and debates with professors and students who not only have strong opinions, but informed ones as well.
The professors would assign a mountain of readings, academic articles and texts which I admit I usually had to read at least twice (okay, I’m lying, I read everything more than twice) before I could even begin to understand the author’s point, never mind try to ‘unpack’ it with other students later in class.
Which reminds me, it was in grad school that I first heard the expression ‘unpack’ used in a context other than what you do after you move.
I learned in grad school that you could claim or argue anything; as long as you can relate it to the readings, then you can’t be wrong. And when the prof says gradschooly stuff like, “Let’s unpack this narrative together,” what they often mean is, “who can best paraphrase what the author- an established academic in the field with more credibility than your intuition, gut feelings, or opinions- of the reading has claimed?”
This isn’t a bad thing. This is part of the ‘developing an informed opinion’ process. Plus it helps you develop excellent skills in paraphrasing, and being able to demonstrate that you understand what you just read. I mean, if you can make the author’s arguments you’ve obviously understood them, right? I think.
So now, just days away from starting my PhD, I admit some of my old fears are resurfacing. Will I be able to keep up with the demands of the program? Will I be able to find the time to read everything 15 times in order to ensure I (mostly) understand what the hell I just read?
I hope I’ll be ready to unpack.