Beyond the Academy: The public side of Congress panels

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Caleb Snider, Congress 2016 student blogger

The academic papers being presented here at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences all represent research and study that pushes the boundaries of scholarship. Many of those same papers also have an immediate and direct relevance to public life, whether in the realm of public policy or in popular culture.

Take for example the May 28th Canadian Communication Association (CCA) Annual Meeting panel entitled Food: Classifications, Recommendations, Regulations, in which Doctoral Candidate Rebecca Carruthers Den Hoed, Dr. Emily Truman, and Professor Charlene Elliott (all from the University of Calgary) presented their research into how food and nutrition is marketed and presented by public institutions, private health initiatives and the modern commercial food industry. All three presenters called for a radical shift in public policy to promote a new kind of media literacy and food literacy to combat the rapidly growing rates of obesity here in North America (especially among children). The panel itself constituted a first step in such a shift in education, and had immediate interest and value to the general public.

At the same time, across campus at the Conference of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) panel entitled ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’: Women in Collaboration, Dr. Hannah McGregor (University of Alberta) presented a paper on Witch, Please, a popular podcast she records every two weeks with her collaborator, Doctoral Candidate Marcelle Kosman (University of Alberta), on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novel series and its attendant adaptations (film, audiobook, video games). Aside from being fantastically funny, the podcast takes a scholarly, critical look at its subject matter, analyzing it through the lenses of gender studies, postcolonial theory and literary theory, and therefore blurs the boundary between popular media and academic inquiry. Just like the podcast, her paper had wide public appeal, taking both a critical and celebratory view of a beloved piece of our shared popular culture. Dr. McGregor’s fellow panelists were Doctoral Candidates Celiese Lypka (University of Calgary) and Emily Christina Murphy (Queen’s University).