Big Thinking

Presented by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Big Thinking lecture series is committed to bringing big ideas in the humanities and social sciences to new audiences - creating opportunities for researchers to challenge and inspire policy makers, citizens, academics, students and community members on the critical questions of our time. 

Big Thinking on the Hill's audience consists of MPs, senators, policymakers, and members of the public. Big Thinking at Congress takes place at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which brings together academics, researchers, policy makers, and practitioners to share findings, refine ideas, and build partnerships that will help shape the Canada of tomorrow.

The Big Thinking series is made possible through the support of

Upcoming Events

Coming soon!

Open call for speaker suggestions

Do you have an idea for a future lecture or panel featuring scholars in the humanities or social sciences that you think is a great fit for Big Thinking? Submit your idea!

Past Events: 2020-2021 season

Canada’s hidden cooperative system: The legacy of the Black Banker Ladies 

Black diaspora women, known as Banker Ladies, lead solidarity economics through a form of mutual aid called Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCAs). Drawing on ancient African traditions, this financial exchange system holds the key to making local economies serve the needs of everyone. Canada has a rich history of corporativism, and Canadian policymakers are called on to support solidarity economies, and to ensure there is space for Black cooperators by creating a Global ROSCA Network. Valuing these informal cooperative institutions, and acknowledging the expertise of Banker Ladies, will help build an inclusive economy, bridge the gap of inequity in Canada, and by extension revolutionize Canadian international development policy. 

Dr. Caroline Shenaz Hossein is Associate Professor of Business & Society at York University in Toronto, and founder of the Diverse Solidarity Economies Collective. She is author of Politicized Microfinance: Money, power and violence in the Black Americas and editor of The Black Social Economy in the Americas: Exploring Diverse Community-Based Alternative Markets. She is also the co-editor of the forthcoming Community Economies in the Global South by Oxford University Press (2021). She holds an Ontario Early Researcher Award (2018-2023) and her project “African origins in the Social Economy” is funded by the SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2017-20).

Moderated by Dr. Roberta Rice, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary 

Watch the video here: 



Care is on the ballot: Why COVID-19 should push American voters to pay greater attention to the care economy

Donald Trump and Joe Biden present American voters with a stark choice when it comes to policies about the care economy. COVID-19 has underscored the importance of health care, child and elder-care, and education. While President Trump’s second term agenda largely ignores the care economy, former Vice President Biden offers plans that recognize the value of care work and care workers – intrinsically and as a pillar of the economy. As this Big Thinking lecture will show, the dilemmas about reopening schools offer insights into the importance of taking the care economy seriously this election – and the implications for how Americans provide and receive care if voters do not.

Rachel K. Brickner is Professor of Politics, Acadia University. Her ongoing research explores the politics of public education in the United States and Canada through the lens of a feminist ethic of care. Her scholarly interests have an overarching focus on labour rights and workers’ activism throughout the Americas. She is concurrently working on projects exploring the policy implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers in Nova Scotia. Earlier work, including SSHRC-funded research, has focused on union activism of women and precarious workers in the food service industry, as well as the rights of migrant workers.

Moderator: Ito Peng, Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, University of Toronto

Watch the video here: 

Perceptions of humanity and of membership: Two challenges of inclusion and exclusion in Canada

Various groups in Canada are stigmatized in ways that make them vulnerable to discrimination. In some cases, this takes the form of dehumanization: a perception that members of the group are somehow deficient in humanity, and hence not owed the universal human rights that arise from our common humanity. In other cases, members of a group may be seen as deficient in their commitment to Canada – as fully human, but not fully Canadian – and hence not deserving of the citizenship rights that attach to being a full member of society. This Big Thinking lecture will explore both forms of stigmatization, discuss their powerful effects, and identify the distinct challenges each raises to the Canadian model of diversity.

Respondent: Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Citizenship and Human Rights, University of Alberta.

Will Kymlicka holds the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen’s University, focusing on issues of democracy and diversity, and in particular on models of citizenship and social justice within multicultural societies. He has published nine books and over 200 articles, which have been translated into 34 languages, and was recently awarded the 2019 Gold Medal from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He is co-director, with Irene Bloemraad, of a new CIFAR program on Boundaries, Membership and Belonging, which brings together leading scholars to explore how the boundaries of social and political membership are drawn in the contemporary world.

Presented in partnership with CIFAR.

Watch the video here: 


Networked bodies, AI, and our future digital lives (virtual lecture)

Will bodies become computer platforms? Disruptive embodied computing technology is being proposed, and it will change how people live in vastly different ways in our evolving post-Internet society. The idea of a thoroughly quantified, remotely monitored networked body is propelling discussions of personal privacy, human agency, creativity, consent, social connection, cultural values, and ethics. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is seeping into all computing paradigms. As a consequence, AI also operates as an ideology, a belief system. This talk raises questions about early-phase embodied technologies and the unintended consequences that may result in the future

Dr. Isabel Pedersen is Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media and Culture and Associate Professor at Ontario Tech University. She is co-editor of Embodied Computing: Wearables, Implantables, Embeddables, Ingestibles, a collection released in spring 2020 by MIT Press. As a humanities researcher, Pedersen explores how technology is invented and adopted; she takes a human-centric approach to understand the impact on life, culture, politics, art, ethics and social practices. She was inducted into The Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists in 2014.

Watch the video here:



See past Big Thinking lectures in our archive.


Sign up here to receive the Big Thinking newsletter!