My areas of disciplinary expertise are systems methodologies, systems ecology, ecological economics, and environmental sociology. In my PhD I was co-advised by a sociologist (Stephen Quilley) and a restoration ecologist (Stephen Murphy) who had fundamentally different ideas about reality. Working with them provided me with strong skills in weaving together ideas and navigating disciplinary complexities.
In my work I research post-growth production, low-tech high-connect futures, maker/prepper/homesteader communities, sustainability informatics, and distributist economies. I conduct this research with government, community, stakeholder, and academic actors to advance theory and practice of ecological economics for sustainable transitions.
Micro-production and Commons
There is a global increase in local micro-production facilities such as local breweries and distilleries, local waste reuse centers, small-batch productions, multi-use micro-factories, and tool libraries. The significance of these facilities differs depending on context. In Ontario, they are often community centers, whereas, in South Africa, they are important for employment and numeracy education and subsistence in Ghana. All experience varying levels of friction between values related to community decision-making, open access knowledge, networks and ownership, and mainstream economic interests. I am distributing a survey to members of micro-production facilities in Canada, South Africa, Ghana, and China to understand governance structures, relations between spaces, approaches to property rights, and technology use. In the short term, I will conduct focused research in Ghana, where there is a participatory project to retrofit the Agbogbloshie scrapyard in Accra into a Makerspace. This new platform, in collaboration with Open Science in Haiti and Africa, uses common spaces to empower cognitive justice – the right for multiple forms of knowledge to co-exist and be used by anyone. I will compare Ghanaian and Canadian Maker cultures to explore the role and impact of commons networks and democratized knowledge in local production. This research will inform research and policy regarding global and local (‘glocal’) production networks for just and ecological transitions.
I’ve begun a comparative case study of makers in Halifax and Southern Ontario – mainly in Chatham-Kent. The regions have comparative incomes and both include Indigenous maker participants. I am currently gathering individuals who are willing to participate in a few action research workshops over the next three years. In these workshops we will develop observed socio-economic and environmental indicators of success in their making. I plan on utilizing soft-systems methodology to conduct these workshops. The outcomes of the workshop will be modeled and developed into policy briefs targeted toward municipal governments to demonstrate the value of the work the participants are doing. This project was brought to me by a small town in Southern Ontario looking for an evaluative metric to prove to their regional government that their local culture is vital, and shouldn’t be lost to amalgamation.
Making and Kids: Eco-School Program at Wellington Hall Academy
At Wellington Hall Academy in Guelph I am beginning a longitudinal study to track behavioural and psychological changes in students as they participate in a hands-on ecoschool curriculum. The hands-on components of this project are currently on hold due to COVID-19 and will reactive when the time is appropriate. Until then, I am working with staff and students to understand how the hands-on eco-curriculum will meet the needs of various kinds of learners. I am also doing regular interviews with different kinds of students and parents regarding how the pandemic is making them feel in relation to the future and how maker activities interact with those feelings.
Making and Kids: Forest School at Mount Wolfe Farm
At Mount Wolfe Farm we are starting a forest school to explore the connections between making, relationship to the land, and storytelling. This project is just starting (Winter 2021) and is in partnership with:
- The Toronto Regional Conservation Authority
- Peel Region
- Town of Caledon
- International Craft Consortium
- Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience
- Leadership for the Ecozoic
Over the last three years, many ecological economists have participated in a major research agenda setting project. I contributed to this in various ways. As the work comes to an end, I am now working with the executives of CANSEE and other EE scholars in Canada to carve out what Canadian Ecological Economics looks like, including a massive do-over of the CANSEE website. My focus here is in three categories:
- Highlighting the relevance and work of EE researchers, practitioners, and activists throughout Canada. Some argue that EE is not taken seriously by policy makers. However, the work of EE scholars is simply not disseminated widely enough. I am now collecting examples of EE-in-action to create a portfolio on the CANSEE website to show how EE is making a difference across Canada.
- Related to the above, Canadian EE scholars are not establishing relationships with uniquely Canadian groups that are vital for a cooperative movement forward. We are working to strengthen relationships. Recognizing the importance of the Indigenous land-back movement, reconciliation efforts, and Indigenous Economics across Canada, CANSEE is establishing a strong relationship with Indigenous Climate Action.
- Creating EE policy briefs to share on the CANSEE and Economics for the Anthropocene website. We have begun collecting data and policy ideas from the community of scholars and will start putting them into point form briefs to cover a range of topics. The briefs will include policy ideas for multiple levels of government.
I am currently writing a book under contract with Routledge on ways to make the Sustainable Development Goals more sustainable. As it stands, no country is able to meet the SDGs while remaining within planetary boundaries. Once I am finished this book, I am interested in doing more research on this topic, particularly looking at data produced by multivariable tools such as the Footprint to examine the relationship between environment and social ‘development’ in various countries. I recently started work with the Ecological Footprint (EF) project at York. I am collecting and synthesizing data on demand for the EF among Canadian political decision-makers. I link this to how data and the EF can lead to behaviour change at various intervention levels. In the long-term, I will work with the EF lab to explore the tension between growth and available biocapacity in asking how well the method works to measure physical demands and the emergetic social demands of sustainable development. This research will help promote sustainable behaviour change and inform future EE research on big data and advertising.
Women and makers have a sorted relationship. Women are less likely to frequent makerspaces and maker activities but are much more likely to be monetarily successful at making. Women often turn to making when they begin having children as a flexible employment options. However, little to no research exists on how making may empower women or shift the burden of typically gendered responsibility in a household. Little research also exists on how making initiatives actively reduce some of the load of educators and mental health workers by providing outside education and improving mental health of those who engage with it. Women have a strong role to play in the economically viable realm of making, with little research on why barriers exist. I have yet to begin work on this area of research but I am curious why in comparison to the gendered breakdown between paid and unpaid work in non-localized economies, what is different among Makers, and why?
Technology: Low-Tech Futures and Advertising
I am very interested in further exploring the role that technology plays in our lives. I would like to explore how technology can be used appropriately to support things such as distributed peer-to-peer production, but how things such as algorithmic advertising and co-opting of social platforms by social-advertisers (such as Facebook) makes networking difficult. I have written a paper about some of this that is currently under review in Ecological Economics, and I want to do a lot more work here. Advertising is a seriously understudied area in ecological economics, despite the intense hold it has over human behaviour. During the COVID-19 crisis, it seemed that this distributist and mosaic patterning helped create resilience within communities close to maker nodes. I will soon begin a research project on how maker nodes helped establish local community and economic resilience and if/how this was strengthened through the networking of nodes. Given advances in modern technology, such a pattern could answer how to support both local production and international (or at least national) trade.