Postdoctoral Fellow, Daniela Russ recipient of funding for research on computing in former Soviet Union

Congratulations to postdoctoral researcher Daniela Russ who recently received the IEEE Fellowship in the History of Electrical and Computing Technology for her project “Computers, Optimal Planning, and the Science of Energetics in the Soviet Union (1951-1982)“. In this part of her post-doctoral project, Russ asks how cybernetic methods and computing technology enabled engineers to find a compromise between a system optimized with regard to material or cost efficiency. Russ will use the fellowship to fund a several months long research stay in Russia, where she will interview former energy engineers and economists, and consult archives in Moscow, Samara, and Irkutsk.

Daniela Russ is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto where she is working under the supervision of Professor Zaheer Baber. This research is part of Russ’s larger postdoctoral research program, “Nature’s Efficiency: Energetika as a Political Ecology of the Soviet Union (1917-1992)” that examines how Soviet energy engineers and economists shaped planning decisions about which resources to exploit, where to produce, and which technologies to use. She is particularly interested in how the engineers resolved the conflict between material and monetary efficiency. Her goal is to understand both the historical specificities of the Soviet energetic school and relate it to the making of productivist economies in other capitalist and socialist countries.

Hoping to find a more material basis of planning, the Soviet Union was among the first countries to institutionalize energy planning and research. In the view of its early energy engineers, the Soviet Union could avoid the squandering and surpass the productivity of capitalist societies by orienting its economic planning towards the most efficient use of energy. However, monetary needs again and again thwarted material planning and forced the exploitation of secluded gas and oil fields. It is ironic that the energy sector––thought to ensure economic freedom and independence––would swallow the Soviet economy almost entirely over the second half of the twentieth century. Today, some estimate that as much as 70% of the Russian GDP depends directly or indirectly on revenues from oil and gas.


Dr. Ellen Berrey studies the spread of student-led anti-racism protest

Professor Ellen Berrey’s newly SSHRC-funded research project, “Student Protests and University Responses in the United States and Canada, 2012-2018,” with Dr. Alex Hanna (Google, Inc.) examines where, when, why, and how students protest and how university administrations respond. Her goal is to identify patterns in protest mobilization, the diffusion (or spread) of protest, and universities’ management of protest in the United States and Canada between 2012 to 2018. The study also analyzes the competing rhetorical claims made by protesters and administrators, to understand how each side socially constructs the issues at hand.

Her study focuses in particular on student anti-racism protest, although it also investigates the full range of issues raised in campus protests, from fossil fuel divestment to labour strikes. Berrey first became interested in the diffusion of anti-racism student activism in 2015, when students mobilized a wave of anti-racism protests across at least 100 college and university campuses in the United States and Canada. Coinciding with the Black Lives Matter movement, these protests were led by students of colour and drew attention to their experiences of racism within higher education, such as interpersonal hostility from white students and administrators’ inaction. Like all social movements, those mobilizations shared broad goals across campuses and combined those goals with local interests and acts of activism shaped by their distinctive institutional contexts. University administrations reacted in a variety of ways, from bringing in campus and local police to initiating long-term policy changes. The presidential election of Donald Trump prompted another wave of student anti-racism activism, although issues of immigration and the “Muslim Ban” appeared to be at the forefront. Under his presidency, White supremacists organized a smaller number of campus mobilizations, which were opposed by student-led counterprotests. Professor Berrey’s project promises to provide a mapping of these complex dynamics and universities’ strategies of managing them.

Professor Berrey and Dr. Hanna received a SSHRC Insight Development grant in 2017 to begin the study and then, this summer, a SSHRC Insight Grant to complete it. With this funding, she will finish constructing the Student & Campus Protest Events Dataset, a dataset of student protests as reported in American and Canadian campus newspapers, and then will amalgamate it with five existing datasets that contain information on universities’ organizational characteristics, Black Lives Matter protests, and social media. Creating the dataset is a major undertaking, requiring a large team of undergraduate and graduate students. The process involves applying a machine learning system designed by Hanna to identify potentially relevant newspaper articles, then handcoding those articles to identify each protest and relevant details about it. Ultimately, Professor Berrey will use the data to provide a comprehensive overview of the locations, diversity, and diffusion of student protest and patterns in administrations’ reactions in the Black Lives Matter and early Trump eras.

Professor Berrey is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) Campus. She is also an affiliated scholar of the American Bar Foundation. Her research focuses on race and diversity, inequality, organizations, social movements, and culture. She has published various scholarly articles in journals such as Sociological Science, Law & Society Review, and Theory & Society amongst many others. She is the author of two books, both published by the University of Chicago Press: The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice and Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality. Her books have been recognized with numerous awards, including the prestigious Herbert Jacob Book Prize of the Law & Society Association and multiple awards from the American Sociological Association.

article written with input from Professor Berrey.

Statement Regarding Racialized Violence

Racialized violence is an endemic problem of Canadian society. The most recent examples of violence against Black people have sparked outrage around the world. Each instance of police brutality threatens not just individuals but the legitimacy of society as a whole. These instances are not isolated events. They are connected to larger systems that reproduce racial inequalities which are particularly pernicious for Black and Indigenous communities. This social and political context is painful and dire.

As members (faculty, staff and graduate students) of the Tri-campus Department of Sociology at University of Toronto, we do not pretend that a statement will ameliorate racism in Canada, or even in our own department. Still, we must take action to address racism in Canadian society. Our department can do more, and MUST do more.

In the short term, we the undersigned agree to dedicate our resources and time to organizations that support Black Canadians. In the medium term, we the undersigned agree to assist in the promotion and realization of departmental policy and programming on these issues in the next academic year. In the long-term, we the undersigned agree to redouble our efforts to diversify our community and create a more inclusive anti-racist environment.

Adam Isaiah Green

Ali Greey

Alicia Eads

Andreea Mogosanu

Andrew Nevin

Anelyse Weiler

Angela Hick

Anson Au

Blair Wheaton

Bonnie Fox

Bonnie H. Erickson

Brigid Burke

Carmen Lamothe

Chris Smith

Christian Caron

Cinthya Guzman

Clayton Childress

Cynthia Cranford

Dan Silver

David Pettinicchio

Ellen Berrey

Elliot Fonarev

Elysha Daya

Emily Hammond

Erik Schneiderhan

Ethan Fosse

Fedor Dokshin

Fernando Calderón Figueroa

Fidan Elcioglu

Gail Super

Hae Yeon Choo

Hammad Khan

Irene Boeckmann

Ito Peng

James Lannigan

Jayne Baker

Jessica Fields

Jillian Sunderland

Jooyoung Lee

Jordan Foster

Josée Johnston

Joseph M. Bryant

Josh Harold

Judith Taylor

Julia Ingenfeld

Kathy Liddle

Kim Pernell

Kristin Plys

Lisa Iesse

Luisa Farah Schwartzman

Man Xu

Marion Blute

Markus Schafer

Martin Lukk

Melissa Milkie

Merin Oleschuk

Michelle Silver

Neda Maghbouleh

Nicholas D Spence

Noam Keren

Pat Louie

Patrick Leduc

Paul Nelson

Paula Maurutto

Phil Goodman

Philip Badawy

Ping-Chun Hsiung

Rachel La Touche

Rania Salem

Ronit Dinovitzer

Rebecca Lennox

S. W. Underwood

Sagi Ramaj

Scott Schieman

Sebastien Parker

Sharla Alegria

Shawn Perron

Sherri Klassen

Shyon Baumann

Sida Liu

Sitao Li

Soli Dubash

Steve Hoffman

Tahseen Shams

Tyler Bateman

Vanina Leschziner

Weiguo Zhang

Yifang Li

Yoonkyung Lee

Youngrong Lee

Yukiko Tanaka

Yvonne Daoleuxay

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on defunding the police

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to the Toronto Star about the movement to defund police in favour of community organizations  especially in the cases of mental health calls. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

‘Defunding’ police, funding mental health resources will save lives, experts say

The death of a Toronto woman who fell from her 24th-floor balcony while police were in her home has renewed calls for an overhaul of how society deals with people in mental health crises.

Some experts believe “defunding” police — taking some of the taxpayer money going to law enforcement and putting it towards mental health services — is one way to avoid deadly interactions between officers and people struggling with mental illness.

The blowback follows the death last week of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old woman whose family asked police to take her to a mental health hospital. Police have said they were responding to an assault call, but the family has questioned the role of Toronto officers in her death. The province’s police watchdog has taken over the case.

“I think it’s unfortunate we’ve come to a place in our society that police become first responders to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“What we should do is take back that money, to defund police, and give it over to mental health professionals who are better equipped to help these people.”

Read the full article.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on how to reduce police violence

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah spoke to Mugglehead News in response to US House of Representatives suggesting that the War on Drugs was responsible for increases in police violence, particularly against Black people. While the US resolution called for greater accountability, Professor Owusu-Bempah argued that reducing the funding and scope of responsibilities of the police would more effectively reduce police violence. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

US House resolution points to war on drugs as contributing to police brutality

Best way to reduce police violence is to scale back funding and amount of responsibility police have, says criminology prof
 Michelle Gamage June 2, 2020  16 min

A new resolution condemning police brutality was introduced in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, citing the war on drugs as contributing to “the systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of colour, particularly black people.”

The resolution calls for increased police accountability, following recent police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Brennoa Taylor in Kentucky. The deaths and a history of unarmed black citizens being killed by police have sparked protests and riots in the U.S., as well as demonstrations worldwide, with many demanding the officers involved face criminal charges proportional to their alleged crimes.

But creating more oversight isn’t the best way to reduce police brutality, says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

As an expert on the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice, Owusu-Bempah says the best way to reduce police violence is to scale back the funding and amount of responsibility police have.

“For centuries we simply asked the police to do more and more and more,” he said. “They are primary responders in issues involving homelessness, mental health and a whole host of other social ills — and of course related to substance use and addiction. I don’t think police are the right institution to be engaging in those areas. I’d rather see a culture of less policing rather than police oversight.”

Owusu-Bempah recommends demilitarizing the police and diverting funds from law enforcement to other social services.

Read the full article…

Recent PhD Graduate, Katelin Albert, to begin new Tenure Track position at University of Victoria

Recent PhD graduate, Katelin Albert will begin a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Department of Sociology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Katelin graduated on June 13, 2019. Her dissertation is entitled, Technologies of Sexuality: The HPV Vaccine and an Investigation into Parental Responsibility, Progressive Sex-Education, and Adolescent Girls’ Subjectivities, and was completed under the supervision of Hae Yeon Choo, Anna Korteweg, Melissa Milkie, and Zaheer Baber.

Katelin’s dissertation problematizes responsibility and the persistent tensions accompanying vaccines, sexual health, and sex-education in contemporary society. She connect the everyday micro-level of parents, teachers, and adolescent girls, with macro-politics of biomedicine, “good parenting,” and progressive sex-ed to understand how vaccine politics and sex-education relate to girls’ development of their own subjectivities. She argues that while parents and teachers work to be responsible to girls’ health and sexual health, their actions may not support adolescents in ways they imagined. Frist, and beginning with data from 28 qualitative semi-structured interviews with Canadian mothers tasked with consenting to the HPV vaccine, Katelin challenges the overly narrow binary where parents are labeled as “responsible” if they vaccinate, “irresponsible” if they do not. She finds that HPV vaccine-consenting mothers follow normative conceptualizations of responsibility, aligned with HPV vaccination. Some non-HPV vaccine-consenting mothers exercised alternate responsibilities, aligned with broad efforts to manage their teens’ sexual health and sexuality. They extend responsibility beyond cancer protection vis-à-vis vaccines to a more general responsibility for their daughters’ sexual health and self-esteem. Second, and drawing on data generated from observations of four public school sex-education classrooms and interviews with Ontario teachers, she shows that these sex-ed teachers deliver lessons in ways that align with key dimensions of “progressiveness” – facts, choice, and promoting diversity. This piece uncovers how systems of gender, sexual, class, religious, racial, and ethnic inequalities are reproduced despite progressiveness. Finally, and based on 19 qualitative interviews with girls (aged 11-16) and paired interviews with their mothers, Katelin outlines the patterns through which girls’ subjectivities, sexual health knowledge, and thoughts on the HPV vaccine are linked, intertwined, and operate in relation to other people and larger sociocultural structures. This dissertation serves as a call to challenge and reflect on the taken-for-grantedness of biotechnical inventions, like the HPV vaccine, and progressive sex-education in contemporary society.

Katelin’s new position is in Sociology of Health within the Department of Sociology, and she looks forward to collaborating with interdisciplinary colleagues as she continues to explore health decision-making, the diffusion of health responsibility in Canadian society, and how health and sexual health knowledge moves and operates between people and places. In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, she plans to investigate the current socio-political landscape surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Further, sexual health, sexual experiences, and mental health on campus are growing concerns, and are a key area for her future research. In general, her current and future research program reflects her desire to assess the relationship between health knowledge/information and health experiences. At the University of Victoria, she will teach classes in gender, race, and medicine; health over the life course; and a graduate course in foundations of social theory.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah speaks on podcast about Cannabis and the Criminalization of Black Canadians

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently contributed to a Policy Options podcast entitled “Cannabis and the Criminalization of Black Canadians.” Policy Options is an online newsletter sponsored by the Institute for Public Policy Research.  It airs podcasts every second Wednesday. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. he has teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus.  Owusu-Bempah has research expertise in the areas of race, policing and drug policy. The podcast includes an interview with Owusu-Bempah and also with Halifax poet, educator, journalist and activist, El Jones.

Listen to the podcast here or on the Policy Options website here.


Recent PhD graduate, Anelyse Weiler, to begin Tenure Track position at the University of Victoria

headshot of Anelyse WeilerPhD Candidate Anelyse Weiler will be joining the University of Victoria’s Department of Sociology as an Assistant Professor. Before her new position begins in July, she will be defending her dissertation on 12 June. Supervised by Josée Johnston with committee members Hannah Wittman (UBC) and Jennifer Chun, her dissertation is entitled, The Periphery in the Core: Cider Production, Agrarian Livelihoods and Tuning Taste in the Pacific Northwest. Here is the abstract for Anelyse‘s dissertation:

This dissertation draws on a case study of emerging craft cider production in the U.S. and Canadian Pacific Northwest. It is guided by the overarching question: To what extent has the contemporary craft cider industry in the Pacific Northwest constrained or enabled agrarian change in land, labour, livelihoods and consumer embodiment? Through a regional analysis encompassing British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon, I draw on ethnographic data from participant observation and in-depth interviews with actors across the craft cider industry from 2017-2019. This dissertation is organized into three distinct analytic chapters. First, I find that while craft cider has helped buffer some farm producers against the volatility of selling raw fruit to large commodity markets, the benefits of this value-added niche market do not widely support continued primary production or farm succession. Some young cidermakers wish to maintain a connection to agrarianism but are shifting away from full-time farming due to lifestyle preferences and political-economic constraints, as exemplified by token forms of on-site production that carry great symbolic weight. Given the craft industry’s emphasis on elevating performances of manual labour intensity and ethical ingredient sourcing, a second analytic chapter focuses on how cidermakers account for the labour of predominantly racialized (im)migrant farmworkers. I find that actors in the craft cider industry engage with inequalities affecting farmworkers through structural obfuscation, ideological justification, and ambivalence or critique. This analysis illuminates both barriers and opportunities to strengthen equity for farmworkers as part of movements to advance food system sustainability. Third, I investigate how actors who are attempting to “tune” people’s tastes away from industrial-scale production navigate the contradictions of their simultaneous dependence on an industrial food system. I find that cidermakers attempt to re-tune consumers’ tastes by appeasing consumers, whose bodies reflect the influence of food system industrialization in the form of taste preferences. Simultaneously, cidermakers endeavour to ease consumers into more diverse possibilities for taste and ecologically resilient farming. Taken as a whole, this dissertation advances scholarly understandings of rural livelihoods, labour in alternative food initiatives, and embodied social change.

Anelyse‘s position forms part of UVic Sociology’s research and teaching specialization in Ecology, Global Issues, and Social Movements. She looks forward to engaging in collaborative and interdisciplinary research focused on food system sustainability, along with labour and migration conditions for workers across the food chain. Next year, she will be teaching classes in qualitative methods along with work and employment.

Recent Phd Graduate Merin Oleschuk to begin Tenure Track position at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Recent PhD recipient, Merin Oleschuk will begin a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Merin graduated on January 10, 2020. Her dissertation is entitled, Domestic Foodwork in Value and Practice: A Study of Food, Inequality and Health in Family Life and she completed it under the supervision of Josée Johnston, Shyon Baumann and Melissa Milkie.  Her dissertation abstract is as follows:

This dissertation explores home-cooked family meals – the ideals and expectations around them, as well as how they are navigated by parents in diverse social positions. This exploration assesses how discourses and practices surrounding family foodwork reflect and shape inequalities in a variety of realms including gendered labour, economic disparities, health outcomes and consumer politics. It utilizes diverse methods including a discourse and content analysis of North American news media, as well as qualitative interviews, cooking observations and food recall conversations with parents in the Greater Toronto Area who are primary cooks in their families. These varied methods facilitate investigation into how home cooking is publicly presented, automatically understood, and emotionally experienced by parents from diverse backgrounds. The dissertation explores these ends in three analytically distinct chapters, offering three key insights. First, the media analysis reveals that public discourse promotes a complex allocation of responsibility for family meals that recognizes multiple structural conditions constraining meals (such as unhealthy food environments and inflated normative standards), yet assigns responsibility for resolving them to individuals (i.e. parents should work harder to combat these constraints and cook more at home). These findings apply to family meals but can also be extended to consider responsibility for social problems within neoliberalism more broadly. Second, interview analysis identifies the ubiquity of a cultural schema of “cooking by our mother’s side”: an automatic, semi-conscious understanding of learning to cook that privileges culinary knowledge acquired during childhood through the social reproductive work of mothers. Analysis of this schema reveals its role in reproducing gendered inequalities and obscuring diversity in food learning, especially by overemphasizing the importance of childhood and masking learning later in life. Third, I qualitatively analyze how socio-economic disadvantage (alongside its intersections with gender and race/ethnicity) negatively impacts the emotional experience of foodwork but does not necessarily predict cooking pleasure. In identifying and exploring five conditions of cooking pleasure, I examine how certain conditions can operate relatively independently from class and facilitate cooking enjoyment for low-income groups. Collectively, the dissertation advances scholarly understanding of the ideals, meanings and emotions encompassing family foodwork, their embeddedness with social inequalities, as well as opportunities for resistance and social change.

Merin’s new position is part of a cluster hire in food security within the University’s College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. She looks forward to working alongside other scholars across disciplines working to improve human and environmental health through the food system. While at Illinois, she plans to continue to develop her research around domestic food labour and consumption while expanding her research programme addressing issues of food insecurity around it. She will teach classes in the areas of food, gender and qualitative methods. Merin currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Guelph, working on the GenEQ: Advancing the Status of Women at the University of Guelph Initiative in the Provost’s Office.

Congratulations to Taylor Price, one of 25 finalists in SSHRC Storytellers Contest

Congratulations to PhD Candidate Taylor Price who recently learned that his submission to the SSHRC Storytellers Competition has been named one of the finalists for 2021. The annual SSHRC Storytellers Competition provides a venue for post-secondary students to showcase their SSHRC-funded research by presenting a 3 minute video or audoclip. The top 25 candidates receive a cash prize and the opportunity to present their research live at the Congress for the Social Sciences and Humanities. Due to covid-19, this year’s showcase will be postponed until 2021.

The twenty-five finalists cover a range of disciplines and highlight research from around the country. Taylor’s submission to the competition is a short video discussing his dissertation research which studies how songwriters are affected by the digital economy. Taylor produced this video in collaboration with AJ Astle from Roadhouse Productions ( Watch Taylor’s video here:

Professor Cynthia Cranford: Pandemic exposes deep flaws in Canadian home care system

The UTM Research News has recently published an interview with Professor Cynthia Cranford about care work during the pandemic. Professor Cranford is an Associate Professor of Sociology with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. Her research focuses on inequalities of gender, work and migration, and collective efforts to resist them.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below; the full article can be found online on the UTM Research page here.

Pandemic exposes deep flaws in Canadian home care system

Tuesday, May 5, 2020 – 11:30am
Blake Eligh

The pandemic has infiltrated long-term care facilities, infecting staff and residents alike and resulting in scores of deaths. Now one U of T Mississauga sociologist is sounding the alarm for a hidden population that is also at grave risk: home care workers and their clients.

Over the past decade, associate professor of sociology Cynthia Cranford has studied home-based elder care and disability support programs in Ontario and California. She is the author of a new book that shines a light on the vulnerabilities of both care providers and receivers, covering themes of disability, aging, immigration and labour organization.

“As experts question long-term residential care, we should take this opportunity to recognize the importance of acute and ongoing support needs that people need to live dignified lives,” she says.

About a million Canadians rely on home care support for personal hygiene, medical assistance and help around the house.

“Home care is an essential underlying support to our broader health care system,” says Cranford. “It is vital to elderly and disabled people to get the assistance that they need with daily activities like eating, dressing, bathing, in order to live in their homes with dignity.” Home care also provides short-term acute care to people who can recover from illness or injury at home instead of in the hospital.

Read more…

Professor Melissa Milkie on ‘The pressure cooker’ of working from home and homeschooling

The UTM Research News recently published an interview with Professor Melissa Milkie about the difficulties of balancing work and family life. Professor Milkie is a Full Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Tri-Campus Graduate Department. Her research studies gender & family, the work-family interface, culture, and mental health.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below and the full article is available on the UTM News website here.

‘The pressure cooker’ of working from home and homeschooling: A sense of humour may get us through

Friday, April 24, 2020 – 9:04am
Laurie Wallace Lynch

We’ve all no doubt seen the video that went viral where Professor Robert Kelly was at home in South Korea, being interviewed live on BBC News when suddenly his two young children wander into the room, followed by their frantic mother who tries to quickly grab them. This scenario can happen readily during the COVID-19 crisis when many parents are working from home, providing 24/7 childcare and homeschooling. But fear not, a sense of humour and involving children can make people see and appreciate the hard work parents do every single day.

That’s according to U of T Mississauga sociology Professor Melissa Milkie, who has done extensive research on family dynamics and gender. Though some “hero” parents are on the front lines working in essential jobs outside the home, others are contending with a strange collision of their work and family lives.

“What is happening now is not so much the juggling of the two roles of parent and worker, but a complete explosion of how we normally spend our time—and where we spend it—now that everything is under one (sometimes very small) roof,” says Milkie. “But some pressures may be relieved by knowing we are all in this together.”

Read more…

Sociology students build grassroots volunteer-run initiative to help those in need during COVID-19 pandemic

image of groceriesIn the earliest days of the COVID outbreak, a small collective of people working to support QT/BIPOC (queer and trans, Black and Indigenous People of Colour) communities put out a call through the Caremongering – Toronto Facebook page for other groups to come together and replicate the mutual aid model. Sociology PhD students Andrea Román Alfaro and Paul Pritchard answered the call. They cooked and delivered meals for four straight days and raised funds through their personal networks before joining forces with two other small collectives to become the People’s Pantry. What started out as cooking meals across a few kitchens, the People’s Pantry has expanded considerably over the last few weeks into a much larger community food program.

The People’s Pantry is a grassroots volunteer-run initiative dedicated to safely providing and delivering cooked meals and grocery packages to folks who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remaining true to its origins as a grassroots political project working within a mutual aid framework, the students worked to expand their community network. There are now over 150 volunteers working across the GTA in various capacities as cooks, bakers, supply shoppers, deliverers, logistic coordinators, outreach and fundraising. They have also collaborated with numerous volunteer organizations across the city and partnered with the Bike Brigade, Maggie’s Toronto, the East Toronto Food Coalition, and Toronto Cares.

The People’s Pantry has raised over 20,000 dollars, and have successfully supported over 600 households with cooked meals and/or grocery packages from various communities across the GTA, including low-income and working-class families, QT/BIPOC, folks with precarious immigration statuses, precariously-housed folks, those living with illness or disabilities, and the elderly.

In addition to Alfaro and Pritchard, over 40 sociology graduate students and alumni have made financial contributions to the People’s Pantry, alongside 10 faculty members. Current graduate students Angela Xu, Jenn Peruniak, and Yuki Tanaka have put their cooking and baking skills to work and produced a steady stream of delicious food. A number of undergraduate students from the Introduction to Sociology course at UTSC have also offered their money and volunteer services.

Other students have used the mutual aid model to give back to specific communities with which they conduct their research. Bahar Hashemi and Paul Pritchard have partnered with an Afghan women’s organization to buy and deliver groceries to individuals in the Persian community who are not able to leave their house or access support because of reasons related to age, health and immigration status.

Recognizing the severe impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had in their communities, these students have reached out to undergraduate and graduate students at UofT, international students and migrant workers, and other communities to provide support. They have done so out of a firm belief that mutual aid is crucial in these times in which neither the government nor UofT has stepped up to provide help to those who most need it.

People wishing to contribute time or money, should visit the People’s Pantry’s Facebook Page or GoFundMe campaign.

Photo credit: Paul Pritchard

Professor Joe Hermer on the impact of COVID-19 on the Homeless in Ontario

Professor Joe Hermer has recently co-authored an article in The Conversation discussing the need to protect the homeless during the pandemic. The article warns that police enforcing Ontario’s Safe Streets Act that targets homeless people will put them in danger, not only with the law, but also risk spreading the pandemic. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at UT Scarborough. His research focuses on homelessness and policing.

We have posted an excerpt of the article. The full article is available here.

Ontario’s Safe Streets Act will cost lives amid the coronavirus pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, officials in many Ontario cities have moved to protect the homeless population. At the same time, police are still enforcing the province’s punitive Safe Streets Act against people surviving on the street. This enforcement must stop if we are to avert a public health catastrophe.

Homeless people are at profound and immediate risk. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that when homeless people are infected with the virus, they are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general population.

The report warns that it will take US$11.5 billion to manage the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population in the United States alone.

The spread of the virus to homeless communities in Ontario could be disastrous to the homeless and the housed alike, given the strain that medical facilities are under. Underfunded and overwhelmed, many of the emergency shelters opened across Canada still lack basic counter-measures such as social distancing, self-isolation and proper hygiene protocols….

Read the full article.

Sociology Research Contributes to Lessening the Impact of COVID-19

Scott ScheimanMany of the Faculty in the Sociology Department have recently adjusted their research to address issues arising as a result of COVID-19 as well as the social distancing and economic shutdown that have been put in place to contain the pandemic. Four sociology faculty members have recently had their projects funded by the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, a fund established by the University of Toronto to support high impact research. The projects were identified as having strong “potential to have a positive impact on individuals, communities and public health systems within a time frame of a year or less.”

Professor Jessica Fields (left) is heading a research initiative investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of sexual and gender minorities living in Toronto. With collaborators in Anthropology, Women and Gender Studies, Geography, Public Health and Medicine, Fields will gather quantitative and qualitative data as to health behaviours and mental health status of sexual and gender minorities during the pandemic. The project is titled Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health and Vulnerability of Sexual and Gender Minorities living in Toronto. Professor Fields is a Full Professor of Sociology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society located at the UT Scarborough Campus. PhD student Ali Greey is also listed as a co-investigator on the grant.

Professor Joe Hermer (second from left) is leading a research project called Pandemic Policing of the Homeless in Canada: From Crime Control to Public Health Strategy. This project seeks to mitigate the risks posed to homeless people by policing during the pandemic. Hermer and his colleagues will use funding from the COVID-19 Action Fund to research, design and release interventions to help policing move from a crime control model to one that reflects a public health approach. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UT Scarborough campus.

Professor Andrew Miles (second from right) is conducting research to understand the role that pro-social behaviour can play to mitigate the negative public health impacts of social distancing. Entitled, Using Prosocial Behaviour to Safeguard mental Health and Foster Emotional Well-Being, this project will use an online experiment and daily tracking of 1400 Canadians to test how repetition and variation of prosocial acts generate positive outcomes, and how this varies by the level of social and/or economic hardship that individuals are facing during the pandemic. Professor Miles is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. Laura Upenieks, a recent alumna of our PhD program, is a member of Professor Miles’ team.

Professor Scott Schieman (right) is leading a team examining the impact of COVID-19 on the work lives of Canadians. His team also includes Professors Melissa Milkie, Sharla Alegria and Irene Boeckman of the Sociology Department and Sarah Reid, a recent alumna of our PhD program. This team seeks to identify trajectories of change in employment, work, and economic conditions over the course of the pandemic with a focus on job insecurity and disruption, financial strain, and restructuring of the work-home interface. They will also describe how these disruptions and transitions correspond to psychosocial functioning especially the sense of powerlessness, mistrust, social isolation, and loneliness and then trace the consequences for sleep problems and different forms of emotional distress. The project is entitled COVID-19 Impacts on the Quality of Work and Economic Life in Canada. Professor Schieman is a Full Professor of Sociology, Canada Research Chair in the Social Contexts of Health, and Chair of the Department at the UT St. George campus.


Professor David Pettinicchio on the impact of covid-19 on people with disabilities

David PettinicchioProfessor David Pettinicchio has recently spoken to the media about how COVID-19 can exacerbate existing inequalities. A story by UTM’s Research Communications Office highlights his insights. We have included an excerpt of the story below. The full story is available on the UTM website here. Professor Pettinicchio is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with undergraduate teaching responsibilities on the UTM campus. His research focuses on social policy, political sociology, law and society, disability politics and social movements.

Coronavirus consequences for people with disabilities

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 – 8:25am

Carla DeMarco
UofT Mississauga prof examines the increased downturn in employment for people with disabilities as a result of COVID-19

As reality sets in about the extensive fallout to various people and industries from the current coronavirus pandemic, Professor David Pettinicchio cannot help but notice that people with disabilities, a part of the population already marginalized and often most impacted by various crises, are noticeably absent from mainstream conversations.

An assistant professor with UTM’s Department of Sociology since 2014, Pettinicchio looks at how people with disabilities, who already struggle with precarious employment, low earnings, minimal benefits, and insufficient economic security, become even more vulnerable at times like this.

“I think what’s important to keep in mind is that what COVID-19 is really highlighting is how precarious and insecure a lot of people are just generally, and how it’s going to have serious implications down the road,” says Pettinicchio.

Pettinicchio’s work has demonstrated that people with disabilities have difficulty finding work, and when they do it is often in low paying, non-unionized jobs, particularly in the service sector, such as food preparation, or they are burdened by longer hours in warehouse or grocery store positions. He says any jobs they could previously obtain or the flexibility they once had to accommodate their disability are now heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this will have a long-term impact on household finances.

Read the full article…

Congratulations to Professor Josée Johnston, the 2020 recipient of the Jeanette Wright Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentorship

Josée JohnstonThe Department of Sociology is pleased to announce that Josée Johnston has been awarded the 2020 Jeanette Wright Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentorship. The award is “offered to a current faculty member in the Department of Sociology who has demonstrated excellence in mentoring of sociology graduate students” and who is “active in supervising and/or mentoring graduate students.” The award is named after Jeanette Wright was was a dedicated graduate administrator in Sociology before retiring a few years ago.

Five students wrote nomination letters for Josée, noting her flexible, caring, and inspiring approach to graduate mentorship. The Graduate Awards Committee was quite impressed by these appreciative letters, as well as by the remarkable achievements of her students in both academic and non-academic careers.

Josee’s name will be added to the Jeannette Wright plaque next to rm. 240 once university life returns to some state of normality.

Professor Joe Hermer writes on Homelessness in the UK for the Crisis Blog.

Professor Joe Hermer recently published an article entitled, “Thomas Parker and the Tragedy of Vagrancy Law” for the Crisis Blog, an online publication produced by a national charity in the UK that works to reduce homelessness in England, Scotland and Wales. Professor Hermer’s article outlines the history of Britain’s Vagrancy Act of 1935 and its implications for today. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The first article is available on the Crisis Blog.

Thomas Parker and the Tragedy of Vagrancy Law

Joe Hermer, Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough


On the night of May 31, 1933, Mr. Thomas Parker took shelter to sleep under a steam truck near the village of Coleshill, outside Birmingham. Thirty-four years old, Parker was destitute and homeless, having just left the Bagthorpe workhouse in Nottingham days before. He was promptly arrested for sleeping out and for ‘not having any visible means of subsistence’ under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales. The next night he was a convict serving a 14-day sentence with hard labour at Winson Green prison.

The next morning, June 2, he was found to be ‘insolent and disobedient’ in the drill yard and was brought before the prison’s acting governor in the adjudication room at about 11.20 am. His immediate punishment was three days in the special ‘silence’ punishment cell, with a diet of only bread and water. What happened in the next 20 minutes would become a source of national controversy and would change how the rough-sleeping offence would be enforced into the 21st century.

From the office where his punishment was summarily given to the silence cell itself was a distance of 64 yards – down a steep flight of stairs, along a gangway and through a double door – to a cell no bigger than a parking space. As two guards pulled him into the cell at 11.25 am he was losing consciousness from a brain haemorrhage, caused by a vicious blow to the right side of his head. Fifteen minutes later he would be found dead, his six-foot body curled up and his head resting on the cement curb of the prisoner’s sleeping platform…

Read the rest of the article.

Congratulations to Andrew Nevin, recipient of the 2020 Dennis William Magill Canada Research Award

Congratulations to Andrew Nevin, winner of the 2020 Dennis William Magill Canada Research Award. The award is awarded annually for a paper or dissertation of exceptional merit that deals with a sociological aspect of Canadian Society. Preference is given for work that deals with macro-sociological topics.

Nevin received the award for his paper, “Academic Hiring Networks and Institutional Prestige: A Case Study of Canadian Sociology”, published in Canadian Review of Sociology (2019). The award committee noted that the article provides new evidence on the structure of the Canadian academic job market. By documenting the role of high-status institutions in segmenting an academic field, the paper sheds light on important macro-sociological processes in Canadian society.

Read more about this article and see an abstract here.

P2P: Paternity Leave and Fathers’ Responsibility: Evidence From a Natural Experiment in Canada

Every student in the Sociology PhD program at the University of Toronto completes the Research Practicum course in their second year. This course involves each student working directly on a research project with a faculty member through the various stages of research and writing while also meeting with other graduate students in the course to tackle the hurdles of clarifying, strengthening, and sharpening one’s ideas in a journal-length research article. In this series, we highlight the practicum papers that went on to become published articles, and the students who wrote them.

Wray, Dana. 2020. “Paternity Leave and Fathers’ Responsibility: Evidence From a Natural Experiment in Canada.” Journal of Marriage and Family.

Dana Wray has published an article in the Journal of Marriage and Family, entitled “Paternity Leave and Fathers’ Responsibility: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Canada.” This study uses the natural experiment of the province of Quebec – which introduced reserved paternity leave in 2006, compared to the rest of Canada – to examine whether paternity leave policy can increase fathers’ involvement with their children. The study finds that the reserved paternity leave policy led to a direct increase of 2.2 hours per week in fathers’ solo parenting or responsibility time.

Under the supervision of Melissa Milkie, Dana enrolled in the Research Practicum with an interest in studying how family policy could impact parental time with children in Canada. Dana presented progressive versions of the paper at the 2019 American Sociological Association (ASA) and the Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) annual meetings. The comments at these conferences helped to refine the paper. In addition, the paper also won the 2019 CSA Best Graduate Student Paper award.

Dana greatly appreciates the invaluable feedback from her supervisor, Melissa Milkie; practicum supervisors, Josée Johnston, Ron Levi, and Phil Goodman; her discussant and committee member, Irene Boeckmann; as well as the students in her cohort. The paper also received funding from a Program Level Summer Fellowship from the Sociology department that helped her submit the manuscript for publication in the summer after practicum.

Dana continues to explore the impact of parental leave policy on parents, with a paper on how paternity leave policy can potentially shift mothers’ time with children and perceptions of time pressures accepted for upcoming presentation at the Work and Family Researchers Network (WFRN) conference in New York City in June 2020. In her own work and her collaborative work with Melissa Milkie, Irene Boeckmann, and Julia Ingenfeld, Dana explores the patterning of parental time in Canada, the U.S., and cross-nationally using a range of quantitative approaches to study large-scale surveys of time use data. Her research is supported by a SSHRC CGS Doctoral Award.