On August 4th, 2014, the Mount Polley copper-gold mine owned by Imperial Metals Corp had a catastrophic tailings collapse, sending 25 million cubic meters of tailings into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, constituting the largest tailings dam failure in Canadian history. I use this case study to examine how disasters provide opportunities and constraints for social action, with a focus on the experiences of individuals participating in public consultations within the Cariboo Region of British Columbia.
On August 4th, 2014, the Mount Polley copper-gold mine owned by Imperial Metals Corp had a catastrophic tailings collapse, sending 25 million cubic meters of tailings into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake. The disaster constitutes the largest tailings dam failure in Canadian history, and one of largest in the world in the last 50 years. This critical event has had cascading effects on the political-ecological life of individuals, communities, and the province as a whole. I use this case study to examine how disasters provide opportunities and constraints for social action, with a focus on the experiences of individuals participating in public consultations within the Cariboo Region of British Columbia. A focus on public consultations centers and contributes to environmental justice scholarship on procedural justice; that is, the ability for residents to influence industry and government decision-making as it relates to their communities. The primary questions informing this component of my dissertation include: (1) How and why have community members participated in the processes and outcomes of disaster governance? (2) What barriers exist for participating in disaster governance, and who does it affect most? (3) What process and outcome based factors do community members perceive as encouraging effective participation? In addressing these questions, my research moves away from a focus on the unequal distribution of environmental goods and bads towards theorizing the structural and procedural sources of injustice in the context of disaster governance.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
I believe public scholarship can take a variety of forms, from writing op-eds and giving accessible public presentations to community involved participatory action research. Common to each, and a critical component of what I think it means to be a public scholar, is research that moves knowledge from the confines of the academy to the public sphere. This works to encourage critical thinking and the resolution of various socio-ecological problems.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
The Public Scholars Initiative gives graduate students the license and institutionalized support to explore innovative ways of translating academic research into applied settings. As such, graduate students are encouraged to design dissertations that not only address important academic questions but also seek to improve social conditions.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
My focus on resident experiences and expectations related to disaster governance directly relates to government and civil society work on resource extraction and community relations. I hope that my presentations to provincial ministry personnel and the policy brief I write in consultation with civil society experts provides me with the networks required to carry this type of work out into the future.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
My public scholarship has focused on knowledge mobilization through public presentations and writing op-eds, which I believe are important for making academic knowledge more accessible. My dissertation research continues this work with the added value of writing and presenting a policy brief to decision-makers. The policy brief will offer advice on how to organize future public consultations so that community residents feel empowered when responding to a disaster.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I decided to pursue a graduate degree for a very simple reason – I enjoy learning, researching, and teaching. I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to brilliant colleagues and students that have cultivated and sustained my passion for research and teaching. I find academic work to be very exciting, challenging and rewarding.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
I decided to study at UBC because the Department of Sociology offers rigorous methodological training in both qualitative and quantitative methods. In particular, the training I received in the latter has benefited my development as a scholar and has provided new opportunities for collaborative research projects.
A critical component of what I think it means to be a public scholar, is research that moves knowledge from the confines of the academy to the public sphere. This works to encourage critical thinking and the resolution of various socio-ecological problems.