Merje Kuus


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Re-(de)politicizing carbon: climate governance in urban Vancouver (2022)

Urban governments across the globe are reimagining and reasserting their roles and responsibilities in climate action by creating new policy and institutional spaces for tackling this wicked problem. The emerging role of the city in climate action has been a subject of policy and governance studies. The field benefits from in-depth inquiry on not only what climate measures are developed, but how they materialize. This study extends these questions to the case study of the Vancouver region. More recently, municipalities in the region are responding to the global call for climate mitigation by taking on new, ambitious reduction goals. Drawing on approaches of critical policy studies and discourse analysis, this study examines how climate and carbon are made governable in a post-political urban setting. The study considers the discursive elements of the policy process, the agency of policy practitioners, the spaces and networks they occupy and influence, as well as the logics and expert technologies they use to mobilize policy. This research highlights the importance of both formal and informal social norms in urban policy processes. This study finds that despite what appears to be their bold aspirations to drastically reduce carbon emissions, policy actors are constrained by path-dependent governing logics, territorial politics and power relations embedded in the dominant sociopolitical and economic regime. Climate actions are also driven by particular rationalities and storylines which sustain climate as a depoliticized and technocratic policy matter, thus producing a set of techno-managerial responses while precluding others.

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Becoming experts: Japanese grassroots NGOs and LGBT communities in post-disaster Tohoku (2021)

On March 11, 2011 a powerful earthquake in the northeastern region of Japan, known as Tohoku, triggered a devastating tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown. While Japanese earthquake technology and tsunami preparation guidelines are known as some of the best in the world, criticism has surfaced about the lack of consideration for the needs of diverse people, including inadequate privacy in emergency shelters, and lack of gender-appropriate appropriate supplies. This project investigates this issue by exploring problems faced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in Tohoku communities in response to the 2011 disasters. In the period following the earthquake and tsunami a small number of LGBT survivors in the region began distributing supplies and information to other LGBT people. Some of their activities crystallized into more permanent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), contributing to a growing movement for awareness of such diversity in the region. In 2018 I spent one year in Japan conducting original qualitative research to explore the emergence and features of the NGOs serving local LGBT communities in post-disaster Tohoku. A series of open-ended interviews with organizers and members of 17 NGOs is the primary source of data for this project. The study shows that some LGBT people’s experiences of the disaster environment were tied to a hetero-masculinist approach to disaster planning and response. The ensuing meltdown at the nuclear power plant also underscored a deeply androcentric epistemological base for expertise, informing various components of the recovery and cleanup activities. NGOs profiled in this study presented an alternative view of disaster response expertise, which takes local knowledge and lived experience of marginalized people as its starting point. My analysis indicated that these groups were successful at identifying shortcomings that were not anticipated by standard disaster planning processes in Japan. The study shows that the needs of LGBT people facing disasters are diverse and complex, requiring expertise beyond standard disaster response mechanisms. This dissertation argues that alternative forms of expertise can be effective at meeting the needs of diverse people facing disasters, as demonstrated by marginalized individuals and NGO groups that served them in contemporary post-disaster Tohoku.

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Frozen assets: private sector actors in arctic governance (2017)

The circumpolar Arctic epitomizes global change as political, social, and economic activities continually reconfigure the region. Diverse actors negotiate around a range of pressing issues such as climate change, trade, defence, and natural resource development. In this international milieu, states seek to pursue national interests as well as cooperate with non-state, supra-national, and sub-national entities that increasingly influence the governance landscape. This project examines how private sector development and state interests interplay in efforts to develop Arctic natural resources and asks what this tells us about the role of the private sector in regional governance. This project contributes to theories of new forms of state power and the political construction of space, especially in critical geopolitical literature. It connects Arctic development and geopolitical literatures through an analysis of the implications of private sector development decisions for state sovereignty. It examines evolving forms of transnational governance in the context of globalized political and socio-economic processes. The circumpolar region is an excellent laboratory for scholars to consider similar issues of sustainability in broader global contexts. This study draws its empirical analysis from two case studies: the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia and the North Slope Borough in Alaska, USA. The cases focus on recent multi-party policy negotiations at these sites of natural resource development. They are theorized in their own right, as examples of processes in diverse regions, with linkages between them also drawn out. I use a methodological approach that emphasizes the ‘how’ of governance, and explores the practices of policy-making. This framework captures the dynamic social processes that underlie governance in the circumpolar region.This dissertation aims to understand the intertwined roles of states and private sector actors in Arctic political affairs. However, it also contributes to our understanding of the global political economy beyond the Arctic. Economic development and investment decision-making in the circumpolar region have implications for Arctic states, global natural resource markets, energy importing states, as well as for northern residents.

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Labours of Technology: Carbon Capture and Storage in Alberta, Canada (2016)

Since the mid 2000s, carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has become an important component of climate change policy, and in some jurisdictions is the central state strategy for climate change mitigation. Although carbon capture technology has garnered attention as a so-called ‘technological fix’ for climate change, less is known about how it is enrolled in processes of knowledge production, and in the regulation of spaces, processes and people for the purposes of carbon control. Using the case study of Alberta, Canada - a high-income hydrocarbon producing jurisdiction - this dissertation investigates how CCS technology operates as a political technology, that is, as an instrument that produces new ways of thinking about and managing complex political issues. The research investigates what procedures, techniques, and modes of analysis enabled CCS to become the primary climate change mitigation instrument/policy of the Alberta government. The strategy for addressing climate change through carbon capture is situated within the regulatory and institutional historical context of Alberta’s hydrocarbon-based political economy. CCS is assessed as a ‘technological fix’ that enables the Alberta provincial government and associated actors manage the province’s triple climate crisis, consisting of the impacts of climate change, and attendant issues of social legitimacy and market access for the province’s hydrocarbon exports.Expert and participant interviews, and documentary analysis demonstrated that CCS expertise and capacity within the province were strategically translated from existing oil and gas technological and institutional capacities. Yet, advancing carbon capture as a carbon control measure necessitated the incorporation of additional scientific and economic rationalities, institutional and regulatory capacities, and extra-jurisdictional expertise. I find that overall, carbon capture and storage has failed as a technological fix for Alberta’s carbon control crisis because some of the very factors that led to its rapid ascendancy as a carbon control measure – a resource strong advocate community, its continuity with an existing political economic pathway, and others – made it susceptible to disruption from exogenous events, notably a climate policy vacuum and competition from other energy technologies.

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Spaces of expertise and geographies of ethics: Health worker recruitment and migration from the Philippines to Canada (2014)

Spaces of Expertise and Geographies of Ethics: Health Worker Recruitment and Migration from the Philippines to Canada is my contribution to the contemporary academic and policy interest on the issue of international recruitment and migration of health workers. Through the discipline of human geography and using global ethnographic methodology, my thesis fulfils four overlapping aims and objectives: (1) I explain the role of state institutions in the recruitment and migration of registered nurses from a major sending country context, the Philippines; (2) I illustrate how private recruitment agencies’ strategic partnership with Philippine state institutions facilitate the migration of Philippine nurses to Canada and other migrant workers globally; (3) I describe the work of Canadian state institutions that sustain and support the current dependence of a receiving country like Canada on immigrant health workers through one province’s “ethical recruitment” drive and the daily work of one provincial recruitment firm and finally; (4) I analyse how bilateral agreements, international instruments and ethical institutional design facilitate international health worker recruitment and migration. Through historically informed, ethically orientated and empirically grounded socio-cultural and political geographic analyses, I narrate stories of local, transnational and global policies circulating and flowing through the knowledge, action and expertise of individuals across multiple institutions and state border that affect and frame the issue of health worker recruitment and migration.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Rare-earth mining and sovereign statehood in Greenland: 'Sustainable engagement' with extractivism at Kvanefjeld (2022)

Climate change in the Arctic has precipitated intense speculation about the ecological, economic,political, and socio-cultural futures that await the region of the world most affected by climatechange. In Greenland, a mining proposal at the Kvanefjeld geological site has animated localdebate since 2009 when the nation re-gained control over its subsoil rights from Denmark.Revenue from the mine, proponents argue, would offset the island’s dependency on Denmark and,thus, serve as a concrete step towards their eventual independence. Opponents, however, warnagainst the possibly catastrophic ecological, social, and political consequences of mining at thissite. As a case study, Kvanefjeld offers insights into the local and situated knowledge makingprocesses that inform policy making and risk-management in the Arctic region. This thesisfamiliarizes the reader with a fast-changing policy-issue and, simultaneously, offers a study of theproduction of expert knowledge in Greenland. To this end, this project outlines the national,regional, and international dynamics that interplay with this mining controversy and shows howthese, in turn, are used by Greenlandic actors to leverage their positions for, and against theproposed mine. Throughout, I argue that despite the specificity of the case study, attention to howcontextual local and regional politics interact with policy relevant knowledge is informative toaudiences interested in the emerging field of polar economic geographies and the social life ofpolicy relevant expert knowledge.

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White coats in the streets: physician advocacy and the Interim Federal Health Program in Canada, 2012-2016 (2022)

In April 2012, Canada’s federal Conservative government quietly announced drastic reforms to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), a policy designed to provide temporary healthcare coverage to refugees, refugee claimants, asylum seekers, and other precarious status groups. The decision shocked physicians across the country, prompting them to coordinate and engage in four years of direct action against the Harper government to protest the reform. Drawing on semistructured interviews with 16 physicians across Canada, as well as a relevant sample of media content from 2012 to 2016, this thesis explores the multiple and changing ways in which physicians understood both their profession and ‘Canada’ during (and after) the period of reform. I engage with literature on the IFHP reform, health social movement scholarship, and medical literature on physician advocacy, as addressing this topic thoroughly requires an interdisciplinary approach. I argue that the physician-led health social movement around the IFHP reform resulted, in part, from physicians’ sense that the Harper government’s policy clashed with their responsibilities as Canadian physicians and their imaginings of the Canadian nation as humanitarian and communitarian. In fighting against this clash, physicians engaged in actions traditionally deemed ‘activist,’ which challenged conventional interpretations of the CanMEDS Health Advocate Role, thus pushing the boundaries of what is expected of their profession in Canada. This research contributes to current conversations in Canada regarding the CanMEDS Health Advocate Role and teaching physician advocacy, as well as to geographic studies of professions and their expertise.

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Farming after Occupy: institutional politics, activism, and the future of agricultural science (2021)

This Master's thesis examines political activism centered at the Gill Tract Community Farm (GTCF) in Berkeley, California. The Gill Tract is roughly 14-acres of University of California, Berkeley (UCB) research land at the boundary of Berkeley and Albany, in the San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA). The GTCF is a community-led agro-ecological farm which emerged out of a protracted land occupation in 2012, and situates itself as a site of opposition to capitalism and colonialism. In 2020, I conducted 17 semi-structured interviews with community farmers and university administrators about the relationship between UCB and the GTCF. Drawing on the interviews, written media, and auto-ethnographic reflections of my own time living in the SFBA and volunteering at the GTCF, I examine three distinct questions. 1) I discuss how the theory of boundary objects helps to understand why the Gill Tract was a site of contestation in 2012, and how the theory of boundary objects can be deepened by viewing them not only as sites of cross-disciplinary collaboration, but also dispute. 2) I explore the uneven ways in which the university and the community farm are legible to each other and are changing each other, read through social scientists engaging with activist movements. 3) I engage in a partially auto-ethnographic reflection on the political potential of the GTCF, using anthropological work on narrative and the alter-globalization movement to frame activism at the community farm. This thesis contributes to a deeper understanding of boundary objects, as well as understandings of the potential for local activist movements to effect political change, both locally and within global activist networks.

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Between worlds: online transnationalism of highly skilled Mexicans in Vancouver (2020)

This thesis examines the ways in which highly skilled Mexicans in Vancouver participate in digitally enabled transnational activities. I explore how this group uses digital technologies to facilitate their transnational relations, particularly by focusing on how technology contributes to immigrants maintaining a sense of belonging in their country of origin, as they adapt to Vancouver at different stages of their migration journey. Additionally, I explore how highly skilled Mexicans deploy their social, cultural, economic and political capital once they are established in Vancouver to maintain or neglect their ties with Mexico. I use a mixed methods approach including autoethnography, analysis of public statistics, an analysis of Youtube data and 18 semi-structured interviews with highly skilled Mexicans in Vancouver.Throughout this research, I explore the socioeconomic characteristics of Mexican migrants to Vancouver and their interactions with Mexican institutions in Vancouver. I also look at how highly skilled Mexicans use digital technologies to maintain or neglect their transnational relations with Mexico, and the way that the use of these technologies impact their everyday life in Vancouver. To zoom into the role that identity negotiation plays in digital content created by expatriates, I analyze two YouTube channels hosted by Mexicans living in Vancouver. I conclude that a lack of adequate engagement from both the origin and destination nation-states results in a status of limbo for highly skilled Mexican immigrants that creates a need to reduce their vulnerability by choosing to associate with others who share a similar class habitus rather than nationality.

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Unpacking Inspire Jericho: luxury real estate development and First Nations in Vancouver (2020)

This thesis explores the urban planning process surrounding the 90-acre redevelopment of Jericho Lands, a former site of Jericho Detachment/Garrison in Vancouver, BC. This is one of the more valuable pieces of land in the province. I investigate how the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh (MST) First Nations, various neighborhood groups, and the different levels of the government interact in this planning process. To unpack this, I employ mixed methodologies including review of government and secondary documents, interviews from key informants, and participant observation in open-to-public events of Jericho Lands. This inquiry comes at a time when the historically marginalized Lower Mainland First Nations become owners and developers of luxury real estate land in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Together with Canada Lands Company (CLC), a non-agent Crown corporation, the cooperation with the three First Nations, and the City of Vancouver establishes a complex growth coalition that supports the development of Jericho Lands. In here, I find that reconciliation narratives are used as a framework in the policy process to advance the redevelopment. Consequently, the planning process of Jericho Lands as a large-scale development reveals the prevalence of growth-based initiatives alongside conflicting and overlapping interests with other issues and stakeholders in the city. Amidst these interactions and convergent subjectivities, the involvement of MST Development Corporation as the real estate arm of the First Nations represents their participation in the growth machine framework of Harvey Molotch (1979) and later reintroduced with John Logan (1987). Since this study only covers Phase One of Jericho Lands Policy Planning Program, I conclude with questions to consider in further studies of such a complex site.

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Icebergs dead ahead: anticipating increased maritime shipping in the Canadian Arctic (2017)

Shipping is a fundamental feature of life in the Canadian North. Climate change is opening waterways between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, introducing the possibility of new vessels plying these waters as a transitory space. Furthermore, community growth and economic development activities have increased domestic maritime traffic in the region as well. The regulation and support of shipping in the region has come under question as sea ice retreat reveals open waters. This thesis examines the question of how are the present and the prospective future of shipping in the Canadian Arctic managed and governed. I situate my work in the fields of critical polar studies, anticipatory geographies, and Arctic geopolitics. I use expert interviews with policy makers in Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, the Canadian Ice Service, the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation, along with perspectives from officials at the World Wildlife Fund and the Centre for the North to answer these questions. I argue that the perception and anticipation of a well–managed and well–supported maritime space guides the actions of Canadian officials. Officials view shipping as a holistic activity where meaningful government intervention is limited. I further argue that the logic of prevention is most useful in understanding policy makers’ activities in this forum, and the effective presence in the region through management and support of shipping demonstrates the Canadian state’s sovereignty. Canada is at the forefront of regulations, support, and techniques to manage and support shipping in the Arctic, offering a perspective on present shipping, and how anticipating future shipping has shaped actions of the domestic agencies, the Arctic Council, and the International Maritime Organization.

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Destination Arctic: Bureaucracy, Tourism, and Identity in Canada (2015)

The framing of the Canadian Arctic by federal civil servants often bound to currents in discourse that frames the Arctic as: ‘open for business,’ a remote wilderness filled with threats and risk, and a region that needs to be governed by the Canadian South. It is through policy and its enactment by civil servants that these southern-Arctics are built and projected onto The North. Through discursive analysis of policy, government papers, and interviews with civil servants, this thesis explores the above themes to illustrate the cultural dimensions of Arctic policy. The project uses the expedition cruise tourism industry—which in Canada is primarily based in Nunavut—as a site of analysis. I analyze how agencies and departments interact with this industry to construct the idea of multiple Arctics, each with their own unique impact on the regions present and future. I interrogate how expertise and authority is spelled out and performed by actors to create such Arctics. Environmental transport policy is based in a southern-Canadian logic and is used as a means to control discourse and territory in the Canadian Arctic. Federal civil servants and cruise ship operators produce and perform many ‘Arctics’ that allow Southerners to control the Arctic via discourse and new technologies of power.

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European scientists in Canada: The transatlantic brain drain (2011)

This study focuses on the emigration of scientists from the European Union to Canada, and the resulting ‘brain drain’ for Europe. While brain drain encompasses a wide array of professions and industries, the scientific research community is relatively cohesive, highly internationalized, and affords an arguably significant level of mobility for successful contributors. The European Union has attempted to remedy this loss of ‘star scientists’ by implementing a variety of schemes and initiatives aimed at re-attracting and retaining top scientists in Europe. Through the creation of the European Research Area, the EU has made an effort to better coordinate scientific research and development across member-states. At the same time, the allocation of funding to reintegration grants provides economic incentive for scientists who have left to return to Europe. Both schemes aim to position the European research community as a key player in the global competition for scientific talent. These initiatives notwithstanding, a significant percentage of scientists who have left have Europe have no intention to return.The question arises: why are European scientists emigrating to North America, specifically Canada, and why do they remain there, despite the variety of policies and programs aimed to attract and retain the highly skilled workforce in the European Union? The question is examined through qualitative methods, including both policy analysis as well as primary data gathered from 20 in-depth interviews. The project provides a close-up perspective on the motivations and concerns underpinning the migration decisions of these ‘star scientists’, and the ways in which they navigate not only the research sector, but also the world.

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Outside the international: Roma, Europe, and the leaky valves of modernity (2011)

In the wake of the 2008 Italian census of Roma and declaration of a state of emergency in the regions of Lazio, Campania and Lombardy, I ask why it is that attempting to 'solve' the Roma 'problem' has become such a politically expedient strategy for parties across the political spectrum and throughout Europe. I address this question through the lens of 'the international', and the ways in which Roma have repeatedly been produced as its outside: the other against which the European order is defined. This creation of anoutside to Europe within lies at the heart of the recent upsurge in borderwork conducted at non-traditional borders within Europe, and exposes an important paradox: the 'problem' of outsiders exposed by vacillating borders demands 'the international' be re-secured, and yet it is the very securing of 'the international' that both creates these outsiders and portrays shifting borders as a threat. I take Italy as mycase study to examine how this interplay works to construct Roma as other, interpret this otherness as a threat to the integrity of the Italian state, and demand the spatial removal of Roma (into regulated camps), thus reaffirming their otherness. I therefore suggest that though the freedoms promised within the frame of the international are seductive, perhaps we ought to look elsewhere for our utopias if we are notto perpetuate a system of exclusions within Europe.

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