Thomas Kemple


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


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.

True stories: literary journalism and the making of social knowledge (2018)

One way of thinking about culture is as a means through which structured relationships between people, objects, or meanings are reproduced over time. Using the case of literary journalism, I examine this process by investigating how members of the social world involved in producing literary magazine features collaborate to anticipate the responses and criticisms of an as-yet-unknown public audience by theorizing about the principles and methods particular readers will likely use to make sense of the article once it’s published. This project is based on forty-three primary and over a hundred and seventy-four secondary interviews, in addition to a variety of lectures, articles, panel discussions, and archival materials, selected instrumentally for their capacity to illuminate typical cases, and analyzed using an abductive logic. It traces the production of a typical magazine feature from conception to publication, through the activities of reporting, writing, editing, and fact-checking. I highlight that although reporters and editors develop an embodied capacity for doing their work in roughly the correct way through experience as contributory members of the social world, each member’s idiosyncratic background leads to divergent conceptions of right and wrong in any given interaction; solutions to these disparities have to be negotiated by reference to social objects that are understood to be commonplace among members (including “rules” of genre, structure, fairness, identity, and facticity). As members work toward a consensus, the text-in-progress is revised to account for the members’ divergent ways of seeing, and it develops a capacity to withstand an increasingly diverse range of potential readings; at the same time, any individual’s conception of the rules is clarified. By the time the text is published, and the response of a public readership can be observed, the piece can be read in conjunction with the public response as evidence of the existence and nature of cultural schemas that were purported to have governed its development, thus providing a resource for applying the rules correctly to future projects. This approach highlights how the form and content of even a true account of reality is structured by the obdurate character of social accountability.

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There's no excuse for slowing down": doing gender, race, and class in the third age (2017)

Within social gerontology, the third age is often imagined to be a time of healthy, prosperous, flexible retirement, yet this interpretation can overshadow the experiences of more marginalized elders. Drawing on over 135 hours of participant-observation and twenty-six semi-structured interviews conducted between January and September 2015 at a Vancouver Neighbourhood House, I explicate how elder volunteers and staff take up the third age discourse through their development and implementation of a Seniors’ Drop-In Program. Drawing on feminist gerontology and the sociology of gender, I trace how these low-income elders “do” gendered and generational conceptions of aging through accessible, affordable, productive activity by replicating and revising the third age discourse mediated through institutional texts targeted toward the “boomer” generation. At the same time, elders develop distinct relationships to and perform different interpretations of these Seniors’ Drop-In activities, particularly the multicultural lunch components, based on their intersecting social locations, including generation, class, race, and gender. This thesis also explores the standpoint of staff in order to demonstrate how the work of senior-driven programming is constrained and enabled by grant-based funding and workload pressures articulated through the discourse of managerial efficiency. In sum, this work’s key findings concern how a senior-driven Drop-In Program in a Neighbourhood House context is coordinated by the complementary and contradictory textually-mediated discourses of the third age, senior-driven programming, and managerial efficiency that elders and staff enact and bring into being in particular interindividual and institutional contexts. This dissertation is sociologically significant in centring age and generation within theories of intersectionality and performativity through an inductive, qualitative exploration of low-income elders often erased from dominant third age scholarship, and through an examination of senior-driven program planning dynamics within the unique understudied context of a community-based Neighbourhood House.

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State policy, settlement services, and employment prospects: an ethnographic investigation of immigrant women's social and economic integration in Canada (2016)

Drawing on over 150 hours of participant-observation and 41 semi-structured interviews conducted between September 2013 and April 2014 with the participants and organizers of an employment and leadership skills program for immigrant women at two Neighbourhood Houses in Vancouver, this ethnographic study examines the influence of Canadian immigration policies and settlement services on the employment trajectories of immigrant women. A key research finding concerns how women with precarious legal status and/or limited English language skills negotiate gaps accessing services and employment opportunities, and thus how the prompt provision of settlement supports and work permits would improve immigrant women’s labour market participation and economic standing in Canada. A second key finding concerns the value of settlement-oriented employment programs that recognize and emphasize newcomers’ skills rather than deficits, and that leverage this human capital to promote participants’ social integration and sense of citizenship in Canada. This dissertation is sociologically significant in its contribution to explicating the distinctive institutionalized racial and gender barriers that research participants encountered in their attempts to achieve meaningful employment and full citizenship in Canada. The policy recommendations suggested by this research include: 1) more efficient federal-level procedures for processing immigration applications and issuing work permits, 2) improved access to provincially-funded healthcare services and English language for employment training programs, 3) affordable, employer-recognized programs for assessing foreign credentials, and 4) greater outreach and education about multiculturalism, cultural sensitivity and inclusivity at the local level of settlement service agencies and neighbourhood-based community organizations.

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How to Become an Advice Guru: The New Age Spirit of Entrepreneurial Selfhood (2015)

This dissertation updates Max Weber’s (1904-05) celebrated thesis on the relationship between Protestantism and modern capitalism through an analysis of the interplay between the economic ethics of New Age spiritualism and the economic spirit of online entrepreneurialism. It extends Boltanski and Chiapello’s (1999) discussion of different mutations in the spirit of capitalism by analyzing 21st century religious and entrepreneurial texts, in addition to ethnographic data generated through participant observation and qualitative interviews with 28 professionals who are reinventing their identities as entrepreneurial “advice gurus” at a self-help seminar in the United States. The core argument of this dissertation is that beginning in the mid-1990s, a new spirit of capitalism emerged in the United States that stems from and finds resolution through New Age spiritual movements that blend Eastern and Western religious traditions. To this end, I examine how the calling of the entrepreneur has been supplemented by and transformed into the dharma of the advice guru through a thematic analysis of the manifest and latent content of two self-help texts that display the economic ethics of New Age spiritualism. I also demonstrate how New Age entrepreneurs blend the American ideal of self-invention with a certain popular interpretation of the Hindu principle of reincarnation to construct a relationship between spiritual transformation and upward social mobility. The charismatic form of leadership and sectarian characteristics of the self-help seminar are discussed for how they provide an ideal-typical portrait of the “network capital” (Elliott & Urry 2010) that is required to access this global community. To supplement my analysis of the economics ethics of New Age spiritualism, I draw on principles of poststructuralist theory to reveal the interpretive repertoires of entrepreneurial selfhood that participants use to construct ‘expert’ identities. I conclude with a discussion of how the rational pursuit of self-fulfillment emerges as a key spiritual and economic imperative that distinguishes the New Age spirit of capitalism in the early 21st century. [An errata to this thesis/dissertation was made available on 2016-10-24.]

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Between eviction and existence: urban restructuring and the politics of poverty in Delhi (2014)

This thesis examines the effect of urban planning on poor migrants in Delhi. The thesis begins by tracing the shift from a “passive revolution” in urban planning to a neo-liberal mode of active planning that accentuates capital accumulation in the city. Subsequent chapters examine how this mode of urban planning creates conditions of “structural violence” through large-scale demolition and resettlement that contribute to increasing impoverishment and social suffering in particular neighbourhoods. Critically deploying Partha Chatterjee’s and Sudipta Kaviraj’s complementary theories of Indian democracy, and drawing on seventeen months of ethnographic and documentary research in three neighbourhoods—a ‘jhuggi jhopri settlement’, a ‘transit camp,’ and a ‘resettlement colony’—as well as interviews with Delhi urban planners, the thesis shows how the poor participate through intermediaries; how they negotiate with the state over various kinds of enumeration and proof documents for eligibility and access to welfare services; and how they deal with the judiciary to stall demolition or obtain resettlement plots. A key finding concerns how the state imagination constructs what can be called ‘numerical citizenship’: a peculiar mode of urban citizenship in which minimum residency tenure determines a migrant’s or community’s ability to procure documents for establishing material claims and political belonging in the city. I discuss examples of how Delhi’s urban poor claim, negotiate, perform, and realize numerical citizenship through a range of practices. Through an analysis of legal negotiations in everyday contexts, the project also explores how the poor navigate the judicial system by rejecting legal and social classifications, building social relationships and alliances, and contesting existing land use and class relations. Lastly, the thesis examines the poor’s cultural idioms and strategies of both peaceful and militant resistance to policies that threaten them with eviction or deny them basic services. Here, the activists’ work in marg darshan (path-showing) and chetna badhana (consciousness-raising) is understood to be part of the general rann-niti (game-plan) of the politics of poverty. With a focus on the logic of different modes of political mobilization, the thesis examines how the poor’s political imagination and agency involve participation, negotiation, and resistance to urban planning policies.

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"The centre is everywhere" : Nietzsche's overcoming of modernity through musical dissonance (2011)

This dissertation argues that musical dissonance is a master metaphor in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche claims that musical dissonance constitutes the “foundations of all existence.” I contend that it forms the foundation of a radical, life-affirming, and dynamic epistemology. Musical dissonance provides Nietzsche with the means to “overcome” the ascetic, life-denying, metaphysical philosophies that he believes have enervated and depleted Western civilization since the advent of Platonic and Judeo-Christian thought. An analysis of Nietzsche’s major works through the lens of musical dissonance reveals that it constitutes a powerful extended metaphor throughout his writings, and inspires his understanding of tragedy, science, eternal recurrence, the Übermensch, the will to power, Bildung, and other concepts. The theoretical approach taken is informed by Arnold Schoenberg’s concept of the “emancipation of the dissonance,” which he claims to be the guiding principle of his twelve-tone system of musical composition. Nietzsche “emancipates” dissonance from the constrictions of metaphysical philosophies––a category that includes modern science in Nietzsche’s outlook––in order to facilitate a complete “revaluation of all values,” a project that Nietzsche outlines in his late works, which I contend involves the continual rethinking of all values with respect to a musical, dissonant epistemology. Musical, dissonant thinking does not rely upon a central authority for deriving truth and meaning, but rather a dynamic and pluralistic method of understanding that is without a unitary, fixed centre. This study demonstrates how Nietzsche’s fascination with musical dissonance in his early texts inspired the “revaluation of all values”––an act that represents the overcoming of modernity––through a close reading of The Birth of Tragedy, The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Ecce Homo. Gilles Deleuze, Claude Lévesque, Sarah Kofman, and Bruce Benson are among the other key thinkers whose works inspire the framework for my analysis. The concluding section explores the far-reaching implications of Nietzsche’s musical, dissonant philosophy and aesthetics in the twentieth century through an exploration of its legacy in the writings of Thomas Mann, Theodor Adorno, and Arnold Schoenberg

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In the middle of nowhere? A sociological guide to the beaten tracks of backpacking in the former British Empire (2011)

Since the 1970s backpacking travel has become an increasingly popular and desirable pursuit among young people from western countries. Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet sold young people the practical know-how that would allow them to travel ‘off-the-beaten-track’. The off-the-beaten-track travel experiences of present-day backpackers’ are one way in which youth lifestyle, geography and identity are consumed and produced away from home and apart from the everyday world. This thesis provides an historical, textual and ethnographic analysis of the practices and discourses which distinguish travel from tourism, and it examines how particular destinations and experiences are considered more challenging, and therefore more valuable, than others. In particular it seeks to answer the question of what makes India such a ‘special place’ in the world of backpacking as a ‘litmus test’ for off-the-beaten-track travel. It begins by analyzing the historical precursors and ideological antecedents of the discourses and practices of independent travel and tourism in 19th Europe, with a focus on England and the role played by independent guidebooks in that period. The textual strategies employed in the most popular guidebooks today, those published by Lonely Planet, are then analyzed in connection with the production and consumption of particular backpacking enclaves in Canada, Ireland, and India, where the promise of travel as a self-cultivating, authentic, and valuable activity is realized. Finally, through a combination of detailed, in-depth, qualitative interviews with 24 backpackers in Canada, India and Ireland, historical and contemporary analyses of the Lonely Planet brand and guidebooks, as well as a multi-sited ethnography in three popular backpacker destinations of Vancouver, Delhi, and Cork, the thesis analyzes how the ideological codes of travel and tourism are historically produced, textually and orally mediated, and geographically circulated in the field of backpacking travel.

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Syncretic socialism in post-colonial West Bengal : mobilizing and disciplining women for a ‘sustha’ nation-state (2009)

The discourse of equality, emancipation and dignity for women does not necessarily lead to the formation of an emancipated female subject, but often ends up supporting structures and practices against which the struggle was begun. The thesis develops this argument through a close reading of the textual discourse of the socialist women’s mass organization, the Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Mahilaa Samity (PBGMS). The PBGMS is the largest state unit of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which in turn is affiliated with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the largest communist party in India. While the PBGMS relentlessly fights for women’s rights in public life, an examination of its published materials suggests that its ultimate aim to create a sustha (normal) nation-state, a cohesive society and a happy family turn these rights into new shackles for women. In particular, through a close reading of its publications – including pedagogical booklets, editorials, essays, poems, travelogues and fictional narratives from the periodical Eksathe – the thesis explores how the PBGMS views women instrumentally as reproductive and socializing agents for the supply of future sources of productive labor and as productive beings to act as a reserve force of labor. While comparisons can be made with other countries in the socialist world, in particular China and the USSR, this thesis focuses on PBGMS textual discourse within the specific social and political history of India, in particular Bengal. Through its selective appropriation and use of ideologies from both traditional cultural resources and modern political philosophies, the organization produces a ‘syncretic’ variety of socialism. In particular, by discursively unifying diverse beliefs and tenets the organization ironically produces a narrow nation-state centred orthodoxy rather than a dynamic heterodoxy and pluralism. This research attempts to answer the question: In what ways does the textual discourse of this communist party affiliated women’s mass organization, in pursuit of building a sustha socialist nation-state, attempt to discipline the political constituency of women? Although the political party and its mass organization aim to mobilize women by appealing to their equality and emancipation, this mobilization also seeks to constrain women’s subjectivity and curtail the scope of their emancipation.

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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.

Just drop everything: the implications of reputation scores for the autonomy of gig economy workers (2021)

Gig economy workers are supposed to be afforded some degree of autonomy in exchange for the risks entailed within the independent contractor classification. In the absence of direct supervision and control of the labour process, platforms harness powerful information management technologies to track user activity and counteract worker autonomy through less visible forms of control. Platforms claim to be marketplaces that merely connect clients with workers for a fee, but in practice, their propensity to monitor work activities, evaluate performance and steer behaviour—actions that constitute workplace control—means they operate like a layer of management. Using interview data with eleven gig workers from online labour marketplaces TaskRabbit and Upwork, their respective profile data, and the platforms’ terms and conditions agreements, I adopt Institutional Ethnography to show how workers’ behaviours, attitudes and emotions are shaped in response to a myriad of performance metrics that collectively constitute their reputation. I ask, How are reputation systems configured by gig economy platforms and what are the distinctive features of these systems? How do workers experience and react to these marketplace reputation systems? Subjective client evaluations converge with the platform’s objective metrics to shape reputation scores, creating the conditions under which platforms exert remote control over gig economy workers. Algorithmic management techniques create classification situations whereby workers are sorted and ranked based on the robustness of their behavioural data, bringing more employment opportunities, income and autonomy for those that live up to the expectations of the platforms. Gig workers are expected to behave in ways that align with client and platform interests in order be visible and boost their reputation scores, yet they surprisingly feel free from the platforms’ influence. While interviewees demonstrate they have increased freedoms and flexibility compared to a regular employee, their experiences fall short of an ideal that encompasses a fuller and richer sense of autonomy in ways that call into question their independent contractor status.

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