Pierre Walter


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Graduate Student Supervision

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

Understanding decolonial learning in the climate justice movement: a decolonial feminist autoethnography (2022)

In 2016 I took to the streets with thousands of others to march in opposition to the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline, a project intended to carry bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands to the west coast of Canada. The pipeline has been met with sustained opposition from climate and environmental justice activists, as well as Indigenous communities fighting the project on the basis of Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Not long after becoming involved, I began to think about the social movement as a pedagogical space. As climate and environmental justice activists work with Indigenous communities in opposition to the fossil fuel industry, what are we learning? Specifically, what are activists and organizers learning about colonization and decolonization? Is decolonial learning taking place in Indigenous led opposition to the fossil fuel industry? If so, how? My research explores the decolonial learning that is taking place as climate justice activists work in solidarity with Indigenous communities. As a white, non-Indigenous woman, I used decolonial feminist theory to position myself in relation to the project. From this theoretical grounding, I relied on critical autoethnographic methods. The result is a critical autoethnographic story — a weaving of my own experience with the experiences of other activists and organizers as we learn to decolonize mind-spirit-body in and through social action with Indigenous communities. The narrative begins with an introduction to the movement and an invitation into a community where learning is taking place. It then explores decolonial learning — a process of unsettling ourselves in order to understand the historic and continued colonization of both Indigenous peoples and the Earth. Decolonial learning is a messy process of unlearning colonial habits of mind, body and spirit and replacing coloniality with new ways of thinking, feeling, being and doing. When we have begun to do the work of decolonial learning, we can better show up in decolonizing solidarity, a rich place to learn decolonial alternatives. Ultimately, this autoethnography tells the story of both my own and other activists’ experiences as we begin to unlearn coloniality, learn to imagine decolonial futures, and more importantly how to act toward them.

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"Captive" subjects?: higher education and social mobility in "postcolonial" Cambodia (2021)

My dissertation problematizes the taken-for-granted colonial doxic linkage between higher education and social mobility introduced by the French colonial administration in Cambodia in the 1860s. The study examines the processes underpinning the pursuit of higher education as an avenue for social mobility in “postcolonial” Cambodia, and posits that this colonial doxa continues to be reproduced in contemporary Cambodian society. The doxa is reproduced through colonial residue present in Cambodian society, neocolonial agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank, and neoliberal capitalism. Conceptually, the study develops a theory of social practice in “postcolonial” Global South societies by expanding Bourdieu’s constructs and adding concepts pertinent to “postcolonial” Global South societies. These include colonial habitus, indigenous habitus, colonized field, gender-embedded capitals, community cultural wealth, working-class cultural complements, and Southern agency. The study draws on life-history interviews with twelve participants who were originally from marginalized socio-economic backgrounds across Cambodia. The study reveals the complexities of forces that facilitate and constrain the participants’ journeys of social mobility, particularly the family, social networks, and the broader socio-cultural framework. Findings highlight an interplay between internal forces of the socio-cultural tradition and external forces shaped by coloniality. Women’s experiences are marked by strategic maneuvering within the socio-cultural traditions, illustrating their “situated” Southern agency. Overall, the journey of social mobility is a familial/collective, rather than an individual, endeavor. Social mobility is defined as resistance to the disadvantages of being from the marginalized social class and, for women, an emancipation from the constraints of socio-cultural norms. The aspirations for social mobility through higher education, however, are enveloped in the colonial doxa framed within the confines of individualistic economic successes, indicating the continued enslavement of the minds of the colonized in “postcolonial” societies. The study has major implications for rethinking educational development in “postcolonial” Global South societies, and suggests that contextually relevant approaches to local community development be reflected in national development policies and practices. It contributes an “indigenous” Cambodian lens on Western concepts, which will in turn refashion our conceptual and theoretical understandings of higher education and social mobility from a “postcolonial” Global South perspective.

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What characteristics account for who participates in adult basic education at Vancouver Island University? A case study of policy and practice (2019)

This study is an in-depth examination of what accounted for participation in Adult Basic Education (ABE) at Vancouver Island University (VIU) from 1995 to 2015. I use a qualitative case study and discourse analysis to investigate participation in relation to how policies, perceptions, and contexts influence understandings of participation in ABE at VIU. I consider what other scholars have said about participation in ABE, particularly in regard to barriers to participation and student motivation. In particular, I draw on ideas presented in studies done by Rubenson and Desjardins (2009) and Boeren (2011) on how participation in adult education is impacted by power and governmentality located in welfare regimes and their associated policy structures. I take this idea a bit further by studying one institution in depth to learn that power and governmentality are present at macro, meso and micro levels. I then focus on how governance structures shape understanding and control who participates at the local level. In this way, I fill a gap in current literature on participation in adult education by explaining how various actors make meaning of policy in their local context and how these same meanings contribute to finding alternative solutions to longstanding participation problems.

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Community Member Learning in a Community-Based Ecotourism Project in Northern Vietnam (2015)

Tourism development sometimes focuses too much on short term monetary benefits and inadvertently causes environmental and social degradation. Community-based ecotourism (CBET) is an alternative model of tourism development that has the potential to avoid certain negative side-effects while promoting environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability. Adult learning and education and gender issues are two critical but under-researched areas in ecotourism development. Informed by a combination of theoretical concepts in adult learning, environmental adult education, and women's empowerment in community development, this study examines the content, process, and outcomes of community member learning in three aspects of a CBET project in Vietnam. These include: 1) The development and management of the CBET project; 2) The protection and conservation of the local environment; and 3) Local women's empowerment. Field research for the study was undertaken on a model CBET project in Giao Xuan commune near Xuan Thuy National Park, Vietnam, a wetland recognized for its importance to environmental conservation by the Ramsar Convention. The study took an interpretive case study approach incorporating qualitative research methods of interviews, participant observation, and document analysis. Thirty-one research participants took part in the study, including seven project staff and consultants, and twenty-four community members. Study findings indicate that even though there is much room for the improvement of the planning and implementation of the CBET project, community members in the Giao Xuan CBET project have actively learned to make CBET an effective strategy linking the development of ecotourism with sustainable development. The CBET project has brought a new source of income to the local community, promoted local environmental conservation and made positive changes in local gender roles and relations. Study findings contribute to knowledge of the effectiveness of CBET as a means of community development, the role of adult learning and education in CBET, and the integration of a gender perspective into the planning and implementation of CBET.

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Knowledge economy discourses and language regulation: An analysis of policy processes in adult English language education in Canada (2013)

This thesis examines the policy processes, social and power relations, and textual practices that have come to regulate English language education and assessment of internationally educated professionals (IEPs) who immigrate to Canada. During migration and settlement processes, IEPs whose first language is not English undergo assessment of their English language abilities before they can begin practicing in their professional field. Within discourses of building a global knowledge economy, where knowledge workers move across national borders and are expected to demonstrate English language proficiency, variation in communicating in English is constructed as a problem. Different ways of speaking English can become a barrier to labour market integration for IEPs. The Canadian government’s policy response to this problem has been the development of a competency-based language framework to regulate and standardize the assessment of immigrants’ English language proficiency. This study analyzes the tensions and struggles involved in standardizing and regulating the English language and its assessment in relation to knowledge economy discourses. Employing Dorothy E. Smith’s (2005) institutional ethnography, key reports and policy documents (e.g. The Canadian Language Benchmarks) were analyzed. The study then explored the experiences of language experts (the researchers/consultants, teachers, and provincial government administrators) who are responsible for profiling the English language demands of various professions (e.g. nursing, engineering, accounting) for the development and implementation of profession-specific language exams and programs. The study documented competing interests and conflicting worldviews on the purposes and processes of English language assessment. It also analyzed how textual practices were informed by knowledge economy discourses. The findings contribute to existing research on foreign credential recognition by demonstrating how the power relations and dominant discourses embedded in policy processes of language assessment significantly contribute to the (non)-recognition of IEPs’ professional knowledge and skills. The study also contributes to the limited research on the CLB by focusing on the labour market integration of IEPs in relation to knowledge economy discourses. Finally, the findings contribute to theoretical and empirical research in which language is understood as a social practice, drawing attention to the problematic of standardizing language and assessment practices in work and professional contexts.

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Local negotiation of globalised educational discourses: the case of Child Friendly Schools in rural Cambodia (2013)

Despite massive donor aid to the education sector over the past two decades, school achievement in Cambodia remains poor. Key challenges include low survival rates, limited contact hours, poor literacy skills, and gender disparity. The question of why basic education continues to fail Cambodian children catalysed this research. This feminist postcolonial inquiry analysed the interface between the global and the local as expressed in Child Friendly Schools (CFS) policy to understand how local Cambodian communities negotiate hegemonic transnational influences. It explored how schools and communities understand and implement CFS on their own terms and how concurrent global discourse about gender equality has impacted gendered identities and relations. This “vertical case study” shows how exogenous influences are mediated through local perspectives. At least seven critical elements of the Cambodian socio-cultural milieu (worldview, protracted conflict, educational history, political system, poverty, gender perspectives, educational philosophy) converge to shape micro- (school, village) and meso-level (national) response to macro-level (global) influences. While numerous international norms have been institutionalised as policy, many have not been internalised. Local response to global educational discourses takes five forms: deployment, incorporation, adaptation, contestation, and resistance. In some cases, the response is wilful and deliberately negotiated. In other cases it may reflexively arise from conflicting values; witness, for instance, traditional perspectives on gender and gender equality. While homogenisation of basic education clearly occurs at the rhetorical level, hybridity characterises actual implementation. Cambodia’s negotiation of international norms has resulted in poor quality education; much educational reform has been in form rather than in substance. Study findings show that gender norms, as expressed in school-related texts and relationships, have not been significantly influenced toward gender equality. Rather, the male-centric status quo is supported through teacher attitudes, textbook content, the neutering of gender mainstreaming processes, and the defining of equality in essentially economic terms. A more coherent and contextualised (and therefore relevant and vernacular) version of elementary education can be achieved by applying a social justice frame which necessarily includes dialogue around cultural values. For policy sharing to succeed, senders and recipients alike must attend seriously to local context, particularly how worldview mediates practice.

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The art of becoming: filmmaking and performance on Cambodian postcoloniality and diaspora (2012)

Focusing on visual culture and artistic practice/performance, this study examines how individuals of Cambodian heritage living in Canada, Japan, and Cambodia sustain networks beyond borders through the application of technology, and what forms of expression using digital and non-digital media are actively practiced on a daily basis. Drawing on the concept of “heterotopia” by Michel Foucault (2002) and Trinh T. Minh-ha (1994)’s version of the notion of “hybridization”, I aim to attain the following three conceptual objectives: (1) to uncover the research participants’ (re)actions to the dominant meaning and representation of Cambodia, the people, and culture created by the media (i.e., TV, newspapers, magazines, etc.); (2) to show various forms of artistic practice and performance by the participants (e.g., photographing, filming, performing, painting, blogging, writing books, and teaching art); and (3) to propose a novel approach for education and research, which brings a critical lens in dealing with the issues of immigration and taking into account the significance of the arts for the daily lives of people living in the digital age. This study employs interviews and video recordings conducted in Ottawa, Tokyo, Hiratsuka, and Phnom Penh—the cities where the study participants reside. I apply a “speaking nearby” position as practiced by Trinh (1982) and incorporate film production and performance within the film. From the attempt to interweave these research methods and merge the boundary between the text and the image emerge not only diverse perspectives and forms of expression of the research participants in regards to his/her-story, home, food, language, education, time, space, and dwelling, but also intricate and heterogeneous modes of being and becoming of people in the globalizing times.

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Social movements as learning communities: Chilean exiles and knowledge production in and beyond the solidarity movement (2011)

The atrocities committed by the military in Chile after the armed forces seized power in1973 horrified Chileans and people around the world who had been following events in Chile foryears prior to the coup. Together with the resistance in Chile, the transnational solidaritymovement integrated by Chilean exiles and non-Chileans across the globe played a major role inending the dictatorship. Since in-depth empirical studies of social movement learning are sparsethis study addresses this gap as well as the ones in the existent research on the Chilean solidaritymovement in Canada and elsewhere, the political activities of Chilean exiles in Canada and theChilean solidarity movement specifically from a learning perspective.The purposes of this research, therefore, were to document and understand collectivelearning processes among solidarity movement participants and to contribute to the empiricaland theoretical social movement learning scholarship. This study employed qualitative historicalresearch methods, including oral history interviews and reviewing formal and informal archives.The conceptual tools used to understand solidarity movement learning and knowledgeproduction drew broadly on new social movement thought and in particular on Freire, Gramsciand Habermas, which enabled an analysis of wider social forces, the specific pedagogies of thesolidarity movement and the connections between the two.The findings speak to the value of a varied repertoire of action which merges the politicalwith the cultural and which blends the intellectual with the emotional and the sensory. They alsopoint to the power of artistic forms of expression for articulating and communicating socialmovement messages and for expressing identities. In addition, the findings show the local,experiential knowledge generated in social movements is vital to achieving movement aims, tocritical learning and transformation, and to constructing individual and collective socialmovement identities. The study concludes that understanding social movements as learning communities is essential because it foregrounds the value and legitimacy of movementknowledge and the centrality of learning and knowledge production to movement aims and to thesignificance of movements for movement members, their allies and the public.

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Toward transformative learning and a transnational feminist pedagogy : experiences of activist-facilitators working in development (2009)

The purpose of this study was:1) to explore how critical reflection (as part of praxis) is understood and experienced by activists facilitating participatory workshops; and 2) to understand how these activist-facilitators identify and position paradoxes and possibilities in their development work, including the experiences of power and transformation therein. By examining how activists, like myself, understand and practice critical reflection in relation to the facilitation of participatory workshops and how that reflection informs praxis – a key component of transformational learning – this study deconstructs participatory methodological practices within the context of development work. The study is positioned at the interface of transformative learning, activism, and participatory development and framed by transnational feminist pedagogy. The study used qualitative methods informed by feminist perspectives. The study participants were a diverse group of fourteen Canadian women, including myself, who have varied experiences as facilitators of women’s rights and gender equality workshops in transnational locations. Through unstructured interviews and focus groups, the participants were questioned about pedagogical and political aspects of their work as Minority World activists. Four key themes in activist-facilitation experience were identified. They are: understandings and misunderstandings of critical reflection as a pedagogical practice; the often paradoxical ways that activist play out positions of power; how activists identify possibilities and paradoxes in working in dominant and participatory development paradigms; and opportunities for personal or social transformation. Working in teams and with allies, nurturing connections with others, dismantling hierarchies and encouraging collaborative models of learning were all recognized as important ways to build upon a key learning in the study – facilitation as a sustained practice. A lack of conceptual clarity around critical reflection as a pedagogical practice however, demonstrated the need for additional efforts toward achieving a co-intentional practice between learners and facilitators.The political/transformative components of this research are noteworthy because they seek to validate the work of activists, to share strategies that resist hegemonic practices, and to enhance the development of transnational feminist pedagogies. In this way critical reflection was envisioned as part of praxis and transforming life-long learning.

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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.

The opioid crisis and harm reduction in Vancouver's DTES: an appreciative inquiry of adult education approaches and the challenges of social media use by public health workers and peer educators (2021)

This qualitative study focused on how public health workers as adult educators in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) are creating supportive environments to foster community, education for equitable participation, empowerment and improved educational programming to address the current opioid crisis. Drawing on the theory of community empowerment as a conceptual framework, the study sought to answer four research questions through a process of Appreciative Inquiry: (a) What challenges and successes do grassroots approaches to public health encounter in promoting harm reduction activities? (b) What educational roles do residents of the Downtown Eastside play in harm reduction strategies? (c) How do health workers use social media as part of their work in Vancouver? (d) What public education strategies could be used to heighten the vitality of public health education in the Downtown Eastside?An appreciative inquiry methodology was employed to understand the current working relationships and aspects of community culture and public education that are proving effective in addressing the opioid crisis in the Downtown Eastside, and how social media platforms or apps are used for education and positive social change. Data for the study was collected through a view of media and other sources, and AI interviews with four academic experts on the opioid crisis in Vancouver. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded for themes.The four study findings were: (a) grassroots efforts such as face to face meetings by public health workers have proven effective in engaging with people who use drugs; (b) social media usage by public health workers for increased harm reduction has potential, but also a number of limitations; (c) social media as a community support requires deeper consideration and investigation for more positive results in communities affected; and (d) a two-way adult education and learning process is taking place in these communities, where people who use drugs are seen as experts alongside others involved in community education around the opioid crisis. These study results have important implications for community empowerment theory and public health programmes designed for adult learners situated in settings where there is high evidence of opioid addiction and overdose.

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A gender analysis of Iranian middle school textbooks (2013)

This study examines gender inequity in three Iranian middle school textbooks, and explores the efforts that Iranian women make to adopt, negotiate and resist the sexist indoctrinations of the textbooks. This thesis consists of two phases. The first phase contains a content analysis of the grade 6 Farsi Language Arts, grade 7 English as a Foreign Language, and grade 8 Natural Sciences textbooks taught in the academic year 2011-2012 in Iran. The second phase of the thesis analyzes the oral history interviews conducted with three female engineers regarding their K-12 and university education in Iran. The findings of the content analysis reveal that sexist indications permeate Iranian textbooks. Compared to men, women have a pale presence in the books. Women and girls are depicted, for the most part, in the domestic sphere, and their role as mothers and nurturers are stressed in stories, poems, and illustrations. An analysis of the women’s interviews and archival documents; however, indicate that despite the sexist instructions of the textbooks, Iranian women are endeavouring to destabilise the cultural and political structures that curtail their rights. Today Iranian women are actively present in the public sphere; some of them are stepping into territories that have been long regarded as male-only grounds. By so doing, these women are gradually dismantling patriarchal systems of power.

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Learning our histories at Kits House- a search for decolonizing place-based pedagogies (2013)

This study investigates a set of decolonizing place-based pedagogies and their potential to facilitate learning among non-Indigenous learners in Kitsilano, Vancouver. I explore using neighbourhood history as a way to open dialogue about the present-day implications of colonization. In this action research project, I facilitated a series of three workshops with seven adults at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (Kits House). I invited participants to research forgotten Indigenous, immigrant and settler histories and to share photos of what they had learned about the Westside of Vancouver. In the workshops I discussed how Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations lived, sometimes seasonally, in what is now a city park (Vanier Park), and how colonization operated to displace these Nations. As well, participants were invited to envision how to acknowledge forgotten histories in their soon-to-be redeveloped neighbourhood house. Through participant observations at the workshops and subsequent semi-structured interviews, I recorded participants’ views and what they had learned about (de)-colonization, as well as, their suggestions for acknowledging histories in their new neighbourhood house. Research findings highlight the challenges of facilitating decolonizing place-based pedagogies as a non-Indigenous facilitator, with predominately non-Indigenous learners. In the first workshop, the invitation to learn about local histories was too open-ended and allowed participants to research visitor-settler histories without understanding these histories in the context of colonization. In future workshops more attention needs to be paid to the questions posed by the facilitator to re-focus learning on the colonial relationships between Indigenous, immigrant and visitor-settlers. Although sharing stories about the colonization of Snauq / Kits Indian Reserve / Vanier Park did spark dialogue about colonization and reconciliation, these discussions did not lead to an articulated understanding of decolonization among participants. In the action-planning phase of the project, participants offered specific ideas for representing histories at Kits House, but they did not explicitly discuss decolonizing these historical narratives. Although I set out to facilitate decolonizing place-based learning, I facilitated a smaller first step in the participants’ and my own learning journey. Based on my research findings, recommendations for refining decolonizing place-based pedagogies and suggestions for decolonizing histories at Kits House are offered.

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