Strategies for Academic Solidarity: Responding to the Muslim Ban

On Friday, January 27, 2017, the President of the United States, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order halting all refugee admissions for 120 days and suspending entry to the United States for both immigrants and visitors from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for 90 days, during which immigration processes would be reviewed and altered. This order, known to many as the Muslim Ban, came into immediate effect with little explanation of protocol, trapping people on either side of the border and others within the liminal space of airports. While the ban has been temporarily overturned and continues to be fought in the courts, the initial impact has already had devastating effects and many refuse to take the risk to travel to the United States in this climate of uncertainty.

In light of the ban, many in the academic community – individual academics, departments and several institutions – quickly spoke out condemning the ban. As a research collective, we at FEAST also want to explicitly state our opposition to this racist, discriminatory policy and the rhetoric of hatred and fear that it both utilizes and promotes. Considering that thousands of scholars are unable to enter the United States due to this ban, and many more Muslim and racialized scholars feel unsafe doing so due to fear of being similarly targeted or harassed, we have discussed both amongst ourselves and in larger forums what the appropriate action for academics on either side of the border should be, and how best to oppose this exclusionary policy and support those immediately affected.

An early suggestion in these discussions was an academic boycott. The United States is host to many important academic conferences that serve as a key forum for discussing ideas, collaborating and building connections within and between disciplines. If many scholars were going to be shut out as a result of these policies, then perhaps these discussions should not take place without them. As geographers who had planned to attend the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) in April, this question is the subject of continuing debates in our department, but also within our research group.

In particular, we felt that the official statement released by the AAG was weak in comparison to those of other academic societies, and also its commitment in relation to those “affected” by the ban somewhat lacking in detail.

A boycott and withdrawal of academic labour is an important show of solidarity with those who have no choice in the matter. Done collectively, it also sends a clear message that business is not as usual and that there is widespread opposition to acts that affect our academic community. This kind of action can also be effective in spurring change, whether in the form of reallocation of funds or the creation of satellite meetings organized in alternative locations that allow for full participation for those excluded.

However, withdrawing from academic conferences also means that those voices are not present, and some argue that the sharing of critical academic work is even more important in an increasingly hostile political environment. By attending a conference, the opportunity exists for physical disruption and taking up of space, both inside the conference and in collaboration with activists and organizers in place.

Nonetheless, the risk remains that once in attendance, resistance will be reduced to a cursory acknowledgement of the ban and nothing more. These points are not easily tallied and each academic weighing this decision has different positionality and different stakes – personal and professional obligations vary, and not everyone stands to lose the same amount.  Finally, as has been pointed out before, this ban represents a new version of a long standing policy of hostile borders and exclusionary migration practices in the United States and elsewhere. Well before this ban, Muslim and racialized people have encountered discrimination and barriers to entry that are legal, bureaucratic, and financial. So while scholars may be definitively banned from attending conferences at this time, there are many who point out that attendance was never truly an option. How can a response address more than this particular moment, but fight these injustices more globally?

The students and faculty of the University of Toronto’s Geography and Planning department drafted  a statement to the AAG calling for specific actions that should be taken to improve upon their earlier stance, but also to make fundamental changes to the association over a longer time scale. The statement has been shared widely and currently has over 600 signatures from academics all over the world, both by those planning to boycott and those who plan to attend.

As members of FEAST, we agree with this call for action and have decided at this time to move forward with our planned sessions, understanding that there will be gaps in the program as some of our participants opt not to attend. However, we intend to use our time at the AAG (including some of our session time) to highlight how this is not a business-as-usual conference. We also intend to find ways to organize on the ground to make sure that those who are not attending are not forgotten. We believe that the AAG should be taking the necessary steps to reimburse funds to all those who are affected by the ban, not only those who hold a passport from one of the seven countries, but all those who due to personal convictions or unwillingness to submit to harassment are also unable to attend.

In this situation, we do not see the decision to boycott or the decision to attend and organize as existing in opposition to each other, but rather as varied strategies that each have a place in this struggle. There are different ways to be in solidarity with those affected and each person, perspective, and situation will warrant a different strategy. There is a clear need for meaningful long term change within the AAG. In one of the demands, the statement mentioned above also calls for the AAG to, “ support Indigenous sovereignty and social, racial, and environmental justice.” We maintain that this kind of systemic change requires multifaceted approaches from a range of actors. Resistance is not uniform, but if we continue to read the work of those who are directly affected, listen to the voices of those who are marginalized and follow the lead of the communities that are already organizing, it can be unified.


AAG 2017 CFP: ‘Doing’ Critical Human Geography Research? Processes, Practices, Challenges, and Possibilities

CFP: ‘Doing’ Critical Human Geography Research? Processes, Practices, Challenges, and Possibilities

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting
Boston, MA — April 5-9, 2017

What do daily engagements with research look like for critical geographers? How do researchers connect critical methodological frameworks with the methods they use without reproducing dominant subjectivities? Taking guidance from woman of colour scholars (e.g., Ali, 2013; Nagar, 2013) as well as anti-colonial and decolonizing methodologies (e.g., Battiste 2008; Kovach 2009; Smith 1999; Wilson 2008), we wish to expand the conversation about how everyday methodologies in geography work to challenge power dynamics shaped by white supremacy, patriarchy, neo-liberalism, and colonialism.

While critical geographers have articulated a variety of epistemological and methodological commitments (see, for example, Cloke et al., 2004; Gomez & Jones, 2010; Moss 2002; Tickell et al., 2007), figuring out how to put these commitments into practice in ways that challenge existing power relations is often unclear, as critical geographers rarely describe their methods or collaboration processes in detail, and because “geography departments continue to reflect a pervasive persistence of racialized and gendered inequities in the workplace” (Mahtani 2004, 91). The accounts that do exist tend to gloss over challenges and (im)possibilities along the way, particularly in relation to the ways that geographical methodologies often reproduce (white) academics as ‘those who know.’ In this context we are particularly interested in working through the ways that critical methodologies such as self-reflexivity, participatory action-based methodologies, and community-based research can challenge geographers to understand and do new types of research.

Within two consecutive sessions, we seek to increase the transparency of critical geography research by providing space to discuss the nitty-gritty of the process, practices, challenges, and possibilities that characterize this research. In the first paper session, presenters are invited to focus on the methodologies they use in their work, focusing on how critical scholarship influences their everyday concrete methods and research relationships. The goal here is to dig in and describe the actual, real-life processes and practices used to carry out critical geographical research. Potential topics include:

– Examples of difficulties in the field, giving space to scholars to reflect on challenges that are often smoothed out or entirely removed in final written work.
– Sharing frustrations around methods, with the goal of thinking about the (im)possibilities of “critical” academic research.
– Discussing how designing and using methods might change researchers’ understanding of theory (what we know), methods (how we come to know), and how these relate to each other

The second session will be organized as a panel discussion, inspired by “kitchen table reflexivity” (Kohl & McCutcheon, 2014), offering a space for researchers to reflect on the relationships between researchers’ positionality and their research, research methods, and the communities with whom they work. Participants will be posed a series of questions to reflect on, such as:
– How do you negotiate positionality in your work, and how has this changed over time?
– (How) can we disrupt the reproduction of power structures and dominant subjectivities through academic research?
– What does participating in knowledge production processes that speak to/with/through communities mean to you, and (how) do you do it?

Both sessions will involve a mix of senior and junior scholars working on a variety of empirical topics, and will provide plenty of time for question and answer and group discussion. Our hope is to use the papers and discussions as the basis for a book or special issue.

If you are interested in participating in either the paper session or the panel, please contact Sarah Wakefield at before October 25, 2016.


Ali, R. (2015). Rethinking Representation: Negotiating Positionality, Power and Space in the Field. Gender, Place & Culture 22(6), 783–800.

Battiste, M. (2008). Research ethics for protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage: Institutional and researcher responsibilities. Handbook of critical and Indigenous methodologies, 497-510.

Berg, L. D. (2010). Critical human geography. In B. Warf (Ed.), Encyclopedia of geography (pp. 616–621). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Cloke, P. J., Cook, I., Crang, P., Goodwin, M., Painter, J., & Philo, C. (2004). Practising human geography. London, UK; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

England, Kim VL. “Getting Personal: Reflexivity, Positionality, and Feminist Research.” The Professional Geographer 46, no. 1 (1994): 80–89.

Gomez, B., & Jones, J. P. (Eds.). (2010). Research methods in geography: a critical introduction. Chichester, UK; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kohl, E., & McCutcheon, P. (2015). Kitchen table reflexivity: negotiating positionality through everyday talk. Gender, Place & Culture, 22(6), 747–763.

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Mahtani, M. (2004). Mapping race and gender in the academy: The experiences of women of colour faculty and graduate students in Britain, the US and Canada. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 28(1), 91-99.

Moss, P. (Ed.). (2002). Feminist geography in practice: research and methods. Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Nagar, Richa and Susan Geiger. 2007. Reflexivity and Positionality in Feminist Fieldwork Revisited. In eds. Adam Tickell, Eric Sheppard, Jamie Peck and Trevor Barnes, Politics and Practice in Economic Geography. London: Sage, pp. 267-278.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York: Zed books.

Tickell, A., Sheppard, E., Peck, J. A., & Barnes, T. J. (Eds.). (2007). Politics and Practice in Economic Geography. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing.

On Discomfort & Whiteness

This is the second blog post in a series of reflections about our research team’s experiences at the Canadian Association of Food Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, June 2016.

Attending Scarborough Fare, the joint CAFS, ASFS & AFHVS academic conference was a new experience for me. As a first year masters student at my first conference, I expected to feel out of place as I learned my way around this particular space. However, the theme of the conference was also “Global Foodways and Local Foods in a Transnational City” so I was certain that considering my research focus was on local food work and immigrants in Ontario that I would find overlap with my work. What I did not expect was to encounter time and again throughout the conference a distinct lack of discussion around race or colonialism. As a scholar who works through the lenses of race, power, and difference, I took for granted that these issues would be addressed in panels throughout the conference. This is not to say these issues were never raised, as I did attend a few roundtables and panels that made an effort to discuss them. However, it often felt as if discussions would simply mention race or difference as a way to check a box on a list. Over the three full conference days of panels, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated in sessions that seemed to ignore race or simply gloss over it, particularly in sessions that focused on concepts like food justice or intersectionality.

Writing on the whiteness of university spaces, Carol Schick notes that, “…white places produce identities in which codes and expectations of proper white behaviour are vigorously enforced by reiterative, normative practices and designations of what is worth knowing” (2002).  What I was experiencing at the conference falls in line with Schick’s description of whiteness in university space. Whiteness, its practices and behaviours, influenced the focus and the thrust of the conference. The sessions demonstrated that to study immigrants, migrant foodways, and other varieties of marginalized and/or racialized people through the lens of food did not necessarily require scholars to seriously develop an understanding of systemic racism or colonialism.  While the food and culture of racialized people were celebrated, the realities of living in a racist system that disadvantages and targets certain parts of the population is not seen as worth knowing. Difference was celebrated without being problematized. Of course the option was mine (and other scholars who may have noticed) to interrupt this narrative, to ask difficult questions, to raise objections, but not only was the space not particularly conducive of critique, with little time left for meaningful discussion, but as one of few people of colour, a woman and a young student, it seemed out of turn to step in and offer a critique. Whiteness at the conference made me uncomfortable, but I hesitated to challenge or critique it, because I did not want to make others uncomfortable.

“Antiracist work could be described as a politics of discomfort.  This is not to say that we aim to make others uncomfortable but that discomfort might be a consequence of what we aim for:  after all to challenge whiteness is to get in the way of an occupation of space.” (Ahmed 2014).This discomfort is part of the labour of being an academic focused on unsettling whiteness — it is difficult, emotionally, mentally, to challenge these narratives and question these norms. It will be tense and awkward at best, and potentially combative at worst. At times this uncomfortable labour did take place, in my own presentations or alongside my colleagues at our roundtable, but these were spaces where I was scheduled to speak and therefore had a platform. Some tense and uncomfortable conversations were had, but they often stagnated around definitions of key terms (what exactly is racism? who is a settler?), suggesting that some participants were encountering these topics for the first time in a meaningful way.  In writing on the pedagogy of discomfort Boler and Zembylas suggest that, “if this takes place in an emotionally open and safe environment— that nurtures emotions of anger or guilt but challenges them with compassion and courage— there will be possibilities for mutual exploration that also nurture hope and a sense of community for initiating change” (2003, 125). As they suggest, our panel created a space where participants felt comfortable to ask foundational questions and explore feelings of guilt and frustration. It may not have allowed for far reaching discussions of more complicated questions, but it also reinforced that we must not shy away from the emotional labour of initiating uncomfortable conversations as they increase awareness and can lead to meaningful engagement.  To do this it may be necessary to change our viewpoints on discomfort.

I quote Sara Ahmed again as she writes, “Discomfort in other words, allows things to move. Every experience I have had of pleasure and excitement about a world opening up has begun with such ordinary feelings of discomfort, of not quite fitting in a chair, of becoming unseated, of being left holding onto the ground. So yes, if we start with the body that loses its chair, the world we describe will be quite different” (2014).  What if discomfort can be reframed as a positive signal of change, of a shifting of the narrative, of an opening to meaningful conversation? Perhaps if creating discomfort in ourselves and for others can be viewed not as a necessary evil, but as a progressive sign of successful activist work, it will become easier to speak up.


Ahmed, S. (2014, February 3). A Sinking Feeling. Retrieved from

Boler, M., & Zembylas, M. (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, 110-136.

Schick, C. (2002). “Keeping the Ivory Tower White: Discourses of Racial Domination” in Razack, S. (Ed.) Race, space, and the law: Unmapping a white settler society, p. 99-120. Toronto: Between the Lines.


Growing Culturally Acceptable Local Food Systems

Photo by nunavut is licensed under CC2.0

Photo by nunavut is licensed under CC2.0

In most cases when I try to explain in a brief sentence the focus of my research to family or friends unfamiliar with food studies and the recent debates of the field, they walk away with the two words: immigrants and local food. Their follow up question often hinges on the question of how immigrants, particularly new arrivals from countries with distinctly different climates, geographies and cuisines can maintain their traditional diets in a new country. Does supporting locally cultivated and produced food in a new country require giving up traditional diets? The question is a valid one, how can local food movements in the basic sense of food provisioning accommodate for non-local diets? Asked differently, how can products that are not native to Ontario’s local foodshed be produced locally? In some cases it can be effectively impossible. Despite a variety of technological and scientific improvements and changes, Canada, even in its more temperate locations, does not have the appropriate climate to grow certain plants. (Coconuts, plantains, coffee, and mangoes are just a few that come to mind).  However, there are several edible plants that have grown in Canada for generations, but have never been farmed or sold widely for general consumption. Similarly many plants that have not traditionally grown in Canada can thrive in our climate and soil. What has been lacking is often information and political will. This has slowly begun to change and a variety of organizations and actors in Toronto have in recent years been working to research the viability of increasing local production of this produce, which is referred to as world foods, ethnic crops, cultural foods, among other names.

Research has been varied, but largely focused on identifying the barriers to increasing production of ethnic crops, necessary steps to increase support for farmers interested in growing these crops and consumer surveys to evaluate demand (Adekunle et al., 2012.; Feeding Diversity) The Worlds Crop Initiative, a joint partnership of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, The Stop Community Centre, and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre has researched the optimal growing and storage conditions of several of these crops and produced guides that are freely available for those interested in growing them. The McVean Farm Incubator Program run by FarmStart has offered new farmers interested in growing these crops the space and facilities required to get their projects off the ground. Increasing production of Locally Grown Global Crops is even one of the six broad projects supported by the Toronto Food Strategy team. Other initiatives have worked to increase the profile of locally grown crops of this variety, such as the Toronto Environmental Alliance Locally Grown Culturally-Specific Food Guides aimed at Chinese, South Asian, Middle Eastern and African/Caribbean populations. These initiatives show that providing locally grown global crops is definitely on the agenda in agricultural and political conversations about food in Ontario, but the conversation should not end here.

While it is extremely important that the local food system is able to provide a wider variety of produce to cater to the diverse population that lives and eats in Ontario today, to reduce the question of immigrant participation in local food to vegetables is to miss the larger picture. As stated by Hammelman and Hayes-Conroy, “When cultural acceptability becomes little more than access to ‘‘multicultural ingredients,’’ we risk losing sight of the original target—culturally sensitive food practice and policy” (2015, 40).  The local food system needs to move past the simple model of inclusion of immigrants through inclusion of new food items and actually restructure itself in a way that fundamentally represents the variety of people living in Ontario. New immigrants disproportionally experience food insecurity, with 19.7% of respondents compared to the national average of 12.5% (Tarasuk et al., 2013). Improving their rates of food security will require more than simply providing locally grown vegetables that are familiar. The initiatives listed above do not cease to be important, but need to be part of a larger strategy to reform the food system to represent marginalized populations, especially considering the continuing extremely high rates of food insecurity reported by Latin American, Aboriginal and black households. Fostering cultural acceptability in the food system must be seen as a process that is continually negotiated, not a list of produce. To better understand the ways in which the food system is currently failing certain groups, research needs to be conducted directly with these communities to record their stories and viewpoints. This research needs to move past analysing these groups solely as consumers and a potential market, but as actors with complex identities, experiences and viewpoints. Culturally acceptability depends on moving past diverse food provisioning to increasing representation of new immigrants, racialized communities and indigenous communities in the process of food system policy formation.

Read more:

Adekunle, B., G. Filson and S. Sethuratnam. (2012) Culturally appropriate vegetables and economic development: A contextual analysis. Appetite 59 (2012) 148-154

Feeding Diversity. Community Access and Commercialization of World Crops. (2013) Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Toronto Public Health and the Toronto Food Policy Council.

Hammelman, C. and Hayes-Conroy, A. (2015) Understanding Cultural Acceptability for Urban Food Policy Journal of Planning Literature 30(1) 37-48

Kelleher, S, C. Lam, M. Skowronski and V Vaidyanathan. (2009) World Foods, Local Production Report. Ed. Ellise Goarley, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation

Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. (2015). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2013. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF).