Federal Insight Development Grants support early-stage BU research

October 31, 2022

Three Brandon University (BU) projects will benefit from more than $130,000 in federal funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grants program.

Drs. Breanna Lawrence, Cameron Boult and Eftihia Mihelakis are primary recipients of the grants, which support short-term research projects in their early stages. All three BU projects are being carried out over a two-year term.

“The research funded through the Insight Development Grants is early in its development, but the projects are meaningful to our region and our society, and they have the potential to grow and significantly add to our present knowledge,” said Dr. Heather Duncan, Associate Vice-President (Research) at BU. “I’m proud of our researchers for the work that they have put into these projects, and I’m grateful that SSHRC has recognized the benefits that they will bring to our communities.”

A woman smiles in front of a stone wall

Dr. Breanna Lawrence

Dr. Lawrence, an Associate Professor in the Educational Psychology and Student Services Department, will receive $73,906. She will work with Prof. Lisa Wood (BU IshKaabatens Waasa Gaa Inaabateg Department of Visual Art), Dr. Rachel Herron (BU Department of Geography and Environment), and Dr. Rebecca Hudson Breen (University of Alberta), bringing together qualitative research methods and studio-based art creation. The study will explore rural Manitobans’ experiences of precarious work, mental health, and family to ignite reflection and discussion about the future of decent work. Dr. Lawrence and her team will interview families that live in rural Manitoba, and participants will use audio clips, photographs and written statements to document their thoughts and experiences. Prof. Wood will create contemporary portraits, layered mixed media paintings to showcase the results via art installation making use of sound and visual art as well was an interactive online platform.

“Precarious work is an emerging trend in many parts of the world, and this has become increasingly evident since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Lawrence said. “There has been little research into this phenomenon in rural areas, and Brandon is an ideal hub for gathering diverse rural workers for their input. By integrating art creation into this project, we hope to learn more about what precarious work looks and feels like to engage the public in discussions about making work fair, dignified, stable and secure.”

A man smiles in front of a city skyline

Dr. Cameron Boult

Dr. Boult is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy. He has been awarded $28,975 to study the concept of blame and the challenges that criticizing others for their beliefs and behaviours create for society.

“We sometimes disapprove, rebuke and even get angry with one another for forming conclusions or harbouring beliefs we regard as faulty or unfounded,” Boult said. “My project builds on previous research where I examine what role this criticism plays in our social and political lives and whether there may be more fitting and productive ways that we can respond to one another for what we perceive to be shortcomings. With a better understanding of these concepts, we can move away from polarizing public discourse to more productive discussion of the issues and challenges we face.”

Dr. Mihelakis, an Associate Professor in BU’s Department of Francophone Studies and Languages, will receive $27,854 for her research-creation project, “What Lies Beyond the Dust: The Writings of Depression in Marginalized Situations.” In a world rampant with apocalyptic fear, she will look at how the dominant discourse has instrumentalized well-being as a marketing tool for personal success and self-preservation. This discourse has underplayed the spectrum of depression, its sinuous, repetitive, and oft-occlusive manifestations. Literature plays a key role in exploring these multivalent notions of depression and is giving voice to the ways in which it is lived by marginalized realities and characters. This research-creation approach has two components: 1) to think theoretically and critically about how literature, from the 1990’s onward, proposes an ambivalent perspective of depression in a world that is fraught with multiple forms of desertification (food, medical, community-based, etc.) and 2) write a creative non-fiction essay about depression in marginalized situations (rurality, linguistic and ethnic minority experiences, gender marginalized perspectives, etc.).

A woman stands in a field

Eftihia Mihelakis (photo by Félix Boissonneault)

“Medical desertification is common in rural and remote areas, where services are unavailable for many people who need them,” Dr. Mihelakis said. “This is particularly true for marginalized populations, who for reasons related to language, culture, gender or race struggle to find treatment or community that is appropriate and beneficial for them. This project was inspired by the multiple deserts that exist in the Canadian Prairies, but the problem far outreaches that of this specific geographic setting. Literature plays a key role in mapping the ways in which global realities affect intimate spaces of mental health. By studying and discussing these narratives through literary studies and creative writing, we can gain insight into how depression, one form of mental health, has multiple facets of which we are only beginning to unearth its complexities.”