Meet Heather Snell - Graduate Program Coordinator, Cultural Studies

Graduate Studies

Heather Snell, Graduate Program Coordinator, Cultural StudiesThe Faculty of Graduate Studies recently connected with the Cultural Studies Graduate Program Coordinator, Dr. Heather Snell to talk about her research, the importance of research methods, and the Cultural Studies program.

How long have you been at the University of Winnipeg, and what is your area of research?

I have been at the University of Winnipeg for ten years now, researching and teaching in postcolonial cultural studies and young people’s texts and cultures.

What led to your interest in this area?

I’ve always been interested in culture, particularly in that of other places. I became interested in the histories, legacies, and cultural effects of colonialism during the second year of my B.A. in English at the University of Guelph, when I had the opportunity to take a course in Commonwealth Literature. While the term “commonwealth” has since been largely replaced by “postcolonial,” that first introduction proved to be instrumental in steering me to the place I occupy now. My interest in young people’s texts and cultures came later, during my graduate studies at Western University, where I taught Children’s Literature. Around that time representations of children and youth in postcolonial texts designed for adults were becoming fashionable in Postcolonial Studies. Coinciding with this upsurge in scholarly interest in children within studies of colonialism and its legacies was an increase in the publication of and interest in Indigenous children’s and young adult literature in Canada and in young people’s texts from the former European colonies. It occurred to me that dialogue across the fields of Postcolonial Studies and Young People’s Texts and Cultures, which rarely seemed to speak to one another, would lead to new insights in both and, of course, in our understanding of how ‘the child’ and ‘childhood’ get taken up in places where discourses mobilized during the colonial period have consigned - and in many cases continue to consign - adults to the realm of infancy. Even those colonies that achieved Independence are still frequently treated with a paternalistic attitude within the international community and through the mobilization of globalizing discourses. It is my contention that some of the most revolutionary creative work happening today in such places involves reclamations of the figure of the child. I examine some of this work in my monograph currently in progress, entitled “Reading Urban Poverty: Children and Youth, Global Visual Culture, and Postcolonial Counter-Imaginaries.”

As the new Graduate Program Coordinator for Cultural Studies, what are your plans for the year?

Chairing the Graduate Studies Committee, meeting with current students, and answering inquiries from prospective students. Interest in our program is increasing every year, much of it from outside of Manitoba. Many of our students now hail from other parts of Canada, as well as from other countries. One of the goals of our committee this year and next will be improving our website, which is perhaps one of the most important sources of information about what we do in Cultural Studies at the UW. We have plans to highlight the ways in which graduate students benefit from and help to reinvigorate the university’s research culture, not just through their participation in graduate programming but also through their roles as tutors, facilitators, and research assistants. Since the inception of the M.A. Cultural Studies program the opportunities for collaboration between students and faculty members have increased considerably. Some of our students work quite closely with faculty members, who help to teach about and train them in the research process, from the questions that help to guide good research to the nitty-gritty of finding, sorting, summarizing, and editing, to ethical considerations and protocols. This year we intend to include some examples of such collaboration and learning on our website, with the hope that we can convey a sense of what happens beyond preparing for and participating in M.A. Cultural Studies courses.

You teach Research Methods (GENG-7103), which students in the program are required to take.  Could you tell us more about the course and some of your aims within the course?

Research Methods and Practice is a core course in the program designed to introduce students to a field with often ambiguously defined methods and practices. We cover a number of key topics, themes, and problems throughout the course, such as positioning oneself in relation to objects of study, strategies for dealing with difficult knowledge, and bringing theory into practice. While students do not write a major research paper in this course, the reports and presentations they are required to do provide them with opportunities to practice summarizing complex cultural studies projects, identifying and assessing the methods and practices employed, and coming up with solutions for improvement. The question, ‘How would I do better if this were my project?’ is often at the heart of our discussions throughout the term. By the end of the course students are often much better at describing cultural studies research in their own words and articulating both what’s at stake in that research and the implications of the practitioners’ methodological choices.  Since method is not separate from, but is, rather, entangled with theory, there is productive overlap between this course and GENG-7112 Topics in Cultural Theory.

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