Pictured: Team photo in front of Kline’s "lab" house, from left to right: Matthew Gervais (SFU), Sereima Doge (Fiji National University), Michelle Kline, Salote Vudiniabola (Fiji National University), Eroni Delai (University of the South Pacific). Doge, Vudiniabola and Delai are Fijian undergraduate research assistants who worked for Gervais and Kline in 2017 in Yasawa-i-rara village.

Faculty, Award

Assistant professor Michelle Kline awarded SSHRC Insight Development Grant

July 31, 2019
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Assistant professor of psychology Michelle Kline has been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant worth up to $71,701 for her project, “Where Parents Come From: How Socioecology shapes parental learning opportunities and strategies.”

The focus of Kline’s project is aimed at determining how culture and social learning affect human behaviour, including child rearing and child development. Since 2008, she has participated in field site research in communities beyond Western societies, with her current research taking place in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji.

“When I work in Fiji, I live in the communities at the invitation of my hosts in the village,” Kline says. “My research is embedded in relationships with people in the community. The communities there continue to generously welcome my research team, including my collaborator and spouse Matthew Gervais, to experience life in their villages. In these locations, people’s lives are tightly intertwined with their kin, and people support and learn from each other every day. This is a great setting to study informal learning, as well as community-based childrearing. As a guest in these communities, I have a strong ethical obligation to do research in a way that benefits the community, and that is consistent with their values.”

Pictured: Kline with the Yasawa-i-rare community, heading to a year end fishing and beach barbecue expedition. Photo credit: Matthew Gervais

The collectivistic environment of Fijian communities is quite a contrast to what Canadians are accustomed to, who Kline says are more likely to move between cities and have children later in life. As a result, new parents in Canada are likely to have few community ties, live far from their own parents, and have very little experience caretaking by the time they have children.

For Canadians, Kline notes that, “learning how to parent in this context poses a puzzle for parents who don’t have the benefit of built-in family and community support: from whom do they learn about parenting? How do they decide which sources of information are trustworthy?”

Kline aims to build on the knowledge she gained during her time in Fiji by using her findings to develop a similar program in Canada.

Pictured: Kline with a group of kids at a school in Bukama village, waiting to be driven back to Yasawa-i-ara village.

“The SSHRC-funded project in Vancouver is an effort to build the same kind of community-based research program here,” Kline says. “I’m centering the research in the community in which I currently live. To do this, I am building a long-term collaboration with a community centre that will reach beyond a single project or grant. I am thankful to the Hastings Community Centre, including Karen Chow and Janice Manfron, for collaborating with me to make this research possible.”

In addition to her own research site in Vancouver, Kline is also working alongside fellow SFU psychology associate professor Tanya Broesch in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and Robin Nelson of Santa Clara University, in suburban neighborhoods in Toronto, Ontario. Kline hopes to compare how parents problem-solve across communities that differ in the kinds of support available to parents.

In the future, Kline hopes to continue her work in Fiji while developing her SSHRC project. She is also currently recruiting students to apply to Psychology’s PhD program this fall to begin working with her on the project in fall 2020.

“What I’m very excited about is that this grant allows me to recruit and fund a graduate student to work on the project, and to co-author research papers with me,” says Kline. “It’s important to me as a scholar to train future colleagues, and having funding for a student means I can make my research group as inclusive as possible by ensuring folks can pay their way through school.”