Introducing Dr. Dara Culhane, CERi Researcher-in-Residence

August 16, 2022

By Grey Nguyen


CERi is excited to welcome SFU Professor of Anthropology Dr. Dara Culhane as a Researcher-in-Residence from May to December 2022.

Dr. Culhane has been at SFU since the mid-90s. “My doctoral research was focused on looking at how legal and discussions and debates are brought into play in the courtroom, where people take account of different ways of interpreting,” she said.

Culhane's early work offers an in-depth analysis of Indigenous title recognition and litigation in BC during the 90s. The examination of cultural values and biases in the courts toward Indigenous cases was provided as a means to differentiate the Indigenous voices that had been excluded from conventional perspectives. 

Subsequently her work has expanded to include Performance Studies, Gender and Sexuality, and Irish Studies. Throughout her career she has been particularly interested in examining the depiction of women's images and women's voices. In her co-edited book with Leslie Robertson (UBC) In Plain Sight: Reflections on Everyday Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver, published in 2005, they present the untold life stories of the women who were living there and challenged the stereotypical assumptions people hold of the area’s residents.

We didn’t see a lot of discussion by women, who were saying that they were involved with drugs then and now, or about how they came to be involved. We asked: how do the women want to represent themselves. She said. “It was very much about trying to find ways for women to tell their life stories and to be able to tell them in ways that they wanted to, not the way media outlets want to portray them.

In 2013, Culhane moved her research focus to Ireland where her work was inspired by stories from within her family and from an archive of her correspondence with them, over three generations. She wrote and performed an ethnographic play called “Hear Me Looking At You” which looks at the fear women experience as they move back and forth between Ireland and Canada.

It is fascinating to see how much these stories remain as part of Diaspora Studies and discussions that still aren't talked about, or that are still very difficult to talk about, such as unwanted pregnancies.

In the coming months, Culhane will work with Sarah Turner, instructor, and faculty presenter of the Centre for Excellence in Education, to provide walking tours and explore people's relationship with diverse neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver, and how people experience being in a neighbourhood that they may not know well and the assumptions they make about it and how they fit within it. In the fall they will present a series of pedagogical workshops that will discuss their reflections on the tours, and their relationship with place. 

“The greatest finding of my research? I know it sounds ridiculous, but I mean, when all is said and done, people and their stories are always the greatest findings of my research.”

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