Julie MacArthur receives Dean's Convocation Medal

June 12, 2013

As atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses continue to hit new highs and global climate talks continue to stall, it is more pressing than ever to understand how Canadians can create more sustainable energy systems.

Dr. Julie MacArthur's groundbreaking research analyzes how political economy factors of ownership and democratic control intersect with the drive to green electricity across Canadian provinces. Her work contributes to a growing body of research arguing that the main challenges in building sustainability are political rather than primarily technological. She details the role that community controlled electricity co-operatives have played in generating, distributing and building local acceptance of new renewables in a time of great change for provincial power sectors. Over more than four years of interviews with electricity companies, policymakers and analysis of electricity data her doctoral research highlights the complex relationship between electricity policy, sustainability and community energy development. This work provides crucial new comparative data for Canadians on the potential as well as the limitations of co-operative actors in the power sector.

During her graduate career, Dr. MacArthur's work has been recognized with a range of highly competitive awards by national and international organizations. These include a SSHRC Doctoral Award, a Margaret Dale Philp Award from the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Michael Stevenson Graduate Scholarship in Political Science from SFU and the Common Ground Publishing Graduate Scholar Award. In May 2013 she was also awarded the Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science Graduate Scholar Award, which includes a publishing contract for a bibliography on 'Economic Democracy and Environmental Governance'. This highly competitive award is only given to 5 students per year in each subject area internationally.

These accolades reflect her commitment to conducting policy relevant research and communicating this with passion and clarity in a range of fora. Dr. MacArthur has a lengthy publication record of journal articles, conference presentations, book chapters and book reviews, which is capped by the interest from UBC Press in publishing the manuscript of her dissertation as a book. 

As a graduate student, she was also actively engaged in her community, including producing radio shows, organizing and facilitating at conferences, writing an editorial for the Vancouver Sun and, most recently, presenting an intervenor statement to the Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. In other words, this work is  not “just research” for Dr. MacArthur: it is a way of life and a way for her to change the world for the better by contributing to informed community mobilization and effective policy-making.

Dr. Marjorie Griffin Cohen, her supervisor, says, "Julie MacArthur's thesis was deemed by her examining committee to be highly original and of exceptional quality.  It deals with changes in the energy sector in Canada and the space this gives for new energy cooperatives to develop.  It is a pioneering work on an entirely new area of study, one that reflects Dr. MacArthur’s community-based activism and research interests as well as her extraordinary talent as a scholar."

This summer, Dr. MacArthur will be moving to Auckland, New Zealand, to take up a faculty position in the Political Studies and Master of Public Policy programs at the University of Auckland. Her research focus in New Zealand will be on comparative environmental policy with an emphasis on renewable energy and democratic institutional innovations. This will involve investigating the role of aboriginal and community-based actors in energy projects in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK and Japan. She will maintain her British Columbia roots after the transition to Auckland: as a collaborator on a SSHRC Project Development Grant on a Scaling Innovation for Sustainability project with the BC Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA) and as a principal in the Incipe Worker Co-operative.

She says, in closing, "The mentorship of my supervisor, Dr. Marjorie Griffin Cohen, was invaluable to the successful completion of this project. She, together with my committee members Dr. Stephen McBride and Dr. Genevieve Fuji Johnson, set an inspiring bar for research into complex public policy issues of practical relevance to Canadians as well as communication of findings well beyond the academy. I am deeply honoured by their support of me and my work."

On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Julie MacArthur on her outstanding achievements which are being recognized with the award of the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal as one of SFU's most outstanding graduate students from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

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