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Travel Report: Lisa Poole, Sociology and Anthropology, Victoria and Toronto, Canada

January 06, 2015

I am a proud recipient of the Graduate International Research Travel Award for the Summer 2014 at Simon Fraser University. The Graduate International Research Travel Award substantially contributed to my research project on polyamorous politics by allowing me to devote a greater amount of time to my studies and to collect first hand data from various locations in Canada outside of the lower mainland through participant observation and in person, face-to-face interviews. 

I am a PhD student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at SFU doing research on “poly politics.”  “Poly” is loosely defined as the practice of respectful, responsible, and consensual non-monogamy.  According to Strassberg (2003), “community solidarity, together with a nascent public presence, suggests that polyamorists may be on the verge of ‘coming out of the closet’ as an interest group with a political agenda” (p. 443).  In this regard, Kirkman (2010) says “poly is the new gay.” However, if poly is a new interest group with a political agenda, I feel I must ask: what are the political goals of poly people and how do they expect to achieve them?  And if poly is the “new gay” then how has “poly politics” been impacted by earlier gay politics, particularly the struggle for sexual rights and equality.  Poly issues, like gay and lesbian issues before them, may manifest through challenges to existing frameworks or through conceptions of sexual citizenship, whose claims are often articulated through sexual rights that seek state recognition through the legal system.

I am conducting ethnographic research on polyamorous politics in Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto for which I have had to travel to participants in order to conduct in person, face-to-face, in-depth, semi-structured interviews as well as gather data through participant observation.  In the Summer of 2014 I began my ethnographic field work in Vancouver and Victoria.  The GIRTA allowed me to spend an extended period of time in one location which allowed me to establish connections with the poly community, get to know the people involved in it, and develop ongoing relations with the people in it which is important in ethnographic fieldwork.  I have attended regular “Poly 101” meetings where I have generated an understanding of the more subtle, implicit underlying assumptions that I might otherwise have missed.  One notable insight so far has been that although active in their community, poly folks do not necessarily consider themselves political. These insights have contributed to the ongoing development of my research questions and interview questions. 

I have also conducted in person, face-to-face, in-depth, semi-structured interviews where I gathered participants’ opinions about the politics of being poly.  I spoke to people about their polyamorous histories as well as their concerns and advocacy experiences regarding their polyamorous identity and how that identity intersects with their other identities and political efforts and opinions. 

One of the challenges for me was finalizing my ethics approval which meant that my fieldwork did not officially commence until later in the Summer 2014 term and continues to be ongoing.  I plan to travel to Toronto in Spring 2015 to perform my fieldwork there. I will be presenting preliminary findings from Vancouver and Victoria at the International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy in Berkeley, California, USA in February 2015 and have also submitted an abstract to present preliminary insights at the University of British Columbia conference “Queer U 2015: Sowing Seeds & Growing Roots,” also in February 2015.

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