"I chose SFU and, specifically, GSWS because I was keen to work with Dr. Coleman Nye, a feminist technoscience and performance studies theorist whose research output includes a graphic novel!"

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Student Profile: Mathew Arthur

Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies PhD student in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences

April 23, 2021
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I'm a second-year PhD student in GSWS with a focus in feminist science and technology studies and have a master's degree in Indigenous and inter-religious studies from Vancouver School of Theology, where I was privileged to study with and TA for the late eco-feminist scholar Dr. Sallie McFague. I didn't complete an undergraduate degree (spending the past decade working as a graphic and architectural designer, instead)—and I was homeschooled from K–12! I'm the co-editor-in-chief of Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry, a peer-reviewed cultural and political theory journal with Open Humanities Press. I'm also a founding member of the Society for the Study of Affect and co-organize the Society's summer school. The society and journal team (Greg Seigworth, Wendy Truran, Johnny Gainer, and myself) have just launched an open access press, publishing works in the field of affect studies. For the past five years, I've been a volunteer teacher with Humanities 101 at UBC, an interdisciplinary program with low-income, multigenerational residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I teach critical approaches to new media and Indigenous futurisms and also run a yearly 14-week public seminar with Humanities 101 at the Strathcona branch of the Vancouver Public Library on feminist science and technology studies (and zine-making to build critical science literacy!) Much of my academic trajectory has been shaped by working closely with the program's academic director Dr. Margot Leigh Butler and learning from her deep commitment to situatedness and consent in scholarly practices. Last year, I also became a research fellow with the Westar Institute's Seminar on God and the Human Future, a theological think-tank made up of critical theorists, theologians, and philosophers of religion. My work on methods and practices in feminist technoscience and affect studies has been published in Cultural Anthropology's Fieldsights, Fordham University Press’ Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquia series, Oxford Bibliographies in Literary and Critical Theory, and the Routledge Advances in Social Work series.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I knew I didn't want to leave Vancouver: all the relationships that matter to me and that I am accountable to are rooted here. I chose SFU and, specifically, GSWS because I was keen to work with Dr. Coleman Nye, a feminist technoscience and performance studies theorist whose research output includes a graphic novel! I was also excited to work with Dr. Tiffany Muller Myrdahl, a scholar whose teaching and work I had previously encountered at a community program.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH OR YOUR PROGRAM TO A FAMILY MEMBER?

Of course, any description of a discipline or field is contestable! At base, feminist science and technology studies (including multispecies studies) is an interdisciplinary endeavour that asks questions about taken-for-granted distinctions between nature and culture like: Do scientific discoveries uncover natural "facts" or are they shaped by tools and technologies, desires, and cultural anxieties or agendas? How do natural and social scientific stories shape how we treat each other and the living (and nonliving) plants, animals, waters, and landscapes around us? Do plants and animals have culture? Where is scientific knowledge made and by whom? Who do technologies benefit? What can bodies (including nonhuman bodies) do? Feminist STS sees reality as made up of specific practices: "doings" that get done by humans and nonhumans alike. The politics and possible harms of such practices can be attended to and intervened in. This means that how we know the world is directly related to what is allowed to thrive or die—and better knowledge practices can bring about more just worlds. My own work builds bridges between feminist STS and the work of Indigenous theorists on multispecies governance (how Indigenous practice weaves together an idea of politics and the wellbeing of humans and the natural world). This connects to my other two theoretical passions, affect studies and ecotheology. Affect studies look at how bodies, feelings, places, and political atmospheres are made up of relations that are always changing and tracks how some relationships are empowered and others are incapacitated in certain practices, events, or scenes. Ecotheology examines how the stories we hold in common (including the claims of religion or science) shape our response to each other and to the inhabitants of the world around us. All of these approaches ask that we craft knowledge practices that widen our circle of care to include radical difference: making room for different bodies, conflicting politics, and good relations with other species. My own work weaves these strands of theory together in a set of ongoing research projects on composting as a way to think about the messiness and violence of knowledge production ("Composting Settler Nationalisms," 2018, co-authored with my partner Reuben Jentink); urban alleys as sites from which to develop more just concepts of care and repair ("Four Alleys," 2020); academic writing and citation practices as a way to empower Indigenous futures and cultivate better multispecies relations ("Writing Affect and Theology in Indigenous Futures", 2020); and the Covid-19 pandemic as a means to learn more about the risks and possibilities of living with non-human others ("Care is a Defiant Act: ii. Writing Pandemic Feels," 2020). My work proposes that we can and do learn from everyday objects and practices—and that attention to the fraught lives and histories of objects fosters both critical scientific literacy and more just ways of knowing.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

The best part of my studies at SFU so far has been taking feminist methods with Dr. Tiffany Muller Myrdahl (who just won a SFU Excellence in Teaching Award!) Her class is both theoretically dense and encouraging of creative practice. With her support, I was able to turn a class "data walk" assignment into a publication in Cultural Anthropology's online Fieldsights journal. The support from my supervisor, Dr. Coleman Nye, has been exemplary—and I'm also excited to co-present a session called "Scenting Relations: Exploring Smell-Worlds through Zine-Making" at this year's Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) annual meeting.

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR-FUNDED AWARDS? IF SO, PLEASE TELL US WHICH ONES AND A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THE AWARDS HAVE IMPACTED YOUR STUDIES AND/OR RESEARCH.

I have received departmental graduate fellowships, a Dean's Graduate Fellowship, the BC Graduate Scholarship, the Margaret & Claude Mitchell Graduate Award, and the National Council of Jewish Women Scholarship, and a Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC). It is deeply fulfilling to have my work recognized with funding that allows me to focus on my research and build scholarly community. Additionally, having secure funding so far has also allowed me to offer my time as a peer reviewer for the Public Philosophy Journal, Mattering Press, and Social Media + Society—as well as continue to volunteer as a teacher in the Downtown Eastside and act as editor of an academic journal.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PROGRAM/POSTDOC POSITION TO SOMEONE STILL SEARCHING FOR A PROGRAM OR POSTDOC POSITION?

GSWS graduate studies offers an incredible culture of support and creative pedagogy. Two required professional development classes help to prepare students for life inside and out of the academy, exploring how to creatively adapt work for public and policy contexts, how to hone writing and research practices, etc.

Contact Mathew: mathew_arthur@sfu.ca

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