While students hit the beach, profs hit the books

For most of us, summer is a time to “detox” from assignments, text books and exams. A lot of our time is likely occupied with summer jobs, light summer courses, camping trips, catching up with old school friends or simply doing nothing at all. Ever wonder what our profs are up to during the summer? While the streets of Laurier Brantford are free of student traffic, LB profs are busy working on their research. For most of them, the peace and quiet afforded by the summer break is a great opportunity to focus on their projects.

Contemporary Studies and Children’s Studies assistant professor Dr. Tarah Brookfield, for example, has been working on her book titled “Cold War Comforts: Canadian Women and Child Welfare, 1945 – 1975.” In it, Dr. Brookfield examines how Canadian women came together to protect children’s health and safety during war. Her study looks at the period between the moment the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima in 1945 and the Vietnam War in 1975.

In researching for her manuscript, Dr. Brookfield drew from an array of historical sources.
“My research is based on the oral histories and personal papers of women and children involved in Cold War activism,” Dr. Brookfield says. She also looked at archival collections of local and international organizations, government documents as well as newspapers, magazines, films and televised accounts of the wars. She observed that, during calamitous times, children were not being adequately protected by the family unit. As a result, Canadian women rallied together and engaged in civil defence, anti-communist vigilance or the peace disarmament movement.

Their concern for children’s safety extended itself towards children living in war zones beyond Canada’s borders. Consequently, Dr. Brookfield observed, Canadian women’s activism took on the international stage.

“This activism directly impacted the lives of children in Canada and abroad,” she says, “and influenced changes in Canada’s education curriculum, immigration laws, welfare practices, defence policy, and international relations.”

While Dr. Brookfield is concerned for children’s health and safety, journalism professor Dr. Sue Ferguson is looking at the brighter side of children’s lives. Her research explores the relationship between fantastical representations in children’s toys and capitalist culture.
Dr. Ferguson said that her interest in the topic stemmed from watching her own children. “[Observing] and playing with them has been so fascinating — and helped me to develop my understanding and critique of the way in which capitalism shapes childhood, and life more generally,” she wrote in an email.

Dr. Ferguson thinks that toys like Barbies with “long hair and ultra-sexy body shapes or Megatron or Optimus Prime with super-bulky bodies and crazily destructive weapons” give children a fantastical image of the world around them.

She drew heavily from the works of early 20th-century German Marxist, Walter Benjamin, and his ideas about the way in which commodity culture gives us the false impression that the world of commodities can bring us happiness.

“[This] is a myth, and one that traps us in a very depressing repetition of constant disappointment,” she says. This cycle of disappointment, she added, is due to the reworking of old commodities to create new ones.

Dr. Ferguson said the fashion cycle of clothes is a good demonstration of this repetition.
“Think of the fashion cycle of clothing to get a good picture of this,” she says. As children’s toys, too, follow this similar cycle, children are also exposed to an “unhealthy myth and perpetual longing that can never be fully satisfied.” Fortunately, children have a natural safeguard – their ability to play or, as Dr. Ferguson put, “their mode of connecting with the world – play.”

“So even as they are drawn into the mythic forces of commodity capitalism, children resist it through their play…all of which makes me think that adults too could gain a lot from being more playful!”

Looking at the flip side of the coin, Dr. Rebecca Godderis, an assistant professor of Health Studies and Contemporary Studies, focused her attention on mothers’ experiences with Post Partum Depression.

She has been researching the illness for 5 years, and believes PPD is largely a product of shifting political forces rather than a purely medical condition. Dr. Godderis observed that, beginning in the 1980s, PPD became a social problem that negatively impacted mothers, children and society at large. This negative image, Dr. Godderis found, is perpetuated by the media’s negative portrayal of the condition.

Additionally, her research looked at how conservative ideologies also contribute to the growing anxiety about PPD.

“For example, these ideologies do not support women working outside of the home,” she says. “They believe that women should be mothers and the domestic caretakers of the home and are strongly invested in the maternal ideal.”

As summer draws to a close, the peace and quiet is set to leave downtown Brantford as students, new and old, return for the fall term. However, there’s no sign of slowing down for LB professors. Their passion for their respective research will keep them going on top of teaching classes and grading papers.

As Assistant Professor of Contemporary Studies, James Cairns, said, “Who knows what else? There’s so much exciting stuff going on!”

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