Category Archives: News

Prof. Naisargi Dave Named to Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

The following U of T News article by Jennifer Robinson is also available at

Top emerging U of T scholars joining Royal Society of Canada’s new college

A physical therapist involved in treating children with disabilities and an anthropologist studying animal activism may not seem to have much in common.

But at the heart of their research is a desire to change perceptions, to deepen discourse and disrupt or expand outmoded ways of thinking.

Today, physical therapist and bioethicist Barbara Gibson and anthropologist Naisargi Dave were among six U of T scholars named by the Royal Society of Canada as members of its College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. See the full list of recipients below.

In 2014, the society decided it needed to create a special college to recognize and foster scholarly leadership and interdisciplinary collaboration among Canada’s “new” generation of scholars, artists and scientists who’ve received their PhD within the last 15 years.

“It means a lot to be a part of it,” said Dave, who is hoping to finish writing her second book this academic year. “I was especially honoured that my senior colleagues sought fit to nominate me for this award.”

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a great honour,” added Gibson.

“The Royal Society of Canada is to be commended for their decision to recognize and support the work of Canada’s emerging scholars,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation. “We’re extremely proud of U of T’s newest members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists and look forward to seeing new collaborations and more exciting work from them as a result.”

Since publishing a book on queer activism in India, Dave (left, photo by Wan Park) has turned her attentions to animal-human relationships in the second most populous country in the world. Her research is challenging the commonly held notion that only upper class Westerners are concerned with animal welfare.

She’s also exploring how clashes between what are seen as normative actions (which value consistency and placing issues in context as “good”) and non-normative actions (contradictions) play out in the animal rights activism sphere.

An example, she said, is how a vegetarian or vegan is often questioned about the contradictions in their conduct, e.g. not eating animals but wearing leather shoes. But “normative values rarely need to account for or explain themselves.”

In Gibson’s case, she’s pushing rehabilitation to expand its thinking beyond the confines of biomedicine to include newer areas of research that see disability less as a medical problem to solve and more of a social problem to tackle, e.g., I am disabled by my society, not by my body.

“Rehabilitation is kind of oblivious to this… What I’m interested in is how do we think, talk and add this to the discussion on everyday practice in rehabilitation?” said Gibson, a U of T associate professor and senior scientist at Bloorview Research Institute at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital where she directs the Critical Disability and Rehabilitation Studies unit.

Medical professionals can now predict with fairly good accuracy the likelihood of an individual child with cerebral palsy learning how to walk. “But parents are very hopeful and we don’t want to destroy that hope,” she said, even when the odds are not in their children’s favour.

As part of her research, Gibson has interviewed young people with cerebral palsy, aged eight to 19, to hear first-hand how they view their experiences in rehabilitation.

Some recall the time spent with their physical therapists as positive, such as using video games to encourage them to develop the use of their “bad” arm. While other “children are resentful” when they look back, she explained. Time in rehabilitation was painful and took time away from being in class and playing with friends. In some cases, they didn’t mind being in a wheelchair.

“I’m not saying don’t do it [rehabilitation],” Gibson said. “What I’m trying to do is encourage clinicians to think about treatment more broadly and have these conversations with parents and kids.”

The six 2016 U of T members of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists are:

Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

  • Hani Naguib, department of mechanical and industrial engineering

Faculty of Arts & Science

  • Naisargi Dave, department of anthropology
  • Stephen I. Wright, department of ecology and evolutionary biology

Faculty of Medicine

  • Barbara Gibson, department of physical therapy and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Wolfgang Kuebler, department of surgery and St. Michael’s Hospital
  • Sharon Elizabeth Straus, department of medicine and St. Michael’s Hospital

From hip-hop to handshakes, Prof. Sarah Hillewaert studies youth culture in Kenya

Sarah Hillewaert sitting on a bench

Sarah Hillewaert lived in Lamu for three years, documenting how Lamu’s young people are responding to the economic, political and cultural changes in their community (photo by Blake Eligh)

The following U of T News article by Blake Eligh can also be read at

From a secret language that parents don’t understand to the complexities of a not-so-simple handshake, U of T Mississauga anthropologist Sarah Hillewaert studies how young Kenyans negotiate the interaction between traditional and global cultures.

The Belgian anthropologist originally considered becoming a professional dancer, but her training with African dances led instead to an undergraduate degree studying African languages and cultures at Belgium’s Ghent University.

A backpacking trip to Kenya to practice Swahili introduced her to Sheng, a youth language that developed in the slums of Nairobi. Hillewaert was intrigued by the way the language, spoken mainly by young Kenyans, crossed ethnic and economic barriers. “I researched the development of Sheng—how it is used and its linguistic structure,” she says. “I also looked at how Sheng was used in underground hip-hop and how it became an identity marker for urban youth. Sheng represented a new identity that moved away from ethnic stereotypes and crossed ethnic lines.”

Hillewaert, who speaks five languages, went on to earn her master’s degree and PhD in linguistics and anthropology at the University of Michigan. Now an assistant professor with UTM’s Department of Anthropology, Hillewaert has become an authority on youth cultures in Kenya.

Her most recent research focuses on youth culture in Lamu, a town of about 10,000 people on an island of the same name just off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. Hillewaert describes the Muslim community as an “island paradise” with white sand beaches and architecture that dates back to the 1500s. “Lamu was once a prosperous trade centre, trading with the Arab world and India, but in the last few decades, the island’s economy has fallen on hard times,” she says. “The community is very poor. Beautiful mansions are now crumbling because no one has money to look after them, so ex-pats buy the houses, which is turning the area into a haven for Westerners.”

Hillewaert lived in Lamu for three years, documenting how Lamu’s young people are responding to the economic, political and cultural changes in their community. Two generations ago, their conservative Muslim grandmothers lived in total seclusion, Hillewaert says, and many observant women still wear niqabs or cover their faces with a veil, known locally as a buibui, when out in public spaces. But as the younger generation tries to build a future in Lamu, they must interact in new ways with westerners as they take jobs in traditional offices and in the growing tourism trade.

Girls studying in a madrasa in Lamu, Kenya.

Girls studying in a madrasa in Lamu, Kenya. (Photo by Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“That contrast fascinates me,” Hillewaert says. “For young women, integration in the employment and education arena is quite recent. They want to contribute financially, but that exposes them to new social interactions, such as working with men,” she says. “Their grandmothers lived in seclusion, and their mothers were also segregated. How do these young women maintain respectability for themselves, and with their family, while at the same time do their job well? They are trying to negotiate that.”

Hillewaert details some of these complex interactions in her recent paper, which describes the intricate semiotics of a simple handshake in Lamu. “How a young woman interacts with people in the office can become the subject of gossip to her community outside of work,” Hillewaert says. “Do you shake hands? You’re not supposed to touch members of the opposite gender, but in a professional work environment, one shakes hands.”

Another recent publication looks at cultural notions of morality and servitude and what those assumptions mean for young Muslim men working in Lamu’s tourism industry as sailors and ‘beach boys.’

“Lamu’s young people are consciously contemplating different aspects of their identity, like religion, fashion choices, employment and relationships with their parents, while being concerned with what it means to be a virtuous person in a rapidly changing society,” Hillewaert says. “It’s exciting to show how they are dealing with very complex issues and dilemmas, as other young people do around the world. Their struggles are recognizable and yet very different.”

In Memoriam: Shuichi Nagata

Professor Emeritus Shuichi Nagata died peacefully on July 11, 2016. A private cremation service was held on Thursday, July 14, and a full family funeral will be held in November at his ancestral grave in Tokyo. A public memorial service will be held Friday, October 28 from 4-7pm in the Main Lounge of the Faculty Club. Please click here to RSVP Prof. Nagata served as Chair of the department of Anthropology from 1986 to 1991.

The following was written by Prof. Jane Helleiner (PhD, 1991), one of Prof. Nagata’s former graduate students. Jane is currently a Professor at Brock University.

As a former undergraduate and then graduate student of Prof. Shuichi Nagata, I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my memories of him and I hope that these words will resonate with many other students who have been profoundly and positively shaped by his teaching and scholarship.

In the early 1980s, as a new anthropology major at the University of Toronto, I was  fortunate to be a student in Prof. Nagata’s “Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology” (ANT 204) course. For those curious about the reading list of that period, I recall that we covered Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger as well as several of the then popular Spindler case studies notably The Semai (Dentan), The Huron (Trigger), Hano, A Tewa Indian Community (Dozier), Peasants (Wolf), and Changing Japan (Norbeck). Prof. Nagata’s fieldwork amongst the Hopi Peoples and indigenous people of Malaysia as well as his upbringing in Japan, brought tremendous depth to his lectures on these texts and I was completely captivated!  Subsequently I went on to Prof. Nagata’s  more advanced “Anthropology of Southeast Asia” and “Political Anthropology” courses where he shared much more of his personal research experiences through stories and slides  (in those pre-power point days).

As a graduate student, I was one of many Canadian and international students who benefitted from Prof. Nagata’s strong commitment to the role of MA and Ph.D supervisor. When I was conducting doctoral research in Ireland, for example, Prof. Nagata was doing fieldwork in a region of Malaysia with no mail service (in those pre-internet days). During his brief sojourns in centres where he could access the mail, he always managed to read and respond to my research reports with detailed advice and encouragement. When his research again took him abroad very near the end of my Ph.D program, he ensured a seamless transition of supervisory duties to Prof. Peter Carstens. Prof. Nagata was very generous with his time and scholarly insights. Drafts were returned promptly with extensive typewritten comments and hand written edits. His prioritizing of student needs continued throughout the extended period when he was Chairperson of the Department. During supervisory meetings held in his very busy Chairperson’s office (then in the rather drab ground floor of Sidney Smith), he managed to offer his undivided attention to students such as myself. Later, in his much quieter office in University College, I recall him kindly responding to my expression of concern about the quality of my fieldwork data, by reminding me that it was not so much the quality of the data that mattered but what I would do with it…an important piece of advice that led me to stop worrying and start writing!

Conversations with Prof. Nagata were always stimulating given his eclectic scholarly interests.  He read widely and took a keen interest in research that spanned the 4-fields of the discipline represented in the Department.  As a result, he was able to effectively engage with, and support students both inside and outside the social/cultural stream. My partner, Bohdan Szuchewycz, working in Linguistic Anthropology, for example, received extensive mentorship from him as a graduate student and then as a fledgling faculty member. Prof. Nagata had a quirky and endearing sense of humour (he memorably for instance, responded to my announcement of my first pregnancy by jokingly asking me not to send him baby pictures because he already had albums full of such photos from former students!). Prof. Nagata modelled scholarly breadth, curiosity and rigour as well as a deep dedication to a broadly defined, humane and grounded global anthropology. He offered inspiration and support to many through his teaching, research, and  service to students, colleagues, the Department and the discipline of anthropology. I am very fortunate to have been among his many students.

Dr. Jane Helleiner, August 2016

Read Prof. Nagata’s obituary in The Globe & Mail here.


Tracey Galloway Wins CIHR New Investigator Salary Award

Photo of Tracey GallowayCongratulations to UTM Prof. Tracey Galloway! On June 30 she received a CIHR New Investigator Salary Award, which provides $300,000 over 5 years to support her research in “Assessment, applied health and health policy research to improve health outcomes in northern Indigenous populations”.

Tracey received the award in the competition’s Priority Announcement for Research in First Nations, Inuit and/or Métis Health. Learn more about Tracey’s research at

Julie Teichroeb & Bence Viola Win Connaught New Researcher Awards

Congratulations to Assistant Professors Julie Teichroeb (UTSC) and Bence Viola (St. George)! Both are recipients of Connaught New Researcher Awards, which are provided annually to assistant professors within the first five years of a tenure stream appointment to help them establish strong research programs. This year the fund is awarding a total of $966,000 to 63 researchers across a range of disciplines. A full list of U of T recipients can be found at

Prof. Julie Teichroeb’s research program is entitled The influence of resource quality and usurpability on vervet monkey foraging decisions, while Prof. Bence Viola was awarded for his research on Neanderthals and Denisovans in Central Asia.

Prof. Bence Viola has also been awarded a SSHRC Insight Development grant, which will help fund his fieldwork for the next couple of years.

Team of Archaeologists including Prof. Gary Crawford Discover New Origins for Farmed Rice

The following article was published by U of T News on June 27, 2016 and is written by By Sharon Aschaiek. It can also be read at

New origins for farmed rice discovered by U of T, Chinese experts

“This gives us another clue about how humans became farmers”

photo of rice field in China

(photo by John Isaac/United Nations Photo via flickr)

Rice farming is a far older practice than we knew – the oldest evidence of domesticated rice has just been found in China, and it’s about 9,000 years old.

The discovery, made by a team of archaeologists that includes University of Toronto anthropology professor Gary Crawford, sheds new light on the origins of rice domestication and on the history of human agricultural practices.

“Today, rice is one of most important grains in the world’s economy, yet at one time, it was a wild plant…how did people bring rice into their world? This gives us another clue about how humans became farmers,” says U of T Mississauga’s Crawford, an anthropological archaeologist who studies the relationships between people and plants in prehistory.

Working with researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China and Fudan University in Shanghai, Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in a probable ditch in the lower Yangtze valley. They observed that about 30 per cent of the rice plant material – primarily bases, husks and leaf epidermis – were not wild, but showed signs of being purposely cultivated to produce rice plants that were durable and suitable for human consumption.

Crawford says this finding indicates that the domestication of rice has been going on for much longer than originally thought. The rice plant remains also had characteristics of japonica rice, the short grain rice used in sushi that today is cultivated in Japan and Korea. Crawford says this finding clarifies the lineage of this specific rice crop, and confirms for the first time that it grew in this region of China.

photo of Crawford in a cave

Crawford (pictured at right) and his colleagues spent about three years exploring the five-hectare archaeological dig site, called Huxi, which is situated in a flat basin about 100 metres above sea level.

Their investigations were supported by other U of T Mississauga participants – anthropology professor David Smith and graduate students Daniel Kwan and Nattha Cheunwattana.

They worked mostly in early spring, fall and winter in order to avoid the late-spring wet season and excruciatingly hot summer months. Digging 1.5 metres below the ground, the team also unearthed artifacts such as sophisticated pottery and stone tools, as well as animal bones, charcoal and other plant seeds.

This study builds on Crawford’s previous research into early agriculture in China, in which he has examined the ancient settlements, tools, and plant and animal management efforts that occurred in different regions of the country. He is interested in better understanding the forces that compelled our human ancestors to transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers.

“The question I ultimately want to answer is, what pushed them to move wholeheartedly into the farming regime? Why did they reduce their emphasis on hunting and expand into crop production?” Crawford says. “People did what they needed to do to make their lives more manageable and sustainable, and the unintended consequence was farming. With this rice discovery, we’re seeing the first stages of that shift.”

Funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Crawford’s study is published today in Scientific Reports, an online open-access journal from the publishers of Nature.

(Visit flickr to see the original of the photo used at top of article)

Letha Victor Wins H.F. Guggenheim Dissertation Fellowship

Congratulations to PhD Candidate Letha Victor! She has won a H.F. Guggenheim Dissertation Fellowship for her dissertation, “Dirty Things: violence, spirit forces, and social change in Acholi, northern Uganda.” Letha is supervised by Profs. Michael Lambek and Todd Sanders.

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation awards fellowships to graduate students during their dissertation-writing year for work that concerns violence and aggression in relation to social change, intergroup conflict, war, terrorism, crime, and family relationships, among other subjects. Further information can be found at

Laura Sikstrom Receives Killam Postdoctoral Award

Laura Sikstrom

Laura Sikstrom, Killam Postdoctoral Award Recipient

Congratulations to Laura Sikstrom, recipient of a Killam Postdoctoral Award to work with Prof. Amy Kaler at the University of Alberta. As part of her fellowship she will return to Malawi this Fall for preliminary research to ask: “why do so many children and youth on antiretroviral treatment (ART) fail to survive into adulthood?” This research will build on her doctoral research, which examined barriers to treatment uptake for infants and young children infected with HIV. Laura defended her dissertation in September 2015 under the supervision of Prof. Holly Wardlow.