Joanne Gaudet – Feature Profile

We introduce you to:

Joanne Gaudet, PhD Candidate (ABD), Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario Personal Website

How did you become interested in environmental sociology?

During a qualifying study year before launching into my Sociology Master’s program at Carleton University, I read an article in environmental sociology. The reading certainly made an impression on me because I am a doctoral candidate now and environmental sociology has developed into one of my areas of research.

What are your research interests?

One of my main research interests in environmental sociology lies in understanding the relationship between professions (e.g., engineering, law, dentistry) and the environment. I am mostly interested in understanding this relationship through an environmental reform perspective, more prominent in European environmental sociology. In my Master’s research for example, I explored the ecological modernisation of the engineering profession in three Canadian provinces. Another research interest I have been loosely investigating since 2009 is the social construction of plastics in the ocean. This socio-environmental phenomenon is constructed as the ‘Garbage Patch’, and my most recent paper focused on Garbage Patch knowledge politics on the web.

What research are you currently working on?

Currently I am focusing on exploring a new concept I propose, ignorance mobilization, and a model I developed to capture ignorance mobilization and knowledge mobilization dynamics. My research is at the crossroads between the sociology of ignorance (in great part inspired by ignorance and surprise work by German sociologist Matthias Gross) and knowledge mobilization. Building on Gross’ and other sociology of ignorance scholars’ work, I believe the concept of ignorance mobilization holds much promise to further understanding not only in environmental sociology but also in the sociology of science and technology, economic sociology and political sociology.

What are some of your more interesting findings that you would like to share with us?

An interesting ‘finding’ in relation to my research is not linked with my research per se, but with the reaction some individuals have to the sociology of ignorance research project, mostly outside of scientific circles. I very often have to wear the hat of pseudo-psychologist when I mention my interest in ignorance. To be clear, in the epistemic typology I espouse, ignorance refers to the limits and the borders of knowing, it is normal, positive and non-pejorative. But the concept of ignorance often conjures up fears of knowledge deficiency. This is no doubt linked to the high valuation of knowledge in ‘knowledge‘ society. Yet in research and in innovation, ignorance is extremely valuable and when ignorance is mobilized, it can potentially lead to new knowledge. But ignorance still largely remains invisible and there is much work to be done to overcome its pejorative legacy outside of the experimental realm. Science and technology scholars have also brought to light that a knowledge society not only produces knowledge, but many unintended uncertainties and much ignorance (that can be mobilized to produce new knowledge instead of being avoided). Ulrich Beck cautions that the concept of ‘knowledge society’ is a first modernity euphemism given that ignorance rules in the modern world. In essence, the dynamic epistemic mobilization model I propose can hopefully help make some of these mostly invisible interactions between knowledge mobilization and ignorance mobilization more visible.

What would you like to pursue with your research in the future?

My ‘to pursue’ research list is quite long (and as such it follows the dynamic model I propose where I generate new active non-knowledge from current active non-knowledge and set aside latent non-knowledge for potential future exploration…), but two projects stand out. First, I would like to perform a Canada-Germany comparison of the ecological modernisation of professional ethics in relation to uncertainty in the engineering profession. My Master’s research made me realize that sociologists often wilfully conflate engineers with scientists, but little is known about the former. So I think there remains much to be explored to better understand the profession of engineering and engineers, especially given their privileged position as brokers between the material and social worlds. Second, I want to pursue conceptual and theoretical work for a new social network analysis approach I developed to capture ignorance mobilization and knowledge mobilization in a collaborative research network. Collaborative research networks such as Networks of Centres of Excellence are the norm, rather than the exception, and I think understanding their epistemic mobilization requires thinking beyond publications such has been the case using bibliometrics for years.

What is your favourite place in Canada to spend time?

I have not yet had the pleasure of discovering all of Canada (I have to make time to explore Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island!), but favourite places that stand out include rivers and lakes where I kayaked and walking and hiking trails on which I ventured. British Columbia is certainty stunning with the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean… but no matter where I am in Canada, even in downtown Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, I am always struck by the number of accessible ‘natural’ spaces to spend time.

Recent Publication

It takes two to tango: knowledge mobilization and ignorance mobilization in science research and innovation

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