Gaylene Halter – Feature Profile

We introduce you to:

Gaylene Halter, PhD Candidate, Environmental Sociology, Department of Resource Economics & Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta A   Saskatchewan farm girl who is using her love of flora and fauna and life experiences to develop a better understanding of Canadian Water Cultures. Dissertation – Water Culture; Utilizing Q methodology ascertain the attitudes of Alberta farmers towards water use, issues and policies.

How did you become interested in environmental sociology?

I have always had a great interest in all species including humans and, also, what motivates decisions. After working in the field of business and marketing for a period of time, I began to see the relationship of western consumer patterns and destruction of the environment.  This concerned me.  Marketers always talk about how to sell the better mousetrap, I have changed it to: “How many mouse traps do people need?”  With that thought I noted that many people did not seem to concern themselves with the inter-relationship of their actions and the subsequent effects on the resources such as water, air, or land that we absolutely require to live.  Driving through the countryside near the farming community where I grew up, I could see the long-term effects of ill thought out policies.  I think this springs flooding in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba shows not a 1000 year flood, but the results of forty years of draining sloughs and wetlands and re-routing and channeling water movement to suit human need or greed.  Even as a youth I had questioned this agriculture practice and, at that time, had received stunned stares.  I had pondered that draining sloughs would likely affect water tables.

What are your research interests?

My primary interest is issues related to water and water policy.  At the moment I am focusing on what I call Water Culture – how people think and use water.  I am discovering that there are some over arching beliefs about water within the Canadian context but, also, that there are many micro cultures of thought.  I was recently teased that I had a conflict of interest as my recreational pursuits include kayaking and canoeing in the summer and downhill and X country skiing in the winter.  It is a laugh, but all people should have a desire to preserve our water resources, both quantity and quality. It is just too important not to. In addition, my research has also brought up how, even in a free country such as Canada, the public is silenced.  Thinking of the advances of social media and the current up-risings else where in the World, it sometimes is quite shocking at the political measures to silence Canadian public concerns or discontent.

What research are you currently working on?

I am currently working on analyzing my data from my fieldwork through a dedicated computer program with a method called Q methodology.  Q method is a very powerful tool in determining the deeper attitudes that people hold.

So far I have found both similarities across the Alberta farming population, but also some key differences. The profiles that I have discovered to date include (my descriptive titles):  the environmentalist, the traditionalist, pragmatist, and action oriented.

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

A portion of water culture that I find interesting is the role of women in traditional cultures.  It is not uncommon that women are seen as the keeper of the water.  Water is associated with life and the need to preserve water. I find this interesting as in western culture it appears that water is associated with business and industry.

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

My dissertation research has focused on rural water culture, but I hope to also look at urban water culture in the future.

What is your favourite place in Canada to spend time?

I would have to say almost anywhere outdoors that I can find nature alive and well.  Of course, living close to the Rockies has encouraged me to have many favourite places that I ski or spend time hiking, taking pictures, canoeing or kayaking.  Riparian areas hold 80% of life and so they are the riches areas for discovery – one of the reasons I love canoeing and kayaking.  Canoeing provides the opportunity to silently come upon wildlife for observation.

Is there a particular Canadian situation that concerns you as a social scientist or impacts your research with respect to the social-environment relationship?

Obviously, water issues, in particular, the number of Canadian cities that dump raw sewage into the ocean.  This is an embarrassment to me as a Canadian.  Another concern is the way that we, as consumers, are tied to life styles that are not environmentally friendly even when as an individual I would like to choose a better way.  Examples that come to mind is that close to 80% of the electricity that I have access to is produced by burning hydrocarbons, primarily coal.

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