We introduce you to:
Dr. Mark Hudson, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Coordinator, Global Political Economy Program, University of Manitoba
How did you become interested in environmental sociology?
My initial interest in the relationship between human societies and nature was sparked during a couple of summers spent doing reforestation work. On the one hand, I spent my days wandering through expansive clearcuts, looking down devastated valleys while I plugged seedlings into the ground for 10 cents a piece. On the other hand, the nearby communities seemed constantly on the brink of collapse, dealing with poverty, unemployment, and uncertainty. Clearly, very little of the value realized by razing the forests was sticking around. That started me on the path toward environmental sociology, though it took a while to arrive there, via degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies.
What are your research interests?
I’m interested in how capitalism conditions relationships between human societies and nature, so political economy is an important element of my research. I’ve approached this through research on coffee production in Mexico, and then on wildland fire while I was in Oregon. I’m also interested in how people try to confront or resist the negative consequences of capitalism, so I’ve spent some time looking at the phenomenon of “ethical consumerism,” trying to map out its potential and its limits.
What research are you currently working on?
I’m currently finishing up a paper with Evan Bowness, a former graduate student from the University of Manitoba, on the limits of public participation in the governance of oil sands development in Northern Alberta. Evan has done some great research on the legal structures that determine who can and who can’t speak legitimately in the various provincial processes of licensing and approval. We are looking at this in the context of the debate over whether public participation offers some potential as a brake on the Treadmill of Production. I’m also getting very interested in the way that landscapes, ecosystems, and species are being drawn into financial systems. As market mechanisms become more and more central to dominant modes of environmental governance, nature, which has long been seen as an appendage to productive or industrial systems, is being increasingly appended to and made foundational to new financial products. This, of course, involves all sorts of mischief and violence toward how we understand nature, and how we re-create it. I hope to begin a research project looking at some of this in the near future.
What are some of your more interesting findings that you would like to share with us?
If we can’t move beyond capitalism, we will be in a situation of perpetual ecological crisis management.
What is your favourite place in Canada to spend time?
Despite having lived in Canada for all but about a decade of my life, I’ve still got a lot left to explore. I have loved spending time hiking, kayaking, and beach-lounging around Vancouver Island, snowboarding in Central BC, cross-country skiing in the Whiteshell and in Riding Mountain national park in Manitoba, and canoeing in Quetico and Algonquin parks in Ontario.
Is there a particular Canadian situation that concerns you as a social scientist or impacts your research with respect to the social-environment relationship?
Currently, like a lot of other Canadians, I’m deeply concerned about the rate and scale of bitumen extraction in Alberta, and about the expanding network of pipelines that accompanies it. The local environmental effects as well as the effect of eventually burning all of that oil should at the very least force us to pause, scale back, and think about how we can transition away from a fossil-fuel driven economy. As part and parcel of this, I’m worried about the attack on environmental legislation by the current federal government. Environmental protections in Canada were already piteously weak prior to the most recent round of wearing them down, and now those few effective measures we had to slow the pace of development are being gutted. It’s beyond worrisome. Canadian political and economic elites have completely lost the plot.