GRAND research presented at World Social Science Forum 2013 addressing global challenges of the Digital Age
Researchers from across Canada took part in a major international forum in Montréal looking at the evolving digital world, its opportunities, challenges, and impacts.
Posted by GRAND NCE, October 24, 2013

More than 750 delegates from 80 countries brought together to talk about the impacts of new technologies on the practice of social sciences.
More than 750 delegates from 80 countries converged in Montréal to talk about the impacts of new technologies on the practice of social sciences. 

Researchers from across Canada took part in a major international forum in Montréal looking at the evolving digital world, its opportunities, challenges, and impacts.

(Vancouver, BC) Under the theme of “Social Transformations and the Digital Age,” the 2013 World Social Science Forum in Montréal (October 13-15) offered a rare opportunity for GRAND researchers to share leading social science research on the uses and impacts of digital technologies with scholars from around the world.

The multidisciplinary and international conference was the second in a series of fora organized by the International Social Science Council (ISSC). The ISSC launched the series in 2009 to engage social scientists in dialogue on global problems in their field and to examine the theories and established practices in the social sciences. The ISSC is the primary body representing the social, behavioural, and economic sciences worldwide.

The 2013 forum also provided a venue for exhibitors and delegates from the academic, private, public, and non-profit sectors to forge international partnerships and get up-to-date on recent research developments. Over 750 delegates from more than 80 countries attended panel discussions on the ways in which digital media and technologies are being developed and used. Several of GRAND’s researchers participated as presenters, helping bring international exposure to some of Canada’s foremost thinking and research in these areas.

WSSF speakers from GRAND member universities across Canada

WSSF 2013 presented a wide cross-section of social sciences research in GRAND. Panel exchanges took up recent studies and interdisciplinary projects at Concordia University, McMaster University, OCAD University, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University, and University of Toronto.

Among the forum highlights included an opening plenary discussion featuring Dr. Sara Diamond, President of OCAD University and GRAND Board Member. The panel talk, entitled “Participatory Dynamics for Change,” brought together an eclectic mix of leading thinkers, artists and activists who offered their reflections and understandings on how digital technologies have impacted different facets of cultural, social, economic and political life.

In the forum’s main programme, GRAND’s INCLUDE (Accessibility of New Media for Disabled, Elderly, and Vulnerable Individuals) project was the focus of the “Applications and Technologies for a More Inclusive Society” panel. Project leader Dr. Deborah Fels (Ryerson University) coordinated the talk around new applications and technologies for older people and people with disabilities. Highlighted was the work of Dr. Paula Gardner (OCAD University), Dr. David Harris Smith (McMaster University), Dr. Frank Rudzicz (University of Toronto), and media artist Geoffrey Shea (OCAD University). Fels also presented at the “Minority Languages and Regional Identities” panel.

Suzanne de Castell, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, coordinated the panel “Ten Years After:  Transforming Education at a ‘Laptop University’.” De Castell included a presentation on her study of the instructional power of computer and video games designed specifically for the classroom.

GRAND researchers also engaged panel discussions on higher learning, cultural heritage, and other areas where the influence of digital technology is being studied.

Social Sciences critical part of technology research

PhD student Claude Fortin took a break from her ten-week field evaluation of the public space exhibit Mégaphone (taking place in Montreal until November 4th, 2013) to present two case studies at the WSSF 2013. Fortin is an interdisciplinary scholar at the Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology studying large and urban-based interactive public displays.

“In technology research, social scientists play an important role,” said Fortin. “They ask questions that researchers who have adopted an engineering approach do not ask: ‘What purpose will these technologies serve in the real world?’, ‘How will they change our way of thinking, seeing, and doing?’, ‘How will they improve people’s lives?’, [or] ‘What will they do to the environment?’ – these are ethical questions that need to be asked before and during the design process.”

Part of Montréal’s Quartier des spectacles hosted by the National Film Board (NFB), Mégaphone was the subject of Fortin’s presentation at WSSF’s “Social Movements, Digital Platforms & Alternative Public Spheres” panel session. Produced by local artists and partners, the interactive speaker’s corner installation aims to promote greater social, cultural and political interaction and participation by the public. At WSSF, Fortin also discussed her empirical study of digital bulletin boards co-authored by Dr. Carman Neustaedter and Dr. Kate Hennessy at SFU.

“Venues such as WSSF 2013 bring together researchers who are, for the most part, pursuing the question: ‘How is this new technology making the world a better place?’” said Fortin. “This is a real world question that needs to be addressed while we are designing technology – not in the aftermath.”

Social Science research meets the indie games movement

GRAND also played host to an open discussion at WSSF 2013 led by Jason Della Rocca, co-founder of Montréal game development incubator Execution Labs and member of GRAND's Research Management Committee. The talk focused on the possibilities of social games (or "games for change”), and surveyed the challenges and opportunities faced by the independent games movement in Canada.

Using the GRAND Network as a model for collaboration between industry and academia, Della Rocca also touched on the ethnographic work within the games industry by former GRAND HQP and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Jennifer Whitson at Concordia University's Technoculture, Arts and Games Centre (TAG).

The presentation generated a lively debate among audience members on the significance of participation both in the creation and the use of social games, and the value of social science approaches to iteratively developing them. The discussion also examined how social sciences research, such as in the emergent field of games studies, can play a role in ensuring Canada’s place as a world leader in game production.

GRAND exhibition connects with scholars from around the world

HQP Lola Wong (University of Western Ontario) and Adam van Sertima (Concordia University) staffed GRAND’s exhibition booth in the open “Agora” space at WSSF 2013. The pair connected with attendees interested in learning about the network and its interdisciplinary research in the social sciences. Delegates from across Europe, India, Philippines, United States, South Africa, Kenya, as well as here in Canada visited the booth.

“One of the values of working at the GRAND booth was meeting scholars outside our usual circles whose research is highly relevant to TAG [Technoculture, Art and Games Centre at Concordia University],” said Sertima. “It also gave me a chance to practice expressing and discussing my own research, and in answering questions, it helped me to clarify some of the issues in my own work.”



GRAND Contact

Spencer Rose
Communications Officer