Faculty renewal brings fresh ideas to FIMSThe process of faculty renewal – the hiring of new full-time faculty into tenured or permanent positions – enables a Faculty to explore new scholarly directions and strengthen existing ones in its teaching and research programmes. The addition of new subject expertise, fresh perspectives and different experiences, provides a fantastic opportunity for growth and interdisciplinary collaboration.
The Faculty of Information & Media Studies is currently undergoing a period of faculty renewal, with the recent hiring of four new full-time faculty and the conversion of two limited term (non-tenured) faculty into tenure track positions. There is also a tenure track position currently being advertised, seeking Indigenous applicants specializing in any area of Indigenous scholarship or creative production. All of these additions serve to broaden FIMS’ capacity to produce timely, quality scholarship, and deliver the relevant, world-view-changing courses for which the Faculty already has a reputation.
Melissa Adler and Alissa Centivany are current full-time FIMS faculty members who were newly appointed from a limited term to tenure track (or probationary) positions. Already vital contributors to the teaching and research conducted in the Faculty, tenure track positions provide job security and stability, allowing professors Adler and Centivany to focus more freely on the details of the work they had already begun.
“The freedom afforded by conversion manifests in the decisions I make about which research, teaching and service projects to undertake. At a high-level, the shift in status enables me to participate more fully in the life of the Faculty, and engage in longer-term course development objectives and research projects,” explains Centivany.
Centivany and Adler are currently deeply involved with SSHRC-funded research projects. Professor Centivany, who holds a PhD in Information and a Juris Doctor specializing in intellectual property and technology law, is the primary investigator on a grant-funded project titled Smart Tractors and Agrohackers: Computerization, Copyright and the “Right to Repair” Movement that investigates the co-evolution of technology design, social practice, and laws and policies impacting repair work. Professor Centivany is also a co-investigator for a grant-funded project titled Big Data at the Margins, that examines ways digital media, big data and artificial intelligence effect the daily lives of economically, socially or geographically marginalized people including, in particular, communities right here in London.
Professor Adler, who holds a PhD in Library and Information Studies with a minor in Women and Gender Studies, is working on a grant-funded project titled Desire in sight: Aesthetics of knowledge organization. She is also engaged in several other highly creative research initiatives, including generating a history of Thomas Jefferson’s information and communication techniques. She believes that Jefferson’s information practices show that he was using and formulating what we call algorithms today.
“Jefferson’s wheel cipher and other encryption techniques, his library catalogue, his elaborate formula for whiteness, his Farm Book, and censuses are all examples of early algorithmic techniques. The algorithmic cultures and cultural institutions of the present are directly tied to the political arithmetic and institutional practices of the late 18th and early 19th centuries,” Adler explains of her project.
The three newest full-time appointments are also looking forward to making their mark in research and teaching at FIMS. All three new recruits arrived in July and immediately dove in.
Professor Luke Stark joins the Faculty from Microsoft Research Lab - Montréal, bringing a doctoral degree in Media, Culture, and Communication. He describes his research as falling at the intersection of media studies and science and technology studies, with some critical informatics thrown in for good measure. More immediately, he has a book to finish.
“These days, I’m focusing on completing my book project on the history of emotional expression and categorization in computer science—think the very, very long prehistory of things like emoji or Facebook’s Reaction icons—and on work constructively critiquing the current boom around ethics and artificial intelligence,” says Stark, adding that he’s excited to be back in southwestern Ontario, as he grew up in nearby Guelph.
“Working at Western feels like coming home.” He says.
Professor Stark says he was drawn to FIMS’ interdisciplinary nature and the resulting diversity of scholarship.
“FIMS is one of the few academic departments in North America with faculty and students working in and across communications, informatics/information science, and media studies. It reminds me strongly of the department where I did my PhD (New York University),” he says, “and I’m happy to be able to get to contribute again to a community with such a varied and diverse array of intellectual interests.”
Professor Joanna Redden moved from the University of Cardiff, in Wales, to join FIMS this summer. Holding a PhD in Media and Communications, her research and teaching combine interests in media studies, information systems, social justice and politics. Redden is looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with her new colleagues.
“FIMS to me is a perfect fit because I can work with other faculty and students who are working across these areas. Most of my recent work focuses on the implications of government uses of AI and predictive data systems which intersect with a lot of the discussions already happening across the FIMS undergrad and grad programs as well as among the great research team developing the Big Data at the Margins workshops and series,” she says.
Professor Redden also has a professional background in journalism and politics, which she believes influences the way she goes about her work, particularly on data-related issues. Her ongoing work as a Co-Director with the Data Justice Lab, based in Europe, will continue at Western with a turn toward Canadian contexts.
Professor Basil Chiasson arrives at FIMS from the University of Leeds in the U.K. and has the distinction of being the first person hired to teach in the Creative Arts and Production program (currently in development as a joint venture between FIMS, the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and the Don Wright Faculty of Music). Chiasson has a doctoral degree in English, and brings extensive experience teaching writing and composition, as well as applying media studies scholarship and discourses to English and Theatre Studies. He is looking forward to expanding his work into the broader media studies landscape.
“My sense is that a number of the discourses and orientations one comes across in English and Theatre Studies are at work and even central to Media and Communications Studies,” explains Chiasson. “Critical theory, representation, semiotics, visual culture, memory and time, power, intersectionality, and the list could run on.”
Professor Chiasson is also a guitarist in a band – a creative outlet he first picked up when he was 18-years-old and that he credits with helping set him on his current path.
Recalling the early days of his band, while they were touring around parts of Canada and America, Chiasson says he unexpectedly discovered a group of like-minded thinkers, whose interests were many and varied.
“I found myself in the company of a rogue’s gallery of musicians who were quite well read and interested in ideas. The long drives in the van were spent reflecting not only on the previous night’s performance but also on books, humans, the state of the world, the universe, you name it really.”
Later, in graduate school, Chiasson would call on those earlier experiences to inform his study of art and culture. He also dabbles in creative writing – poetry and short fiction – and has most recently ventured into amateur acting.
Importantly, Chiasson says that all of these things “get me away from the desk and into the practice of art and rubbing elbows with – and thus learning from – people who exist in and speak the language of making, the language of the industry.”
Professor Selma Purac, hired into a full-time role in July, was already a popular FIMS instructor - and a winner of multiple teaching awards - in her previous role as a sessional instructor. A familiar face to MIT students, Purac has taught courses in consumer culture, advertising, the medium of music videos, and representations of Hollywood, among others.
With a doctoral degree in English, Professor Purac will now be able to pursue her research interests more fully as a formal part of her role. With research projects that were already underway, she is looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with some of the veteran media studies faculty members within FIMS. Her scholarship centers on visual culture, focusing on the ways in which alternative representational modes, such as text and sound, complicate and compete with our understanding of the visual, particularly in a promotional context.
Purac explains that fully integrating into the FIMS community – with its teaching, research and service components - gives her the stability and support necessary to access new opportunities.
“I will be able to devote more time and resources to my research. This position allows me to expand upon the scope of my current project and to pursue wider dissemination opportunities. I'm also looking forward to the collaborative prospects within our interdisciplinary faculty,” she says.
Professor Purac is originally from Vancouver, and brings with her to Western a background in music promotion and experience as a visual artist. Similar to her colleagues, Purac appreciates the interdisciplinary environment, and has "found a home within FIMS' diverse interests."
The final piece of this most recent round of faculty renewal in FIMS is the expected recruitment of an Indigenous scholar. The Faculty is looking forward to welcoming an Indigenous faculty colleague in any area of FIMS scholarship and creative activity, including media studies and production, journalism, library and information science, and health information science. Applications are open and review will begin in November.
Collectively, these new appointments add enormous strength to the Faculty’s ability to continue achieving its academic mission. Now colleagues, the professors will be able to look to each other for opportunity and support. Professor Adler is already identifying commonalities between her own work and that of the others.
“I definitely see interesting connections between my own work and each of the new hires in different ways,” she says. “And that they each have a capacity to cross programs in FIMS. It will be really great to broaden and deepen some of the conversations about topics that are common to media studies, LIS, journalism, and health sciences.”