December 15, 2014

An Invitation from the Royal Society

One of Canada’s most longstanding and prestigious scholarly institutions is evolving to embrace a broader demographic, and Carleton professors Stuart Murray and Sheryl Hamilton have answered the call to help make that change happen.

Modelled on similar societies in England and France, theRoyal Society of Canada (RSC) was founded in 1883 to help scholars at the top of their fields promote their research and advise government on issues of public interest. The trouble is, getting to the top of a field takes time. In the interest of embracing more emerging, mid-career scholars, the RSC recently created a new cohort, the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Hamilton, an associate professor in Carleton’s Department of Law and Legal Studies and recent Canada Research Chair in Communication, Law, and Governance, says she is honoured to be invited to join the new College. “At the same time, I think of it as a responsibility as well. It seems to me that the Royal Society is trying to bring a new kind of energy from scholars who are at a different career stage,” she says.

Murray, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and Ethics and is an associate professor in both Carleton’s Department of English Language and Literature and Department of Health Science, says there are clear benefits to broadening the RSC’s mandate.

the Royal Society is trying to bring a new kind of energy from scholars who are at a different career stage

Stuart-Murray
Stuart Murray

“One of the goals of the College was to have younger people who are more connected, but also people who work across disciplinary fields. If you look at the cohort, there’s a broad spectrum of research instructions, and many of them are explicitly interdisciplinary,” says Murray. He also sees the new cohort as bringing more gender and racial diversity to the institution. “I’m actually very proud and honored to be a part of this initiative,” he says.

As someone whose work spans multiple niches, Murray’s own interdisciplinarity seems a good fit. He describes his research as bringing a humanistic dimension to disciplines such as sciences and social sciences, by providing a vocabulary to promote further debate. “My work tries to argue for the relevance of the humanities in a rapidly-changing world,” says Murray. For instance, a recent paper examined the ways that individual and collective responsibility connected in the highly publicized Ashley Smith case, in which the mentally ill teen’s death was assessed as a homicide rather than a suicide. He’s now exploring similar issues of public responsibility in the case of Makayla Sault, the Aboriginal schoolgirl who refused chemotherapy in Hamilton.

Murray says he is particularly interested in the changing concept of self in an increasingly interconnected world. “We’re no longer these independent, autonomous beings. We’re interconnected and we’re responsible for each other. But we don’t have an adequate discourse or vocabulary to talk about that,” says Murray.

One of the goals of the College was to have younger people who are more connected, but also people who work across disciplinary fields

Sheryl-Hamilton
Sheryl Hamilton

Hamilton’s work also straddles disciplines, specifically law and culture. “I have been really interested over the years in the ways in which legal ideas, concepts, constructs, and the law itself, play out in non-legal forms, in the media, and in popular culture,” says Hamilton.

A current thread looks at the ways in which significant Supreme Court of Canada decisions play out in public life. “I look at the ways in which these cases end up catalyzing a whole broader discussion about politics and morality and justice in the Canadian context. That in my mind, aren’t strictly speaking about whether the case was right or wrong, but rather, ‘what kind of country to we want to live in. What kind of values do we have? What kinds of issues divide us? Which kinds of issues unite us?’”

Specifically, she examines how such cases establish a framework for public discourse on the topic, and shape that discussion going forward. She posits the Sue Rodriguez physician-assisted suicide case as an example. “I would argue that the Rodriguez case set up a set of frames. Now if a journalist wants to talk about physician-assisted suicide, they always reference the Rodriguez case. They’re not just referencing the case as a legal reference, there’s a certain frame,” says Hamilton. Other investigations that have been a focus in her work include the Omar Khadr case, and the John Robin Sharpe case around freedom of expression and child pornography.

Murray-Hamilton
Stuart Murray and Sheryl Hamilton

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