Listening to Social Transformation through Engagement Network

LiSTEN is a community-engaged and multidisciplinary research project exploring the complex relationship between listening and social transformation in Canada and Canada-in-the-world through research-creation, experiential pedagogies, and scholarship.

Listening is often invoked as a key to understanding. It is an everyday but often ignored activity linked to discernment, critical analysis, empathy, and emotional affect. Good listening skills enhance leadership and build community. Listening is interpersonal and ecological, intimate and deeply social. It affects every area of social life from communications, media and technology, health and wellness, environment, education, religion, and politics, to arts, sports, and entertainment.

Listening is also complex.

  • It is frequently deployed in performative, token, or coercive ways – as in empty consultations when a decision has already been taken, or audio surveillance.
  • A lack of critical and empathetic listening skills leads to misunderstanding and conflict in increasingly polarized public discourse.
  • We are aural diverse. Although much of the literature on listening focuses on sound and normative ideals of hearing, listening is multi-sensory.
  • Understanding the many aspects of listening requires a multi-disciplinary approach.

Creative practices (including music, sound arts, and recording; digital art/creative technologies; communications media; and film) offer a rich experiential ground for understanding, critiquing, and deploying listening as a crucial strategy, skill, technique, and force to address the competing cross currents of social transformation that mark Canadian society and Canada-in-the-world.

It all begins with listening in community.

LiSTEN is funded by Carleton University’s Multidisciplinary Research Catalyst Fund. Ellen Waterman (Carleton University) and Rebecca Caines (York University), co-directors. Gale Franklin, graduate research assistant. Our growing team includes 50+ scholars, artists, and public leaders and over 30 research, arts, and community partners.


In 2023, we hosted a series of public events to explore the power of listening through a range of creative practices and dialogues in Ottawa and Toronto.

OTTAWA: 4 Listening Cafés 

Café 1: CKCU Listens to Carleton University
Wednesday, February 22, 7 – 8:30 pm, Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre.

At over 45 years, CKCU-FM is the oldest community radio station in Canada. Kwende Kefentse (executive director) outlined a “listening method” for institutional transformation to imagine a revitalized relationship between CKCU, Carleton, and the wider community.

Geneviève Cimon facilitated a lively conversation with a panel of respondents and the audience. Panelists included Dean Pauline Rankin (FASS), Dean Brenda O’Neill (FPA), Associate Dean Rick Colbourne (Sprott), Chantal Trudel (Carleton Centre for Community-Engagement), and Adrian Harewood (Journalism).

Café 2: Listening to the Climate Emergency through The Tar Sands Songbook
Tuesday, March 28, 7 – 9:30 pm, Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre.

What role can listening play in addressing the climate emergency? Violist, composer, ethnomusicologist, and climate activist Tanya Kalmanovitch presented a workshop performance and discussion of her documentary theatre piece The Tar Sands Songbook, addressing the complexities of life, culture, and oil-economics in her hometown of Fort McMurray. Through text, ethnographic video, and Tanya’s original music, the work asked us to consider our personal relationships with oil.

On March 29, we brought gathered stakeholders from Ottawa’s diverse music community for a conversation on sustainability, with the Canadian New Music Network as part of its cross-Canada Sustainable Futures program to ask: How can music organizations respond to the climate emergency and its social impacts?

Café 3: Listening to Indigenous Filmmakers
Friday, August 18, 6:00 pm, Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre

Our third Café was presented in the context of a film screening and networking event for Voice(s) and Place(s): Indigenous Media Making Summer Institute led by Kester Dyer with innovative Indigenous filmmaking studio Wapikoni Mobile.

This film-screening and discussion capped a week-long partnership between Wapikoni and Carleton that combined the resources, networks, and expertise of both organizations to offer on-campus media workshops for Wapikoni filmmakers, supporting them in the acquisition of complementary skills, while augmenting Indigenous visibility, and promoting culturally relevant university experiences for Indigenous creators and learners.

Funded by a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant (Kester Dyer PI, Danielle Printup, Hasi Eldib, and Ellen Waterman) and MRCF.

Café 4: Listening as Community-Engaged Research Methodology
Friday, November 3, 12:30 pm, Jacob Siskind Music Resource Centre, MacOdrum Library

Three LiSTEN team members presented their work on community-engaged research and facilitated a discussion with an audience of faculty and graduate students. We asked: How can listening operate as a research method to foster understanding and build community?

Kester Dyer, School for Studies in Art and Culture – Film Studies, Carleton University
“Reflections on the Inaugural Carleton University Indigenous Media Making Summer Institute”

Natasha Stirrett, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University
“Cedar as Medicine: Presence and Listening as a Methodology”

Rebecca Caines, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, York University
“Listening with Communities Using Creative Technologies”

TORONTO:  Networking Forum

Listening to the Land in Art and Technology Education with Indigenous Partners
March 2 – 4, York University (Keele and Markham Campuses).
Public talks at the Royal Ontario Museum, March 3, 6:30 pm.

This three-day forum included talks, workshops, and community meetings with artists, scholars, and community partners exploring critical listening to build experiential, land-based pedagogy that brings universities and communities together. These events engaged themes such as: 1) Critical listening as a community-engagement practice in tertiary education; 2) Art and technology-based explorations of land and history in art and education settings; 3) Learning/Teaching/Addressing colonial and Indigenous histories through building creative listening projects.

Guest speakers included Carolyn King (Mississaugas of the Credit, founder, Moccasin Identifier Project) and Dustin Brass (Director of Education, The Key First Nation, Treaty 4).

Co-produced by LiSTEN & York University (Markham Campus) with funding from the Academic Innovation Fund and led by Rebecca Caines, Marissa Largo, Michael Daroch and Hector Centeno-Garcia.