Kathy Dobson, PhD candidate in Communication, celebrates the release of her second book this spring.
Punching and Kicking: Leaving Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood (Véhicule Press, May 2018) is the sequel to Dobson’s first book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood, which drew on her experiences growing up in Point St. Charles—a Montreal neighbourhood largely overlooked by local city and government officials, and once described in a National Film Board documentary as the “Toughest Neighbourhood in Canada.”
Dobson’s doctoral research at Carleton—for which she has received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, and Ontario Graduate Scholarship—examines how welfare fraud detection programs are used to support misleading media narratives about ‘welfare cheats.’
Describe your upcoming book, Punching and Kicking: Leaving Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.
In the first book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood, I shared the story about a group of militant mothers back in the 60s in Montreal who were fighting for social justice in an inner city neighbourhood. These women didn’t hesitate to use guerrilla style tactics to achieve their goals. My mom was one of those mothers—a single mother on social assistance—trying to raise me and my five sisters while regularly getting arrested by the Montreal riot squad for leading sit-ins at the local welfare office, public school board, and camping out on the mayor’s front lawn.
For this second book, I want to show how growing up in poverty often carries a legacy that can continue to impact you in ways you may never have expected, even once you have ‘escaped’ poverty.
Have you returned to Point St. Charles recently? What was that experience like?
I still have plenty of family and friends living in the Point, so yes, I like to visit as often as possible. I lived on so many streets in the Point that whenever I do visit it often feels like I’m stepping back in time—I have memories scattered throughout it so it’s always a meaningful experience when I go back. The neighbourhood is gentrifying, so things have changed quite a bit and in some ways it’s more difficult for the people living there. Condos and new shops have opened, but the socioeconomic reality for plenty of long-term Point families still hasn’t quite caught up.
How do you straddle your dual identities as academic and author? Or do you perhaps not see them as separate?
I think working on my PhD here at Carleton has helped me become a more focused writer, as well as provided me a better framework and ability to describe the frustration and oppression faced by those living in poverty. My research has given me the ‘language’ to express what I previously had only felt anger over. I think working on my PhD has also helped me become more effective in conveying certain nuances in my writing.
What stage are you at in your doctoral degree?
I’m currently in my 4th year of my PhD and I’m truly loving the journey. It’s an amazing program and the faculty are all wonderful. I’ve always put a lot of background research into my work, and that’s obviously a skill that’s emphasized in a PhD program. A huge reason why I started off with this journey was I hoped it would make me a better journalist and researcher. What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would learn about my area of research and learn to love doing research. It’s such a privilege to be able to do this work under the guidance and support of some incredible mentors, including Sheryl Hamilton, Josh Greenberg, Irena Knezevic, and Merlyna Lim.
Any ongoing/upcoming projects on your plate?
Although I’m a full-time PhD student, the journalist in me in still very interested in covering certain stories whenever I can. I’ve been working on a couple that have taken me to Mexico several times over the past year and in early May I’ll be going back again, this time to interview someone who is an expert on poverty in Mexico. His work has obvious overlap with my own research, but the journalist in me is also very interested to talk to him about how he sees the bigger picture in terms of failures, potential success, and things that stand in the way. I’m also working on a story based in Mexico that involves President Donald Trump in ways that I suspect won’t surprise anyone.
I’m also working with a movie producer right now, Judith Cogan-Andrews, to develop my first book into a film script. I’ll admit it’s actually been more difficult than I would have thought—initially I think I imagined the process was just a matter of ‘translating’ the book into a script—but as I’ve been working with Judith, I’ve learned that scriptwriting is basically a different language. Which makes sense of course, as every writing genre has it’s own ‘rules’ that need to be mastered. It’s exciting to think about the book possibly being brought to life in a movie, though!
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