Personal and Professional Bio:
I joined the CAF in 1984 as an Avionics technician and was later accepted into the UTPNCM program, which I completed at RMC from 1993-97. After a Postgrad-on-Scholarship MA at Queen's University in 1998, I was posted to 14 Wing Greenwood for two years to serve as a Business Management Officer in the Logistics Branch. In 2000, I was selected to fill a newly established Military Faculty position in the Department of English and undertook my doctoral studies at Ottawa U (2001-07). My career has since remained academic, although I did take two “breaks” to contribute to the Afghanistan campaign: the first involved a ten-month tour performing influence activities in Kandahar in 2009-10; the second, in 2011, had me performing a liaison officer/mentor function within the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul.
Canadian Literature, Ecocriticism, Evolution, Transhumanism, Religion and Mythology.
I am intrigued by investigations into the adaptive value of art, under which heading I include oral and written stories, visual art, TV and movies, gaming, and all forms of religion and myth. As an ecocritic, I am particularly interested in the biological and cultural evolutionary roots of our perceptions of place--that is, our senses of home and belongingness in the 21st C and how technology is changing them--and how those changes might inform the current phenomenon of what some have called “ecocide” and what might rightly even be called “specieside.” I am also intrigued by, and greatly enjoy teaching, the possibilities and dangers of transhumanism: our blurring of the line between what we assume “human” always to have meant, what it means today, and what changes to it are now unfolding in front of us because of exponential changes in our ability to self-manipulate.
Like members of all other species, homo sapiens have a "homing" instinct: a desire to feel located in time and space in environs that seem familiar, safe, and secure at least some of the time. Working as a researcher with the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR), I am currently examining how soldiers perceived, constructed, sustained, and managed conflicting ideas of home during and after the war in Kandahar in order to determine whether a form of “dislocation” might be said to contribute to the experience of trauma.
My interest in researching perceptions of home and belonging derives from two tours in Afghanistan: Kandahar 2009-10 and Kabul 2011. I experienced first-hand the emotional and psychological spectrum of war, and I watched and of course participated in attempts to establish new, temporary, virtual homes with a virtual “family” and to nurture a virtual sense of belonging. I was repatriated during my second tour for an Operational Stress Injury, and so I bring to the research not only academic but real-life perspectives on the importance of "home" as a social, psychological, emotional, institutional, and individual construct.
As research in recent years has revealed, feelings of dis-location or dis-placement can be one of the contributing factors to trauma. They can emerge despite personal or institutional attempts to create surrogate homes during deployments, or in failed attempts to reintegrate “back home” once deployments are done. The Canadian Armed Forces goes to great lengths to instil a sense of home and belonging among its personnel in order to promote cohesion, build morale, and increase the likelihood of mission success. However, not everyone adapts equally to dis-location, especially under the threat of persistent physical and psychological violence.
Additionally, social media and other information communications technologies, commonly called ICTs, are increasingly impacting our sense of home and belonging in the modern world: and they are impacting deployed soldiers as well, in unique ways. Although ICTs can and do contribute to the well-being of deployed soldiers by allowing more frequent contact with loved ones, for instance, my research will explore whether they can also confuse notions of home and belongingness and increase stress by confusing notions of the "real.” Operational stress injuries, and even moral injuries, can result when “home” and “belonging” be-come troubled concepts with blurred lines, and indeed, “home” as a solid concept can begin to unravel as soon as we realize that we often experience not one but several versions of it.
Specifically, I am interested in better understanding: the steps they took to try to re-establish a sense of home during deployment into high-risk environments; whether occupying the home space of a foreign culture impacted their perceptions of home; what some of the physical and psychological steps were that they took to try to re-establish a sense of home and belonging while deployed; whether information communications technologies like Skype and Facebook potentially confused a sense of “real vs virtual” home spaces; whether the institutional “home” that the CAF tries to inculcate conflicts with or complements other forms of “home” that soldiers experience; and, finally, whether some or all of the above contributed to Operational Stress Injuries (OSI), to a sense of moral injury, or even to more benign forms of psychological, emotional, and cognitive dissonance.
Looking at “home” in terms of the constructed, culturally-mediated, and institutionally-influenced concepts of home and belonging will add valuable new perspectives to the existing body of knowledge on the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of OSIs and trauma, both within and beyond the military domain. Trauma is inescapably connected to the stories that we tell (and retell) ourselves and those closest to us about our experiences, and not just the experiences themselves. Central to its understanding it is determining how soldiers employed narrative to attempt to re-place themselves, to create a temporary, and even virtual, sense of home and belongingness during deployed operations in Kandahar: whether operating in remote Forward Operating Bases or the more urban environs of Kandahar Airfield or Kandahar City. In a similar vein, I am interested in exploring the physical symbolic steps veterans took to try to (re) establish a sense of home and belonging. Did they turn to photographs of home? Did they wear clothing with or underneath their uniforms that reminded them of home? How did they modify their kit, bed spaces, living areas, or shared public spaces (such as they were) to try to remain connected to “home” back in Canada? And so on.
Finally, I hope to better understand whether--since our attachment to home has been forged through biological and cultural evolutionary pressures --modern perceptions of home are somehow in tension with those forged over evolutionary time. If, for instance, a soldier (knowingly or unwittingly) self-identifies first as homo sapiens and then as Canadian and then as soldier, does this impact performance in a hyper-alert combat environment? Does it impact mental health? What about moral injustice? -- is there some sort of psychological conflict for Western soldiers who have a greater understanding of evolution when they confront societies and peoples who appear to them to be “ancient” and even “prehistoric” (two terms heard often during deployment)? Do such perceptions contribute to psychological and emotional feelings of dislocation already being caused by deployments themselves? To what degrees do soldiers see their deployed home spaces as “nests,” and is some part of the combat experience a desire to defend them?
Key Research Questions
- What is the range of imagined "home" spaces during deployed ops?
- What impact did the physical, geographical and geological environment have on perceptions of home?
- What physical steps were taken to recreate a sense of home?
- How many conflicting ideas of "home" are deployed soldiers required to mediate?
- Is there anything uniquely “Canadian” that manifests in soldiers’ perceptions of home?
- What role did ICT play in soldiers’ perceptions of home?
- Does feeling dis-placed or "home-less" contribute to trauma/OSI?
- How did Western perceptions of a "global village," forged largely through ICT, conflict with life on the ground in Kandahar, as soldiers participated being in “someone else’s” home space?
- How do institutional attempts to acculturate and foster its own sense of home and belongingness--often through (his) story, symbolism, imagery, iconography, and more--conflict or converge with the notions of "home" experienced during war?
- Can the institution better prepare soldiers for incongruent notions of home?
- How might perceptions of home--forged under modern war-fighting conditions--be informed by an evolutionary perspective of what "home" has looked like for most of human history?
- Is at least part of why soldiers are willing to kill a consequence of them wanting to defend, at an instinctive level, their "homes" or “nests” during war, even though they may be largely fabricated, virtual, and are certainly temporary?
- How might feeling dis-located, dis-placed, or "home-less" contribute to the experience of trauma/OSIs?
- “Combatting Boredom in Afghanistan.” Engaging Boredom: A Symposium for the Theory and Practice of Resisting, Embracing, and Understanding Boredom. Queen’s University Dept of Cultural Studies. Apr 2015.
- “Our Global Village, Their Literal One: The Impact of Cultural Dis-Location on Influence Activities in Kandahar.” Lost in Translation? The Impact of Military Culture on Alliance and Coalition Politics. Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy Workshop Apr 2015.
- “Re-Placing the Self: Home, Belonging, and the Virtual Identity of War in the 21st C.” Canadian Institute of Military and Veteran Health Research Forum 2014 Toronto, Nov 2014.
- With Nanette Norris. "Introduction: Ecocritical Spring and Evolutionary Discourse." Cultural Ecocriticism: Words for a Small Planet, Nov 2012.
- "Is 'Eco' Enough?: Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Wayland Drew's The Erthring Cycle, and Evolutionary Fiction." Cultural Ecocriticism: Words for a Small Planet, Nov 2012.
- “Staying in the Shadows: Non-Kinetic Influence Activities in Afghanistan.” Seventh Colloquium in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Royal Military College of Canada Oct 2012.
- "Colliding Discourses: The (Impossible?) Art of Persuasion in Afghanistan." Ed. Travis Martin, Journal of Military Experience Vol II, Richmond, KY Jul 2012.
Proud and very humbled to be the 2014-15 RMC Teaching Excellence Award Winner, I think that learning, and teaching, should be as much fun as they are critically demanding, and to that end I ensure my classes balance structure and order with spontaneity, digression, debate, and play. In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall makes a great case for how, even if the printed word is on the decline (and the jury is still out on that one), the human instinct for creating and sharing stories is not: it is merely manifesting in more visual forms like television, movies, social media, and digital gaming. My classes embrace this expansion of the "literary" to remain relevant for this generation of students, all the while connecting story back through space and time to reveal consistencies, and inconsistencies, with the narratives and modes that have mattered to our literary forbearers and their audiences.
Courses Taught (Past and Present):
- ENE 100/110 Introduction to Literary Studies and University Writing Skills
- ENE210 Reading the Contemporary World: 1900 to the Present
- ENE226 Foundations of Western Literature: Greek and Roman Myths and the Bible
- ENE228: Critical Approaches to Literature and Culture
- ENE 300 Restoration and Eighteenth Century Literature
- ENE 351 Canadian Literature: Beginnings to the 1960s
- ENE 353 Canadian Literature: 1960s to the Present
- ENE 413 Literature, Culture, and Ecology
- ENE 415 Literature, Culture, and Evolution
- Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR)
- The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment
- The Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada
- Literary Darwinism
- Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer
- Transhumanism FAQs
- Cool Words
Canadian Literature, Ecocriticism, Evolution, Literary Darwinism, Home, Belonging, Transhumanism, Trauma, Canadian Armed Forces, War, Afghanistan