So back in the before time, by which I mean somewhere toward the end of 2019, I happily agreed to join an “author meets critics” panel at the Pacific Sociological Association meetings to discuss Esther Sullivan‘s book Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans’ Tenuous Right to Place. The meeting would’ve been in Eugene, Oregon at the end of March in 2020. By February I was already reading the tea leaves and doubting it was going to happen.
I started this blog back in January of 2016, which makes five years ago this month. So obviously it’s time for an anniversary post!
Working with Jens von Bermann, I gave a talk yesterday at #HousingCentral on housing metrics! Specifically, we talked through and expanded upon our earlier joint blog post on the same topic. Click the image below to visit our full slides.
Included in the slides are a variety of graphics, mostly from past posts of mine and Jens’. In case you’re curious, follow the links below to find out more about them:
and Job Vacancies
As for the conference, Housing Central is an annual shindig put on by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), including a special set of panels on research from the fine folks at the Pacific Housing Research Network (PHRN). Check the PHRN Symposium website for calls if you’re interested in presenting!
Last but not least, I took some bird pictures down along the southern edge of the Fraser River delta, and I really, REALLY want to turn them into as many housing memes as I can. So here’s me summarizing our Housing Central talk with a bird-based housing meme.
Public intellectuals beware! Not everyone agrees with you, and some will be nasty about it. So how does it work when muck-raking journalists attack?
First some context: an observation of mine on twitter led to a little dust-up concerning the discourse around “foreign money” in Vancouver. I quickly muted the conversation, but it summoned many trolls, including the ghost of Margaret Wente (which paradoxically made me feel all warm & fuzzy, like I’d done something right). South China Morning Post reporter Ian Young, one of the chief troll-masters, decided to put out the equivalent of a journalistic hit on me. I suspect this is a pattern with Ian, given his past attacks on other public figures he disagrees with (like UBC’s Tsur Somerville). So I’m posting my responses here for future reference. Hopefully this will serve three purposes: 1) it may help keep Ian honest in his muck-raking; 2) it may have broader lessons for other academics who dare raise their voices in the rough and tumble public sphere; and 3) some people might actually be interested in my answers to Ian’s questions.
How things unfolded: After an initial relatively professional inquiry about getting my input on general issues (foreign money, racism, real estate), Ian sent me the following questions, which focus less on my input and more on my conduct, including both my tweet (which brought all the trolls to the yard) and my participation as an expert witness in a court case challenging BC’s foreign-buyer tax. But it doesn’t stop there. Read on if you’re also interested in strata wind-ups, because there’s a part two to the journalistic hit-story where Ian dives even deeper to try and find dirt on me!
Ian’s initial questions [in bold]:
- In your affidavit in the Jing Li case, you say the role of “foreign buyers” in the Vancouver real estate market has likely been exaggerated. How big a role do you think “foreign money” – specifically, Chinese money (brought by both immigrants and non-immigrants) – plays in the Vancouver real estate market?
“Foreign money” is a problematic and sloppy concept, especially as applied to the wealth immigrants bring with them. I think immigrants play a strong role in driving Vancouver real estate, and we attract a disproportionate share of wealthy immigrants. We can talk immigration policy, and while I’m generally pro-immigrant (and an immigrant myself), I’m on the record against “investor” immigration programs. But when people immigrate to Canada, I no longer think of their wealth as “foreign.”
It would appear from data I’ve seen and analyzed, as compiled by the CMHC and Statistics Canada, that the role of people investing in Vancouver real estate while living elsewhere is a real but relatively small part of the local market. The evidence suggests local investors are far more prominent.
As for the issues of tax avoidance and money laundering (that people sometimes pretend only apply to “foreign money”), I take it for granted that these are bad things that should be ended regardless of how big a role they play in real estate.
- Can you elaborate on the role of racism in the debate over foreign money and Chinese money in the Vancouver affordability debate?
I believe a number of different logics or motivations have driven the debate over “foreign money,” which as I’ve mentioned, I consider a problematic and sloppy concept. Many people are drawn to the “foreign money” explanation as a ready answer to their understandable confusion over prices that keep them from obtaining housing they feel like their parents might’ve been able to afford or that they could still easily obtain in other parts of Canada. They’re looking for answers – especially answers that don’t make them feel like failures for not achieving their particular homeownership goals, which are often associated with middle-class success, becoming an adult, and being a good parent. In this sense, there’s a real moral and personal element to debates over housing. And people are right to look beyond their own circumstances for explanations into Vancouver’s affordability woes. It’s a very sociological instinct!
But blaming foreigners isn’t helpful and the distinction between foreigners and foreign money isn’t very clearly drawn, just as blaming Chinese people isn’t helpful and the distinction between Chinese people and Chinese money is fuzzy at best. Racism certainly plays a part in the popularity of “foreign money” discourse, and Vancouver has a long and troubled history there. But we’re also in a very broad-ranging and very real populist moment where a generalizable xenophobia has taken root around the world. It takes different forms in different places, but it troubles me wherever I see it. Then there are also dynamics that are quite specific to Vancouver and its waves of immigrants from Hong Kong and Mainland China (and to a lesser extent, from Taiwan). Many people from Hong Kong are understandably worried over the future of their home city, seeing both Hong Kong and now Vancouver as threatened by Mainland China. These worries are frequently expressed through anti-Mainlander prejudice. I don’t think the term “racism” captures all of these logics or motivations, but it’s part of a somewhat toxic brew that in Vancouver is often targeted at Mainland China and Mainland Chinese.
- Can you explain the continuum of racism in BC and what role it plays in government policies and public opinion relating to real estate here?
As you suggest in your questions, the debate about “foreign money” and “foreign buyers” was also particularized by many people as a debate about “Chinese money” and “Chinese buyers.” People moved back and forth between identifying Canadian sovereignty (vs. foreign) as their primary concern and targeting a particular nationality (“Chinese”) as a concern. My understanding is that anti-Chinese sentiment takes many forms, including those driven by race-logics and racism (and particularly prominent in Vancouver’s past), and those driven by logics and motivations internal to the Chinese diaspora that aren’t racial in nature, but rather reflect tensions with the Mainland. Anti-Chinese sentiment has historically played a very strong role in government policies in Vancouver and BC more broadly. Both governments have acknowledged and apologized for this, but I believe it would be naïve to suggest anti-Chinese sentiment no longer plays a role in driving policy.
- Regarding your “national socialism” tweet…were you offering a sincere observation, or being deliberately hyperbolic?
It was a sincere observation, but couched as a worry rather than an accusation. Indeed, I went out of my way to grant good motivations to those involved in the discussion. My worry involved an underlying transformation in logic. Socialist logics focus on privatized wealth & related inequality as a problem. National socialist logics veer far to the right by twisting concerns about inequality to focus on particular groups of people, demonizing them as enemies of the nation and identifying their wealth or perceived power alone as the problem. To return to our local discussion, it isn’t hard to find far-right, pro-fascist organizations cheering on discourse about “Chinese buyers” and “Chinese money” being to blame for Vancouver housing woes. To put this in very simple and personal terms: if you think “foreign money” is the problem and you focus on the money part, I’ll be with you. If you think “foreign money” is the problem and focus on the foreign part, I won’t. This relates to what I think of as quite important underlying shifts in logic that are very pertinent to the present moment in time.
- Where do you want the policy debate over real estate affordability in Vancouver to go? What areas deserve more emphasis than addressing foreign money and foreign buyers in the market, as a means of improving affordability, and why?
The most important aspects of affordability in Vancouver often get the least amount of attention. Those people currently marginalized by the market distribution of housing, including the homeless and those living in core housing need, should receive the most attention. They are the ones for whom housing is a life and death matter. Temporary Modular Housing is a great move here, and that and related programs should be expanded. Next we should focus on renters. They’re the ones in dire need of more options (Vancouver’s vacancy rate being at 1%) and at most risk of falling into core housing need. There are lots of policy options here, and we should be creating way more social housing options, including a big expansion of non-equity cooperatives. We should also encourage and enable many more market options. Far behind these groups, we get to owners and those desiring to own. There are real benefits to having a very large and broad range of property owners rather than letting property ownership accrue only within a very small and select class. There are also real benefits to having lots of different kinds of housing stock that enable a broad range of options for people to pool their resources together and buy housing, while also encouraging more environmentally friendly lifestyles. I don’t think we need any more programs encouraging and promoting home ownership, which is too often where affordability debates take us, but I don’t think it should be discouraged either.
- What were the circumstances that led you to provide your affadavit in the Jing Li case?
I was approached by the law firm representing Jing Li to act as an expert witness in the case. Representatives of the firm very clearly and repeatedly assured me that as an expert witness, my duty would be to the Court rather than the law firm or their client. This was an important part of my decision to accept the role of expert witness. Through my work as an expert witness, I carried out research to answer questions posed to me by the law firm (through my letter of engagement), with my obligation being to provide truthful and well-researched (“expert”) answers to the Court.
The story continues
These were Ian’s first questions, and I initially agreed to delay blogging my answers until around the time Ian’s article came out. But after his first round of questions, Ian sent me follow-up questions focused solely on my conduct and concerning my former strata association’s wind-up and sale. He’d tracked down the buyers of the strata and apparently identified them as the very personification of evil “Chinese money.” So he sent me targeted questions about this being an unidentified conflict of interest influencing all of my public commentary. “It turns out that disagreeable professor was being paid by ‘Chinese money’ all along! Now we’ve got him!”
It’s a bit of a scoop! But not in the way Ian thinks. As I’ll discuss below, the strata wind-up was a complicated process that I felt ambivalent about, and I knew very little about the ultimate buyer. I’ve been planning on blogging about the experience of being part of a strata wind-up from the inside, but I’ve delayed for a variety of practical reasons. Now my story is in danger of being scooped by someone else! So let me tell you a little bit about what went down before Ian does whatever he’s going to do with his take.
What about my strata wind-up and sale?
My partner and I were initially quite angry when news broke that our strata council was considering looking at winding up the strata and putting it on the market. We liked our townhouse just fine, and we hadn’t been there very long. Ours was a mixed strata, comprised of townhouses and a low-rise building. The main issue seemed to be that the low-rise building was worried about their expenses, which were treated separate from ours, and wanted to compare estimates for fixing the place with what they could get for selling the place. We initially took this to suggest that the low-rise hadn’t been keeping up their building the way they should, and it didn’t seem fair that we in the townhouses should have to sell to cover their expenses. But then the possibility for big money from a sale also started getting thrown around in a lot of conversations with neighbours. Some were very excited by the prospect. Others were noticeably distraught that they might have to leave. After much discussion and many meetings, the strata as a whole voted to market the place to see how much it could sell for. Working with Colliers, we ended up with an offer that entailed a lot of money (around twice our assessed values). We knew very little about who made the offer, but the realtors told us it was a new developer with interests both in Canada and China. Then we had a vote on whether or not to accept the offer and wind-up the strata. My partner and I were conflicted in our voting. A lot of money was on the table, but we really liked our place and sympathized with those who wanted to stay. In the end our vote didn’t matter. The vote to sell easily met the threshold required under the new strata wind-up regulations.
There were minor complications throughout – it’s a big and involved process to wind-up and sell a strata – and we still weren’t certain the deal would go through for several months after the vote. In fact, we kind of hoped the deal would fall apart (especially when the flowers came out in our little townhouse yard!) But eventually all the t’s got crossed and the i’s dotted. And now we’re renters! (We negotiated a period of time in which we could rent back our properties while looking for someplace new to live).
Overall, the strata wind-up and sale is something that happened to us, rather than something that we actively sought. We weren’t at all certain we wanted it to go through. I learned lots from it, but it did not otherwise affect my public commentary* and I did not know who the beneficial buyers were until Ian sent me their names, nor have I ever had contact with the beneficial buyers. As in most real estate transactions, their identities were never anything more than a curiosity throughout the process. I remain curious, as ever, about what they’ll do with the place once we’ve all left. Until then, speaking as a tenant, if Ian wants to dig up dirt on my new landlords, I’ve got no problem with that.
*- There is one exception regarding the strata wind-up and sale affecting my public commentary! My partner and I are dual-citizens, and as a result we’ll be paying capital gains taxes on the sale to the USA, where sales of principal residence are not exempt from taxation. We don’t mind this in principal, and we kind of feel like windfall gains should be taxed. But we really, really wish our taxes were going to Canada. So its possible my advocacy for taxing the profit on sales of principal residences in Canada has been strengthened by the strata wind-up. Take my money Canada! Please!
The Death and Life of the Single-Family House just won the Canadian Sociological Association‘s John Porter Tradition of Excellent Book Award. I’m truly honoured by this award, especially by the company it allows me and my book to keep! My thanks go out to the review committee, and also to my very supportive team at Temple University Press., especially the editors of the Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series.
I’m joined by three other members of the UBC Sociology Department on the list of awards handed out by CSA this year, including my good friend Sean Lauer who won the Angus Reid Applied Sociology award as a Practitioner. Incidentally, he and fellow faculty member Carrie Yodanis also have a book out this year, called Getting Married: The Public Nature of Our Private Relationships. Two of our graduate students, François Lachapelle and Patrick Burnett also won an award for their paper, “Canadianization Movement, American Imperialism, and Scholastic Stratification: Professorial Evidence from 1977 to 2017.” To be sure, this is important stuff (and I say that as an American immigrant to Canada and beneficiary of the processes described).
But back to the company my book gets to keep! Through the CSA Awards, I’m excited to discover Dalhousie Prof. Karen Foster‘s new book, Productivity and Prosperity: A Sociological History of Productivist Thought, published by the great team at Univ. of Toronto Press. (I’m also looking forward to reading their recently published Gentrifier, but that’s another story). Prof. Foster’s work looks right up my alley in terms of trying to get at how economic concepts like “productivity” get measured and talked about in ways that are both socially constructed (often in a problematic fashion) and also highly consequential in terms of how they shape public policy. Really cool stuff – I’m looking forward to reading it!
The list of past award winners of the John Porter Award also places my book in brilliant company. I’ve been longing to get a copy of Vic Satzewich‘s book, Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In, from the excellent UBC Press, for quite some time now. This is an area of real interest to me (for instance, I regularly have students read some of the training documents for how immigration officers determine which marriages are “real”). Prof. Satzewich’s influential work has been cited by Canadian policy-makers in recent leadership debates (if wrongly), and it’s another I’m really looking forward to reading.
The rest of the list is equally as brilliant (Lesley Wood’s Direct Action, Deliberation, and Diffusion ; Elke Winter’s Us, Them, and Others ; Andrea Doucet’s Do Men Mother? ; Kay Anderson’s Vancouver’s Chinatown – which I cite in my own book! – and many more besides! See the list to fill out your own bedside table).
Now I’ll go back to pettier concerns, like listening to myself repeat the phrase “my award-winning book” over and over again, and envisioning how it will look the next time I revise my CV and find myself with something lovely to plant in the vast, otherwise empty landscape of its “Awards” section.
So here comes the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative! A new cross-border initiative bringing together UBC with the University of Washington! I’ll be generally curious to see where this goes. The notion of Urban analytics, of course, would suggest some interest in urban issues. But so far, at least, there’s very little mention of anything involving urban studies, urban geography, urban sociology, planning, law, or social science of any sort. It’s early days, of course, but I’d be a bit more encouraged if I saw some mention that “urban” implied people living in cities, and we have some relevant expertise that might be worth tapping into!
In the meantime, here’s the four program lined up so far (quoting from the press release):
- The Cascadia Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) Summer Program, which builds on the success of the DSSG program at the UW eScience Institute. The cooperative will coordinate a joint summer program for students across UW and UBC campuses where they work with faculty to create and incubate data-intensive research projects that have concrete benefits for urban communities. One past DSSG project analyzed data from Seattle’s regional transportation system – ORCA – to improve its effectiveness, particularly for low-income transit riders. Another project sought to improve food safety by text mining product reviews to identify unsafe products.
- Cascadia Data Science for Social Good Scholar Symposium, which will foster innovation and collaboration by bringing together scholars from UBC and the UW involved in projects utilizing technology to advance the social good. The first symposium will be hosted at UW in 2017.
- Sustained Research Partnerships designed to establish the Pacific Northwest as a centre of expertise and activity in urban analytics. The cooperative will support sustained research partnerships between UW and UBC researchers, providing technical expertise, stakeholder engagement and seed funding.
- Responsible Data Management Systems and Services to ensure data integrity, security and usability. The cooperative will develop new software, systems and services to facilitate data management and analysis, as well as ensure projects adhere to best practices in fairness, accountability and transparency.
Down at the University of Washington, the new cooperative will be based at Urbanalytics, a University of Washington initiative drawing on “civic hackers” to think up creative solutions to making urban life better.They have a variety of affiliated projects, including one on “housing stability,” apparently led by a physicist and a neuroscientist. I’ve no doubt these are creative and clever people with lots of insight to offer. But as someone who works in housing – an extraordinarily complicated and policy-heavy field requiring a lot of local knowledge – I worry. Wouldn’t you want to add to your team, say, someone who actually knows something about, I don’t know… housing?
On the whole, it’s neat to see the efforts here, and there’s great potential (calling Jens Von Bergmann!) There’s also increasingly a lot of data to play around with, and data scientists have an important role to play. I just worry that brand new efforts to be socially responsible and make cities better won’t get very far without drawing upon the existing strengths of people who have been working toward those efforts for a long, long time.
About a month ago, local reporter Frances Bula ran a story in The Globe & Mail where she went out and actually talked with many of the wealthy Chinese immigrants at the heart of many local debates (mostly over housing). I thought it was a good story! I also thought it sounded a lot like the story I’d been working on getting into an academic journal with a grad student since 2014. After a lengthy review process, that story was finally accepted for publication in Social Problems (our first choice) earlier this year, but academic publishing being what it is, who knows when it will actually come out. I sent Frances a note about how much I appreciated her article and I mentioned that in many respects she’d scooped us! I attached our paper. In her generous response, she wrote up a little piece about our research, out today in the Globe & Mail under the title, “Wealthy Chinese migrants come for better housing, not money: study.”
It’s a fine little write-up. Thanks Frances! But after I sent it to my co-author, UBC Sociology PhD Candidate Jing Zhao, she suggested she would’ve substituted “homes” for “housing” in the title, which is more or less what I’ve done above. (Also the article is coming out in Social Problems instead of Social Work, but that’s a minor quibble for anyone not invested in academia!)
Here I wanted to post a link to the Pre-Print Version of the full article directly for those interested in reading it. I’m slowly getting the hang of where and how copyright works – mostly in this case just by closely reading the fine-print of the copyright agreement where it notes my rights to distributing pre-prints! Building on this, I’m hopeful I’ll get most of my old and new work out in the public domain in some form or another through this blog and other venues (like my Faculty website). So here’s today’s piece (with citation and abstract):
Nathanael Lauster & Jing Zhao. Labor Migration and the Missing Work of Home-making: Three Forms of Settling for Chinese-Canadian Migrants. Forthcoming in Social Problems.
Much of migration theory has come to revolve around the category of the “labor migrant,” without taking into account labor, like home-making, that remains unrecognized by the market. Drawing from qualitative interviews with thirty one Chinese migrants in different stages of making a move from Beijing to Vancouver, we attempt to bring better visibility to how the labor involved in home-making intersects with migration. Defining home-making as work in the pragmatic-existentialist context of the stabilization of everyday routines, we uncover three themes to home-making work: settling in, settling down, and settling for. Discussion of these themes reveals two important issues for migration theory: settlement relies upon the work of home-making and the work of home-making in many cases motivates migration. For these reasons, the work of home-making should be more carefully studied within the migration literature.
Just putting this up for anyone interested in the two talks I’ll be giving at the two professional Sociology conferences being held simultaneously in Seattle this week!
At the American Sociological Association (ASA), I’ll be presenting a paper related to (but distinct from) my book project on the Death and Life of the Single-Family House. It will be part of the Regular Session, Performing Parenthood in Social Context, convening Saturday at 2.30pm in the Seattle Sheraton (4th Floor, Seneca Room). (see here for other events going on that day). Title & Abstract:
Housing Parenthood: Performing a role on an unsettled stage – N. Lauster
How do people construct the social role of parenthood? What gets enrolled as part of the performance? What are the implications of unsettling expectations? In this paper I pay special attention to how housing relates to the performance of parenthood, drawing upon qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with 50 residents of Vancouver, Canada. Frequently depicted as the most unaffordable metropolis in North America, Vancouver offers a culturally “unsettled” environment where single family homes, in particular, have moved rapidly out of reach for the vast majority of residents. In general terms, analysis of interviews illuminates how housing provides a material scaffolding for the role of parenthood; offering up both a stage for the performance of parenthood and a crucial retreat from the stage. More specifically, I call special attention to how people treat ownership of a single family home variously as: 1) a pre-packaged co-requisite, 2) a prerequisite, 3) inconsequential, or 4) a foil to performing the role of parenthood. In addition to shaping the role of parenthood, the balance between these four treatments of single family home ownership has important implications for how housing policies and markets influence both childbearing and mobility.
Meanwhile, at the conference next door, The Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP), I’ll be presenting a very different paper based on my musings (working with my co-authors) concerning hoarding disorder and its relationship to broader discourses about how people are understood to normally relate to their environments. This will be the first time I’ve ever presented at SSSP! My paper here will be part of the Session on Health and the Environment, convening Sunday at 4.30pm (absolute last panel of the conference) in the Westin Seattle Hotel (Mercer Room). (Full program here) Title & Abstract:
Making Room for Thought: Contrasting Models of Human-Environment Relations in the Conceptualization and Diagnosis of Hoarding Disorder – N. Lauster, C. Bratiotis, S. Woody
Hoarding behavior, at first glance, bridges academic worlds concerned with health and environment insofar as “hoarders” seem to exemplify just how rampant consumerism can lead us all awry. Yet at least a few commentators have suggested the opposite: by virtue of saving rather than discarding, those labeled hoarders often view themselves as rejecting consumerist logics and instead fostering sustainability. The psychiatrists and psychologists who actually study hoarding focus less on the broader social and cultural implications of the phenomenon than on its impact as a mental disorder affecting the well-being of the individuals involved. We argue here that this is both laudable – hoarding has real impacts on well-being that are too often overlooked – and a fundamental mistake. The debate over how people should and do relate to their environments is of central importance to the conceptualization and etiology of hoarding as a disorder. We demonstrate how one position within this debate, that people’s relationships to their environment are best modeled along the utilitarian lines of consumers (see also, homo economicus) has been implicitly adopted within the psychological and psychiatric diagnosis of hoarding. We contrast this position with an alternative; what might be learned by basing conceptualizations of hoarding in the model of people as builders and dwellers? This model takes seriously home-making as a collection of human orientations toward the environment. Its adoption could offer up new implications for the etiology and conceptualization of hoarding as a disorder.
Several years ago I got a call out of the blue from Sheila Woody, a UBC Psychology professor, asking if I might be interested in working together on some hoarding research. Fortunately this came about less due to an inspection of my office and more because she’d stumbled across my research profile and discovered I had an interest in housing and the making of home. This is one of those collaborations where, even though I found real potential in the research that overlapped with my own interests in intriguing ways, I was drawn to the work in no small part by how much I enjoyed working with the colleague involved. Sheila and her team (now also including Christiana Bratiotis) are a lot of fun, and I’m delighted to report that some of our first findings are now out and have just been covered by both the Vancouver Sun and the CBC (where they also have nice pictures of Sheila and some team members).
Looking at two waves of inspections data provided by a collaboration with the City of Vancouver, we estimated the prevalence of problematic clutter in the SRO rooms regularly inspected by the City. We wrote up the results and published them in Housing Studies with the title:
How much of too much? What inspections data say about residential clutter as a housing problem.
. Here’s the abstract (Full study here):
How big of a housing problem is residential clutter? In this paper, we draw upon inspections data in Vancouver to both estimate the size of the problem and detail how it is observed and constituted through municipal regulatory processes. We contrast the inspections approach to residential clutter with the mental health approach, which focuses on hoarding disorder. Inspections data indicate the problem of residential clutter is potentially larger than might be expected by the epidemiology of hoarding disorder, and also point toward the many risks associated with clutter. Using our best estimate, approximately seven per cent of low-income, dense, single-room occupancy (SRO) housing units inspected were identified by inspectors as problematically cluttered, indicating a sizable problem. Larger buildings and those managed as social housing were more likely than other buildings to have many units identified as problematically cluttered. Strikingly, for given buildings, estimates of problematic clutter tended to remain relatively stable across time, inspector, and inspection method.
The big takeaway for me is that residential clutter is a real housing problem. That seven percent covers a lot of rooms, creating big headaches for housing managers and neighbors as well as the residents of cluttered rooms themselves. Indeed, in some buildings we studied, up to a third of rooms were problematically cluttered with possessions. It’s not clear that all of this is the result of hoarding as a mental health issue, but it fits with broader evidence of the epidemiology of hoarding. It also squares with the informal feedback I get when I touch base with many people working in the social housing sector in Vancouver. Even without prompting, they regularly point to hoarding as a big obstacle they face in keeping people housed and healthy. So I’m really happy that we’ve put this on the academic radar, not just as a mental health issue, but also as a broader housing issue. I’m also happy I get to keep working with Sheila and the team toward better understanding what’s going on.
Incidentally, Vancouver’s Hoarding Action Response Team (HART) is broadly recognized as a leading collaborative resource enabled to coordinate responses for those struggling with hoarding.
PhDs are for getting jobs as tenure-track professors, of course! Or at least it might seem that way from recent coverage of a study that appears to be ALMOST out from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).
The Globe & Mail reports on the study results, demonstrating that PhDs really ARE finding tenure track jobs! One third of the PhDs produced in Ontario appear to have gone on to tenure-track jobs, with half of those jobs at Canadian institutions. This is presented as a substantially improved outcome relative to past reporting (from the Conference Board of Canada) that less than 20% of Canadian PhD holders have full-time faculty jobs in Canada (see also here).
It’s notable that these reports, despite different methods, seem to be telling us roughly the same thing (half of one third is a little less than 20%). You can still get a tenure-track job with a Canadian PhD, but there’s no guarantee, and your best offer (or your only offer) might not be in Canada. Of note, we just began keeping track of our recent Sociology PhD placements at UBC. The results from these cohorts aren’t fully in yet (we have a lot of postdoctoral placements!), nevertheless I suspect we’re doing better than average. Still the lessons are broadly similar. You can get a tenure-track job with a Canadian PhD, only it might not be in Canada.
But are tenure-track jobs the only thing worth getting a PhD for? When I smugly note “we’re doing better than average,” that’s what I’m implying. And evidence compiled within a different HEQCO report suggests that 65% of all PhDs (and 86% of Humanities PhDs) “pursued their degree with the intention of becoming a university professor.” (p. 16). It seems clear, both from these kind of survey results and from anecdotal evidence, that we tend to socialize PhDs to value tenure-track faculty jobs.
If most of those getting their PhDs want a faculty job but aren’t getting one, are we – the keepers of PhD programs – failing them? If so, how so? Are we failing them 1. by admitting them? 2. by how we socialize them toward a singular professional goal? Or 3. by our inability to effectively advocate for an expanded higher education system able to accommodate that goal? I suppose I’m leaning toward the overlooked middle child of these possible answers. I’d like to see more PhDs out in the world beyond academia. So I guess I should set all professional smugness aside and start working harder to publicly celebrate all of those clever PhDs who manage to break free.
Fortunately we have some great examples from UBC, and several of our recent PhDs have gone on to exciting work as Research Scientists, Public Educators, and Directors at Non-Profits. To you, I say, well done!