Interdisciplinary collaboration yields results to benefit caregivers, families
University of Manitoba professors Drs. Karine Levasseur (Department of Political Studies) and Lorna Turnbull (Faculty of Law), recently released Mothering and Welfare: Depriving, Surviving, Thriving, co-edited with Concordia University political science professor, Dr. Stephanie Paterson. Published by Demeter Press, the volume investigates the intersections of welfare, gender and mothering work in the current political climate. The chapters explore austerity and government policies that deprive some mothers of assistance. The social construction of motherhood around the world is considered, and different ways of thinking about mothering and needed changes to laws and policies are examined.
The faculties of Arts and Law caught up with Levasseur and Turnbull to learn more about the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in different faculties and how their resulting work can benefit the public.
What was the catalyst behind the creation of the book?
Karine Levasseur: Prior to this collaboration, we individually pursued research that explores the intersection of gender and welfare, especially issues related to income security. Our publisher, Demeter Press, has long supported research that focuses on mothers. Demeter Press approached us to edit such a collection, blending our research related to welfare, law/public policy and mothers. We immediately accepted this opportunity because it was a natural fit: even though we come from different disciplines, we each had a core understanding of the pressures facing welfare systems and women, so focusing on mothers is a natural progression of our research.
What was it like working on this interdisciplinary project?
Lorna Turnbull: I love interdisciplinary work. I feel that each of us, as scholars, within our discipline has a piece of the puzzle, maybe even quite a few pieces, but we never have all the pieces to the puzzle. Working with co-editors with different disciplinary backgrounds gave us a chance to craft a call for submissions and to review submissions from a very inclusive lens. The fact that the very first work in the collection is a poem, and that poem captures the desperation of a mother living in poverty, her love for her child and her fear of the way the state polices and controls their daily existence, really set the tone for the whole work. Other chapters are more “scholarly”, they bring different perspectives and tackle topics as diverse as how the media portrays mothers living on welfare, to how school bus rules are stilled rooted in the “leave it to Beaver” era!
Levasseur: As the Editors, our disciplinary backgrounds are rooted within law and public policy. When we think about solving public problems such as poverty, environmental degradation, racism and many others, law and public policy are fundamentally intertwined. Sometimes, law shapes what public policy decisions can be made and other times, public policy establishes law itself or may violate law too.
So although law and public policy are separate disciplines, there is a fundamental connection between them in which they shape and influence each other. As the Editors, we found from working together that although there are differences in how our disciplines approach identifying and solving problems, there is much more that unites our two disciplines.
Who can benefit from the knowledge contained in this book?
Turnbull: Anyone really. My deepest hope is that it helps to raise the visibility of care work. Care work is still hugely gendered and it is a key foundation of inequality between men and women. The least visible are the women who care on the margins of society, be it because they are mothering in poverty, because they are marginalized by their race or disability, or because they live in the global south where aid programs see them merely as a conduit for their children’s health without any recognition of their own value as human beings. I hope readers, and ideally policy makers and legal decision makers see the work of care see the people who are doing it at a cost to themselves, but for the benefit of all, and see their resilience their love, their hope for the future. In this time of COVID where we are seeing the disproportionate impact of the virus on women, because they are working on the front lines (in care homes, grocery stores, etc.), because they are caring for children at home and trying to support their schooling while holding down full time work, because they are caring for elders and neighbours, the inequalities created by invisible care work are laid bare, to see in ways that many have never noticed before. It is time for a new way forward, for new laws and policies, as COVID has shown us and as this collection illustrates.
Levasseur: Everyone will likely take something different from this diverse collection. For public policy analysts, they will benefit from learning how existing policies have an impact on mothers that allow some mothers to thrive, but [leave] other mothers struggling to survive. For community organizations, they can benefit from this diverse knowledge to advocate for better public policy. For students, these diverse perspectives illustrate the many dimensions facing mothers and the impact that public policy has, both positive and negative.
What did you learn from this collaboration that you would be inspired to pass on in the classroom to your students?
Turnbull: Oh, boy, that’s a big one. In my classes, I try very hard to teach students about interprofessional collaboration, about the importance of having respect for the expertise of other professions, and learning to work with them for the benefit of our clients and for the administration of justice. In Income Tax Law and Policy, it is mainly accountants that I talk about, in Children and Youth, it is social workers, and in Legal Methods, it is just a general awareness that law and lawyers do not have all of the answers and working with others allows one to develop more fully as a professional. Especially in the area of equality and human rights law, context is very important and those other professionals and other scholars are the ones who can help to provide a full contextual picture, exactly as the Supreme Court of Canada articulated most recently in the Fraser case.