Samantha Morton is working towards a MA in sociology, international development, gender and development. After completing an undergraduate in international development, Samantha spent some time abroad, including work in developing countries. It was here that she began to question the current state of development work and the various ways aid workers could be further supported in their gender development endeavours. Like the industry, her thesis is a work in progress, but she hopes the results will have a positive influence on international development as it continues to evolve.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Georgetown, Ont. I lived in Guelph, Ont. for many years, and lived about a year each in Douai, France; Shanghai, China; and Vientiane, Lao PDR. I’m now happy to call St. John’s home.
Where, and in what area, did you do your undergraduate or previous graduate work?
I did my undergraduate work in international development with a specialization in gender at the University of Guelph. Small world story: one of my professors during that time, Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo, is now the Director of the Labrador Institute.
I also completed a post-graduate certificate at Humber College in Toronto, also in international development, but with a focus on international project management.
Why did you choose Memorial for graduate or postdoctoral studies?
I chose Memorial because I wanted to work with Dr. Liam Swiss on his SSHRC-funded project Developing Conformity. The funded MA position came to my attention when I was working in Lao PDR as a gender advisor. It was perfect timing and felt like a great fit. I had also long wanted to come to Newfoundland.
How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at Memorial?
Largely positive. There are some amazingly badass researchers at MUN, including my two supervisors Dr. Nicole Power and Dr. Liam Swiss. I’ve taken opportunities to reach out and connect with folks in gender, geography, anthropology, political science, Marine Institute, Labrador Institute, and philosophy to broaden what I’m exposed to and be a part of feminist scholarship across disciplines.
I have been working with some of my graduate student colleagues in the sociology department to get our graduate student association ratified so we can collectively plan and hold events. A supportive community that challenges each other to think deeply and critically is an important part of graduate school for me and something that I am working to widen within our department and as part of the GSU.
What is your degree program and area of specialization?
Master of arts in sociology, international development, gender and development.
Why did you choose this area of study?
It sounds a bit cliché, even a bit arrogant, but when I was 16 I thought that I could save the world. I wanted to do good in the world, to be good in the world. So I went and studied international development for my undergrad and finished it not wanting to be in that field at all, or rather not knowing how to be in the field of international development without being a part of ongoing processes of colonialism.
What is your research/thesis about?
My MA thesis research project focuses on international development workers in Lao PDR. In the fall of 2018 I travelled back to Lao PDR to conduct field work. I wanted to understand how gender matters for local and international development workers in this particular context.
Development workers are often tasked with implementing projects with a gender component, often with long-term goals of “achieving” gender equality. In my research I am seeking to illuminate what that looks like in this context; what does gender and gender equality mean for the folks whose job it is to work towards it? How do the structures of the organizations and institutions that make up the “players” in the international development industry shape what kinds of development projects are thinkable and possible?
What is the goal of your research?
To understand strategies that development workers adopt in order to navigate multiple understandings of gender and gender equality, as well as their experiences of how and when different understandings of gender equality clash, and the effects that this has.
Why did you choose this research question/topic?
I’ve long been curious and critical on the role of Global North development workers in international development. There is a vast literature on gender relations and how gender matters for the communities that development workers work in/with, in the Global South. In the past 15 years there has been the emergence of a critical turn towards examining the role of the “development worker.” While I was working in Lao PDR as a gender advisor I became interested in how gender is being organized in the lives of development workers and what this means for gender-focused projects in this context.
How do you work with your supervisor? Does your work involve other students?
I have two amazing supervisors: Dr. Liam Swiss, and Dr. Nicole Power. When it’s something concerning my project we meet as a group and chat. They’re very supportive and I’m very appreciative of the mentorship that they give me.
I also work on Dr. Swiss’ project as a research assistant. I have the great pleasure of working closely with two fellow Sociology graduate students: Qian Wei and Judy Muchiri.
What are the implications of your research project for the province, the country and the world?
How gender matters for development workers, and the constraints and opportunities that their work is shaped by cannot be separated from the types of “gender projects” that are thinkable and possible in development. Development is a massive industry and gender is a widely adopted “development goal.” I hope to shed light on how we understand the often privileged position of development workers in terms of gender work in development. Newfoundland has a community of development practitioners and both Memorial and Marine Institute engage in development work. Canada has committed to a feminist international assistance policy. I hope that my work can help us to better understand the processes that are shaping gender projects.
Any recent awards/honours?
SSHRC, Dean’s Award of Excellence.
Any difficulties in life that you’ve overcome to pursuit graduate studies?
Being alive is a process of overcoming and becoming, I don’t see it as something we can put into the past tense and understand as being “done;” it’ll be done when you’re dead.
When I was getting burnt out working in kitchens I applied for a MA in philosophy and international development at Guelph. I didn’t get in and I was devastated; didn’t even go to work that day. I failed a few classes in my undergrad and felt haunted by that for a long time, in terms of being seen (and seeing myself) as not “smart enough” for grad school. I did an upgrading semester and took a grad-level course, then went to Humber for a post-grad certificate in international development.
What are you planning to do after you complete your degree?
I am interested in staying with my studies and pursuing a PhD. I am currently researching opportunities for 2020. Between my MA and PhD I want to work back in the field in international development. I want to stay in Newfoundland if it’s possible with finding work, I love it here!
Do you have any advice for current and/or future graduate students?
The university system doesn’t work without your labour — don’t undervalue yourself!