Julia Christensen

Department of Geography
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John's, NL
A1B 3X9

Office: SN 2008
Email: jchristensen[at]mun[dot]ca

Phone: 709 864 7448

Website: juliachristensen.ca

Research areas:
Health and Well-being
Society, Knowledge and Values
Sustainable communities and regions

My work as a geographer is situated within social, cultural and health geographies. Specifically, I seek to participate in the development of a critical northern geography through engagement with poststructural, anti-colonial, and feminist theories and methodologies. In this vein, I work with research approaches that brings the stories of northern people to the fore, both in terms of discourse and policy, in order to promote community-based and culturally-significant approaches to social health and community wellbeing. In my research and writing, I have explored the historical and contemporary roles of northern social policy as a colonial tool in northern regions, and their significance to housing insecurity, the role of rural-urban migration in northern geographies of homelessness and housing need, social determinants of Indigenous health and culturally-safe housing policy, and experiences of home and homelessness in northern and Indigenous communities. More recently, I have turned my attention to the social dimensions of urbanization in northern and Arctic regions, innovations in the area of community-led housing initiatives, transitional and supportive housing models in the northern context, and interactions between housing policy with other policy areas preoccupied with northern social welfare, such as the child welfare system. I also engage with the use of creative and arts-based research methods, particularly through the use research storytelling as a way to promote Indigenous conceptualizations of home, engage with the cultures and contexts of Indigenous communities, and communicate Indigenous health and social research to communities, policymakers and wider publics.

Canada Research Chair (Tier-II) in Northern Governance and Public Policy

Though urbanization and homelessness in circumpolar Arctic communities have both been the focus of recent media and research attention, these two phenomena have only been examined separately, with little attention given to the role of northern social policy and governance, uneven rural-urban geographies, and rural-urban movement in rising visible homelessness in urbanizing Arctic locales. My research as a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Northern Governance and Public Policy addresses this gap by examining the diverse processes and forms of social marginalization in northern communities, and highlights the significance of social policy to the contemporary challenges and opportunities encountered by northern peoples and communities. In particular, it addresses a dearth in the spectrum of northern policy research around the specific role of the changing social welfare state on northern social, cultural and health geographies.

The principal aim of my CRC research program is to understand the social dimensions of Arctic urbanization and homelessness across the Canadian North, Alaska and Greenland. Six interrelated research objectives include: 1) exploration of the roles of social health and social welfare institutions in northern rural-urban relocation; 2) examination of the development of social welfare institutions in each context; 3) promotion of culturally-safe social policy and practice; 4) examination of the social challenges and opportunities of an urban Arctic; 5) development of broader conceptualizations of urbanization and homelessness in Arctic contexts; and, 6) advancement of new methods for community-engaged research.

Current research projects

Health and social welfare institutionalization, urbanization and homelessness in Nuuk, Greenland (funded by Det Frie Forskningsråd – Danish Research Council) – with collaborator, Dr. Steven Arnfjord, University of Greenland

The principal aim of this research project is to understand the dynamics of social welfare institutionalization in Arctic urbanization and homelessness in Nuuk, Greenland. From this central aim stem five main research objectives: 1) to compare and contrast the roles of social and health factors and their interactions with social welfare institutions in the rural-urban relocation and homelessness of Indigenous peoples in Nuuk; 2) to examine the historical and contemporary experiences of colonialism and modernization, as well as the development of social welfare structures and institutions in Greenland; 3) to investigate the context-dependent ways in which social welfare policy interacts with housing policy in the rural-urban pathways to homelessness of research participants; 4) to explore the ways in which northern Indigenous homeless peoples’ acts of “home-journeying” (Mallett 2004) demonstrate resilience in their interactions with social welfare institutions; and 5) to advance a theorization of the role of social welfare institutionalization in Arctic urbanization.

Non-renewable resource development, homelessness and the potential for community-based housing governance and policy in the Northwest Territories, Canada (funded by SSHRC as part of the Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic project) – with co-investigator Dr. Lisa Freeman, Kwantlen University and community partner, Alternatives North

The purpose of this research is threefold: 1) to explore the current housing policy landscape in the Northwest Territories as it pertains to the provision of public and subsidized housing, including supportive/transitional housing programs, in the city of Yellowknife; 2) to analyze the impacts that non-renewable resource development has had on affordable, private housing in the NWT; and 3) to explore various innovations and potential to mitigate negative impacts, including self-government engagement in housing policy and programs, policy collaborations between northern communities, governments and industry, and local housing innovations such as community-led initiatives. As part of our research communication plan, we are working with a social justice and community-engaged graphic designer, Una Lee (from And Also Too agency), to develop the accessible and user-friendly materials for our community partner as well as other community-based organizations.


Post-doc (2012-2013) University of British Columbia
PhD (2012) McGill University
MA (2005) University of Calgary
BA (2002) University of British Columbia

Select 2016-2017 publications

Christensen, J., Cox, C. and L. Szabo-Jones, eds.,
2018. Activating the Heart: Storytelling, Knowledge Sharing, and
Relationship. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Christensen, J. 2017. No home in a homeland: Indigenous peoples and homelessness in the Canadian North. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.

Christensen, J., Arnfjord, S., Carraher, S., and Hedwig, T. 2017. Homelessness across Alaska, the Canadian North and Greenland: A Review of the Literature on a Developing Social Phenomenon in the Circumpolar North. Arctic, 70(4).

Arnfjord, S. and Christensen, J. 2017. De søger trygheden: Kvinder ramt af hjemløshed i Nuuk [They seek safety: women affected by homelessness in Nuuk]. Psyke & Logos, 38(1):23 –33.

de Leeuw, S., Parkes, M., Mitchell-Foster, K., Sloan Morgan, V., Christensen, J. and J. Russell. 2017. Going unscripted: A call to critically engage storytelling methods and methodologies in geography and the medical-health sciences. The Canadian Geographer, 61(2): 152-164.

Peters, E. J. and Christensen, J. (eds.) 2016. International geographical perspectives on Indigenous home and homelessness. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press.

Christensen, J. with P. Andrew. 2016. ‘They don’t let us look after each other like we used to’: reframing Indigenous homeless geographies as home/journeying in the Northwest Territories, Canada. In Christensen, J. and E. Peters (eds): International Perspectives on Indigenous Home and Homelessness, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Christensen, J. 2016. Indigenous homelessness: the Canadian Context. In Christensen, J. and E. Peters (eds): International Perspectives on Indigenous Home and Homelessness, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Christensen, J. 2016. Indigenous housing and health in the Canadian North: revisiting cultural safety. Health & Place, 40, 83-90.