The sober second thought of sociology

Jan 27th, 2015

Janet Harron

The sober second thought of sociology

As the most recent recipient of the Canadian Sociological Association’s Early Investigator Award, it’s not surprising that Dr. Mark Stoddart comes across as a hard worker. A really hard worker.

In addition to new research program, currently under review as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council proposal, that looks at tensions between oil producers and tourism development across the North Atlantic region, Dr. Stoddart continues to be involved in work on regional Newfoundland and Labrador tourism and how that might contribute to social and environmental sustainability in coastal communities. He has also recently co-written a paper about the oil-tourism interface in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which was recently presented at the International Sociological Association World Congress in Japan, and is under review for publication.


Mark Stoddart received the 2014 Canadian Sociological Association's Early Investigator Award.

“It’s really wonderful to have the sense that people are willing to nominate you. It reflects being well thought of in the academic community that I have been working with for the last several years,” said Dr. Stoddart, whose nominees for the award included colleagues from Memorial’s Department of Sociology and from the University of British Columbia, where he completed his PhD.


“This is not a solo endeavour – I’ve had a great trajectory and have been lucky to surround myself with scholars like Karen Stanbridge here at Memorial, David Tindall at UBC, Howard Ramos at Dalhousie and Bill Carroll at the University of Victoria.”

As an environmental sociologist, Dr. Stoddart spends a considerable amount of time with biologists, ecologists, social geographers and political scientists.

“It’s a very interdisciplinary sub-discipline,” he said.

He explains that environmental problems are largely social problems that result from the way our economic and political systems are structured.

“Environmental problems are deeply intertwined with society and have everything to do with how society shapes the environment and vice versa. “

Dr. Stoddart’s work on outdoor recreation and tourism initially came out of his personal experiences living in British Columbia throughout the 1990s. 

“There was a shift from forestry to tourism as the No. 1 economy and therefore a shift in values in what forests were for," Dr. Stoddart explained. “Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, the tourism economy is less developed but there has been a huge ramping up in the last decade and we can see similar patterns to what occurred in B.C. I am asking similar questions in terms of how the move towards a tourism economy changes the way we view and interact with coastal environments and how this relates to larger scale issues such as climate change.”

Dr. Stoddart’s current work on oil exploration and tourism, i.e. the proposed Old Harry project near Gros Morne, exemplifies the tensions between these two competing initiatives.

“The benefits of tourism are not always equally distributed – for example the marketing of whales and icebergs to the outside world has a significant carbon impact through increased air travel,” he said. “Sociology can challenge the uncritical promotion of tourism and act as a place for sober second thought on both the benefits and limitations of tourism development for coastal communities and environments.”

Through partnerships with Memorial's Harris Centre, Dr. Stoddart has worked on applied regional tourism projects for communities on the Burin Peninsula and on the Labrador Straits and knows that tourism can be a boon for many communities. However, he believes it is essential to fully understand the environmental impacts in order to manage growth effectively and to ensure the enhancement of social well-being.

“Ultimately, we need to understand how to maximize the benefits of tourism while being cognizant of its shortcomings.”