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(since 2020)

Dr. Ushnish Sengupta (PhD)

Program in Adult Education and Community Development, OISE/University of Toronto (2022)

Senior supervisor: Prof. Marcelo Vieta (OISE, University of Toronto)
Supervisory committee: Prof. Sherida Ryan (OISE, University of Toronto)
Supervisory committee: Prof. Ann Armstrong (Rotman, University of Toronto)


Towards a Values-Based Data Governance Theory in the Social Economy in Ontario, Canada

(Link to PDF of dissertation forthcoming)

This thesis develops a Values-Based Data Governance (VBDG) theory by understanding the political, cultural, ideological, and historical contexts for governance of data in social economy organizations (SEOs) with a focus on Ontario, and more broadly Canada. The social economy has a different set of values which are more equity and human rights oriented compared to the public and private sectors. The primary issue with the current absence of a data governance theory is that harms to equity-seeking groups, such as breaches of the right to privacy, gender and racial inequities, and exploitation of labour, can be exacerbated by SEOs unreflexively implementing data-intensive technologies. One of the findings of this thesis is that SEOs are adopting technologies without having a coherent theory of data governance. Countering these problematic trends, and changing the trajectory of SEO adoption of technology toward a more preventive rather than reactive process requires a VBDG theory. The main research questions guiding this study are the following:

1)    What are the theoretical gaps in understanding data governance for SEOs, from a Canadian and Ontario context?

2)    Can the gaps identified be addressed by a new theory of Values-Based Data Governance (VBDG)?


A VBDG theory is presented as a solution to values-based dilemmas brought on by unthoughtfully adopting data-intensive technologies, including inheriting private sector and public sector data governance theories (and practices) that exacerbate existing inequities. Deploying a critical theory of technology approach with a theory of data and algorithms as texts inspired by institutional ethnography, the thesis develops a VBDG theory by specifically examining insights generated through grey and academic literature reviews, policy and political economy analysis, and the use of illustrative case studies. The illustrative case studies highlight two significant underserved populations, people with disabilities in Ontario and immigrants to Canada, as examples to illustrate the issues brought on by an absence of or limited data governance strategies in SEOs. The thesis contributes to social economy literature by developing a VBDG theory for SEOs that provides a basis for the adoption of data-intensive technologies that mitigate socio-economic inequities for equity-seeking groups. The developed theory includes the following elements that must be taken into account when implementing a values-based approach to data governance for SEOs: (1) national culture as the primary context for data governance; (2) political economy as an additional context for data governance; (3) organizational culture as an essential component of data governance; (4) organizational incentive systems that mediate the implementation of data governance; and (5) verification and validation as required for ensuring that the principles of data governance are implemented in practice.

Dr. Terran Giacomini (PhD)

Program in Adult Education and Community Development, OISE/University of Toronto (2022)

Senior supervisor: Prof. Angela Myles (OISE, University of Toronto)
Supervisory committee: Prof. Marcelo Vieta (OISE, University of Toronto)
Supervisory committee: Prof. Annette Desmarais (Faculty of Arts, Sociology, University of Manitoba)


Intrinsic Value in Transformative Politics and Practice: Interviews with Women in La Via Campesina

(Link to PDF of dissertation forthcoming)

In this doctoral thesis I explore key aspects of a transformative politics and practice developing globally within grassroots social movements. I do so by looking at the activism of women in La Via Campesina – a global movement of small-and-medium scale food providers fighting for food sovereignty and agroecology. This qualitative study utilizes participant observation and interview methods. For almost two decades, I have been deeply engaged in movement activism, and, since 2007, participated in La Via Campesina in Canada and internationally. Between 2016 and 2021, I conducted interviews with nineteen women and one non-binary activist from thirteen countries, carrying out the research at four international meetings and conferences. I selected participants who share a politics that is deeply critical of relations of exploitation and oppression and based on far-reaching visions of life-affirming alternatives. Literatures from feminist, ecological, Marxist, anti-colonial and anti-racist scholars and activists inform my analysis of their activism.

I found that these La Via Campesina participants emphasized a politics focused on building relationships. Relationships are at the heart of the participants’ practice in all areas of their lives – with their families, their communities, on the land and in their movements. Drawing on Joel Kovel (2007) as well as Indigenous worldviews and perspectives (Allen 1986, Armstrong 2014, Coulthard 2014, LaDuke 2020, TallBear 2019, The Red Nation 2021) I saw that the deep and defining focus on relationships that I found among all my participants is the manifestation of a politics grounded in intrinsic value. This study throws significant new light on both transformative politics and intrinsic value. In this time of crisis, when the commodification of everything is threatening the very existence of humanity, and many other species, this life-affirming politics is showing what is important and necessary to healing our world.

David Allens (MA)

Program in Adult Education and Community Development, OISE/University of Toronto (2022)

Senior supervisor: Prof. Marcelo Vieta (OISE, University of Toronto)
Supervisory committee: Prof. Jennifer Sumner (OISE, University of Toronto)


Reifying 'Vision 2040': a Conceptual Framework for Community-Driven Development and Participatory Local Governance in The Bahamas

(Link to PDF of dissertation forthcoming)

The ossification of inequitable power dynamics in liberal democracies often leads to the general populace receiving an abating share of decision-making authority. In many instances, this is innately true for democracies that inherited systematized conduits of subjugation and inequality from colonial ontology. For these post-colonial environments, the vestiges of colonial governance maintain limited avenues to public influence in crucial decision-making, while environmental factors like demographic growth exacerbate pre-existing constraints. In The Bahamas, the development of Vision 2040: The National Development Plan of The Bahamas presents an opportunity to mitigate the challenges that have arisen from this policy environment through a comprehensive policy framework and reform agenda guided by broad consultative engagement, interdisciplinary research, and extensive analysis. Leveraging the space for further research provided by ‘Vision 2040,’ this thesis seeks to delineate a two-part conceptualization that outlines a pathway for socio-political and socio-economic development that may yield community ownership, control and influence over their resources and governance systems.

Alejandra Bravo (MA)

Program in Adult Education and Community Development, OISE/University of Toronto (2021)

Senior supervisor: Prof. Marcelo Vieta
Supervisory committee: Prof. Peter Sawchuk (OISE, University of Toronto)


Making the Road: Community Benefits Organizing in Canada as a Radical Adult Learning Practice

(Link to PDF of dissertation forthcoming)

Canadian organizing efforts aiming to democratize the economy are the focus of this study, specifically if and how emancipatory learning is occurring in Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) campaigns and coalitions. It further aims to delineate CBA organizing as a community power-building strategy in the interests of workers and communities. Turning to dialectical frameworks, Cultural-Historical-Activity-Theory (CHAT) enables consideration of organizing as radical adult learning in a Freirian tradition, while critical place inquiry provides a methodological approach that is concerned with the socio-materiality of human practices as shaped by and in place. History and memory methods centre the voice, agency and perspective of the persistently marginalized communities impacted by CBA organizing. Drawing on secondary sources, coupled with my own experience embedded in this movement activity, I provide case studies of five neighbourhood-based CBA campaigns in two Canadian cities: Toronto and Ottawa. The cases show these campaigns build on previous local leadership and community capacity development, while concurrently equipping constituencies for collective deliberation and action. CHAT further enables an activity analysis of CBA organizing environments that suggests an expansive view of place is foundational for community power-building. It further identifies that collective memory, stories and narrative – coupled with an ethical orientation to movement building – hold promise as practices that could enable and amplify the emancipatory potential of organizing. Finally, Indigenous ontologies and axiology are proposed as a potentially profound source of guidance to Canadian organizing efforts challenging oppressive systems and structures while building collective community agency and power from the ground up.

Dr. M. Derya Tarhan (PhD)

Program in Adult Education and Community Development, OISE/University of Toronto (2020)

Senior supervisor: Prof. Marcelo Vieta
Supervisory committee: Prof. Peter Sawchuk (OISE, University of Toronto)
Supervisory committee: Prof. JJ McMurtry (Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York University)


Renewable Energy Co-operatives and the Struggle for "Critical" Energy Democracy: The Case of Ontario

Download PDF of dissertation

The introduction of the Feed-in tariff (FIT) program in Ontario in 2010, with specific considerations for community-owned renewable energy (CE) initiatives, was a turning point for renewable energy co-operatives (RE co-ops) in the province as their numbers jumped from only two to 111 by 2016. RE co-ops, along with other CE initiatives, are considered to be important actors in the democratization of electricity systems by a growing body of activist and, recently, a field of scholarship called “energy democracy”. In the light of this recent surge of RE co-op activity in Ontario, I ask: In what ways did RE co-ops democratize Ontario’s electricity system and what are their limitations and future potential in doing so?

In order to answer this question, I develop a theoretical framework called “critical energy democracy”, rooted in critical theories of capitalist political economy, technology, and democracy. Through this lens, I assess RE co-op activity in Ontario by deploying three research methods: (1) A political economy analysis of the history of electricity governance and infrastructure in Ontario, based on a combination of literature review and documentary research. (2) Semi-structured interviews with what I call “leading RE co-op members”, or those closely involved in the governance of their co-op, to reveal the lived experiences of RE co-ops in Ontario. And (3) semi-structured interviews with what I call “investor-members”, or those whose involvement in the co-is mainly through monetary investment, based on a social learning theory and method, to reveal instances of nonformal, informal, and tacit member learning.

The thesis arrives at three key findings. First, it shows that the legacy of centralized public governance and ever-expanding corporatization of electricity asset ownership in Ontario over the past century resulted in institutional and infrastructural barriers that severely limited RE co-ops’ activities in the province. Second, that capitalist electricity markets in which they are embedded channeled RE co-ops towards middle-class communities with greater and immediate access to time (T), capital (M), and relevant expertise (E) in developing costly and time-intensive RE projects. As a result, RE co-ops’ impact in advancing a critical form of energy democracy in Ontario has been found to be limited. Third and finally, this study shows that such limitations of RE co-ops are partially remedied through their enabling of direct democratic practice, whereby the foundational elements of corporate governance and representative political systems were put into question by RE co-op members through social learning.

It is my hope that this study and its findings offer helpful lessons to grassroots groups, policy-makers, and RE co-ops and other CE initiatives from Ontario and beyond in pursuing an energy transition strategy rooted in social justice and direct democratic practice. Further, I hope that it helps advance theoretical and academic conversations on the intersections of energy democracy, critical technology studies, and community-owned renewable energy.

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