Sharing authority instead of imposing it 

By Karen Herland

“Much has changed since the days when academics were taught that their authority was derived from distance—the more the better.”

With these words, Steven High, lead researcher in the Life Stories community-university research alliance project, begins his introductory article of a special issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies. The issue emerged from a conference last Feb. on Sharing Authority co-sponsored by the project, the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling and the Centre d’histoire de Montréal.

As one of three co-editors, High, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Public History, presents a collection of essays and reflections on how authority and knowledge can be actively negotiated and built between academic researchers and the individuals who are subjects and objects of their inquiry.

It is a process that community organizer Lisa Ndejuru, a Montreal psychotherapist whose Tutsi family left Rwanda for Germany in the ’70s before immigrating to Montreal, examines from numerous angles in her introduction. “When I think of what is special about our project, I think of the ways in which everyone is allowed to come to the table as they are and share their concerns and their motivations,” she writes.

The essays collected in the volume capture that spirit in numerous ways. Communications professor and documentary film-maker Liz Miller writes of sharing the development of her documentary project On The Waterfront with the community she depicts and later, with a larger audience via digital media.

PhD student in the Special Individualized Program Alan Wong writes about his own experience as the subject and conductor of oral history interviews. By remaining extremely self-aware through initial experiences on both sides of the lens, he was able to document and understand the strengths and limitations of the process.


Concordia University