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‘Surreal’ moment

Gender studies scholar recognized nationally for influential research contributions

By Jeff Green

An award-winning scholar, teacher and author at Memorial is the university’s first recipient of a prestigious honour from the Royal Society of Canada (RSC).

Dr. Sonja Boon, professor and graduate co-ordinator, Department of Gender Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, is the 2020 recipient of the Ursula Franklin Award in Gender Studies.

The award, presented biennially by the RSC, recognizes outstanding contributions to furthering the understanding of issues concerning gender.

Dr. Boon researches in the areas of feminist theory, life writing, autoethnography and women’s history.

She is globally lauded for her methodological innovations and theoretical contributions in her field of study.

‘Sparks of energy’

Watch Dr. Boon describe the multifaceted discipline of gender studies in the video below. 

“It’s surreal and I still can’t make much sense of it,” Dr. Boon told the Gazette during a recent conversation about the award.

“But honestly, my real work is on the ground, with my students. I think of the great discussions I’ve had with students at all levels of study, from first years grappling with reproductive justice or Canadian histories of slavery for the first time to graduate students tangling with big ideas and working through new ways to read, think and write. I think of ideas, discussions, conversations, sparks of energy, moments of revelation. I think of laughter and raging, and of all of our dreaming together.”

The Ursula Franklin Award in Gender Studies was created in 1999 through the donation of RSC fellows. It celebrates a Canadian scholar in the humanities and social sciences who advances issues concerning gender.

Renowned researcher

Dr. Boon is at the forefront of gender studies research and teaching in Canada and worldwide.

Dr. Sonja Boon
Dr. Sonja Boon says her real work is on the ground with her students.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

She has published extensively on the reproductive body, focusing on issues such as maternal grief, pregnancy and childbirth and abortion. This work has contributed to understandings of the relationships between gender, identity, embodiment and citizenship.

Her more recent publications, meanwhile, bring gender, race, bodies and colonial encounters into conversation with weather, erosion and water and represent significant and truly unique conceptual contributions to our understanding of the ways that gender interacts, not only with the social, cultural and political, but also with natural and built environments.

“All of my work – my teaching, my research, my writing – is at its heart, fundamentally about how we might imagine our world differently.” — Dr. Sonja Boon

Dr. Boon’s research has been published in leading journals based in Canada, the U.S., France and Australia. She is the author of four books, including the highly acclaimed What the Oceans Remember: Searching for Belonging and Home, published in 2019, which takes up questions of migration, race, ethnicity, gender, archives, identity and belonging.

She has successfully secured funding for her work from agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Dr. Boon says she’s humbled to receive the recognition from the RSC.

“If I think of my contributions to gender studies, then I think first and foremost about the fact that all of my work – my teaching, my research, my writing – is at its heart, fundamentally about how we might imagine our world differently,” Dr. Boon said.

“And in that regard, my work is about imagination: it is conceptual and theoretical work about possibilities for more just futures and promises for a better world.”

To view the Royal Society of Canada news release, please visit here.


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