New research chair takes on today’s global challenges

Posted on Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A painting in shades of turquoise and white representing a few areas of land interconnected on a body of water.

Artist and uOttawa employee Roméo Godin was commissioned to paint an urban Anthropocene inspired piece for the launch of the research chair. 

Anthropocene refers to the historically unprecedented impact of human activity on the planet. Some say it is a geological epoch, while others argue that it refers to the cumulative impacts of the industrial revolution and rise of capitalism. A new research chair has been created to study more specifically the Urban Anthropocene, the confluence of two major contemporary transformations: the environmental crisis and the urban challenges of the 21st century.

The role of the new research chair, which is jointly held between the University of Ottawa and the École urbaine at the Université de Lyon, is to study the link between the accelerated growth of cities and the climate crisis, its consequences, and ways to meet related challenges. The holder of this chair, Vincent Mirza, an anthropologist and professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, will work in close collaboration with geographer and director of l’École urbaine de Lyon, Michel Lussault.

“With global change central to our concerns, we’ve established this joint chair to bring forth shared tools to face current issues of the urban Anthropocene and develop research topics regarding cities and the Anthropocene,” says Professor Mirza.

Mirza explains that these current issues can be attributed to the acceleration of economic development and industrialization. Now, with the world’s population continuing to increase and urban development taking place at breakneck speed, humans are causing irreversible environmental change. As a result, humankind can take credit for climate change, widespread species extinction and depletion of resources, including those we’ve considered renewable.

A new approach to an emerging research area

Portrait of Vincent Mirza

Vincent Mirza is a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences and holder of the uOttawa-ULyon Joint Research Chair on Urban Anthropocene.

The uOttawa-ULyon Joint Research Chair on Urban Anthropocene is taking a creative and experimental approach to develop solutions for this unprecedented situation. Mirza sees it as a sort of incubator for innovative research. 

To delve deeper into various issues, including planning of city spaces, our relationship with work, inequality, and food production and supply, the chair will adopt an interdisciplinary perspective. It will draw on a wide range of expertise in anthropology, geography, urban planning, law, biology, engineering, economics, political science, environmental studies and more.

As well, the chair is seeking to revitalize the way we think about the issues we’re facing collectively by mobilizing a range of stakeholders and encouraging public discussion. This will involve hosting public events focused on rethinking the future of cities. 

“We would like to build on an original way to do research with university and community partners, from a knowledge co-construction perspective. Think, for example, of collaborations with artists, architects and members of civil society to produce different forms of knowledge about the world and encourage reflection on the world around us,” says Mirza.

Drawing on international expertise

The creation of the chair with the École urbaine de Lyon will allow it to draw on both Canadian and French expertise and highlight francophone intellectual currents. 

As part of its global approach, the chair will seek out research groups from around the world. Thanks to its already well-established partnerships, it will promote knowledge sharing through an international network.

“It’s about helping to develop a new, collective method of understanding urban and environmental issues,” says Mirza. 

This approach will encourage mobility for researchers and students interested in city-related processes and the Anthropocene, when international travel is again possible. 

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