CIRCEM takes on the challenges facing French-language research

Research centres and institutes

By Karine Fossou

Research Communications Specialist, University of Ottawa

Professor Stephanie Gaudet, Director of theCentre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities (CIRCEM)
Stephanie Gaudet - Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities (CIRCEM)
Once again this year, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities (CIRCEM) has not been outdone in its major contribution to the Mois de la francophonie, a month all uOttawa actors have tried to mark with a range of scholarly and cultural activities.

This year, issues surrounding francophone research were key to a podcast episode and Mauril Bélanger lecture presented by the CIRCEM, a crossroads for uOttawa researchers exploring such topics as citizen engagement and democracy, the ethics of care, migration, and citizenship and minority groups.

Supporting scholarship that serves francophone communities

“CIRCEM’s mission is to support and drive intellectual and scholarly life in French at the University of Ottawa,” says Stéphanie Gaudet, a professor in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies (Faculty of Social Sciences) and CIRCEM director since 2015. “We want to preserve French as a living language of scholarly activity, through which we can share our ideas in a francophone minority setting, but also nationally and internationally,” says Gaudet, whose work looks at youth citizen engagement.

Helping to nurture reflection on the challenges associated with French-language scholarly practice, both in research production and in knowledge dissemination and socio-cultural impact, took on greater importance with the publication of an Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas) study in June 2021 that sounded the alarm concerning the continuing decline of French in the world of scholarly research. “Supporting scholarly work in French is an essential factor in maintaining an intellectual heritage, one of thinkers and traditions unique to the francophone world, and enabling research to continue to serve francophone communities,” says Gaudet.

Mauril Bélanger’s legacy

The Mauril Bélanger lecture, organized by CIRCEM along with the Centre de recherche sur la culture canadienne-française, the Centre on Governance and the Collège des chaires du monde francophone, is part of this effort. The lecture, sponsored by the Mauril Bélanger Community Fund, allowed stakeholders in the country’s francophone research community to reflect as a group on the role that Canadian universities can play to maintain French as a commonly used working language in scholarly settings, but also to further recognition of the outstanding quality of French-language research — within universities, by granting agencies and in university rankings.

“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to devote at least one lecture in the Mauril Bélanger series to the Francophonie, during the month that’s dedicated to it,” says Gaudet. For her, it’s also a way to honour the University’s commitment to Bélanger, a tireless advocate for bilingualism, linguistic minorities and democratic values in Canadian society. The fund established in his name by the Fondation Famille Bertrand, Robert Doyle and Nicole Mondou to honour his memory and legacy at the University of Ottawa is a major contributor in implementing CIRCEM knowledge mobilization and research activities.

The place of French in scholarly publications

CIRCEM’s podcast for the Mois de la francophonie deals with recognizing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and encouraging French-language open access publication as potential solutions to counter the decline of French in scholarly output. “We know that publication is a very important issue, since assessment of researchers is based on the type of publications they produce,” explains Gaudet. “We’re trying to show that the scholarly value of our research doesn’t depend on the language of publication.”

Gaudet, who served for 10 years on the editorial board of University of Ottawa Press, feels that the latter has a major role to play in supporting French-language publication. She calls for greater promotion of journals, media platforms like The Conversation and francophone publishers, as well as encouragement of young researchers to publish in French.

Knowledge mobilization

CIRCEM has set out various strategies to enrich intellectual life through dissemination and transfer of French-language scholarship, including lectures and podcasts for the general public on topics ranging from racism to the ethics of care and directed research courses in francophone settings on citizen engagement. It has done this with research partners such as Lab22, Montreal’s Institut du Nouveau Monde and Ottawa’s Maison de la Francophonie. In 2019, Gaudet was an initial recipient of the University’s Knowledge Mobilization Excellence Award, for her work involving youth in her research on their citizenship development.

“As part of my research partnership named Education and Democracy, I look into civil society organizations that support citizenship education for youth not yet of voting age and the way they create social innovation to support a democratic culture, mainly in francophone settings,” says Gaudet. “We conduct our research in French because it fills a direct need, and even though our research subjects influence our language of work, we wish for our research results to reach all of Canada and beyond.”