Dr. Nancy Cook
Faculty of Social Sciences - Department of Sociology
Dr. Nancy Cook
Information for Graduate Students
Department of Sociology
office: AS 416
phone: 905 688-5550 ext. 3176
For current research project information please see research page
I am a feminist sociologist who employs a qualitative research paradigm, including ethnographic research methods, to study the gendered, classed, racialised, sexualised, and imperial nature of transcultural interactions among people from the global North and South Asians. My research initially had a historical and textual focus, concentrating on travel literature written by European women about the northwestern reaches of the Raj in the age of high imperialism. This focus subsequently expanded to a concern with white women’s transcultural interactions in contemporary postcolonial northern Pakistan in the context of international development. It expanded yet again to include a preoccupation with the ways in which the globalised identities of professional development workers from Canada, which are constituted in Pakistan during lengthy work terms, become manifest in those subjects’ lives after they return home to constitute a culture of cosmopolitanism. I am beginning a new study that shifts my focus away from Northerners’ imbrication in global processes of imperialism to the impact of imperial transcultural relations on local people in northern Pakistan. This research project investigates the shifting character of transcultural relations and their gendered effects in the village of Shimshal, as mediated through increased geographical accessibility provided by a newly constructed road.
My research contributes empirically, theoretically, methodologically, and politically to the body of feminist postcolonial scholarship. This field of postcolonial research is preoccupied with analysing the historical operations of colonial and imperial relations, marking anti-colonial struggles and dismantling colonial institutions, and searching for alternatives to imperial discourses in the present. Forging a set of discursive practices and political identities that resist imperialism in contemporary settings requires a prior understanding of their legacy of domination in the present. My work takes up the postcolonial challenge to engage with experiences of imperialism and their present effects at the local level of formerly colonised societies so that I can augment imaginings of alternative practices and more just social futures.
I develop a ‘feminist sociology of imperialism’ by temporally updating and empirically grounding previous feminist studies of colonial-era texts. Contemporary ethnographic evidence augments what feminist historians, literary theorists, and geographers have established for colonial-era literature, and reveals the legacy of white women’s imperial involvement in South Asia. I frame a feminist sociology of imperialism, therefore, as a field of study that employs sociological research tools and methodologies to extend and enrich postcolonial understandings of the continuing relationship between women from the global North and imperialism.
My research also contributes to current interdisciplinary debates about the definition, character, and operations of cosmopolitanism. Theorists have provided rather schematic and provocative elucidations of it, but overall the literature lacks substantive detail and empirical examples. By tracing how transnational attachments are developed and instanciated into the everyday, local experience of Canadian development workers, I provide evidence that addresses the question of whether, and to what degree, global processes are directly transforming the cultural conditions of people’s lives. My new project also contributes to important gaps in the literature. It focuses on the under-researched issues of road building and the implications of roads - and the increase in transcultural interactions they provide - for social organisation in Shimshal. Even less research has systematically investigated the effects of road construction on rural women’s lives and on gendered arrangements and power relations. This will be the first such study conducted with Muslim women and men in northern Pakistan.
Considering these engagements and contributions, my research can be readily identified as interdisciplinary. I draw on a cross-disciplinary range of literatures, and aim to address a wide audience of scholars dispersed throughout the Humanities and Social Sciences. I am also interested in developing conversations with scholars in the global South who are studying imperial processes and in translating my analyses for lay audiences, most particularly Northern development workers who are preparing to live abroad, who may then undertake transcultural engagements in a more reflexive manner to engender more equitable global power relations.