Imre Szeman

Canada Research Chair

I was appointed Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta in July 2009.

As CRC, my aim is to examine the continuing impact of globalization on culture, and to produce new theories to account for changes in how we experience and theorize culture. I hope to understand the social and political significance of the changes that have taken place in/to global culture and to help create new models and theories for cultural study.

Here’s the brief description of my CRC that is posted on the Canada Research Chair Program’s website:

The Politics of Culture in the 21st Century (2009-2016)

Can an encounter with an artwork change how someone views the world? Is there an intrinsic difference between culture created for free and culture created for commercial purposes? Do documentary films change how we view political events? What is the appropriate role of governments in sponsoring and promoting cultural production?

By addressing questions like these, Imre Szeman’s research probes the increasingly complex and multifaceted ways in which we understand culture in the 21st century. The enormous changes in the speed and scale of everyday life in the era of globalization have created new challenges for the study of culture. Existing ideas about the spaces and places of culture have been upended; innovative technologies have created new forms of culture, including novel means of transmitting and reproducing cultural forms, old and new; and culture has now become an important engine of development, whether through “creative cities” initiatives, cultural tourism or the expansion of the global entertainment industry.

Szeman’s research studies the impact of these developments on both cultural practices and the theories used to study culture. His research will produce new models for the investigation of culture, and will explore the dynamics and significance of contemporary culture production in the new century.

His research will establish Canada as a leading nation in the study of contemporary culture and will help train a new generation of humanities scholars.

Energy Humanities and Environmental Futures (2016-2023)

I have just submitted a renewal of my CRC for a second term (2016-2023). Here’s what I plan to work on during this period of my CRC:

As CRC in Cultural Studies Szeman intends to pursue an already developing program of research that has as its overall goal the imagination and elaboration of potential futures for social, cultural and political life in anticipation of the transition from the current dominant form of energy—oil—to other energy systems. The dominant form of energy of any given era shapes the characteristics and capacities of societies in an essential way; energy is not just a neutral input that helps run the engines of our economies and societies, but is a key aspect of the fabric of our social experience.

If the forms of energy used by a society shape it in fundamental ways, Szeman asks: what might be the impact and repercussions of a transition from oil to renewable energy? In what ways might an understanding of the deep links between dominant modes of energy and socio-cultural forms (e.g., political systems, legal frameworks, educational practices, organization and experience of daily life) create insights into especially important changes that need to be made in order to manage energy transition in a productive way? And how might research in the humanities and social sciences enable us more effectively to address those impasses that have to date prevented more serious social engagement with the problem of energy transition?