This fall, the Department of Sociology welcomed Dr. Neda Maghbouleh to UBC as an Associate Professor. Dr Maghbouleh joins us from the University of Toronto, where she taught for the past decade. Her research examines ethnic and racial categories and identity formation as it relates to immigration and refugee resettlement.
Can you tell us about your journey to UBC? What excites you about working here?
My journey to UBC started when I was a Wall Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Study. I moved to Vancouver with my spouse, Clayton Childress, and our young daughter for the 2021-2022 fellowship term. We had an unforgettable year of making new friends at UBC and at our daughter’s school, walking in the rain, trying to snowboard, and being closer to our families in Portland, Oregon (where I’m from), and the East Bay in California (where Clayton is from). At the end of the fellowship, we moved back to Toronto, brimming with inspiration from time spent with UBC Sociology colleagues.
When there was a chance to apply for a job in this top-notch department and make a permanent move back to the West Coast, I had to at least try. Now, when Clayton and I go for long walks in the rain to talk through research problems and household matters, every walk starts with us shaking our heads and asking each other: “Is this real life?! How are we so lucky?!” Every aspect of this new job and new chapter of our lives excites me.
Can you tell us a bit about your research? What are you currently working on?
I study racial/ethnic categories and identity formation as they relate to immigration and refugee resettlement. Much of my research has been with Arab, West Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African (MENA) communities in Canada and the U.S. To study problems from multiple angles, I use qualitative methods like interviews and ethnography, and in the last five years, quantitative techniques like survey experiments.
Currently, I am working on three projects: (1) an Annual Review article on MENA identity and racialization; (2) a paper with Laila Omar (Princeton University), theorizing the structure-agency problem in migration studies through empirical data on family separation among Syrian Canadians; and (3) a series of survey experiments with Clayton and Craig Rawlings (Duke University) that connect our interests in culture, identity, political polarization, and racism.
Where do you hope your research will go while at UBC?
I hope, over time, to bring the Pacific Northwest into my research agenda in a more formal way. So far, my upbringing in the PNW is reflected, I think, in the questions I’ve asked at the intersection of race and migration, which are a little quirky and, like the PNW, zigzag across the U.S./Canada border.
But thinking about the region holistically, beyond the labels “Canadian” and “American,” there is much that is unique and sociologically fascinating about this place: the ancestral relationships and resurgent practices of Northwest Coast Indigenous and First Nations peoples on these lands; the founding of Oregon as a “Whites-only” state; the intermediated migration pathways of Black Canadians and Black Americans to the region; the imbrication of capital and labour with centuries of Asian and Latinx presence in the PNW; and decades of formal refugee resettlement from nearly every continent to this region… add to this the many UBC colleagues doing great work in interdisciplinary sites like the Centre for Asian Canadian Research and Engagement (ACRE) and the Centre for Migration Studies (CMS), and it’s a dream come true to explore these ideas at UBC.
Tell us about the courses you are teaching this year. What makes them new or exciting for students?
This term, I’ve been teaching SOCI 201 (Ethnicity). The title doesn’t give much away about what we do in the class, which is examine race, ethnicity, and “us versus them” social dynamics through the lens of Canadian society. I try to add value to our course materials by diving deeper into advanced-level research during lectures; this, I think, also incentivizes students to attend class, because that’s how they learn about signal publications and new scientific findings from the field. Whenever it makes sense, I also localize examples and data to Vancouver, and centre work by UBC alumni and community members.
My love for mixed methods and the discipline of Sociology extends into my teaching, too. I am passionate about our uncommonly wide range of research methods and broad intellectual tent.
How would you describe your teaching style? What should students expect from you as a teacher?
The science of teaching and learning suggests storytelling is one of the more effective pedagogical tools we have, and that it’s effective for students with a wide range of learning styles. So, I really prioritize conveying factual and conceptual information through rich storytelling in my classes, be it during lectures, small group discussions, or in assignments and tests.
Also, for the first time ever, I have been exclusively using the chalkboard instead of PowerPoint slides (inspired by our colleague, Laura Nelson, who mentioned to me that this is her practice). Back in September, I told myself “If this doesn’t work, I’ll go back to PowerPoint by October.” But we’re coming up on the last week of classes now, and it seems that the students and I may be forever changed by this experiment. So, students can expect a pro-chalk experience in all my future courses.
What are some of your favorite things to do in your spare time?
Doing anything with our daughter, who is now 9 years old, is still my favourite thing because she is hilarious and so fun to be around. But last year in Toronto, I took up two hobbies with a lot of zeal— swimming laps (either with Clayton, or in an intermediate adult learn-to-swim class at the YMCA) and going to TIFF Lightbox (a movie theatre) by myself at night. After a couple months, I realized why I just might love these two activities so, so much: I can’t scroll my phone while doing either. Now in Vancouver, I’m a card-carrying Cineplex “Cineclub” member, thanks to a birthday gift from my family, and we have a yearly pass to the community aquatics centre in our neighbourhood. My freestyle stroke technique could still use improvement, so please clap and give me some encouragement if you see me at the pool.