Get to Know a Researcher - Kat Sark

Kat Sark

Sessional Instructor Dr. Kat Sark talks to Associate Dean Research Margaret Cameron about her new book, Anthology of Social Justice and Intersectional Feminisms, and how Sark's students, teaching and activism influence her research. 

As an instructor in several different departments in the Faculty of Humanities, you make a broad contribution to both teaching and research. Your latest research output clearly displays this intertwining aspect of your career. On March 8 this year you launched the Anthology of Social Justice and Intersectional Feminisms. Can you tell us about this project?

After being invited by the CEO of the Greater Victoria Public Library to design a panel discussion series on social justice and feminism for the larger community, I had the idea of producing and publishing a digital, open-sourced and widely available and accessible Anthology of Social Justice and Intersectional Feminisms. I put out several calls for submissions over the course of several months. I asked students, colleagues, friends, artists, activists, writers, poets, the organizers of the Women's Marches all across Canada and abroad. The submissions I received were incredibly powerful. I wanted the voices to be as diverse and intersecting as possible. I did not turn anyone away, and the result is a rich collection of personal reflections, research essays, grassroots activism reports, expressions of allies, as well as other forms of creative and personal expression of what social justice and intersectional feminisms mean today.

Perhaps the most surprising part was that the best quality of work and writing came from our undergraduate students in the Humanities. Yet, they are the ones who often fall through the cracks when it comes to scholarly publications or public conversations and discussion panels on social justice. I think the anthology proves to all of us, that these young people are becoming highly attuned social critics, equipped with new media and technology, as well as analytical and interpretive skills. Many of them are in their early twenties, and if you came to the panel discussion at the launch of the Anthology at the Public Library, you would be blown away by how eloquent, well-informed, analytical, critical, creative, and inspiring they are. I think their brains have been rewired by new media in ways that allow them to grasp social change faster, act and respond faster, and generate their own solutions and actions, without waiting for someone else to fix things. That is very empowering to observe.

It is a truly collaborative project, because had it not been for the courses I got to develop and teach, and the web projects that my students produce in each class, the panel discussions that I have been organizing, my community work and outreach, and the support and inspiration I have received from my colleagues (especially in Germanic and Slavic Studies), it would not exist.

For the next volume, which will be launched next year on International Women's Day, I hope that more faculty members will contribute their work to break down the boundaries of what constitutes scholarly publications. There is an attitude among senior colleagues that if it's not for academic and refereed scholarly journals in their field, it is not worth writing. I hope that when they read the Anthology, they will think differently, and feel inspired to be part of this conversation, and be more open-minded and creative in their approach to academic work.

In 2016, you published the third volume in a series you co-founded called Urban Chic. This research seems to be tied to the Canadian Fashion Scholars Network, which you founded. For those who may not know much about the field of fashion studies, can you tell us a bit more about what it is and why you are drawn to it?

I am a cultural analyst by training; I have been studying cities and culture, art and cultural history, literary canons, as well as film and media studies, and digital humanities. Fashion Studies is a wide and all-encompassing field, which is barely practiced at Canadian universities, but has grown exponentially since the 1980s in England and the U.S. The field ranges from fashion history (including material history of objects, conservation, curatorship, etc.) to theory (that also includes theories of gender, bodies, race, class, consumption, ecological and environmental impacts, ethics and human rights), to marketing, merchandizing, branding, and other industry-related fields. My area of expertise is fashion culture - a concept and methodology I introduced and developed in Montreal Chic. Just as I do with cities, media, literary and artistic production of a particular place, I use fashion as a lens of cultural analysis that can reveal new information about existing and examined practices and histories.

All three books in the Urban Chic book series that I worked on focus on the intersections of fashion and other cultural output of a city. Montreal Chic tells the story of Montreal through its fashion history, labour practices, gender relations, its media and technology, as well as its economic short-comings. It is a critical study of Canadian culture from a new perspective, that allows the reader to understand not only how Montreal functions as a fashion city, but also how fashion intersects with its film, music, media and technology scenes.

While I worked on that book, I realized that very little work has been done on Canadian fashion in general, and that there was a great need for a network of support, collaboration, and exchange of research and ideas. Similar to my creative students, I understood that there was no point in sitting and waiting for someone else to fix this problem, and I founded the Canadian Fashion Scholars Network. In September 2018, we will have our fifth anniversary Fashion Symposium, this year at the University of Alberta and the newly refurbished Royal Alberta Museum.

Looking at your blog, Suites Culturelles, I find your ideas and plans for your next, new project to be very exciting. It seems to draw your interest in fashion together with the study of cities and theatre, among other things. Where do you see this work heading?

I started my cultural analysis blog in 2009, while working on my PhD and my parallel fashion and cultural projects. To me, it was a place to collect and publish my research while I was finishing up larger projects and publications. It was also a growing archive of cultural criticism and analysis, reviews, interviews, and photo essays, and it often got me free press tickets to write about cultural events, performances, and festivals. It also introduced me to digital media tools and practices, and gave me a fluency in web design, media content analysis, and eventually critical media literacy skills. I applied this to the courses I teach, the books I research, write, and edit, and the organizational and activist work I do.

I would like to do more collaborative, innovative projects, across different areas of expertise and skill sets, taking Digital Humanities out of the niche of text mining or geo-mapping, and building collaborative digital projects that have direct community and social justice impact, building tools and platforms that are useful and empowering for different communities.