PhD Oral Exam - Aaron Goodman, Communication
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
An escalating opioid overdose crisis is spreading across North America. In 2017, over 4,000 people experienced fatal drug-related overdoses in Canada. The highest number of deaths have occurred in British Columbia (BC), where in 2017, the Coroner’s Service reported over 1,400 fatalities linked to drugs. This was a significant increase from 985 overdose deaths in 2016, 518 in 2015, and 369 in 2014.
Photojournalists are helping to draw attention to the situation, but many of their images reflect a longstanding tradition of problematic and stigmatizing visual reporting. In many photographs, people who use drugs, and increasingly overdose victims, are portrayed as dangerous social outcasts. These visual narratives fail to communicate that people from all sectors of society are being affected by the crisis.
In July 2017, BC-based meditation and yoga instructor, writer, and activist Michael Stone, died from an opioid overdose. It was later revealed that he had suffered by bipolar disorder. Over the year following Michael’s death, I collaborated with his wife, Carina Stone, and two of his closest friends and students, Rose Riccio and Andréa de Keijzer. I was interested in working with them, partially because of events in my personal life, namely the fact that my mother had suffered from bipolar disorder as well and was missing for years during my youth. I was also keen to build on my previous research with people who use heroin.
Inspired by collaborative methodologies developed by oral historians and certain documentary filmmakers with the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada, I assisted the participants in recording nuanced and personal audio testimonies about their memories of Michael and their experiences of grief. I was particularly interested in experimenting with oral historian Henry Greenspan’s method of “learning together” (2010a, p. xii) and “knowing with” (2010a, p. 230), as well as the narrative approach and continuing bonds theory from counselling psychology. Together with my collaborators, we produced a digital memorial titled Losing Michael using Klynt as a non-linear platform. The purpose of the project is to resist dominant narratives about the opioid crisis and its victims and to urge decision makers to do more to prevent further deaths and suffering.
Losing Michael can be viewed at the following URL: www.losingmichael.com.