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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Katharine Dunbar Winsor, Social and Cultural Analysis

"Wading against a tide": Emotions, ethics and the interstitial space of community service provision for criminalized mothers.

Date & time
Tuesday, June 20, 2023
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer


Henry F. Hall Building
1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room H-1120

Wheel chair accessible


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.


In this dissertation, I examine how community-based service providers support criminalized women navigating motherhood, substance use and identity change. To date, researchers have focused on the experiences of incarcerated people, with lesser attention paid to post-release realities. There is a dearth of research focusing on community-based organizations and the service providers that work within them to support criminalized people.

Community service provision involves navigating the emotional dimensions of providers' work while supporting clients through emotionally charged experiences. Emotions are culturally and socially shaped experiences and entangled in the precarity, structural and systemic conditions experienced by criminalized people. Service providers support their clients and witness emotions experienced by their clientele as they navigate child protection systems, substance use recovery and identity change processes. Simultaneously, service providers engage in emotion management while encountering the intimate details of their clients' lives and advocating for them against the realities and gaps of criminal legal, child protection, and welfare systems.

In this interstitial space of service provision, I ask how service providers engage in this emotion management strategies to support criminalized women. I examine the role of service providers in the context of structural and systemic gaps experienced by their clients. Through interviews with 23 community-based service providers working with criminalized women in Atlantic Canada and reflexive journaling, I argue that service providers engage in the emotional terrain of supporting their clients. I mobilize the concept of emotional-ethical dilemmas, which I argue form the backdrop of service providers’ work and highlight the constraints in their capacity related to organizational mandates, limited funding, and compassion fatigue.

Key findings underline the importance of trauma-informed and harm reduction practices and services as supports for criminalized women and to ease the emotional-ethical dilemmas experienced by service providers. The findings draw attention to the persistent complex unmet needs of criminalized women in Atlantic Canada, such as housing and poverty. I argue that community service providers largely fill gaps in how the state fails to attend to these needs. These unmet needs highlight how we respond to and support community-based service provision working to support criminalized women in the context of systemic and structural gaps, not individual failures.

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