Skip to main content

Concordia grad pens award-winning book on domestic homicide

Ardath Whynacht fills an interdisciplinary space for ideas on violence, punishment and social transformation
January 12, 2023
By JP Karwacki, BA 11

A woman with long dark hair wears a button up shirt and leans against a wired fence

Following her research on one of society’s oldest problems, Ardath Whynacht, PhD 17, published her findings as the book Insurgent Love: Abolition and Domestic Homicide (Fernwood Publishing) in 2021. In it, Whynacht proposes pathways away from current carceral systems and towards transformative justice for domestic homicide, all with the goal of creating safer communities.

“We don’t spend enough time thinking about what makes someone a killer,” she writes in the book’s preface. “We don’t have the right tools for responding to their violence and the risks they pose. The prison system should not be our only redress for homicide.”

Launched with the support of Concordia’s Simone De Beauvoir Institute, Insurgent Love won the Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing in 2022. The book’s approaches to its systemic subject matter is informed by Whynacht’s experience on the front lines of family violence.

That stems from crisis-response work beginning with domestic violence helplines for the Halifax Regional Police during her interdisciplinary undergrad at the University of King’s College in 2001.

“It was a personal issue for me,” Whynacht explains, wanting to volunteer and figure out what the causes and effects surrounding issues of violence were. “I wanted to piece together the architecture of it.”

From then on, interdisciplinary studies were a consistent way for Whynacht to understand the complex issues and social problems she’s faced and cares about — mental health, violence and social transformation — and how they are interrelated.

A place of belonging and support

In Concordia’s Humanities Interdisciplinary PhD program, Whynacht says she had found a place of coalescence, where her front-line experience in sexual health and youth work, the arts and myriad areas of focus could come together despite the complexity of their overlaps — something she saw not only in her studies, but in the individuals with whom she spent her days, teaching poetry to in the federal prison system.

“Studying at Concordia alongside my cohort in the program, we didn’t have much in common per se, but what many of us shared was a place to make sense of our unconventional interests through research creation,” Whynacht says.

She was provided a community of similarly-minded people wanting to learn interdisciplinary methods, including research-creation practices. She recalls how it engendered an environment where grad students could not only be seen and heard, but also know that their work could make a difference to somebody, somewhere.

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture — conducive to arts-based academia and the blurring of boundaries between disciplines and faculties — acted as a concentrated hub for scholars and artists alike to develop both themselves as thinkers and interdisciplinary best practices, Whynacht says.

“My experience has been that in wanting to do interdisciplinary and unconventional work, I had to break a lot of rules, but there’s a structure, energy and expertise at Concordia that makes it easier to see the possibilities in doing whatever work you choose to focus on.”

Image of book cover by author Ardath Whynacht features a blue heart below the book's title Insurgent Love: Abolition and Domestic Homicide

‘An intimate conversation with readers’

Whynacht graduated with her thesis “‘Citizens of Nowhere’: Diffractive Engagements with Borderline Personality Disorder”. Examining the lived experiences of individuals with borderline personality disorder through arts-based qualitative research, her work built on her understanding of prison abolitionism and prisoner advocacy — issues that, in turn, helped her with the ideas and conversations found in Insurgent Love.

“The book is an intimate conversation with readers, one where I reconcile confusing and conflicting ways I felt about the prison system,” Whynacht says. “It’s a radical acceptance of the mess and incoherence of it all.”

In it, she reassures both herself and the reader that part of the process in grappling with these entangled issues is accepting that if they begin to seem coherent and tidy, you may be off the right track.

“The reality of violence, especially violence from someone you love, is that you have those feelings of affection and fear bound up together.”

Today, Whynacht continues her work as an interdisciplinary scholar and activist focused on mental health, violence and social transformation in her hometown of Halifax. There, she works as an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Mount Allison University, and director of a new interdisciplinary degree program in health studies, helping students to embrace creative approaches to research methods, just as she has done — and continues to do.


Back to top

© Concordia University