News  McGill opens new research centre on Montreal

Centre seen as "opportunity for McGill to break out of linguistic, institutional isolation"

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM), McGill’s newest research institute, kicked off its opening last week with a conference entitled “Questioning Urban Creativity: Montreal, a Case Study.” The weekend-long event featured over 15 presenters from a variety of disciplines, from prominent urban theorist Saskia Sassen to on-the-ground researchers in Montreal such as McGill law professor Shauna Van Praagh.

McGill professor Daniel Weinstock, who specializes in ethics and political philosophy, is one of the acting co-directors and founders of CIRM. According to Weinstock the event was a huge success, not only in alerting the public of the Centre’s existence, but in generating new conversation on urban creativity.

Weinstock, like many of the presenters, sees “creativity” as a “branding term which many cities have used to distinguish themselves, whether to attract tourists or capital,” as he put it. “We at the Centre think it’s a double-edged sword in various ways.”

Weinstock noted, in agreement with many of the presenters, that “cities are these uncontrollable, chaotic systems that don’t live very well with imposition” in the form of top-down policies. Instead, he said, cities can be thought of as sites of resistance. The institutional “idea of creative cities is one thing that cities have to resist – creatively,” Weinstock said.

Weinstock used the example of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, where art is ‘planned’ to occur, versus ‘real creativity’ from below – linguistically, artistically, and architecturally.

According to Weinstock, the impetus for the CIRM’s creation was McGill’s Quebec Studies Program, which aims to rethink Quebec studies in an original way, relative to other universities. Weinstock, along with a handful of faculty members, realized that there are plenty of researchers who focus on the urban life of Montreal, but do not have a unifying platform.

The group identified about 25 researchers at McGill, who met monthly over the course of the last academic year to present their work to each other. Throughout the process, Weinstock noted that they “became quite convinced that [they] had the material to create something more permanent.”

Weinstock sees the Centre as an “opportunity [for McGill] to break out of linguistic and institutional isolation,” but also reveal how much McGill is already “bilingualizing” and integrating into Quebec.

And so the Centre was born. Despite the University’s current financial struggles, CIRM received a great deal of institutional support from McGill. Weinstock said the project seemed to “capture the imagination of everyone” they spoke with, including the McGill administration.

Weinstock sees the Centre as an “opportunity [for McGill] to break out of linguistic and institutional isolation,” but also reveal how much McGill is already “bilingualizing” and integrating into Quebec.

The goal of the Centre, according to Weinstock, is “not so much to create new projects, but rather create a place that federates what already exists.” The Centre hopes to bridge different views on urban life in Montreal and to bring academic research into the greater community.

Weinstock’s vision is that ten years down the road, the CIRM will oversee a number of clearly-grounded research aims, through student and faculty interdisciplinary research, and perhaps an academic program on Montreal studies.

The CIRM hopes to build on the growing presence of interdisciplinary work on campus, which exists in other campus models such as the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and the Institute for the Study of Canada.

Weinstock observed that people “tend to view university experiences in a very narrow way; we have our courses and our departments. But we are at this amazing university where, at any given day, there are so many opportunities to enrich yourself.”