«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
In all cases, I contacted potential interviewees by email or facebook message, clearly outlining my interview request and also sending the informed consent document for them to read beforehand. I let interviewees choose the location, date and time of the interview. As per the informed consent protocols, interviewees could decide if and how they were to be identified in this project. Although I took notes during the conversation, I also audio recorded and later transcribed all interviews. Interviews lasted from between 45 minutes to over 2 hours.
Community organizers and initiative participants were (partially) compensated for their time and contributions to the research with a $30 honoraria and 2 public transit tickets.
For all of the interviews that I conducted, I drew up a list of questions beforehand but ultimately let the conversation unfold organically and would refer to the questions if the conversation ran out of steam or became stilted. My interview questions for community organizers and event participants were fairly standard. I asked about: their relationship to Toronto; how they came to be involved in the arts; their thoughts on the term QTPOC; the scenes that they would consider themselves apart of and how they would describe those scenes etc.
Because I usually had met interviewees prior to the interview process, I would often have specific questions for them about one of their performances that I had seen, a comment that I had heard them make in a group conversation or ask for their thoughts on a program that we had attended together. The process of conducting interviews with staff at art organizations and public institutions that funded the arts was slightly different. I asked questions about: their specific role in their organizations; how their organization was situated in Toronto’s art world; and the field of community arts in general – their thoughts on how the field had changed over time as well as the big discussions and debates that were currently happening. Given the particular organization, I would also have more specific questions about certain initiatives or policies as they related to the QTPOC community organizations that I worked with. I would end all interviews by asking interviewees if they felt that there was something that they wanted to share that we had not touched on in the conversation and I let them know that they could follow up with me in case they had any future questions, comments, thoughts or concerns.
Grey literature Collecting grey literature was perhaps the most ad-hoc and unsystematic dimension of my data collection process. In the process of working closely with several QTPOC community organizations and attending the events of many others, I picked up a plethora of different kinds of literature including show programs, organizational reports and newsletters. I also collected the annual reports of arts organizations and public arts funding institutions as well as any literature that they produced in the domain of community arts. I amassed local newspaper articles that involved coverage of the community groups that I worked with as well as any coverage on the field of community arts in general and on changes to public arts funding in particular. As more and more people that I worked with became aware of the project, they also began to send me links to blogs and alternative media websites that touched on the very issues that I explore in this study.
Community feedback sessions I conducted two community feedback sessions as a way to solicit feedback on my preliminary research results from those I had worked with or spoken to during the course of this study. In order to maximize participation in these sessions I sent out individual emails to all of the people I interviewed, I also posted announcements on the facebook pages of all of the groups I worked most closely with and I made in-person announcements at QTPOC community events that I attended as soon as I had set the date and time for the sessions. Both of the sessions were held at a community center and participants were provided with refreshments and snacks as well as 2 public transit tickets. Seven participants came to the first session and nine participants came to the second session. In both sessions I gave a short 15-20 minute power point presentation of my preliminary research findings as well as a one page hand out outlining the major presentation points. After the presentation, I opened up the session for questions or comments. I initially had several questions ready to guide the discussion in case no specific feedback was forthcoming.
Fortunately, it turned out that I did not have to worry about non-responsive participants. The second session in particular proved to be quite generative and all the participants stayed for over an hour past the original scheduled time. Staff at the community center was forced to ask us to leave as the center had closed during the session. For both sessions, I took copious notes which sharpened the analysis of this study.
UNPACKING “TORONTO QTPOC COMMUNITY”A significant methodological limitation of this study is the use of the term “QTPOC community”. While there are certainly conceptual challenges with “community” (Amit, 2002;
Herzfeld, 2005; Joseph, 2002), in this section I address the more concrete and practical difficulties with the term. The majority of the people in this study were young people (between the ages of 20-35) living in downtown Toronto who came from middle to lower class backgrounds with at least some post-secondary education. They tended to identify with the broad ethno-racial markers of “Black” or “Asian” and more often than not, they were assigned female at birth - though they identified as queer women, genderqueer or transmen at the time of the study. Mobilizing the term Toronto QTPOC community is thus somewhat misleading because I am certainly not trying to make the claim that this project captures the experiences and modes of collectivity in Toronto that the term QTPOC attempts to encapsulate. Groups operating outside of downtown Toronto as well as transwomen, indigenous people and those who identify as latino or latina are underrepresented in this study.
Early on in the research I attempted to correct the downtown centric nature of this project by trying to connect to groups and organizations in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke.
However, given the slow rate at which I was able to make connections in these areas and that I had already started working with several organizations, meant that I could not continue to pursue these connections without having to give up the work that I had already started. This tendency of minority community arts organizations to be found in downtown Toronto has been noted by public arts funding institutions which are increasingly attempting to support community arts outside of Toronto’s downtown core. In the process of conducting this study, I also became aware of criticisms mounted by several QTPOC organizations around issues of settler colonialism and transmisogyny. In spite of my attempts to reach out to specifically two-spirit or indigenous queer and trans community arts initiatives and ones that worked with transwomen of color, the underrepresentation of these groups in this project is not altogether surprising given the way that QTPOC collectives are attempting to transform their work to be more inclusive to these groups in particular.
While this project does not presume to account for the range of racialized, gendered and sexual alterity in the City of Toronto, it also does not necessarily assume that those who are associated with these modes of difference necessarily form some kind of natural or primordial bond. Though personal experience, self-professed association and the ascription of identity categories are certainly relevant to the people in this study, the mere fact of non-white racialization and the association with non-normative sexual and/or gender identification are not sufficient to secure “community” affiliation. Indeed many people who consider themselves to be queer and trans people of color are either uninterested in the kinds of social relations that I describe in this study or are completely unaware of them. As one participant explained to me in the course of her interview, “even though they [ILL NANA DC/DC] are well known, there are still people who don’t know about them. I’ve been here for 2 years and I know people who have been gay for years and don’t know about ILL NANA and they are QPOC.” Alternatively, several individuals who understand themselves to be “white” or “straight” are closely involved with the QTPOC community initiatives that I worked with over the course of my fieldwork. Instead of focusing in identity per se, this study approaches QTPOC community through the domain of social action and examines the collective forms of work carried out in the name of racial, sexual and gendered diversity.
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