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Drawing insight from discontent: OISE grad Adam Davies’ intersectional research

November 18, 2021

Perry King

Adam Davies, who graduates with his PhD this year, has charted a prolific research profile that uses disability studies and queer and poststructural theories to analyze systems of gender and sexuality to seek more equitable outcomes for students. But, he started out his graduate studies in teacher education—an entirely different path (photo courtesy of Adam Davies). 

Adam Davies’ (he/they) passion for education came early in life, but his educational research focus sprang from his discontent with the formal school system.

Davies, who completed his doctoral studies in 2021, has charted a research profile that uses queer and poststructural theories to analyze systems of gender and sexuality and, ultimately, seek more equitable outcomes for students. But, he started out his graduate studies in teacher education, an entirely different path.

“Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, I just kind of knew it,” said Davies, who is now faculty at the University of Guelph. “It's cliche, but it was true for me, I knew from a very early age that I wanted it to be in education, and I wanted to be a teacher.”

His mother was a teacher and he has fond childhood memories of helping to set up her classrooms before school years began. But, the more he got into the system, he saw “how many inequities there were in education widely,” he said, “and how much there has to be done in terms of social justice work and work around inclusion, equity, diversity, and how all of this is created through problematic systems and structures that we all kind of exist within.”

Davies, who is now faculty in Guelph’s Department of Family Relations & Applied Nutrition, was observing these inequities while also coming to terms with his own queer identity—he had come out during undergrad only a few years earlier.

Inclusion and access became a starting point of analyses for Davies but it didn’t end there. A course he took with Professor Tara Goldstein, in the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning—one about anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia—gave him the language to describe what he was experiencing.

“I was still doing my teacher education program, my master's degree in child studies,” he recalled, “and so I took that course and started getting language to describe all these things that for myself, as a queer individual, I was encountering in the world that I didn't quite have [language to describe] before. Tara was really awesome in that class and encouraging of me to continue on with my studies.”

Davies took the final paper in that course, expanded on it, got some academic friends involved with it [“Gender binary washrooms as a means of gender policing in schools: a Canadian perspective”], and got it published in a big journal—Gender and Education. It was a gamechanger in Davies’ trajectory.

Integrating intersectionality, demonstrating endless curiosity

And so, Davies’ research interests are now more intersectional in practice. His interests, including critical disability studies, early childhood education and the sociology of childhood and youth, use queer and poststructural theories to analyze systems of gender, sexuality, and disability, as they pertain to experiences of children and youth within early years and K-12 school settings.

Madeleine De Welles, an OISE doctoral student who has co-published work with Davies, first learned about Davies’ research and its intersections with queer studies and disability studies when he was a guest lecturer in one of her classes.

“Dr. Davies’s teaching style is excellent—whether he is teaching young children or undergraduate students, he is kind and gentle in his approach, but also goes deep into the material and makes sure his students understand complex concepts,” says De Welles, whose doctoral studies focuses on disability and childhood studies.

Davies was  guest lecturing about gender and sexual diversity in children’s books.

“His love and passion for his teaching and research shows in everything he does,” she added. “I am so happy to know him as a teacher, researcher, and academic, and I look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Davies and learn from him.”

Elaine Cagulada, a doctoral student in disability studies, met Davies as she was freshly beginning her studies at OISE. They quickly struck a friendship, “as he was both generous and disciplined — two qualities rarely at work in an academic,” she says.

“He is a mentor, a friend, and someone whose work I deeply admire for the way his teaching and research are shaped by a desire to rethink the taken-for-granted ways we understand disability, gender, and childhood,” she said.

Professor Tanya Titchkosky, one of Davies’ dissertation supervisors, says that Davies is an avid reader and supportive of others. “Adam lent an ease to class time—anything was up for discussion. This included his doctoral research into online dating apps,” she said.

Titchkosky, who works in the area of disability studies, says Davies is driven by a desire to connect and an endless curiosity. “Adam was also keen to examine the quality and meaning of these connections,” she said. “One very cool thing is that now that Adam is a professor at Guelph, he is inviting current doctoral candidates in disability studies to guest lecture in his classes.”

Applying a critical lens to dating apps

Davies’ doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Heather Sykes, sought to better understand queer men’s online spaces, specifically the construction and regulation of intimacies and masculinities within dating apps. In conversation with affect theory, such as the work of feminist scholar, Sara Ahmed, Davies sees his thesis as a response to the cultural imperative to focus on “good feelings,” particularly since mainstream gay men's cultures tend to focus on positive feelings, such as pride.

“I wished to take the wavering between pride and shame that is often seen in online socio-sexual spaces and analyze how the desire for positive affect and belonging often drives users to these apps, even if there is much frustration for users when finding potential partners online,” he said.

He wasn't certain what he would find when he entered the research field, but he desired to make space for stories and narratives of discontentment that might not be heard in mainstream imaginings of gay men's communities.

“Coming from much discontentment myself with my own experiences within those communities, I wrote a mix of autoethnography and post-qualitative analysis that wasn't seeking to find a solution to issues of discontentment or ‘cure’ the negative feelings of app users,” he said, “but more see these experiences as the beginning place of considering the limitations of identity frameworks.”

Cagulada, whose research includes interpretive disability studies, philosophies of race, deafness, and policing and carceral practices, described Davies’ research as “constantly in motion, that is persistently in pursuit of unsettling what we consider ‘normal,’ she said. “His drive to know the world differently and more critically influences many and, to this day, I know few others who approach research as a space to engage in necessary conversations about what we mean when we invoke the terms, ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity.’”

In many ways, his burgeoning research journey has grown in parallel to his growing understanding of his own queerness—a journey that now continues as faculty at Guelph. He’s just getting started.

“I look forward to continuing to carve out space for these subjugated stories and experiences that do not often get highlighted in dominant narratives of gay community that focus on self-pride and false ideas of cohesion,” he says.

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