With an undergraduate degree in English literature and a master’s degree in cultural studies, it seemed a natural next chapter for Tanja Grubnic to merge both passions pursuing her PhD in English at Western.
Her doctoral research explores ‘instapoets’ in Canada and their role in the changing nature of Canadian literary culture. But what of their impact south of the border?
It’s a question Grubnic’s seeking to understand as a Fulbright student award recipient, which is allowing her to advance her research through a nine-month placement at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Fulbright awards are administered by Fulbright Canada, a bi-national program dedicated to academic and cultural exchange between Canada and the United States. The program offers a unique opportunity to explore a wide range of scholarly and contemporary issues relevant to both nations, and the relationship between the two countries.
Grubnic is one of five Western community members in the 2022-23 Fulbright cohort, alongside computer science and Ivey business administration student Donna Xue, faculty members Chantelle Richmond and Styliani Constas, and visiting Killam fellow Ryan Lashlee, a psychology major from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Poets and popular culture
Grubnic’s dissertation addresses the ways a new generation of poets in Canada, such as Rupi Kaur and Tenille Campbell, have creatively mobilized social media to author, produce and receive widespread recognition for their work.
After sharing her short, free-verse poems on love, loss, trauma and healing online, Kaur successfully launched three volumes of poetry. Her debut collection milk and honey was on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. To face down looming car repairs and tuition payments, Campbell, a Dene/Métis author and photographer, took to social media to sell her book, #IndianLovePoems. She also advertised her writing services to craft customized love poems. In four hours, her tuition was paid and her fanbase grew from coast to coast.
Grubnic’s research also examines the impact social media platforms like Instagram have in restructuring the literary marketplace and in challenging national frameworks and literary production and receptions.
“The publishing industry is not always hospitable to minoritized writers, but social media offers a route to explore writing in a literary community that provides more flexibility and creativity,” Grubnic said. “In that process, these poets bypass publishing industry gatekeepers, and the scale and breadth of Instagram allows their poems to travel so much faster and to a wider audience.”
Exploring instapoets in Canada and in the digital literary sphere across different platforms ─ and different borders ─ appeals to Grubnic’s longtime interest in literature and popular culture.
“I’ve always loved studying pop culture and looking at music, video and film. I also have a strong attachment to English literature,” she said. “This work really allows me to combine my love for both. I get to situate these authors in the ongoing history of writers in Canada, while also focusing on social media, popular poetry and participatory, visual culture.”
Under the guidance of her research supervisor Manina Jones, professor and chair of the department of English writing studies, Grubnic’s working to take a leadership role in the field of social media studies.
In 2020, she collaborated with colleagues in Norway and the United States to co-found Instasociety, an open-access digital resource for humanities researchers. The space is “devoted to the exploration of social media and popular culture,” and where Grubnic disseminated public-facing work exploring “Why We Need Social Media Research in the Humanities,” and co-authored a piece on digital activism.
Now settled at Duke, Grubnic is eager to advance her work through a program built to foster an exchange of knowledge and cultural perspectives.
“I’m looking to see how these instapoets are interpreted in the U.S. and how the “Canadianess” of these writers may be understood. Here, Rupi Kaur is seen as a Canadian icon, but in the United States, she’s just a social media star.”
She’s also excited to be mentored by Aarthi Vadde, a Duke English professor who is currently completing a book entitled We the Platform: Contemporary Literature after Web 2.0.
“Her work has been really instrumental to my research,” Grubnic said. “I think my time with her will be really productive. I’m also looking forward to meeting new people, getting the creative juices flowing and becoming immersed in another research-intensive university.”
2022-23 Western Fulbright recipients
Chantelle Richmond, Canada Research Chair, Indigenous Health and the Environment and professor in the department of geography and environment, Faculty of Social Science
Host institution: University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
When she travels to the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) this December, Richmond hopes to deepen her understanding of Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) relationships with land, and to generate new research relationships. While Fulbright applicants may propose a generalized project that could apply to any number of American universities, Richmond wrote her project particularly for UH Mānoa. Read more
Styliani Constas, professor in the department of chemistry, Faculty of Social Science
Host institution: University of California, Irvine
Constas’ research spans the areas of computational chemistry, aerosol chemistry and biophysics. She pioneered computational and mathematical modeling in the study of droplet chemistry, with research applications in atmospheric aerosols, native mass spectrometry, and nanofluidics. Constas also discovered the electrostatic confinement effect, a major force in determining the ion location in aerosol droplets and the effect of temperature in ion interactions. In the field of mass spectrometry, she discovered the mechanisms of analyte-droplet interactions such as the macromolecule extrusion mechanism and “star’’-shaped droplets. Her work sheds light on the origin of the charge states detected in mass spectrometry and has been recognized through several awards.
Donna Xue, fifth-year Western Scholar’s Electives student pursuing a combined degree in computer science and business
Awarded a Killam Fellowship
Host institution: University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Xue’s research interest is machine learning and product design. Before heading to Hawai’i for her fellowship, she completed a summer internship in Seattle, where she was a program manager for Microsoft.
Ryan Lashlee, third-year psychology major at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Awarded a Killam Fellowship
Host institution: Western University
Lashlee arrived at Western last month, looking to build on past research focused on the struggles of biracial and minority youth. She is currently investigating body insecurities in female students and young girls, and is looking to see if body dysmorphia is correlated with different environments (Canada versus Hawai’i) of general campus life. Lashlee hopes engage other international students to discuss the possible similarities and differences between their home countries and Canada.