Jeffrey Denis
Associate Professor, Sociology

I am a settler Canadian of mixed European ancestry and an Associate Professor of Sociology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (Dish with One Spoon territory).

My research investigates the social processes that shape the well-being of historically marginalized communities and the strategies, alliances, policies, and practices that can bring about more just and sustainable societies.

Born and raised in Toronto, I majored in Sociology and Psychology at the University of Toronto. My first sociological research project involved documenting the transformation and forced closure of the Wellesley Hospital, a major teaching hospital in Toronto that had been a leader in HIV treatment and innovative approaches to community participation in decision-making.

Encouraged by my mentors at U of T (especially Dennis Magill), I then completed my MA and PhD degrees in Sociology at Harvard, under the supervision of William Julius Wilson and Michèle Lamont. While in graduate school, my attention shifted from a general concern with racism, inequality, and health to a specific focus on Indigenous-settler relations and decolonization.

My PhD research involved 18 months of fieldwork, 160 interviews, and a photovoice project with Anishinaabe, Métis, and white residents of Northwestern Ontario (Treaty #3 territory). This research formed the basis of my book, Canada at a Crossroads: Boundaries, Bridges, and Laissez-Faire Racism in Indigenous-Settler Relations. Drawing on group position theory and settler colonial studies, this book examines the sources of conflict and cooperation between Indigenous and settler communities in a small-town context and the promise and pitfalls of commonly proposed “solutions” to white racism, such as intergroup contact, education, and collective action.

In other research, I have interviewed settler Canadians who participated in Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Idle No More events, with the goal of understanding the experiences and conditions that lead to engagement in solidarity activities with Indigenous peoples. Based on this research, (former) graduate students Kerry Bailey and Mollie McGuire and I have published a series of papers on the pathways whereby some settlers come to seek reconciliation and how they understand their roles in the process. Along with Lynne Davis and Raven Sinclair, I also co-edited a special issue of Settler Colonial Studies on Pathways of Settler Decolonization (now available as a book through Routledge).

I have also collaborated on multiple community-based research projects with Indigenous communities. The Poverty Action Research Project (PARP), led by Fred Wien at Dalhousie University, involved working with five First Nations across Canada to develop poverty reduction and community development strategies and to monitor changes in community well-being.

More recently, in partnership with the non-profit group Reconciliation Kenora, I received a SSHRC Insight Development Grant to conduct sharing circles and interviews with Anishinaabe, Métis, and settler residents of Kenora, Ontario (Treaty #3 territory) on local community understandings of and barriers to reconciliation.

I am also a co-investigator on another SSHRC-funded project, "For the Long Haul" (led by Lynne Davis at Trent University), about the conditions that foster long-term Indigenous-settler alliances, how such alliances develop over time, and the role that alliances can play in achieving social change. In this case, I am working with the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to document the role of alliances in the Freedom Road campaign.
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