Plastics are in every ocean in the world. Most of them are smaller than 5mm in size and are being ingested by plankton, fish, and seals, among many other marine animals. Tiny plastics have even been found circulating in the blood of mussels. How can we do research in environments suffering from pollution that is difficult to see, wide spread, will last in geological timescales, and is affecting human and ecological health in unpredictable ways? How can we do research on marine plastics so that our research is part of action?

Memorial University faculty members Max Liboiron (Sociology), Dean Bavington (Geography), and Charles Mather (Geography), along with Josh Lepawsky (Geography) and Mario Blaser (Aboriginal Studies), are spearheading an interdisciplinary project that looks at research methodologies and ethics in a permanently polluted world. They will be focusing on developing action-baed methodologies, including participatory citizen science, on marine plastics.

So far, the project has included gathering cod fish digestive tracts during the food fishery in Newfoundland to see whether plastics are present in human food webs, building DIY feminist technology for monitoring marine plastics in waterways, and conducting shoreline plastic studies via citizen science. We are also creating a field guide of activist research methodologies with collaborators. The project is just beginning– it may grow in a variety of ways from these initial efforts, where different modes of participation, collaboration, and ethics will be investigated and critiqued. Our goal is to make social and political change during the course of data collection, not just after collection has occurred.


We are looking to recruit one Masters student and one PhD student in Sociology for an interdisciplinary, STS-driven project on Action Research Methods for the Anthropocene at Memorial University of Newfoundland. While the project will look at a variety of methodologies based in action, activism, and making change during research, we will focus on participatory citizen science in particular. This approach aims to democratize science by involving local experts such as fishermen and women as full collaborators who co-create research questions, collect data, analyse findings, and mobilize research. While some aspects of the project are set out in advance, students are encouraged to find their own area of interest and expertise to focus their thesis or dissertation. This focus may include a combination of natural (laboratory and field) and social science research.

We offer full funding to successful applicants, which is approximately $17.5k/year, plus opportunities for research and teaching assistantships. Students with a background in science and technology studies (STS), history of science, or science studies are preferred, but any student with an interdisciplinary background of social and natural sciences is encouraged to apply. Applicants must have a strong command of written and spoken English, since the project will involve writing and speaking with public and policy audiences. Both students will be part of Memorial’s WaSTE Group (Waste in Science, Technology, and the Environment) and Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR). The start date is Sept 1, 2016. Applications are due February 2, 2016.

Students attending Memorial receive instruction in social scientific practices and methods appropriate to their field of study, leading to field research opportunities and the preparation of a research-based thesis. Our programs offer the chance to interact with an array of fellow students and to live and study in St. John’s, the capital of the ruggedly beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Our graduates go on to further advanced study, university faculty positions, NGOs, and government and private sector employment.

Applicants should apply to Memorial University School of Graduate Studies directly for consideration of the positions–there is no specific application procedure for this project separate from the graduate school process.
All degree requirements are outlined in the Sociology Graduate Handbook.

For more information email the project leader, Dr. Max Liboiron

This project is funded by SSHRC IDG and MEOPAR/ISI grants.