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Carmen Poulin

University of New Brunswick

Short bio:

Carmen Poulin is a Professor of Psychology and Gender and Women Studies, and an Associate Dean (Research & Graduate Studies) in the Faculty of Arts, at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Her research focuses on the impact of institutional formal and informal practices on women and marginalised groups’ daily lives. She is a co-founding director of the Psycho-Social Ethnography of the Common Place (P-SEC) multidisciplinary research group and methodology. The purpose of P-SEC research is to develop strategies based on the everyday experience of marginalised people within organisations. She has carried out research on groups such as 2SLGBTQIA+ soldiers in the Canadian Military and their partners, Women firefighters, Informal Caregivers, 90+ Years old elders living in place in rural milieux and eastern Métis people. 

Realising Change in Social Science Research: The P-SEC Methodological Approach


Understanding the impact of dominant ideologies (often called ‘common sense’ or hegemony; Gramshi) can revolutionise how we see the world and our own experience. This is especially true for marginalised people. Thirty years ago, in collaboration with sociologist L.Gouliquer, we developed the Psycho-Social Ethnography of the Common Place (P-SEC) methodology. P-SEC is an innovative qualitative methodology, rooted in feminist standpoint theory (Harding, 1991). Accordingly, research begins with the voices of people whose interests are not represented by those in power. This radical shift from the dominant perspective (e.g. patriarchy), which depends on restricting the visibility of the oppressed (e.g. subjugation of women’s agency), unleashes previously inaccessible knowledge. In addition to the writings of philosopher S.Harding on epistemological categorisation, we drew upon those of sociologist D.Smith on institutional ethnography, legal theorist Crenshaw on intersectionality, and various cognitive psychologists such as S.Bem, M.L.Signorella and I.H.Freize on schema theory. By bringing these perspectives together, P-SEC is purposefully interdisciplinary and offers a novel and structured approach into the complex interplay between social, organisational and political contexts, and individuals’ psychological experiences, thoughts and actions. By prioritising the knowledge and experiences of the marginalised, P-SEC studies illuminate how institutions and ideologies shape and complicate their lives; it draws attention on how social relations of power, and formal and informal practices benefit organisations. Systematically, P-SEC elucidates how socio-ideological conditions maintain marginalisation and how this is conflated with common sense through examining how individuals make sense of, and cope with, their oppressed realities. In this presentation, I trace the development of the P-SEC methodology. I review the results of some of our pan-Canadian studies on marginalised groups such as women firefighters, and 2SLGBTQIA+ soldiers and their partners, and highlight the findings and knowledge mobilisation such an approach provides. I conclude on how social science research can effect change.

Key words: feminist methodology, marginalisation, P-SEC

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