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–Public defenses in Sociology–


MA candidate: Natasha Melody Wright
Supervisory Committee: Dr. Renisa Mawani (Supervisor) and Dr. Amy Hanser
Defence Chair: Dr. Wendy Roth
Date and Location: August 25th, 2011 – 1:30pm – ANSO 2107

Title: Murder in the Park: Civic Identity-Making and Space in Vancouver

Abstract: Stanley Park is well known in Vancouver, Canada, and globally as a site of nature in the city. Over the course of its history, this image of the park as healthy, natural, and safe has been frequently disrupted by violent and/or destructive incidents. Physical and sexual attacks, both random and calculated, have routinely occurred in the park and have resulted in frenzied media, civic, and political responses. These events unsettle Stanley Park’s identity, and as a result, multiple actors in Vancouver perform cultural work to reinvent and/or restore the Park’s meaning vis-à-vis extreme disruptions of violence. By examining the textual records of two exemplary incidents of violent disruption in the park – the 2001 queer-bashing murder of Aaron Webster and the 1992 beating and murder of six Chilean flamingos in the Park zoo – I ask: How is Stanley Park’s identity created, managed, and communicated to Vancouver residents and to visitors and tourists? How are belonging, citizenship, power, and morality implicated in this cultural work? This thesis argues that both the murder of Aaron Webster and the flamingo killings had profound implications for how we understand Stanley Park. Webster’s death and the ensuing public response demarcated rightful queer ownership of the space and at the same time provided a platform for public scrutiny and administration of queer sexuality. The flamingo murders were leveraged to bring Stanley Park ‘back’ to its ‘natural’ state, upholding a national narrative about the park as an untouched wilderness and further erasing the history and ongoing realities of colonialism. The discourses that emerged in response to each event went well beyond the cases at hand to produce important meanings about civic identity and who belongs anddoes not belong in Vancouver.

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