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Dr. Ryan Burns

Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator

I am Assistant Professor at University of Calgary’s Department of Geography, and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. My research interests are in the social, institutional, and urban transformations of big and open data, smart cities, digital humanitarianism, and related digital spatial phenomena. My research program interrogates the social and institutional struggles around knowledge production emerging in the context of these new spatial-technological developments. At the current moment I’m looking at digital humanitarianism and open data platforms within smart cities.

I am a “public scholar”, which for me means that I actively work to communicate my research results across multiple audiences. That is, I find it equally important to inform policymakers and the general public, as it is to contribute to scholarly conversations. As a public scholar I also hope to improve the ways humanitarian aid is distributed to “the public” in crisis and emergency zones. This is the more applied aspect of my work. Lastly, public scholarship means I consider my pedagogy and my research to be a form of activism. I make this claim because in my research and teaching I open up taken-for-granted ideas/concepts to critique. In other words, I uncover the origins and limitations of technologies and concepts, in order to imagine and foster different, more socially-just, worlds. In this I borrow from Seyla Benhabib, when she says, “The task of the critic is not to juxtapose an ideal, eternal standard to the existent, but through a ‘ruthless critique of the existent’ to reveal that what is, already contains within itself what ‘ought’ to be as a possibility.”

Preston WelkerPreston Welker bio

Research Assistant

I'm a graduate student at the University of Calgary currently pursuing an MA in Geography. In transition to smart cities, I'm curious how emergent adaptation strategies influence the social infrastructure and dynamics of urban life. My research interests involve the relationship between open data technology and urban conservation efforts, and how this relationship mediates and frames the development of particular kinds of resilient human community networks.

With a background in conservation and geospatial science, I've worked for The Nature Conservancy to aggregate social and ecological co-benefits into green stormwater infrastructure in Philadelphia and as an AmeriCorps Stream Mapper at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Angela Ambrose

Angela Ambrose profile

Research Assistant

I am an MA student in the University of Calgary’s Department of Geography working under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Burns. My background has fueled the research interests that guide my thesis: a combination of human geography, philosophy and GIS studies. My thesis is an exploration of the social side of humanitarian technologies and whether, in contrast to traditional forms of volunteer interaction with aid recipients, resulting aid response is efficacious in producing a sense of cross-cultural global citizenship. I look toward feminist social theorists such as Iris Marion Young and Nancy Fraser in my understanding of social justice, responsibility and equity.

Prior to my master’s program, I completed my BSc Geography and worked as a Research Assistant on projects as part of the Social and Technological Humanitarian Studies research group. My non-academic background has been dominantly grounded in international travel and volunteer engagement with local and international organizations – I’ve worked with the Central Alberta Refugee Effort within various programs geared towards connecting newcomers with resources and services and, more recently, I’ve volunteered with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team as a mapping intern.

My academic and non-academic activities have culminated an interest in the act of ‘helping’ – what are the common perceptions of the meaning of ‘helping’, and how does the praxis of ‘help’ change when:

  • Neoliberal global economic systems result in profit-driven aid, and
  •  Disproportionate numbers of people in particular positions of society (i.e., the Global North) dictate what the praxis of help is for members of disadvantageous positions within society (i.e., crisis-affected groups in the Global South).

As a result, I’m very enthusiastic to be part of this collaborative research group – it's great to actively participate in this critical dialogue!