Signal vs. Noise: Reflections from Winnipeg

The RBC Emerging Scholars Program is an opportunity for students in each of the five Spur cities to contribute to a national conversation on politics, art and ideas by enjoying and contributing to the inclusive and intellectually vibrant atmosphere of Spur 2014. To find out more about the program, or apply to be an Emerging Scholar in Calgary, Ottawa, or Vancouver, click here.  Below you’ll find an examination of this year’s theme, from an Emerging Scholar. 

When I first heard ‘Signal vs. Noise’ the possibilities of meanings felt endless, and the more I reflect on the Spur Festival in Winnipeg they only expand.

The concepts discussed in Winnipeg varied between the specific stories of elders shared by James Raffan as he discussed The North, specific instances the signals built into architecture of community strengthening and coming together, examples of film making as resistance and so on all delivered noiselessly. Not to say without laughter or volume, discussion or debate, but rather that they signalled what things could be and created a space of silence in contrast to the noise that tells us everything is stuck how it is now. There was an intelligent lack of generalization leading to an abundance of actual meaning, of ways to duplicate successes via the processes engaged in.

What struck me most was the conversations each day that were so poignantly local yet far-reaching. How does one community of 90% visible ‘minorities’ advocate for spaces of play that make sense for themselves in Winnipeg inform other communities in Canada? By being open about the processes and battles that made a reality this community’s vision, that neighbourhoods have come and therefore can come together, can have such far-reaching political implications.

There is often a lot of how things ‘ought to’ be done, but in sharing how things have been done, we can replicate them. There a lot of things that ‘ought to’ change if only someone knew how, or believed they could be different. The signal is it CAN be different, the noise may wash out the one who knows the way, but ultimately from the larger Canada to our local community centre, it is all what we make of it, and we can make it work for us when we work together.


Tessa Blaikie is a recent graduate of the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University and the Gold Medal recipient for Honours Sociology at the University of Winnipeg. Her MA research focused on the political economy of privilege and how those who have it can mobilize it towards its elimination via equity building in Canada. She currently works as the youth mental health promotion worker for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Winnipeg region, working to decrease Stigma and in so doing increase access to mental health services and funding for needed supports.

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