Meet Mary Hanlon, Sociology Professor

Sociology Professor Mary Hanlon stands in front of a green hedge
Sociology Professor Mary Hanlon's area of interest is in the global fashion and apparel industry.

'Arts opens minds and unlocks thinking, challenging us to imagine alternative futures.'

Q: What is your education?

A: I have a PhD in Sociology from the University of Edinburgh, a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Athabasca University, a Bachelor of Arts in International Development Studies and Spanish from Dalhousie University, and a Diploma in Textile Arts from Capilano University, back when it was a college. 

Q: What is your area of interest?

A: I am interested in the global fashion and apparel industry, and in understanding how and why worker rights may be compromised in the making of clothing, as well as how transnational social movements work to challenge and disrupt conventional practices. Sociology allows us to understand clothing as a tool of both exploitation and expression, and, also, one of social change. My PhD research focused on the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, a disaster that killed more than 1,000 workers making clothing destined for the closets of western consumers. I looked at the actions of transnational stakeholders aiming to secure compensation for those impacted by the collapse, as well as those working to prevent another such disaster from happening again. I am also interested in how information and knowledge is learned and shared. I worked for a long time on a project called Social Alterations, which aimed to create and support educational resources related to worker rights and the global fashion and apparel industry. Fashion can be a fascinating tool to create social change, and it’s exciting to think about all the creative ways that might happen.

Q: When did you know you had found your discipline?

A: When I first set out for college, I wanted to be a fashion designer. As I began studying Textile Arts, I started to learn a bit about working conditions in factories producing some of the clothing I loved. From there, there was no turning back! Over time, I was able to build out my education to better help me understand this issue and I eventually fell in love with sociology, thanks to some amazing educators along the way.

Q: Why did you choose to work at Okanagan College?

A: Okanagan College offers incredible opportunities for students and faculty alike, with so much support to learn, share and grow. This coming winter, for example, I was given the opportunity to teach two courses related to my research area. It’s really exciting to offer students a chance to explore current issues and debates within sociology: we’ll be exploring the sociology of fashion, learning about global supply chains (SOCI 202), and examining human interactions in everyday life (SOCI 295).

Q: What do you like most about the work you do?

A: My favourite part is the constant learning. Whether through research, writing or teaching, there are endless opportunities to gain new insights into the social worlds around us, learning both from and with students.

Q: Favourite teaching experience?

A: After unpacking labour rights issues related to the global fashion and apparel industry, one of my students was inspired to choreograph a dance on the topic with her dance students. This was an incredible teaching experience for me, because so often we never get to see how learning translates into other aspects of our students’ lives, outside of the classroom environment.

Q: Who gave you the best advice you ever received?

A: I think the best advice I have received has come from mentors who emphasized the importance of trying to stay focused on what matters most when it comes to achieving goals. Whether it’s the completion of a course, a program, a project or an initiative, for example, if you try and keep in your mind the reasons you set out to achieve that goal in the first place, it helps to push through any challenges you encounter along the way.

Q: Where are you the happiest?

A: Relaxing with family and friends and smothering my toddler with hugs and kisses.

Q: What matters most to you right now?

A: I spend a lot of time thinking about the world my son is growing up in, asking myself what I can do now to better challenge social inequalities. When he looks back on my life, I want him to know that I did not just stand by.

Q: Why do you think people should study the Arts?

A:  Well, of course I think everyone should study the Arts! The Arts opens minds and unlocks thinking, challenging us to imagine alternative futures. How cool is that?

Q: If you ran the world?

A: What a tough question! Of course, I would work toward dismantling systemic and structural inequalities.

Published By Public Affairs on October 1, 2020

Sociology in brief

Study in Sociology allows us to understand how human behaviour is influenced by the social and cultural groups to which we belong and the society in which we live.

 Discover Sociology

What does it mean to study arts?

It means to study the world – to understand critical issues such as the environment, politics, race, class, poverty, gender and inequality. The world is your classroom, and what you learn matters. To study arts is to think and feel, to know and change, to understand and take action.

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