Gold Medal: Claudia Mitchell

Claudia Mitchell

Photo: © Owen Egan

Gold Medal:

Claudia Mitchell

Department of Integrated Studies in Education, Faculty of Education

McGill University


Claudia Mitchell is a professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education, Faculty of Education, at McGill University. Her passion is social justice, as shown by her work over the past two decades aiding youth around the world, in places such as South Africa, Rwanda, Russia and Ethiopia.

In Canada, Mitchell’s research has examined how community organizations working with Aboriginal youth can use participatory methods to address HIV/AIDS. She is also the founder and director of the Participatory Cultures Lab at McGill. The Lab fosters collaboration among research students, and the use of visual tools such as digital storytelling and participatory video.

A recognized leader in visual arts, Mitchell’s research includes testing visual methods to engage and educate youth on topics such as gender, HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, girlhood studies and public health. She has also looked at the uses of digital technology for teachers.

Mitchell is a passionate advocate encouraging young people to speak out about violence in their lives. Because of this, she has seen great results in her work with, and for, girls and young women in Canada, South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya.

Her work has led her to be named an honorary professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mid Sweden University’s Faculty of Human Sciences.

Mitchell has worked with the Canadian International Development Agency (now Global Affairs Canada), UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Gorbachev Foundation. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada’s Academy of Social Sciences, and has published numerous scholarly papers and books on qualitative inquiry using visual methods.

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship.

SSHRC’s highest honour, the prestigious Gold Medal is given to individuals whose sustained leadership, dedication and originality of thought have inspired students and colleagues alike.

How would you describe the main focus of your work?

My work focuses on using visual and other participatory methodologies in community engagement. While much of this work is with girls and young women, I am interested in the ways in which visual tools can be used with other groups to promote community and policy dialogue. This approach is very important to those who work on the “front lines” in areas such as education.

In what ways do the Participatory Cultures Lab and your use of participatory visual research tools further your work goals?

In much of my research, and in the work of my doctoral students, we use mobile phones, iPads, digital cameras and other forms of digital media. The Participatory Cultures Lab is a place for testing out such tools for research, but it’s also a hub to bring people together. In some ways, its very existence as a funded lab validates the kind of work we do in social research.

What research accomplishments are you most proud of to date?

A decade ago, I was part of the writing team for the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children. A key recommendation coming out of that work is that we need children and young people to speak out, to document, and, in particular, to express their ideas for change. I am very proud of the ways that some of my work has contributed to the participation of children and young people in addressing violence in their lives.

What do you most want Canadians to understand about your research?

I want Canadians to understand that research like mine, and that of my team, puts ordinary people at the centre in defining what needs to be changed. This kind of work, however, also requires community leaders and policy-makers to do a great deal of listening and acting.