Catherine Bélair

After a talented career in the arts and elite sports, Catherine decided to dedicate herself to the narratives, experiences and needs of others through anthropological research in order to better explore her altruism.

Catherine Bélair’s research applies an anthropological approach to exploring not only the why but also the how of endemic hunger in poor regions of Brazil. She has examined the role of humanitarian intervention in enabling survival despite food shortages, analyzing aid agencies’ localized practices and discourses as dynamic models of social life and rights. At the same time, her investigations of giving proceed from the premise that the possibility of obtaining sustenance in the context of endemic hunger relies on the generosity of the Other, which provides the means for escaping the food trap. The significations of aid operations, rooted in referents derived from human rights and giving, therefore lead her to connect those two anthropological spheres through the juxtaposition of agreements, conceiving humanitarian intervention as a way to make human rights normative in order to encourage giving, which becomes a form of operationalization of the human rights apparatus.

Being a Trudeau Scholar has been a unique privilege that has made a world of difference throughout my doctoral studies. The scholarship allowed for the undertaking of four unparalleled opportunities : (1) the realization of a one year fieldwork experience, that was both creative and comparative, in the cities of Itapiúna (rural setting) and Lagamar (urbain setting) situated in Brazil’s Nordeste state of Ceará; (2) the chance of taking part in a community of dynamic and exceptional people – researchers, academics, lay persons, business men and women, NGO workers and policy makers – who share a common vision : to build a better world while leaving space for individual talents, approaches and ideas to flourish; (3) the implementation of an incredible mentoring program that allowed me to develop a deep connection with a remarkable woman who works in philanthropy; and (4) the refinement of both my reflections and my general knowledge, for the Trudeau scholarship promotes discussions with other Trudeau community members and with experts and colleagues from here and elsewhere, on topics I hold dear. Furthermore, and probably the most important aspect of this great adventure, being a member of the Trudeau community has introduced me to people who have an actual influence on the course of events and who are making significant contributions toward improving our society.

Biography

It is a somewhat unusual route that led Catherine Bélair to her doctoral studies. She had, until then, been guided by her talents for sports and the arts, and sometimes also received a little helped from lady luck. She attended the hard-knock school of classical ballet, studying at the prestigious National Ballet School of Canadaand the Kirov Academy in the United States; she studied classical piano and furthered her musical apprenticeship by playing basson in college; she completed two years of mechanical engineering at Canada’s Royal Military College as a regular member of the Armed Forces; and she also competed at a high level in swimming, synchronised swimming, rowing and skeleton, all the while obtaining excellent academic results. But despite the many and varied successes, a feeling of emptyness remained. And so she made the decision to change the lifepath on which she stood : « no more sports, no more arts and no more sciences, no more of ‘me’ ». Instead, she decided to dedicate herself to the narratives, experiences and needs of others through anthropological research in order to better explore her altruism.

With a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in anthropology from Concordia University, Catherine Bélair recently completed her doctorate in anthropology at Université Laval. Her research, which sat at the crossroads between the anthropology of giving and the anthropology of human rights, sought out the practices and the discourses related to the different management and survival strategies embraced by people suffering from endemic hunger, in both rural and urbain settings of the state of Ceará in Brazil.