CBC Massey Lectures

Massey College, along with CBC and the House of Anansi Press, co-hosts the Massey Lectures, widely regarded as the most important public lectures in Canada. Established in 1961 by the CBC to honour the former Governor-General of Canada, the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, the College’s Founder and first Visitor, these annual lectures are given by a noted scholar or public figure. They are broadcast by the CBC from cities across Canada, and published at the same time by House of Anansi Press.

2021 Massey Lectures

Jacket image of Out of the Sun
Portrait of Esi Edugyan

Bestselling and acclaimed Canadian author Esi Edugyan will deliver the 2021 CBC Massey Lectures, exploring the relationship between art and race.

Through the lens of visual art, literature, film, as well as Edugyan’s own lived experience, her upcoming lecture series, which will also be published as a book, will examine the depiction of Black histories in works of the imagination, while challenging accepted versions of the Black experience with new perspectives.

The cover of Out of the Sun features a painting called Yoked by Colorado-based artist Ron Hicks. He is among a number of contemporary Black artists Edugyan will highlight in her lectures.

Born in Calgary, Edugyan is a two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize winner. First, for her 2011 novel, Half-Blood Blues, which centres on the disappearance of a young Black German jazz musician at the hands of the Nazis in occupied France. 

She won again in 2018 for Washington Black, an epic work of historical fiction, which examines race and identity. Both books were also finalists for the Booker Prize.

2020 Massey Lectures

Reset

In the 2020 CBC Massey Lectures, bestselling author and renowned technology and security expert Ronald J. Deibert exposes the disturbing influence and impact of the internet on politics, the economy, the environment, and humanity.


Digital technologies have given rise to a new machine-based civilization that is increasingly linked to a growing number of social and political maladies. Accountability is weak and insecurity is endemic, creating disturbing opportunities for exploitation.

Drawing from the cutting-edge research of the Citizen Lab, the world-renowned digital security research group which he founded and directs, Ronald J. Deibert exposes the impacts of this communications ecosystem on civil society. He tracks a mostly unregulated surveillance industry, innovations in technologies of remote control, superpower policing practices, dark PR firms, and highly profitable hack-for-hire services feeding off rivers of poorly secured personal data. Deibert also unearths how dependence on social media and its expanding universe of consumer electronics creates immense pressure on the natural environment. In order to combat authoritarian practices, environmental degradation, and rampant electronic consumerism, he urges restraints on tech platforms and governments to reclaim the internet for civil society.

Ron Deibert is professor of Political Science and director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto. The Citizen Lab undertakes interdisciplinary research at the intersection of global security, information and communications technologies, and human rights. The research outputs of the Citizen Lab are routinely covered in global media, including more than two dozen reports that received exclusive front-page coverage in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other global media over the last decade. Deibert is the author of Black Code: Surveillance, Privacy, and the Dark Side of the Internet,as well as numerous books, chapters, articles, and reports on internet censorship, surveillance, and cybersecurity.

Ron Deibert

“Look at that device in your hand. No, really, take a good, long look at it,” asks renowned tech expert Ron Deibert. “You carry it around with you everywhere. You sleep with it, work with it, run with it, you play games on it. You depend on it, and panic when you can’t find it. It links you to your relatives and kids. You take photos and videos with it, and share them with friends and family. It alerts you to public emergencies, and reminds you of hair appointments.”

There’s a problem with ‘that device’, says Deibert — but you know this already. There’s also an answer — we need a ‘reset’ and in the first of the 2020 Massey lectures, Deibert sketches out the problem — and the solution:

“A reset gives us a rare opportunity to imagine an alternative, and begin the process of actually bringing it about. To be sure, it won’t be easy, nor will it happen overnight. But fatalistic resignation to the status quo is no real alternative either.”

Tuesday, November 10, 8pm

In his second Massey Lecture, Ron Deibert explores “the economic engine that underlies social media: the personal data surveillance economy” and what is called …”surveillance capitalism”. He argues that social media platforms “describe themselves in seemingly benign ways: “wiring the world,” “connecting friends and family members,” “all the world’s information at your fingertips” and so on. On the surface, they often live up to the bill. But regardless of how they present themselves, social media companies have one fundamental aim: to monitor, archive, analyze, and market as much personal information as they can from those who use their platforms.

Ronald J. Deibert is the founder and director of Citizen Lab, a research outfit based at the University of Toronto, which studies technology, surveillance and censorship. (House of Anansi Press)

Wednesday, November 11, 8pm

You are being turned into an addict — by professionals. “The job of social media engineers” says Ron Deibert in the third Massey Lecture, is to design their products in such a way as to capture and retain users’ interests. In order to do so, they draw on insights and methods from commercial advertising and behavioural psychology, and refine their services’ features to tap into instincts and cognitive traits related to emotional reflexes. This dynamic means that social media’s algorithms tend to surface and privilege extreme and sensational content, which in turn degrades the overall quality of discourse on the platforms.

Thursday, November 12, 8pm

In his fourth CBC Massey lecture, Ron Deibert argues that social media and the internet are about a lot more than people trying to sell you stuff. In a very short period of time, digital technologies have provided state security agencies with unparalleled capabilities to peer inside our lives, both at a mass scale and down to the atomic level. Part of the reason is due to the booming surveillance industry, which crosses over relatively seamlessly between private sector and government clients, and has equipped security agencies with a whole new palette of tools they never previously could have imagined.”

Friday, November 13, 8pm

“Although we tend to think of social media and our digital experiences as clean, weightless, and ethereal … they are in fact far from it.” In the fifth of his Massey Lectures, Ron Deibert takes us behind the scenes of the ecological costs of our digital devices. “Every component of our communications ecosystem is implicated in a vast, planet-wide physical and material infrastructure — the raw material for which can be traced back billions of years. Social media are not only inextricably connected to the natural world, they tax it in many surprising ways across a spectrum that includes mining, manufacturing, transportation, energy consumption, and waste.”

Monday, November 16, 8pm

In the sixth and final of his 2020 CBC Massey Lectures, Ron Deibert asks the question “What is to be done?” And he has an answer. “The negative implications of social media are increasingly acknowledged and well documented. But what to do about them is a different matter…The common sense meaning of ‘restraint’ is keeping someone or something under control, including our emotions, our habits, and our behaviours. I make a plea for a single, overarching principle to guide us moving forward: restraint.”

2019 Massey Lectures

Power Shift

Award-winning author, journalist, and human rights activist Sally Armstrong is this year’s CBC Massey Lecturer.

In her 25 years covering stories in conflict zones, Armstrong has been relentlessly advocating for women, exposing abuse and oppression. She was the first journalist to bring the story of Afghan women living under the Taliban to the world.

Through her lectures, Armstrong argues that improving the status of the women is crucial to our collective surviving — and thriving. The facts are beyond dispute: when women get an education, all of society benefits; when they get better healthcare, everyone lives longer.

In many ways, it has never been a better time to be a woman: a fundamental shift has been taking place all around us, and we’re all better off. Yet the promise of genuine equality still eludes half the world’s population.
By looking at the past, Armstrong examines the many roles women have played in society, and the social developments for women over millennia across many benchmarks: in sex, religion, culture, politics, and economics. What we learn is that gender inequality comes at too high a cost for all of us, and that the only way forward for all of us, men as well as women, is for women to become truly equal with men.

The book version of the 2019 CBC Massey Lectures, Power Shift: The Longest Revolution, is published by House of Anansi Press. It will be available on Sept. 17, 2019.

SALLY ARMSTRONG is sometimes called “the war correspondent for the world’s women.” She’s also known as “La Talibanista.” She’s a journalist who covers zones of conflict. Her beat is to find out what happens to women and girls.
An award winning author, journalist and human rights activist she’s a four-time winner of the Amnesty International Canada media award; she holds ten honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. Armstrong was the first journalist to bring the story of the women of Afghanistan to the world and is relentless when it comes to exposing the abuse of women whether on an American university campus or a village in a war zone.

Michele Landsberg, author of Writing the Revolution describes her this way: “Striding into Taliban-held Afghanistan with a chador over her six-foot frame, playing high-fives with a traumatized child rape survivor in the Congolese jungle, marching with the defiant grandmothers in Swaziland, she explores the darkest reaches of women’s experience and brings back astonishing news of hope, challenge and change. From Tahrir Square to LA, Armstrong discovers that the sisters are doing it for themselves—and revolutionizing the world.” Michele Landsberg, author of Writing the Revolution

Sally Armstrong

2018 Massey Lectures

All Our Relations
Prize-winning journalist Tanya Talaga (author of Seven Fallen Feathers) explores the legacy of cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples — in Canada and elsewhere — in her 2018 CBC Massey Lectures, All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward.

For Tanya Talaga, that cultural genocide has led to a forced disconnection from land and language by Indigenous peoples. The need now, she says, is for Indigenous self-determination in social, cultural and political arenas. Many communities, in Canada and abroad, are finding that the road back to a relationship with land and language are keys to community healing — to what in fact it means to be Indigenous. These are lectures about values for our times, and for all of us.

TANYA TALAGA is the acclaimed author of Seven Fallen Feathers, which was the winner of the RBC Taylor Prize, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, and First Nation Communities Read: Young Adult/Adult. The book was also a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize and the BC National Award for Nonfiction, and it was CBC’s Nonfiction Book of the Year, a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, and a national bestseller. For more than twenty years she has been a journalist at the Toronto Star, and has been nominated five times for the Michener Award in public service journalism. She was also named the 2017–2018 Atkinson Fellow in Public Policy. Talaga is of Polish and Indigenous descent. Her great-grandmother, Liz Gauthier, was a residential school survivor. Her great-grandfather, Russell Bowen, was an Ojibwe trapper and labourer. Her grandmother is a member of Fort William First Nation. Her mother was raised in Raith and Graham, Ontario. She lives in Toronto with her two teenage children.

Tanya Talaga

2017 Massey Lectures

In Search of a Better World

The 2017 CBC Massey Lectures are an essential analysis of the major human rights struggles of our times by internationally renowned human rights lawyer and former UN prosecutor Payam Akhavan.

A work of memoir, history, and a call to action, In Search of a Better World,the 2017 CBC Massey Lectures, are a powerful and essential work on the major human rights struggles of our times. In February of 2017, Amnesty International released their Annual Report for 2016 to 2017, concluding that the “us versus them” rhetoric increasingly employed by politicians is endangering human rights the world over. Renowned UN prosecutor and human rights scholar Payam Akhavan has encountered the grim realities of contemporary genocide throughout his life and career.

He argues that deceptive utopias, political cynicism, and public apathy have given rise to major human rights abuses: from the religious persecution of Iranian Bahá’ís that shaped his personal life, to the horrors of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the rise of contemporary phenomena such as the Islamic State. But he also reflects on the inspiring resilience of the human spirit and the reality of our inextricable interdependence to liberate us, whether from hateful ideologies that deny the humanity of others or an empty consumerist culture that worships greed and self-indulgence. A timely, essential, and passionate work of memoir and history, In Search of a Better World is a tour de force by an internationally renowned human rights lawyer.

PAYAM AKHAVAN is a Professor of International Law at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a Member of the International Court of Arbitration, and a former UN prosecutor at The Hague. He has served with the UN in conflict zones around the world, including Bosnia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda, and Timor Leste, and as legal counsel in landmark cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Supreme Courts of Canada and the United States. Born in Tehran, Iran, Payam Akhavan migrated to Canada with his family in his childhood.

Payam Akhavan
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