Spotlight on Montreal

Spotlight on Montreal

Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM)


Training & Research
  • Social & Cultural


  • Montreal
  • diversity
  • Research
  • McGill University

Spotlight on Montreal

Published on:
November 17, 2017
Event date:
Friday, 17 November, 2017 - 09:30

By Christine Lacaze

On top of being Quebec’s economic centre, Montreal is a diverse, multicultural city where cultures and languages meet. The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM) is the first of its kind: its goal is to research the city of Montreal. It aims to make the city shine by encouraging action - that’s why it’s uniting researchers from faculties of art, law, engineering, music and science, and even pulling in help from other Quebec universities.

CIRM at its start

CIRM began as a vast inquiry led by Stéphan Gervais (now CIRM coordinator) and Pascal Brissette (CIRM director)  in 2011 and 2012 at the heart of McGill University and throughout other institutions across Quebec. At the time, they believed McGill could strengthen its contribution to Quebec studies. But how?

“By mapping studies across the province, we realized that we didn’t need another centre for studies on Quebec, but needed to single out Montreal - make Montreal the object of a study and make that a specific contribution to improve knowledge of Quebec,” said Brissette.

McGill responded strongly in favour of their proposition. “Not only was there no centre for research about Montreal, but we were also missing a research centre whose interdisciplinary aspects embraced research larger than that of traditional urban studies,” he said.

Indeed, for the first time, members of CIRM represent disciplines as diverse as architecture, communications, economics, law, geography, history, literature, music, philosophy, political science, psychology and urban planning. All are focused on a number of city-specific subjects, like its architecture, culture, ethnic diversity, governance, history, languages, literature, politics, democratic institutions and urban issues and activities.

“Our centre is built from a long mapping exercise that was structured around ground-level observation. It identified the needs that seemed the most pressing not just for our research, but for the city in general,” he said.

From left to right: Audray Fontaine, McConnell Foundation Practionner Program Coordinator, Pascal Brissette, CIRM Director and Stéphan Gervais, CIRM Scientific Coordinator.

A Centre that Represents the City

“When we look at large university centres throughout the world, we see that they embrace the object of their work, that is to say, they come to resemble the thing they study. Our centre, for example, is heavily vested in questions of culture and language (which is very important in Quebec and Montreal), so it’s set up in McGill’s Art Faculty, which fully embraces the city’s complexity,” said Brissette.

In April 2016, CIRM was granted the status of official McGill research centre. Since then, it has been transforming, and great news has followed in its tracks, specifically for the third installment of Je fais Montréal through the financial support of 1m dollars by BMO.

CIRM has two main objectives:

  • - Stimulate and federate interdisciplinary studies about Montreal
  • - Establish partnerships with communities, cultures, businesses, entrepreneurship, etc, within the city.

It now has six main areas of research:

  • 1. Digital culture, art, literature and performance art (directed by Will Straw)
  • 2. Languages, belonging, and multilingualism (co-directed by Patricia Lamarre and Gillian Lane-Mercier)
  • 3. Economics, innovation and social transformation (directed by Richard Shearmur)
  • 4. Circulation, infrastructure and the environment
  • 5. Governance, institutions and civilian involvement (co-directed by Hoi Kong and Daniel M. Weinstock)
  • 6. Immigration, living conditions and religions (co-directed by Frédéric Dejean and Annick Germain)

The CIRM offices are located at 3438, McTavish St.

Interdisciplinary work and partnerships

It’s hard to imagine that before CIRM, Montreal had never come under a microscope. What sets CIRM apart is the cross-sectoral view it affords of the city, but not just that. “If CIRM’s research is about the city, it’s also a centre that wants to be a part of it,” said Brissette. In fact, the research centre is working hard to create partnerships outside of the university in order for their research to help organizations, startups, and citizen organizations more concretely. The CIRM team works to develop official partnerships with the Quartier de l’innovation or Je fais Montréal in order to reach the greatest number of people through varied resources, and to work hand-in-hand. For Brissette, this kind of teamwork is vital - it’s like using networking accelerators.

In an effort to strengthen cooperation in the world of higher education, CIRM will soon launch a partnership with HEC Montreal, sure to be a contest that will stimulate social entrepreneurship…. to be continued.

Photo credit: Christinne Muschi
Profile picture: Audrée Wilhelmy

Spotlight on Montreal