Social Science professor wins prestigious Helen Potter Award

This article originally appeared in yfile.

Caroline Shenaz Hossein, from the Department of Social Science

Caroline Shenaz Hossein shows off her Helen Potter Award certificate

Professor Caroline Shenaz Hossein, from the Department of Social Science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, won the prestigious Helen Potter Award – an accolade that has only been granted to nine women since its inception in 1975.

The Association of Social Economics presented the award to Hossein on Jan. 7, in Chicago at the American Economic Association and Allied Social Science meetings.

“The work of Professor Hossein contributes to our knowledge in new and important ways, interrogating the ways in which the social economy operates in specific locales, and has been lauded for its theoretical sophistication and empirical rigour,” says Sandra Whitworth, LA&PS Associate Dean Graduate Studies and Research. “Her work is inspiring and we’re proud of her many accomplishments and congratulate her on this new accolade."

The Helen Potter Award is presented each year to the author of the best article in the Review of Social Economy by a promising scholar at the Assistant or Associate level. Dr. Hossein, one of the few people of colour to receive the award, won for her article “Big Man” politics in the social economy: a case study of microfinance in Kingston, Jamaica.  Award recipients receive a plaque and a cash prize.

“My article has a Global South focus on how the social economy works. It shows that elites can corrupt the social economy from within.  This is occurring in a field that’s supposed to be helping some of the most marginalized people. When social economy institutions are beholden to politics, this further marginalizes the very people they are intended to help,” says Hossein. “Many things in the social economy work great; however, this particular case demonstrates that partisan and informal politics can interfere with the way community organizes.” She’s pleased that this award puts a spotlight on the story in Jamaica so that the sector can be strengthened to help the thousands of people who depend on it every day.

Named after the economist Helen Potter, the goal of the award is to recognize excellence in scholarship which confronts mainstream economics with literature that supports heterodox economic research.

Hossein's research interest is in diverse community economies with specific attention to the intersection of identities such as race, class and gender. Her work on social exclusion is grounded in Black liberation and feminist theorizing, and the lived experience of the African diaspora.

She is the author of Politicized Microfinance: Money, Power and Violence in the Black Americas (University of Toronto Press, 2016) and is an executive board member of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diaspora and the Centre for Feminist Research at York University.