Karen Foster

Associate Professor; Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Rural Futures for Atlantic Canada


Related information

Email: karen.foster@dal.ca
Phone: 902-494-6751
Mailing Address: 
Room 3115, McCain Building, 6135 University Avenue
PO Box 15000, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4R2
Research Topics:
  • Economy, work and development
  • Knowledge, science and expertise
  • Political economy
  • Research methods
  • Rural communities
  • Social policy
  • Social statistics
  • Atlantic Canada


  • BA Hons, Dalhousie
  • MA, University of Waterloo
  • PhD, Carleton University
  • PDF, York University; Banting PDF, Saint Mary’s University

Research interests

Dr. Foster is a sociologist whose research and writing spans the sociology of work, political economy, and historical sociology. She has drawn on both qualitative and quantitative methods to study economic issues from a sociological perspective: the history of productivity as a statistic and a concept, generational divisions at work, young peoples’ experiences on social assistance, and youth outmigration from rural communities. In addition to her scholarly work, she has also written about these topics for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and The Tyee.

Her most recent book, Productivity and Prosperity: A Historical Sociology of Productivist Thought(University of Toronto Press), explores how the productivity concept and its statistical representation—and the powerful discourses to which it is attached—have featured in three Canadian sites: the Dominion Bureau of Statistics; the short-lived 1960s body, the National Productivity Council; and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The book received an Honourable Mention for the Canadian Sociological Association’s 2017 John Porter Tradition of Excellence Book Award.

Dr. Foster’s CRC current research, supported by her CFI-funded Rural Futures Research Centre, focuses on the sustainability of rural life in Atlantic Canada, with a particular emphasis on how government policy and everyday life intersect. Her interests in this area include import replacement, youth outmigration, occupational succession in rural family businesses, and rural struggles to protect local public services. An ongoing side project is the experiences of contract instructors in post-secondary institutions across Canada, which she has recently studied with a nationwide survey in partnership with the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Selected publications