Editor's note: this is one of a series of articles about new faculty members who have joined the University of Windsor.
Cosmopolitan is not an adjective many Windsorites would typically use to define their city, but Ronjon Paul Datta would.
“I really like Windsor as a city,” said the latest faculty addition to the department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology. “It’s very cosmopolitan, a lot more so than most medium sized cities.”
Part of the reluctance of many locals to describe it as such may be attributed to the way the word’s meaning has been misinterpreted over the years. Perhaps owing to a well-known fashion magazine, or to a certain brand of martini, the term cosmopolitan has come to suggest a level of cultural sophistication many Windsorites believe their city lacks.
In its truest meaning, however, cosmopolitanism is the belief that all people belong to a single community of a diverse humanity, and that this diversity should be cultivated and celebrated. A cosmopolitan community might be based on an inclusive morality, a shared economic relationship, or a political structure in which individuals from different places form relationships of mutual respect.
So given that Dr. Datta has devoted a considerable amount of his research time to studying that concept of cosmopolitanism, he’s on fairly solid ground when he describes Windsor as such.
“We need to find out what virtues can be developed in our societies, and not just focus on what’s going wrong,” said Datta. “Cosmopolitanism is about developing the possibility for broader social virtues. I think Windsor’s an amazing spot for that – it’s got a distinctive, working-class cosmopolitan vibe.”
Born in England but raised in the Don Mills and Pickering areas, Datta earned undergraduate degrees in sociology at Trent University and in theology at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College. He earned a Master’s at Queen’s, and a PhD at Carleton University, where he won a Governor General’s Academic Medal for his doctoral thesis and the University medal for his doctoral work on social theory and political sociology.
After teaching for a year in New Brunswick at Mount Allison University, Datta came to the University of Windsor in 2008 on a limited-term appointment. He was soon offered a tenure track position at the University of Alberta, where he was an assistant professor of social theory and cultural studies, and director of the Intermedia Research Studio, an arts-based social research facility. While there, he received the Bill Meloff Memorial Teaching Award.
An offer to come back to Ontario, however, was too good to pass up.
“This university has all the resources of a large university, with a collegial, tight-knit atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place for scholarly pursuits because it’s so easy to get to know people from all across campus. I have a lot of friends and family in Ontario, and a broader scholarly network too, which is really invaluable,” he replied when asked why he wanted to come back. “That, and not having to buy snow tires.”
Datta’s research is focused on contemporary and classical social theory, looking specifically at “how modern social sciences have sought to understand and explain the major factors shaping our futures and fates, and how we problematize them.” He examines approaches to power and justice, exploring such concepts as the sacred, exclusion and the political economy of debt.
A great deal of his time is spent studying the works of major sociological thinkers like Émile Durkheim, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser. In fact as associate editor of the Canadian Journal of Sociology, he’s working on a special issue commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, which he says counts among the most important books on the sociology of religion, and the discipline as a whole.
In his spare time, Datta plays basketball, follows Formula 1 racing and is a keyboard player who enjoys playing everything from classic blues and jazz to contemporary soul and funk-infused pop and rock.