Ongoing Research Interests

Narratives of Innovation and Creativity: Perspectives in Social Science, Economics and Science Fiction

What is it about? The Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian viewpoints conflict with the optimist understanding of human progress driven by the desire to outpace and neutralize scarcity through innovation, efficiency, and collaboration. We analyze the role of these perspectives and examine their place in the social sciences, in the evolution of scientific knowledge, and in science fiction.


  • Presented a number of talks and submitted a paper with Geloso and Desrochers on the analysis of outcomes of the little-known second wager the biologist Paul Ehrlich offered to Julian Simon, an economist, a wager that Simon never accepted.
  • Have a paper forthcoming with Desrochers on the (under-appreciated) role of long-distance by-product use linkages and inter-industrial innovations in the development of the American cottonseed industry.
  • Co-editing the e-book anthology A science fiction writer's guide to science with a solo chapter on Malthusian, Neo-Malthusian and “resourceship” perspectives in science fiction.

Publications / Presentations:

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (accepted for publication; forthcoming in 2017). Long distance trade, locational dynamics and by-product development: Insights from the history of the American cottonseed industry. Sustainability.

Geloso, V., Szurmak, J., & Desrochers, P. (under review). Care to Wager Again? An Appraisal of Paul Ehrlich’s Counter-wager Offer to Julian Simon. Submitted to World Development.

Szurmak, J. (forthcoming). Premises of science fiction: Neo-Malthusian and resourceship perspectives. In M. M. Wooster, S. T. Karnick, & J. Szurmak (Eds.), A science fiction writer’s guide to science. (pagination TBD – electronic format). Chicago, Il: The Heartland Institute.

The Second Ehrlich-Simon Wager with Joanna Szurmak (11 November 2016). Garrett Malcolm Petersen on Economics Detective Radio available at

Szurmak, J. (5 November 2016). The Second Ehrlich-Simon Bet: Who Would Have Won? International Conference on Prices & Markets (Mises Institute Canada), Bahen Centre, University of Toronto, ON, Canada.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (18 August 2016). Innovation and the Case against the Patent System. Freedom Week (Institute for Liberal Studies), McGill University, Montreal.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (24 July 2016). Creativity and the Case against the Patent System. 2016 Liberty Summer Seminar (Institute for Liberal Studies), Peterborough, ON.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (22 July 2016). Creativity and the Case against the Patent System. 2016 Rothbard University (Mises Institute Canada, University of Toronto, St George Campus, Toronto, ON, Canada.

Geloso, V., Szurmak, J., & Desrochers, P. (4 April, 2016). The Second Bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich. Presentation at APEE, Las Vegas, NV.

The (Complex) Legacies of Jane Jacobs

What is this about? I read and examined four of Steven Johnson’s books on creativity and invention and a number of works by and about Jane Jacobs in order to explore the impact Jacobs and her inductive research methodology had on writers such as Johnson. In the process, I interviewed Jim, Jacobs’s son, and contributed to two articles illuminating the evolution of Jacobs’ ideas and unique research methodology.


·      Co-author, with Pierre Desrochers, of two forthcoming journal articles and a series of presentations.

·      Strategizing new projects and research directions (Spring 2017).

Presentations / Publications:

Szurmak, J., & Desrochers, P. (accepted for publication; forthcoming June 2017). Jane Jacobs as Spontaneous Economic Order Methodologist: Part 2: Metaphors and Methods. Cosmos + Taxis: Studies in Emergent Order and Organization.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (accepted for publication; forthcoming June 2017). Jane Jacobs as Spontaneous Economic Order Methodologist:  Part 1: Intellectual Apprenticeship. Cosmos + Taxis: Studies in Emergent Order and Organization.

Desrochers, P., Leppälä, S., & Szurmak, J. (forthcoming). Urban diversity and innovation. In H. Bathelt, P. Cohendet, S. Henn, & L. Simon (Eds.), The Elgar companion to innovation and knowledge creation: A multi-disciplinary approach. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (29 March, 2016). Jane Jacobs as spontaneous order theorist. Presentation at the AGM, San Francisco, CA.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (4 April, 2016). Jane Jacobs as spontaneous order theorist. Presentation at the APEE, Las Vegas, NV.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (19 January, 2016). Jane Jacobs as spontaneous order theorist. Presentation at the Toronto Mises Institute.

Desrochers, P., & Szurmak, J. (May, 2015). Jane Jacobs as spontaneous order theorist. Presentation at a Rochester, NY, seminar.

Creative Processes in Libraries: A Narrative Investigation

What is it about? As part of my research leave project I started to examine how people working in libraries perceive the landscape of creativity in their work. My focus here is on individual creativity, not institutional or group dynamics. What I have learned so far is that those working in libraries are extremely interested in narratives illuminating creative processes and out-of-the box thinking, whether it is situated in or outside the library.


  • Research ethics application in progress.
  • Invited to write an academic article on my findings so far in the Journal of Academic Librarianship following my presentation at CAPAL in May 2016; article in progress.

Presentations / Publications:

Szurmak, J. (31 May 2016). Discovering, dissecting and describing individual creativity in the academic library through narrative interviews. Presentation at the CAPAL Annual Library Conference, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.

Szurmak, J. (11 May 2016). “No Recipe:” Characterizing Individual Librarian Creativity Using Narrative Methods. Presentation at the University of Calgary Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching: Exploring Creativity in Postsecondary Learning and Teaching, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.

Szurmak, J. (29 January 2016). Probing the Incubator: Learning to discover, dissect and describe individual librarian creativity. Preseantation at the OLA SuperConference, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto, ON.

The Use of Narrative in Teaching by Academic Librarians

What is it about? Narrative offers a convenient way of "packaging" instruction, both its method and its content, into cognitive structures easily assimilated by the brain. We investigated, through a series of in-depth interviews, how librarians use narrative to teach.


  • Co-investigating with Mindy Thuna.
  • Submitted and received ethics approval through to February, 2017; ethics renewed until March 2018.
  • Co-designed research question, methodology, e-mails to librarians, and interview questions.
  • Data collection is complete.
  • Approximately half-way through transcribing interviews and preparing for publication.

Publications / Presentations:

Thuna, M., & Szurmak, J. (14 June, 2015). Tell us your story: The use of narrative as a conceptual framework by academic librarians. Presentation at the Workshop in Instruction in Library Use (WiLU) 2015 Conference, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

Thuna, M., & Szurmak, J. (24 April, 2015). Crossing thresholds in teaching with narratives. Presentation at the OCULA Spring Conference, Jordan Village, ON.

Szurmak, J., & Thuna, M. (2013). Tell me a story: The use of narrative as tool for instruction. In D. M. Mueller (Ed.), Imagine, Innovate, Inspire: The Proceedings of the ACRL 2013 Conference. Retrieved from

Pivotal Moments, Bottlenecks and Thresholds in Discipline Selection in the Sciences

What is it about? This a narrative, interview-based study of the relevance of thresholds, pivotal moments, and "bottlenecks" in the process of discipline selection by undergraduate students in the sciences.


  • Collaborating with Mindy Thuna and Marc Laflamme.
  • Research Ethics proposal accepted in April 2016; renewing the proposal for 2017.
  • Concluded data collection and transcription with the help of R.O.P. students in the summer of 2016.
  • Preparing conference abstracts and reviewing results.

Presentation / Publication: Submitted abstracts; awaiting acceptance.

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