More Questions of Balance (Reflections on the Cameron Report)

Article excerpt

As this issue of the Journal goes to press, the Cameron Report on Canadian Studies, an update of the 1976 Symons Commission Report To Know Ourselves and its third volume and sequel Some Questions of Balance (1984),is on the verge of appearing. A preliminary overview of its findings was presented by David Cameron in the opening plenary of this year's ACS meetings in Calgary, and if his sensitive and sensible presentation was any indication, it will offer a most welcome hard look at the lost ground as well as at the successes of the last 30 years. At the time of the Symons Commission inquiry, university students were more interested in Canadian studies than were faculty; almost 20 years later, the reverse seems to be the case. And while several established programs have emerged, many smaller centres continue to struggle for university administrators' recognition and support.

Without explicitly setting aside policy recommendations, David Cameron's Calgary presentation emphasized current statistics, balancing the good news with the bad. What follows are my own meditations, not to be confused with Professor Cameron's observations. Many faculty initially involved in setting up Canadian studies programs in the wake of the Symons Report are now left wondering why today's students often turn to no less worthy but newer and trendier transdisciplinary programs such as women's studies, native studies, development studies and environmental studies. Constitutional battle fatigue may be a factor, coupled with the perceived onerousness of language requirements, and this despite the popularity of immersion programs. The economic climate and its impact on teaching jobs should not be underestimated: the traditional disciplines' growing attraction is a sign not of the failure of Canadian and other interdisciplinary programs, so much as of the misguided back - to - basics conservatism dictating student options, given scarcity and intense competition in academic and other job markets. Perhaps, too, uninformed and misguided assumptions about Canadian studies as a scholarly discipline, so often mistakenly confused with the intense Canadian nationalism that contributed to its emergence in the 1970s, has not caught up to the current reality -- that both disciplinary and transdisciplinary Canadianists are often on the cutting edge of research in their field. Whatever the causes, it wouldseem that the colonial cringe and its alter ego, a commitment to decolonizing the Canadian imagination, have to some extent been superceded by postmodern cynicism and apathy.

One of the greatest ironies of the Cameron Report's findings is that Canadian studies may be healthier abroad (in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America) than it is at home, a cause for both rejoicing and concern. There are, for example, several PhD programs in other countries but none in Canada at the moment. The gradual displacement of the Secretary of State (now Heritage) by External (now Foreign) Affairs as a home for Canadian studies has played its part over the years, although issues of trade and immigration also help account for the shift in focus and audience. There is food for thought in recent findings suggesting that -- questions of funding and politics aside - others often genuinely take a greater interest in Canadian politics, society and culture than we do; they value Canada and Canadians as subjects of study, both in and of themselves and from a comparativist standpoint. Thus it comes as no surprise to me that a conference theme such as "Canadian Studies at Home and Abroad," implicitly emphasizing the latter, drew more prominent Canadian scholars than usual to the ACS meetings this year. Although they came to disseminate the results of their research and to exchange news and views with foreign scholars, numbers in attendance at the opening plenary also revealed considerable interest in and support for the Cameron Report.

The first three volumes of the Symons Report, as pioneering studies, did not pay an overwhelming amount of attention to the infrastructure and role of Canadian studies scholarly research, and progress is still needed in areas such as SSHRCC strategic grants and support for scholarly journals, of which there are many. …