Diversity, National Unity and Self-Awareness: The Cameron Report on Canadian Studies

Article excerpt

The Canadian studies community welcomes David Cameron's recently released report Taking Stock: Canadian Studies in the Nineties, jointly commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies and the Department of Canadian Heritage. Twenty years after the influential Symons report, To Know Ourselves, Cameron's study addresses the health of the field, assesses the extent to which advances both in disciplinary and interdisciplinary inquiry have contributed to self - knowledge and national unity, and offers a series of policy recommendations for the future development of Canadian studies. The report focuses largely upon the institutional manifestations of Canadian studies - especially Canadian Studies programs in universities and colleges, key organizations and agencies such as the Association for Canadian Studies, the extent of faculty involvement in the field, and the existence of archival, print and related resources. Cameron is interested in the health of Canadian Studies programs across the country, their relationship to one another, and to issues relating to national identity and understanding. Given the present fiscal crisis and its impact upon the Canadian university community, this report fulfils an important need.

Nevertheless, there are a number of issues that arise out of the report that need to be more fully addressed. Throughout its more than 200 pages the report struggles with how to define and thus measure what we mean by Canadian studies. In its opening chapters Cameron acknowledges the multiple spheres of identity that create the challenge of "knowing ourselves" in a country characterized by inherent diversity. He adopts an inclusive definition of Canadian studies in Chapter Two, one that embraces area and regional studies, Canadian aspects of Native and women's studies, the study of Canada abroad, and work that has a Canadian focus within specific disciplines. Yet a tension runs throughout the report between recognizing this diversity and legitimizing it as a central element of the Canadian Studies enterprise. For instance, when Cameron notes in Chapter Three the shift in our orientation in Canadian studies from a national perspective to one of more regional or local concerns, he asks whether this shift will allow as large a contribution to be made to an understanding of the country as a whole. While the report alludes to an important ongoing debateon these issues, it implicitly adopts a position favouring the "country as a whole."

As Cameron himself points out, the objectives of self - knowledge and national unity are not necessarily consistent. Canadian studies as it has developed over the last two decades has opened a Pandora's box of diversity, of different views and voices. Is this diversity a source of strength or a sign of weakness? The report seems ambivalent on this question. For many of us, a recognition of the legitimacy of this diversity is what gives contemporary Canadian studies its vitality. From the "limited identities" historiographical debate of the 1970s, to the multicultural perspectives of the 1980s, to more recent incursions into the cultural studies domain (witness the Winter 1995/96 issue of the ACS BULLETIN AEC on the latter), diversity has retained the attention of Canadianists. Cameron has difficulty escaping a more traditional conception of Canadian studies as a national enterprise, however. This ambivalence becomes particularly problematic when Cameron evaluates the health of Canadian Studies programs and institutions.

Throughout the report, Cameron distinguishes between "pure" Canadian Studies programs (those with a pan - Canadian mandate), and "a range of multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary programs examining Canadian matters." The latter category combines programs such as Native Studies, Quebec Studies, Atlantic Canada Studies, Prairie Studies and BC Studies, all of which are by definition focused on the study of Canada, together with fields such as environmental studies and women's studies which may have Canadian content, but are not defined/motivated by an interest in Canada. …