Quebec Sociology and Quebec Society: The Construction of a Collective Identity

By Fournier, Marcel | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Quebec Sociology and Quebec Society: The Construction of a Collective Identity


Fournier, Marcel, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: In this paper I will briefly outline how sociology has interpreted the French Canadian collectivity from the end of the last century to the present time. I argue that the French-speaking collectivity in Canada has been ascribed, both successively and simultaneously, the characters of race, ethnic group, society, and nation through the prism of sociology. The cultural specificity of this collectivity has been alternately perceived as either a stigma or as an element of pride. My paper has three parts: Leon Gerin and Marius Barbeau, or "the Quebec difference" as a handicap; the External perspectives of Horace Miner, Everett C. Hughes, and the Laval School; and what "Quebecitude" (the cultural specificity of the Quebec character) means. These three perspectives correspond to three periods in the history of Quebec sociology: The pioneers (before 1939); the institutionalization of (academic) sociology (1940-1969); and the "nationalization" of Quebec sociology (1970 until now). The 1960s and the 1970s are viewed herein as the "Golden Age" of sociology in Quebec.

Resume: De la fin du siecle dernier a aujourd'hui, la sociologie quebecoise a fourni diverses interpreations de la collectivite francophone au Canada, lui attribuant, successivement et simultanement, differents statuts: ceux de race, de groupe ethnique, de societe et de nation. La specificite culturelle de cette collectivite a ete percue tantot comme un stigmate tantot comme un element de fierte. Mon article se divise en trois parties: 1) Leon Gerin, Marius Barbeauou la difference comme handicap, 2) Un point de vue de l'texterieur: Miner, Hughes et l'Ecole de Laval, 3) qu'et-ce que la [much less than] Quebecitude (ou la specificite culturelle du Quebec signifie ? Ces trois perspectives correspondent dans une certaine mesure a trois periodes dans Ia sociologie quebecoise : 1) les pionniers (avant 1939), t'institutionnalisation de la sociologie academique (1940-1969), et la [much less than] nationalisation [much greater than] de la sociologie quebecoise (1970 jusqu'a maintenant), avec les annees 1960 et 1970 co mme I' [much less than] Age d'or [much greater than] de la sociologie.

What is specific to a group or a society? The social sciences, and particularly sociology, have a stake in this debate. It is impossible for these disciplines to escape the problem, because social scientists cannot define their field without constructing an object; that is, without defining the society in which they practice their profession. In Quebec, it certainly was not sociologists who invented the "Quebec Question." However, sociological studies have made significant contributions to the formation of national identity (Fournier and Houle, 1980), providing cognitive categories which have helped the French-speaking collectivity in thinking out its identity.

As early as the beginning of the century, Marcel Mauss observed the significant contributions that human and social sciences have made to the creation of national identities in Europe. Referring to works devoted to the study of national character, he stated: "Le siecle dernier a vu la naissance d'un nouveau genre litteraire ... Mais ceci n'est que la manifestation litteraire d'un fait: la formation consciente des caracteres nationaux" (Mauss, 1967: 603). In other words, the recourse to human and social science is indispensable in that it ensures a cognitive basis for establishing clear social boundaries and specific political demands. This representation of identity not only rests on inherent characteristics, but it is also, and more importantly, a function of the balance of power within which the group or collectivity exists. In effect, this determines the ease in which it may transform these traits into a collective identity (Bourdieu, 1980: 63-72).

Within the framework of this paper, I will briefly review how sociology has interpreted the French Canadian collectivity from the end of the last century until the present time.

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