Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Us, Them, and Others: Reflections on Canadian Multiculturalism and National Identity at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Us, Them, and Others: Reflections on Canadian Multiculturalism and National Identity at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

MY MAIN MOTIVATION for writing Us, Them, and Others: Pluralism and National Identity in Diverse Societies (Winter, 2011) was to find answers to the following questions: How does a national majority come to view itself as "multicultural?" What brings it to integrate a positively connoted conception of diversity into its self-definition of who "we" are and want to be? Put yet in another way, under which conditions are binary us/them relations broken up to include the recognition of others within our midst?

Concentrating on Canada, the book pays particular attention to the complex relations between the national majority, historically recognized ethnocultural or "national" minorities, and immigration-related diversity. The empirical study incorporates the findings from an analysis of English-language newspaper discourses during the 1990s into a theoretical framework inspired by Weberian sociology. It was this combination of empirical findings and a dynamic theory of interethnic group relations that led me to develop a model that defines pluralism as changing sets of triangular social relations, where the compromise between unequal groups--"us" and "others"--is rendered meaningful through the confrontation with real or imagined outsiders ("them").

The analysis in the book sheds a new light on the resilience of Canadian multiculturalism in the late 1990s--at a time when multicultural policies in other countries had come under heavy attack. It also develops a theoretical model of analyzing unequal ethnic relations that strives to go beyond the revelation of binary us/them relations. It does so by shifting the focus of observation away from processes of exclusion (constructions of "them") toward processes of conditional inclusion, namely the constructions of "others" next to "us." It is my hope that the study, and the model of pluralism in particular, provide a template for analyzing the relations between different ethnocultural collectivities and their pluralist accommodations in other contexts and time periods both in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

For the purpose of this paper, I will go one step backward, and start by discussing the "classical" sociological opposition of the concepts of community and society. The next two sections are exclusively based on Us, Them, and Others. I will first explain how I came to develop the model of pluralism as triangular relations. I will then summarize my interpretation of pan-Canadian multiculturalism in the 1990s. Let me clarify right from the outset that multiculturalism can refer to a demographic reality, to a government policy, as well as to a national ethos and identity. It is the latter that I am mostly interested in here. Finally, giving this lecture in 2013, I also want to comment on what has happened to multiculturalism and Canadian national identity in the first decade of the new century. I should admit that at the moment of writing this paper I have not conducted systematic research on this issue and will therefore only present a handful of observations and offer some tentative interpretations that will need to be developed in future studies. (1)

Community versus Society?

In the early 1990s, it was common to oppose Quebecois "ethnic nationalism" to Canadian or the Rest of Canada's "civic nationalism." Michael Ignatieff (2000), for example, argued that Quebecois nationalism--in contrast to Canadian nationalism--has an "ethnic heart" (p. 132), Ramsey Cook (1995) added that it hosts the dangers of "ethnic cleansing" (p. 245).

These terms go back to Friedrich Meinecke's (1922) distinction between the French Staatsnation and the German Kulturnation. In particular, civic nationalism has been associated with the writings of Voltaire, the Encyclopaedists, and later the writings of Abbe Sieyes, all emphasizing republican self-determination (i.e., civil society and demos). The idea of a nation based on culture, by contrast, derives from the philosophy of Herder ([1773] 1968) and the historicist, romanticist tradition in the early nineteenth century (Delannoi 1991). …

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