Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Mobilizing Historical Consciousness for Concerted Social Action: English-Speaking Quebec's Community Leaders and Their Quest for Group Vitality

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Mobilizing Historical Consciousness for Concerted Social Action: English-Speaking Quebec's Community Leaders and Their Quest for Group Vitality

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This article examines the role historical consciousness plays in minority attempts at promoting group cohesion and mobilizing concerted social action. It does so by describing research findings from a qualitative study on Quebec English-speaking community leaders' experiences in organizing and defending group interests within their unique minority setting. (1) To explore the impact of leaders' historical sense-making, the article specifically looks at how forty participants' content knowledge of the community's past and present intersects with their understandings of history as an interpretive filter for reading reality (Zanazanian 2015, 2017). Seeing how history can offer groups a strong sense of coherency and legitimacy, this investigation provides insight into who participants believe English-speakers are, where they stand as a minority, and how history as an intellectual tool can help shape their future.

Despite English-speaking Quebec's historical presence in the province, the community is a new, sociological minority. It originated from the Francophone majority's re-ordering of Quebec's governing structure during the 1960s Quiet Revolution period and its ensuing language laws of the 1970s--namely 1974's Bill 22 and 1977's Bill 101. In sealing the ascendancy of French and Francophone Quebec's dominant status, these laws institutionalized linguistic boundaries between both communities and imputed a minority status to Quebec's English-speakers, who heretofore had never identified, nor mobilized as "Anglophones" (Bourhis 2012; Caldwell and Waddell 1982). Community leaders, as politically engaged facilitators, organizers, and educators (Bridger et al. 2013), today seek to offer coherency and direction to English-speakers' wide cultural, generational, and regional diversity, while raising awareness of their group's declining status among the province's French-speaking public. Underlying this challenge is a double need for a unifying vision that establishes a sense of legitimacy, which, while providing an acknowledged form of connectivity among the community's differing sub-groups, also secures English-speaking Quebec's claims as a recognized historic community. To gain credibility and act for the community politically, the challenge is to engage individuals who self-identify as English-speaking and Quebecois in ways that are meaningful to them, but that also foster feelings of commonality and control over members' common situation as "Anglophones" in the province (Bandura 2006; Weber 1968).

Two main questions guide this article: (1) What do community leaders say about English-speaking Quebec's situation, past and present? (2) How do they use this information to orient the community into the future? The guiding assumption here is that intersections of structured historical identities with historical thinking patterns that function similarly to collective remembering in the formation and maintenance of groups can help leaders consolidate and mobilize communities (Hilton and Liu 2017; Hutchinson and Smith 1996; Mock 2012; Wertsch 1998). While the study's participants demonstrate such potential, their grasp of the community's past appears to be mostly based on a social/generational memory, or ongoing lived memories that are alive and fluid in the present, as opposed to a formalized, transgenerational political memory that is uniform and rigidly structured. This clashes with their views on history's role, which they largely see as helping give order, meaning, and direction to the community. Symptomatic of English-speaking Quebec's new minority status, the lack of a readily-available historical identity - one supported by a rich historiography of the community's experiences as a self-identifying collective in time--,possibly explains the challenges leaders face in using history to gain the requisite legitimacy they seek. To be effective, such a framework would need to be inclusive of its diversity and open to Francophones. …

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