Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Shows, Selves, and Solidarity: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Spectacles in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Shows, Selves, and Solidarity: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Spectacles in Canada

Article excerpt


The purpose of this paper is to consider four possible roles cultural spectacles such as Winnipeg's Folkiorama and Toronto's Caravan might play in ethnic identity in contemporary Canada. First. ethno-cultural spectacles might represent alternative economies of status." Such events create their own temporary power microcosms in which the rules that govern society the rest of the year are suspended and a different system of social status and prestige comes into effect in which the relative newcomer might be better situated. Second, the very act of organizing an ethnic cultural spectacle ensures that ethnic identity per se will remain a salient issue for the foreseeable future. Third, festivals allow members of ethnic minorities to determine or influence the ways they will be understood, in a general sense, by outsiders. As well, because cultural spectacles allow minority groups to depict the religions with which they are associated, these events represent opportunities to disabuse outsiders of erroneous views t hey might have about a particular religion. Fourth, cultural spectacles also represent local efforts to reinterpret the style and format of commercialized (and largely American) public events. This paper also outlines several policy-related recommendations.

L' objectif de cet article est de considerer les quatre roles possibles que les spectacles culturels comme le Folklorama de Winnipeg et le Caravan de Toronto pourraient jouer au chapitre de l'identite ethnique dans le Canada d' aujourd'hui. Permierement, les spectacles ethnoculturels peuvent representer [much less than] d'autres economics de statut [greater less than]. De telles manifestations creent leur propre microcosme de pouvoir temporaire ou les regles qui regissent la societe pendant le reste de l'annee sont suspendues pour faire place un autre systeme de statut et prestige social dans lequel une personne relativement nouvelle peut se retrouver plus facilement. Deuxiemement, le simple fait d'organiser un spectacle culturel garantit que cette identite demeurera en soi une question preponderante dans un avenir assez rapproche. Troisiemement, les festivals permettent aux membres des minorites ethniques de determiner ou d'influencer, dans un sens general, les moyens dont les profanes se servent pour les co mprendre. De plus, comme les groupes minoritaires illustrent leurs references religieuses dans le cadre de ces spectacles culturels, ces manifestations deviennent alors des occasions d'informer les profanes des opinions erronees qu'ils pourraient avoir au sujet de cette religion. Quatriemement, les spectacles culturels representent aussi les efforts locaux faits pour interpreter de nouveau le style et la forme des manifestations publiques commercialisees (et surtout americaines). Cet article donne aussi un apercu de plusieurs recommandations en matiere de politique.


In the social sciences and humanities, few topics command as much attention as the rather nebulous concept of identity. (1) Academics, policy makers, and business people alike want to know how to define this concept, how to cater to its various formations, how to foster it, and perhaps how to manipulate it. The concept itself is fairly loose, referring vaguely to the understandings groups and individuals come to have of themselves. For some commentators, especially "essentialists," personal or collective identity is fixed, ascribed, and perhaps only somewhat less congenital than eye colour and skin tone. Others, especially post-modernists, treat identity as a largely elective, contingent, ephemeral phenomenon, much like tastes in clothing or political affiliation.

It is also tempting to reify identity, to claim it is a thing that "belongs" to a group or a person, either by choice or by nature. However, such a reification is unwarranted, since an identity is neither exactly a discrete "object," nor the sole possession of any group, (2) nor (or at least rarely) the simple result of an individual's choice. …

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