Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Regional Subnationalism in Canada and the Social Meaning of New Organisations

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Regional Subnationalism in Canada and the Social Meaning of New Organisations

Article excerpt

The modernist view is that nationalism is the political alignment of a national culture with a state. Of particular relevance to modernist approaches to nationalism is the role of technology, including sociotechnical technologies such as organisations, in shaping nations and nationalism. This paper uses the literature of nationalism to argue that new organisations enjoying the indirect or direct support of governments have a substantial role in the development of subnational identities, especially in those subnational contexts characterised by political alienation from a national state. Subnational contexts include provinces, states, and other regional political regimes in a political relationship with a nation state. New organisations constitute a 'demonstration effect', which means that they show the benefits of an enhanced subnational culture for individuals and groups. Subnationalism is the alignment of regional economic and cultural projects with aspirations for an increase in political and economic autonomy. The case of the creation of Nova Corporation in 1954 is examined to reveal the demonstration effect within Alberta, Canada. The social effect of the new organisation, along with other public projects of its kind, was to strengthen the subnational culture and its link to the provincial state.

Practical classifications are always subordinated to practical functions and oriented towards the production of social effects.

Pierre Bourdieu, 'Identity and Representation: Elements for a Critical Reflection on the Idea of Region' (1991: 220)

THIS ARTICLE USES THE MODERNIST THEORY of nationalism as a means of examining the cultural significance of certain economic and political changes in subnational states. It is argued that new organisations enjoying the indirect or direct support of governments have a substantial role in cultural development, especially in subnational cultures characterised by political alienation from the nation state. Subnational contexts include provinces, states, and other regional political regimes in a political relationship with a nation state. In Alberta, a province in which subnational secession, or separatism, has been a recurrent theme of social identity, the creation of a powerful organisation in a resource industry provided a 'demonstration effect'. The demonstration effect allowed for brokering conflicts and differences arising from the economic and cultural diversity of the province.

Through the lens of nationalism, we can see in deep relief the dialectical relationship of ideas and technology in regional economic and political development. When viewed as a modern phenomenon, nationalism is preceded by the development and dissemination of new ideas about technology, and in particular about its capacity to reconfigure large segments of society (Gouldner 1976). The process of fashioning 'strange' ideas about technology into 'familiar' ones must involve, in turn, the use of technologies of media and communication (Van den Bossche 2003). Technology has two uses in furthering the ideas of nationalist and subnationalist projects. The demonstrational use of technology involves obtaining, developing, or using technology in support of a nationalist cause. An example would be military technology, such as aircraft, tanks, and firearms, which may be used to enforce either national unification or separation. The technology used by armed forces has always been central to the maintenance and extension of nationalist programmes. The mediating use of a technology involves publicly justifying state action within the national community, while transmitting messages in support of the nationalist project. In many countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada, and Sweden, a national broadcasting agency with public funding has been established for such a purpose. The legislation establishing such agencies requires that the national character is to be reflected in and promoted by the national broadcaster. …

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