Comprehensive Exam 2.2

This is the first of three questions that I answered during my comprehensive exam in April. I had one week to write three answers (chosen from six questions). I am a bit reluctant to share them in their unpolished state, but I think it will be useful for others to see what I generated in the time available (and plan accordingly for your own exam!). I did pass this section, but my committee pointed out that my voice was a bit lacking in my responses. (Although they also told me to be a fly on the wall and set the theories in dialogue with each other – I just should have positioned myself within that dialogue more clearly.)

Question the First

It has been argued that much of the history of Canadian cultural scholarship closely follows the history of the cultural political concerns of the Canadian state (American imperialism, bilingualism, multiculturalism, etc.). Drawing on your list, assess the validity of this claim and reflect on its possible consequences for what it means to be a scholar of Canadian culture.

In many ways, Canadian culture—like Canadian identity and Canada itself—seems to have been legislated into existence. To cite but a few examples, the War Exchange Conservation Act (1940-47) led to the publication of Canadian superhero comic books during World War II (Thompson & Randall 2008: 176), and the satirical show starring Bob and Doug McKenzie—considered one of the best examples of a “typically Canadian” cultural practice by Kieran Keohane (1997: 20)—was created in 1980 to fulfill Canadian Content regulations for the CBC (Bodroghkozy 2002: 573). Culture has also informed policy; the commercialization of diverse folk-arts by Canadian Pacific Railroad investors arguably inspired the federal policy of multiculturalism that was adopted in 1971 (Francis 1997: 83). This policy of multiculturalism and its attendant repercussions for immigration, self-identification, and group solidarity have since been critiqued by various scholars of Canada.

Likewise, Canadian Studies reflects the political and cultural concerns of the Canadian government, and not only as the subject of the 1972 Royal Commission on Canadian Studies. At its founding, Canadian Studies “drew for justification upon the left-nationalist discourses that preceded it… [and] this discourse had sufficient appeal, not only in university circles but also in government… to create sources of funding” (Angus 197: 210). Domestically, the Canadian Studies Program sponsors “the development of learning materials and activities that contribute to increasing Canadians’ knowledge about Canada” (Canadian Heritage 2010). The Government of Canada’s Understanding Canada program is funded “to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of Canada, its values and its culture among scholars and other influential groups abroad” (Canada 2012).1 The structure of the Carleton University School of Canadian Studies doctoral program includes a French language requirement, Canadian content on exam lists and course syllabi, and enrollment from (some of) the various linguistic, cultural, and regional groupings that make up Canada.

In the context of contemporary budget cuts, Royal Commissions, and academic debates, the 7,000 Canadianists worldwide should be wary (ICCS/CIEC 2012). As Ramsay Cook notes, “[n]o new government in Canada is without some novel scheme for using the taxpayers’ money to ensure that the national consciousness is safe” (1971: 210). These initiatives leave scholars with an abundance of topics for analysis (and, in the case of successful Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada applications, an abundance of funding for such research). However, Cook warns of the inherent risks of following the concerns of the Canadian state too closely:

[H]istorians have tended to echo politicians’ claims rather than to analyse them…. [M]ost Canadian historians in analysing the glorious legend known as the growth of national status have accepted the version of the winning team. (Cook 1971: 205)

Homi K. Bhabha adds that Anglo-American “economic and political domination has a profound hegemonic influence on the information orders of the Western world, its popular media and its specialized institutions and academics” (1994: 30). Scholars should be vigilant about critically assessing state-sanctioned narratives that maintain “ongoing, structural prejudice” and inequality “with the help of armies, schools, police, and mass media” (Clifford 1994: 307). Fortunately, many Canadian cultural scholars do not accept the version of the so-called winning team.

Model scholarship emphasizes the importance of interrogating myths, particularly those found in Canadian curriculum, classrooms, museums, and history text books. Ruth B. Phillips (2006) offers an analysis of such state-sanctioned initiatives as the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo ‘67 (1967). She also considers Indigena at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (1992) and Land, Spirit, Power at the National Gallery of Canada (1992), which ran concurrently with the Canada 125 celebrations deconstructed by Eva Mackey (1999). Similarly, Peake and Ray discuss protests by African-Canadians around representations of at the 1990 Royal Ontario Museum exhibit Into the Heart of Africa (2001: 184). As Brian S. Osborne argues:

[S]uch memory-machines as archives, museums, national chronicles, school curricula, monuments, and public displays…. national holidays, political extravaganzas, sporting events, and the rites of passage of the great and popular are… opportunities for the expression of a state-scripted national solidarity. (2006: 152)

Scholars in a range of disciplines aim to interrogate rather than reinscribe Canadian nation-building myths and meta-narratives (Adams 2003; Bartels 1987; Francis 1997; Furniss 1999; Grant 1998; Strong-Boag et al. 1998; Osborne 2006). Contextualizing and critiquing prominent, popular(ized) events allows scholars to “recognize the limitations of the dominant story” of Canada (Strong-Boag et al. 1998: 4).

In Painting the Maple, Strong-Boag et al. consider government policies to emphasize “some of the complex ways in which Canada has been and is being constructed” (1998: 4). Osborne agrees: “Canada is… a ‘nationalizing-state.’ … [T]he term ‘nationalizing-state’ is intended to convey the sense of the state’s ongoing involvement in identity-building projects” (2006: 149). Much academic work is informed by Royal Commissions, which are often considered key to identity-building projects. Indeed, as Daniel Francis notes, “the Canadian way of dealing with divisive issues” is to “smooth things over by apologizing or appointing a royal commission” (1997: 84). A partial list of these includes: the 1929 Aird Commission (Bodroghkozy 2002: 566); the 1937Rowell-Sirois and 1949 Massey Commissions (Cook 1971: 203, 212); the 1953 Tremblay, 1955 Fowler, and 1961 O’Leary Commissions (Mackey 1999: 54; Coleman 2008: 36); the 1963 Laurendeau-Dunton Commission on Bilingualism & Biculturalism (Angus 1997: 141; Kobayashi 1993: 205; Razack 2007: 144; Thobani 2007: 326); and the 1989 Lortie Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (Eisenberg 1998).

The focus on Canadian examples by Canadian scholars is particularly admirable in light of James Clifford’s admonition (echoing bell hooks) that scholars should be wary of the tendency to address “international or postcolonial issues [which] are often more comfortably dealt with than antagonisms closer to home” (1994: 313). A fixation on government undertakings is not unique to Canadian scholarship (see also Boswell & Evans 1999; Corbey 1995). Sneja Gunew interrogates the process of canon formation during Australia’s “bicentennial celebrations of white settlement (1988)” (1990: 103). In his discussion of diaspora, Clifford points to the multicultural, celebratory Los Angeles Festival of 1991, which was funded by corporate sponsors and “delivered a nonthreatening, aestheticized transnationalism” (1994: 313). What Osborne terms “scripted solidarity” is exemplified by the Los Angeles Festival because “low-wage sweatshops where many members of the celebrated populations work were not featured as sites for either ‘art’ or ‘culture’” (Clifford 1994: 313).

In the realm of Canadian education, Cook warns that “nationalist rhetoric has not yet vacated the schools” (1977: 208). Daniel Francis notes the irony of summer exchange programs meant to cultivate national unity between English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking Canada when students “were spending [their] winters in school learning a version of each other that was patronizing, divisive, and completely one-sided” (1997: 89). He points to the dissonance between treacherous, murderous “Textbook Indians” and Canadian summer camps where children took “Indian” names and engaged with nature through idealized “Indian” activities (Francis 1997: 74, 132). Likewise, Thomas R. Berger points to omissions of Native content in both (US) American and Canadian textbooks and curricula, saying of his time in school: “we were not told of the sophistication of the Iroquois Confederacy, but rather of the Iroquois’ fierce attacks on the Hurons and the French priests who lived among them” (1991: 58).

Avigail Eisenberg challenges the influential cultural assumption “that individualism is central to English-Canadian and that collectivism is central to Aboriginal communities,” calling it a misreading that (mis)informs much of public policy toward Indigenous land claims and sovereignty rights in Canada (1998: 37). Likewise, Dennis Bartels interrogates a popular myth that enabled the disenfranchisement of Newfoundland Micmac:

White hostility to the Newfoundland Micmac land claim seems to reset largely upon the widely-held Newfoundland folk-belief that French colonial authorities brought Cape Breton Micmacs to Newfoundland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and paid a bounty for every aboriginal Beothuck that the Micmacs killed. … In light of this myth, Newfoundland Micmacs are often seen as one of several relatively recent groups of settlers. (Bartels 1987: 32)

Such assertions have repercussions for ongoing land claims that are based on habitation since time immemorial. Unfortunately, Berger uncritically comments that “[t]he ancestors of the peoples of the New World had crossed the Bering land bridge” (1991: 28). His banal commentary is mirrored in Pamela Stern’s Daily Life of the Inuit (2010) and many other texts that ignore the political implications of claiming that all inhabitants of the Americas are immigrants.

Such nonchalant remarks demonstrate why it is important to carefully consider “the stories that constitute our reality” and to ask how and why they are being told (Strong-Boag et al. 1998: 4). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak encourages the close reading of primary source material to avoid misunderstandings (1999: 259). Strong-Boag et al. encourage scholars to challenge existing meta-narratives and construct new stories that reflect a thorough and respectful approach to researching and contextualizing politics, history, and culture. Spivak promotes a dialogic structure of academic exchange that can enable “a constructive rather than disabling complicity… for there often seems no choice between excuses and accusations, the muddy stream and mudslinging” (1999: 3-4).

In light of Spivak’s admonition for enabling dialogue, IanAngus’s denigration of Jill Vickers would likely not qualify as a scholarly practice to emulate. In his footnotes, he calls her work below the caliber of an “undergraduate” and suggests that she “read some of [George Grant’s] books and refer to them” (Angus 1997: 263-264). Likewise, Charles Taylor dismisses Homi K. Bhabha’s interpretation of The Politics of Recognition by accusing Bhabha of conflating Taylor’s Canadian examples with the American context, a problem that happens “particularly… in the US, because hegemonic powers always have trouble imagining that life is different across their borders” (Taylor 2003: 185). Such behavior is not unique to the Canadian context. Phyllis Chesler’s response to Sunera Thobani’s article on Western feminism and the “War on Terror” accuses Thobani of “virulent anti-Americanism” and includes the rejoinder that, when the identities of rioting arsonists and murderers in France are revealed during their trial, “they will probably not be ‘white’ feminists” (2007: 229).

However, it is possible to achieve more nuanced critiques in scholarly dialogue. For example, Will Kymlicka details the formation of Osborne’s memory-machines in the Canadian context:

Since the 1950s, …concerted efforts have been made to construct a ‘made-at-home’ Canadian identity that essentially severs the connection with Britain…. This is reflected in the adoption of a new flag in place of the Union Jack, a new national anthem and national holidays, a new made-at-home constitution, as well as the adoption of official bilingualism, official multiculturalism and… other forms of anti-discrimination policy…. [M]ost immigrants… appreciate the symbolism, and acknowledge that many institutions like the schools or media have in fact made serious efforts to accommodate immigrant ethnicity. (Kymlicka 2003: 376-7)

Isin and Wood offer a diplomatic critique of Kymlicka’s linear account of Canadian history: “The diversity of language, religion, dress, social practice and skin colour, combined with the politics of legal and illegal immigration and refugees, presents a much more complicated picture than Kymlicka would perhaps like to recognize” (1999: 58).

Yasmin Jiwani further complicates Kymlicka’s interpretation of the media’s accommodation of diversity with her discussion of Sunera Thobani’s depiction in CBC coverage. She notes:

There is a pronounced absence of representations of racialized people in the national Canadian media. Numerous studies have repeatedly documented this underrepresentation in both television and print media [citations removed]. The continuing absence of people of Colour in the dominant media signifies their invisibility and non-status within the symbolic social order. … Research dealing with Canadian press coverage of racialized peoples finds that they are largely constructed as immigrant groups and that, as immigrants, they are regarded as a threat to the social order. … They are consistently associated with invasion, crime, deviance, cultural differences, and dishonesty…. This results in a portrayal that clearly marginalizes racialized groups as ‘others,’ locating them outside the pale of Canadian identity. (Jiwani 1998: 57-59)

Thobani herself is not immune to making her own sweeping overgeneralizations, akin to Kymlicka’s amorphous deployment of the phrase “most immigrants.” She argues that, partly because of biased media coverage, “[t]he level of denial of racism in daily life is of such intensity that (many) immigrants come to doubt their own experience of this phenomenon…. [I]mmigrants also tend to minimize and deny the racism that pervades their lives” (2007: 160-161).

As Cook warns, scholars should avoid falling into uncritical agreement with victorious politicians (or award-winning academics). He notes:

Historians of Canada… have very frequently joined the nationalist battle by identifying those politicians and actions of which they approve with the national good and those of which they disapprove with anti-national intentions…. [H]istorians have all too often fallen into the easy categorization provided by the politicians—especially the winning politicians. (Cook 1971: 200-201)

Gunew adds that “historians… participate centrally in the construction of the totalizing discourses of the public sphere” (1990: 107). Bhabha encourages academics to “change the narratives of our histories [and] transform our sense of what it means to live, to be, in other times and different spaces, both human and historical” (1994: 256). Many scholars challenge totalizing discourses and colonial practices through case studies of public events, marginalized narratives, or proposed developments.

In The Burden of History, Elizabeth Furniss uses the 1992 Cariboo-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry and the Williams Lake Stampede to frame her consideration of history, landscape, the myth of the frontier, identities, traditions, Nisga’a land claims, “common-sense racism,” and contemporary “Indianness” (1999). She challenges the prevalent expression of racist attitudes that reflect “the [deeply ingrained] assumptions of Euro-Canadian superiority and paternal benevolence” (Furniss 1999: 151). She argues that “proper understanding of… public crises requires an appreciation of the systemic way in which a dominant colonial culture operates in multiple dimensions of ordinary life and how public attitudes are rooted in a complex, sophisticated, and partial vision of the world that is profoundly shaped by past and present colonial experience” (Furniss 1999: 204).

Berger uses the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry to publicize the fraught debates around Indigenous land claims, northern development, environmental degradation, and resource extraction in Canada (1988). Sherene Razack uses the horrifying 1995 murder of Pamela George to frame a critique of gender, justice, and “ongoing police violence towards individuals racialized and policed in urban Aboriginal spaces” (2002: 147). Rita Dhamoon uses Bahudur Singh Bhalru’s 2005 deportation to challenge the regulation of difference through exclusionary immigration laws in Canada (2009).

These examples showcase how existing Canadian cultural scholarship has been strongly informed by the preoccupations of the state, which often dovetail with current events. As Strong-Boag et al. conclude:

The power of words, images, and concepts cannot be underestimated in the construction of Canada.… [S]uch terms as ‘bilingualism,’ ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘anti-racism,’ ‘First Nations,’ and ‘academic freedom’ name realities in order to insert them into the imaging of community. They map the ongoing struggle to construct the nation. (1998: 14).

By drawing on existing scholarship, interrogating state programs, and contextualizing one’s research within the dynamic framework of cultural studies, it is possible to make a meaningful contribution to the ongoing academic dialogue and public discourse around the struggle to (re)imagine communities. Angus offers the following motto for Canadian Studies: “Even if it’s bad, it’s ours, and we’re important, at least to ourselves” (1997: 213). Or, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The theory of books is noble…. But none is quite perfect…. Each age must write its own books” (in Taylor et al. 1994: 16).

Works Cited

Adams, Michael. Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values. Penguin Canada. 2003.

Angus, Ian. A Border Within: National Identity, Cultural Plurality and Wilderness. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University, 1997.

Bannerji, Himani. “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian Nation” in The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000: 63-86.

Bartels, Dennis. “Ktaqamkuk Ilnui Saqimawoutie: Aboriginal Rights and the Myth of the Micmac Mercenaries in Newfoundland” in Native People, Native Lands: Canadian Indians, Inuit and Métis. Bruce Alden Cox (ed.). Ottawa: Carleton University Press. 1987: 32-36.

Bennett, Donna. “English Canada’s Postcolonial Complexities” in Unhomely States: Theorizing English-Canadian Postcolonialism. Cynthia Sugars (ed.). Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2004: 107-131.

Berger, Thomas. Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland: The Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. 1988.

Berger, Thomas R. A Long and Terrible Shadow: White Values, Native Rights in the Americas, 1492-1992. Douglas & McIntyre. 1991.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bhabha, Homi K. “On Writing Rights” in Globalizing Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1999. Matthew J. Gibney (ed.). Oxford University Press, 2003: 162-183.

Bodroghkozy, Aniko. “As Canadian As Possible…: Anglo-Canadian Popular Culture and the American Other” in Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture. Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson and Jane Shattuck (eds.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002: 566-589.

Boswell, David and Jessica Evans (eds.). Representing the Nation: a Reader: Histories, Heritage and Museums. London; New York: Routledge, 1999.

Canada. “Understanding Canada: Canadian Studies.” 10 April 2012. http://www. academiques /grants-bourses.aspx?view=d

Canadian Heritage. “Canadian Studies Program Funding Competition Guide and Application Form.” 19 July 2010.

Chesler, Phyllis. “Responses to Sunera Thobani’s ‘White wars: Western feminisms and the “War on Terror.”’” Feminist Theory 8(2), 2007: 227–235.

Clifford, James. “Diasporas.” Cultural Anthropology 9(3), 1994: 302–338.

Coleman, Daniel. “White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada.” White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Cook, Ramsay. “Nationalism in Canada” in The Maple Leaf Forever: Essays on Nationalism and Politics in Canada. Macmillan of Canada, Toronto. 1971: 197-214.

Corbey, Raymond. “Ethnographic showcases, 1870-1930” in The Decolonization of Imagination: Culture, Knowledge and Power. Jan Nederveen Pieterse and Bhikhu Parekh (eds.). London & Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books, 1995.

Dhamoon, Rita. Identity/difference Politics: How Difference is Produced, and Why it Matters. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009.

Eisenberg, Avigail. “Domination and Political Representation in Canada” in Painting the Maple: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Construction of Canada. Veronica Strong-Boag, Sherrill Grace, Avigail Eisenberg and Joan Anderson (eds.). Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998: 37-52.

Francis, Daniel. National Dreams: Myth, Memory and Canadian History. Vancouver: Arsenal, 1997.

Furniss, Elizabeth. The Burden of History: Colonialism and the Frontier Myth in a Rural Canadian Community. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999.

Grant, Shelagh D. “Arctic Wilderness – and Other Mythologies,” Journal of Canadian Studies 32 (2), 1998: 27-42.

Gunew, Sneja. “Denaturalizing cultural nationalisms: multicultural readings of ‘Australia,’” in Nation and Narration. Homi K. Bhabha (ed.). London: Routledge, 1990.

International Council for Canadian Studies / Conseil international d’études canadiennes (ICCS/CIEC). 2012.

Isin, Engin F. and Patricia K. Wood. Citizenshipand Identity. London: Sage Publications, 1999.

Jiwani, Yasmin. “On the Outskirts of Empire: Race and Gender in Canadian TV News” in Strong-Boag, Veronica, Sherrill Grace, Avigail Eisenberg and Joan Anderson (eds.). Painting the Maple: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Construction of Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998: 53-68.

Kapusta, Stephanie & Cristina Roadevin. 23 August 2011. “PhD studies in Canada: A dilemma for international students.” University Affairs.

Keohane, Kieran. Symptoms of Canada: an essay on the Canadian identity. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Kobayashi, Audrey. “Multiculturalism: Representing a Canadian Institution” in Place/culture/ representation. James Duncan and David Ley (eds). London: Routledge, 1993: 205-231.

Kymlicka, Will. “Being Canadian.” Government and Opposition, 2003: 357-385.

Mackey, Eva. The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. London: Routledge, 1999.

Nimijean, Richard. “The Paradoxical Nature of the Canadian Identity.” Teaching Canada 23, 2005: 25-31.

Osborne, Brian. “From patriotic pines to diasporic geese: Emplacing culture, setting our sights, locating identity in a transnational Canada.” Canadian Journal of Communication Vol. 31 (1), 2006: 147-175.

Peake, Linda and Brian Ray. “Racialising the Canadian Landscape: Whiteness, Uneven Geographies and Social Justice.” The Canadian Geographer 45(1), 2001: 180-86.

Phillips, Ruth. B. “Show times: de-celebrating the Canadian nation, de-colonising the Canadian museum, 1967-92” in Rethinking Settler Colonialism: history and memory in Australia, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand and South Africa.Annie E. Coombes (ed.). New York: Manchester University Press, 2006: 121-139.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1999.

Stoymenoff, Alexis. “Harper government slashes Canadian Studies funding for U.S. universities.” Vancouver Observer. 12 April 2012. politics/2012/04/12/harper-government-slashes-canadian-studies-funding-us-universities

Strong-Boag, Veronica, Sherrill Grace, Avigail Eisenberg and Joan Anderson (eds.). “Constructing Canada: An Introduction” in Painting the Maple: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Construction of Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998: 3-15.

Taylor, Charles. “Response to Bhabha” in Globalizing Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1999. Matthew J. Gibney (ed.). Oxford University Press, 2003: 184-188.

Taylor, Charles, K. Anthony Appiah, Jurgen Habermas, Steven C. Rockefeller, Michael Walzer and Susan Wolf. Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Thobani, Sunera. Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Thompson, John Herd and Stephen J. Randall. Canada and the United States: ambivalent allies. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008.

NB “–” indicates material supplemental to the exam list.

1 International Canadian Studies programs were largely reliant on the Department of Foreign Affairs until the Harper government cut funding in 2012 (Stoymenoff 2012). The shortage of funding for education—and the treatment of non-voting members of Canadian society—is reflected in the tuition and fee charges for international students in Canada (Kapusta & Roadevin 2011) as well as “significant increases in the cost of university education” generally (Nimijean 2005: 29).

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