Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


Playing with Words,
Playing with Identities,
Playing with Politics

Joseph Yvon Thériault*

We were invited to discuss the stakes involved to communities, to smaller societies, in the handing down of culture during a time of globalization. But such a question depends on a preliminary assumption. What type of society, what type of culture will we talk about? The handing down of culture, even within what are called “smaller cultures,” can be seen very differently depending on, to use sociological jargon, the kinds of societal integration in that smaller culture. In brief, while hoping some light will be shed on that subject in this paper, the handing down of culture should be seen differently when one looks at an ethnic culture, a fragment of a wider culture built around the memory of recent immigration, or a national culture — i.e., the location of an autonomous cultural production pretending to emerge from a society having, or that should have, the attributes which are usually part of “larger” national cultures (history; literature; strong institutionalization, etc.). The stake of the handing down of culture is different here, less on conceptual grounds, but more from the context of the smaller culture. Let us mention here, without necessarily commenting on it, that the stakes of cultural reproduction are not the same when the culture in question — the smaller francophone culture — is largely a minority on this continent when compared to — the Anglophone culture — which is an integral part of our continental Anglo American civilization.

These questions of the ways of societal integration are thrown into relief when one pays attention to expressions used for naming oneself or being named. Let us recall, for example, that First Nations peoples were called in turn Savages, Indians and Indigenous. If the word Savage meant mostly the distance between the Amerindian and the European, between the Savage and the Civilized, the word Indian referred to a differentiated and a marginalized kind of social integration — the Indian was living on a reserve whereas the Savage lived in nature. Indigenous is a more autonomous assertion, more nationalitary of the Amerindian culture; this appellation is in agreement with the move toward autonomy by the Amerindian people.

English speaking Canadians were usually called, and called themselves, English, at a time when the reference to English dissociated them from Americans, whom they did not want to be like, or from Canadians who spoke French and were Roman Catholic; some time later they called themselves English Canadians, which defined them as one of the two founding nations of Canada, in reference to French Canadians from whom they wanted to be seen as different; now they call themselves Canadians, which negates the existence of English Canada — only French Canadians, we are told, persist in thinking that there is an English Canada. The non existence of an English Canada implies the existence of a Canadian identity (Canada without an hyphen); this identity aims at being the only possible Canadian identity (an inclusive one).

Following a different path, French speaking Canadians were first called Canadiens, which then meant their hegemonic character in the Canadian political space. Following the defeat of their national claim, around the 1840s, and the fact that they became a minority in the mid-nineteenth century, reveals the use of “French Canadian” as a pejorative title given first by Anglo Montrealers and later by Lord Durham to disparage their claim of a national character and to underline its ethnic character. The words “French Canadian,” which they will embrace later on, were used for more than a century, in a bi-national interpretation of Canada. Later on, in the 1960s, the majority of French Canadians, those from Québec, began to call themselves Québécois, which took into account a more political modality of integration to Québec than to French Canada, while asserting from now on the hegemony of French Canadian culture over the Québec culture. As English Canada today negates its existence in the name of a Canada inclusive of its differences, French Canada — or one should say French Québec, since the name French Canada has again become a pejorative expression for the Franco Québécois, as it was earlier) — French Québec is negating in its turn its own hegemonic project under the cover of a Francophony inclusive of all cultures. Some even invite the Anglo Québécois and the Amerindians to be part of the founding group of a French Québec (provided, of course, that they learn its language).

Chapter 17, continued >


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