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


A Far Away Glance
at the Canadian World: An Essay

Tomke Lask*

When I accepted the invitation to this colloquium, I was delighted to get in touch with the Canadian academic world and to take advantage of the occasion to learn about Canada. I already had made up my mind about that country in general and Québec in particular. I had then just to check it out for myself on the spot, to see whether my ideas were correct. Happily, relativizing, descontructing and demystifying are common processes in anthropology. Furthermore, as an anthropologist, and in spite of my preconceptions, I was trained to understand the inherent logic of Canadian society and its approach to the handing down of culture. During my journey in Canada — and especially at the colloquium and the prior reading of its papers — I undertook an exercise that resulted in this essay. The handing down of culture in smaller societies in the context of globalization has become a somewhat trivial theme, following the discussions about economic globalization during the early 1990s. The fear of seeing a similar process which would aim at homogenizing cultures through generalized access to media such as the Internet and cable television was widespread in several countries and, curiously, in several of those — France, for example — supposedly having strong cultural traditions. In spite of those fears and paradoxically, we have seen everywhere in the world a revival of national movements, even nationalist ones.

Reactions to the possible threat of cultural unification have been numerous and diversified. To return to the process of the handing down of culture in the context of the colloquium was a good occasion for restating that question. A first step, and not the least, was to exchange information and research results between the two linguistic communities of Canada, having to do with the question.

The role the organizer of the colloquium, Jean-Paul Baillargeon, gave to me was that of an outsider. I was supposed to be a European eye — if one speaks of such an eye, since European culture is far from having one eye called European — looking at a context I only knew about through the media and the publications of some Canadian authors. The responsibility Jean-Paul Baillargeon gave me was important and the risk of my blundering was great.

1. the discovering of a new world

Canada, Federal State of North America, member of the Commonwealth, second largest country in the world in terms of geographical area, situated between the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans and the United States of America (borders: 8 850 km). It is divided into ten provinces and two territories; 9 976 139km2; 25 738 000 inhabitants; federal capital, Ottawa. Type of state: constitutional monarchy (the honorary chief of the State is the British sovereign). Official languages: English and, since 1969, French. Money: Canadian dollar. Religion: Catholicism and Protestantism [...]

Economy: [...] Canada is a very important economic power, but its development is hampered by the small size of its domestic market [...] Also, this country is heavily dependent upon foreign capital, which controls 47 % of the economy [...], the United States being the main investor and the first commercial partner (70 % of the exchanges). [...] (Hachette le Dictionnaire de notre temps, 1991, Paris, Hachette).

Let us summarize: Canada is the second largest country in the world. It is a redoubtable economic nation with a bilingual population and the privileged neighbour of the United States of America (USA). I prematurely reached the conclusion that Canada was a country and a society with very high self-esteem that asserted itself in the world because of its natural resources, its own way of life — everyone knows about Canada in Europe: Canadians wear only lumberjack shirts and usually travel by canoe. It is a country that occupies a large territory and is socially integrated, despite the fact that its density of population seems incredible (2.6 inhabitants/km2) and that its population is found mainly in large cities. The elements retained by Mauss for defining a nation (Mauss, 1920) are conjoined for speaking of a great nation. But there are false trails which can disconcert an outsider.

Chapter 19, continued >


* Université de Liège.


grubstreet books FreeCounter