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


Jean-Paul Baillargeon*

Having read the texts of all these authors, can one say that this colloquium has achieved its objective, which was to share among faculty, francophones and anglophones, thoughts on a subject of common concern, i.e., what is the process of the handing down of culture in smaller societies living in a context of globalization, and what type of culture is handed down? We can say “mission accomplished.” There is in these papers a goodly supply of ideas to meditate on and to lead us to deeper exchanges. It is clear that it is not only the objects of their study that have influenced the speakers in colouring their thoughts but also, and more importantly, the social and linguistic contexts in which they themselves live. Those factors have not necessarily led them to contradictory or opposed views, but have added accents and nuances to widely shared aspects of the question, but seen more acutely by some, or more lightly emphasized by others. For example, several authors have mentioned the fact that a merchandizing and homogenizing culture co-exists with vibrant local, regional, parallel and marginal cultures.

Some have gone so far as to use the terms “colonialism” and “imperialism” to describe dominating cultures, including within Canada itself, toward minority cultures which have been marginalized, or worse still despised or ignored until recently. Minorities are a reality dealt with in these papers. This confirms what several authors have realized, here and in other studies, that cultural globalization has given rise, as a sort of back-fire, to a more and more militant assertion of minority and marginal cultures. But that is not without being steeped in a kind of ambiguity, especially when one speaks of such cultures in Canada. This halo of ambiguity has its roots, we believe, in the blurred way in which, consciously or unconsciously, we use certain terms, including the key words of this colloquium: “culture,” “handing down,” “smaller society” and “globalization.” Some have mentioned this fact, not only about the meaning of those words, but also about other notions like “majority,” “minority,” “nation,” etc. A book was published some time ago, Pour une morale de l’ambiguité (de Beauvoir, 1947). Perhaps it would be relevant to publish a book in Canada, about the notions and terms we use in talking about culture, a work called: Towards an Ambiguous Discourse? That kind of discourse is not just Canadian. When one is talking, in particular, about globalization, ambiguity is global. This is a theme Guy Rocher has recently tried to demonstrate and rectify (2001).

If the lack of preceiseness in talking about globalization is due in part to the fact it is a relatively new phenomenon, one cannot invoke that reason when talking about Canada (including the Canada-Québec relationship). It’s as if, in Canada, because of its diverse cultural aspects, we had deliberately chosen to express ourselves using an ambiguous discourse. This discourse is in the process of being clarified insofar as the First Nations are concerned. Even if the approach to it is different for the francophones (Lévesque) and the anglophones (Cohnstaedt, Pannekoek), that sort of process can lead to nothing less than positive results, to a better understanding of certain social and cultural relationships. The fact that other minorities want to be listened to as equal partners, including the positive or negative consequences that their demands may give rise to (Bayne), here too there are necessary clarifications. One would hope that this process would be extended to francophones living outside Québec, as well as to Québec inside the rest of Canada (Thériault).

As for these two linguistic groups, would it not be useful to intensify, if not to inaugurate exchanges of reflections and experiences between equal partners? Anglophones would have something to hand down given their daily and intimate experience of co-habitating with what one of the authors has called “behemots” (Cardinal). On the other hand, francophones, especially those in Québec, have developed a number of strategies, whether at the level of anthropological culture or at the one of institutional culture, for survival and for expressing themselves and being recognized, even in the context of globalization (Harvey; Saint-Pierre; De la Durantaye). There are for sure rich layers of experiences to share. These two baskets of considerations and experience could be made into mutual enrichment in facing cultural globalization, for influencing each other and for accumulating knowledge and ways of living together, which might contribute to the reinforcement of cultural diversity the world over.

Postscript, continued >


* Chaire Fernand-Dumont sur la culture, INRS Urbanisation, Culture et Societé.


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