Mihaela Vieru Report - 40th International Colloquium of the French Association of Canadian Studies - Changing Traditions in Canada - June 2012
Report of Participation in the
40th International Colloquium of the French Association of Canadian Studies
Changing Traditions in Canada
June 13th-16th, 2012
by Mihaela Vieru
Joint Carleton-Trent Phd in Canadian Studies
This conference was organised at the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, by the Centre d'études et de cooperation canadiennes (CECC), in partnership with the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), the International Council for Canadian Studies (ICCS), and the Government of Canada. It proposed to focus "primarily on current breaks with tradition or changes which have taken place within roughly the past 40 years." Exploration of future impacts of these changes, as well as comparative perspectives, was encouraged.
I participated in this conference with a presentation entitled "Diversity in Question: Canadian Discursive and Structural Responses" -- it explored Canadian state responses related to the management of cultural pluralism, in the context of sustained worldwide departure from multiculturalist approaches to immigrant integration and citizenship education. I argued that: a) following signs of social contract fragmentations and contestations, we witness a strong advent of nation-state institutional legitimation politics; b) transformations in the discourse and structures of Canadian multiculturalism underpin these larger nationalist politics and aim at reconfiguring the relation between the state, ethnic communities, and territory in a national security context.
My participation was possible through the financial support provided by the Canadian Studies Network, in particular the Graduate Student Support Fund, which I acknowledged and made known to the larger conference audiences during my presentation and afterwards. Unfortunately, my participation was limited by a series of official flight delays and issues, which had me arrive in Nice a day and a half later than initially planned. I consequently missed the opening keynote speech by Dr. Jocelyn Létourneau (« Le Québec : la révolution silencieuse »), as well as the first full day of conference.
The conference program included a total of thirty-six presentations, from a variety of disciplines and on topics ranging from Canadian foreign policy, trade, literature, Francophone movements, immigration, political party landscape etc. There were both established professionals, as well as graduate students, mainly from France and Eastern Europe, delivering 15 minute presentations, in a collegial, open environment. A large number of presentations dealt with Québec issues, Francophone literature, and religion, and the majority of them were held in French. Even though I was sorry that most of the sessions on topics directly relevant to my research (immigration, national identity, foreign policy) were delivered the day before my arrival, I found the second-day presentations very informative and I welcomed the perspectives on Canada stemming from research conducted, for the most part, outside it. They were carefully put together and signaled transformations within the social, political, economic, and cultural spheres in Canada and Europe.
Of these, I highlight the critical lens through which discourses of immigration in Europe, and to a less extent in Canada, were unpacked by Kalina Bratanova and Rositsa Ishpekova in their presentation, "Immigration Political Discourse in Bulgarian and Canadian Newspapers," as well as the cosmopolitan implications of the concept of human security in Romalie Murphy's essay "'Over All Nations Is Humanity': the Idea of Human Security in Canada's Past." Michel Bock's presentation, « Rupture ou mutation? Les représentations identitaires de la francophonie canadienne minoritaire après 1969 », also drew my attention. While the relations between Anglophones and Francophones were well documented, the presentation focus simplified and essentialised the majority-minority social milieu; in particular, the perspective on 'national duality' risked reinforcing colonial discourses, sidelining Indigenous peoples and their role within the Francophone communities in Canada. This aspect was anthropologically touched on in Bernadette Rigal-Cellard's contribution, « Les mutations du champ religioux au Canada, l'évolution du catholicisme chez les Autochtones depuis les années soixante »; she revealed hybrid forms of Catholicism among the Indigenous, ending the conference on a highly appreciated note.
Overall, the conference was a good opportunity to connect with academics from Europe and share knowledge of the dynamics in Canada. The particular location helped in creating a relaxed atmosphere, conducive to dialogue and exchange. The effort by the organisers to proceed with the conference in the immediate aftermath of the funding cuts to the Understanding Canada program is laudable. From a critical perspective, with few exceptions, the conference (at least the second day) lacked interdisciplinary analyses; historical approaches were prevalent, which largely confined the presentations to descriptive frames and left the issue of future implications unaddressed. However, some of these impacts on Canadian society were shortly addressed in the Q & A sessions. I was glad to engage in debates with the conference participants and to reflect on each other's views and criticisms in a constructive manner. There are certainly tensions in the understanding of Canada, largely stemming from different research locations [including access to resources, (inter-)disciplinary training etc.]. These tensions are worth further exploring in such conferences, where academics and professionals from a variety of backgrounds come together, not the least through the support of organisations like the CSN-REC.