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  • Response to Maryse Potvin
  • Micheline Labelle, Full Professor
Micheline Labelle . Racisme et antiracisme au Québec. Discours et déclinaisons. Montréal : Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2010. 212 pp. $29.00 sc.

Review by Maryse Potvin, Canadian Ethnic Studies/Études ethniques du Canada, Volumes 43-44, Numbers 3-1, 2011-2012, 237-239.

I feel that Maryse Potvin's review was not objective due to a lack of understanding of my book. It should be noted that a response to her review is forthcoming in December 2013 in French in Recherches Sociographiques.

I will first mention the global context that led me to write this book. In September 2001, the World Conference against Racism held in Durban called on governments to "name and recognize" racism and to undertake national action plans - the Canadian government to review its policies on immigration, security, multiculturalism and antiracism. In 2005, Canadian Heritage released Canada's Action Plan Against Racism. In 2006, the Québec government held a public consultation with a view to instituting a government policy to fight racism and discrimination, and in 2008, it adopted a policy called Diversity: An Added Value. Government Policy to Promote Participation of All in Québec's Development, along with a five-year action plan.

This global context also led to a renewal of theories about racism and antiracism. However, confusion still prevails in this area. Definitions of racism vary, with multiculturalism, promotion of superdiversity and antiracism being amalgamated. Grounds for discrimination set out in charters are mechanically multiplied. Not surprisingly, the discourse of governments and civil society actors is affected by the fact that concepts are ambiguous and difficult to interpret.

This is the context in which I became interested in critically analyzing the variations and breakdowns in the discourse of the Québec government and social actors [End Page 261] on racism and antiracism in Québec during the 2000 decade. As my basic material, I used official documents produced by various Québec government departments, occasionally comparing them to those of the Canadian government. I also constructed a sample of briefs presented to the Québec government's 2006 consultation by a variety of NGOs including organizations with a general vocation and minority associations (i.e., minorities with an ethnic, religious, racialized or Aboriginal identity).

Let us now return to Maryse Potvin's review, which gets caught up in points of method without saying a word about my conclusions. She begins by criticizing me for using the word "discourse" without giving an account of a variety of approaches to discourse analysis "ranging from Foucault's theory on discourse" to "Habermas's discourse ethics" (237). However, although my book is the result of academic work funded by the SSHRC, it was written to reach a wider audience. The word discourse is used without pretention. I provide a classical content analysis of a carefully defined corpus of texts, on the basis of well-identified and constant themes: ideas of "race," the process of racialization and the targets of racism; racist actors; definitions and causes of racism, its manifestations and its impact on citizenship; and ways of fighting it.

Maryse Potvin analyses not what I did but what she thinks I should have done. My goals, however, are not the same as hers. She accuses me of not providing a comprehensive analysis of the discourse of the "State." I quote: "The 'State' comprises many levels of government, normative powers (executive, legislative, judicial), institutions and actors—while it only analyzes the 'governmental discourse' from a few recent provincial policies" (237). Many thanks for the information! She also asserts that I do not justify my criteria for selecting ministries and organizations. Yet Chapter 2 begins with a detailed description of my reasons for choosing some government departments and excluding others. (For instance, I gave precedence to documents from the Québec Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities and, in a supporting role, Canadian Heritage, which are responsible for fighting racism). Chapter 3 presents 29 NGOs and minority associations; in this category, I paid particular attention to groups whose situation was discussed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia...


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