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ROBERTO PERIN Clio as an Ethnic: The Third Force in Canadian Historiography ACKNOWLEDGING THEIMPORTANCE of ethnicityhasbecomea conventionin North America.Althoughthephenomenon hasexisted atleast since theturnof thecentury,itonlyattractedserious attentionwiththe eruptionin the United Statesof the civil rightsmovement and in Canadaof an increasingly assertive Quebecnationalismduring the QuietRevolution. Isit merecoincidence thatethnicgroups began tobe 'discovered' at a time when both states faced serious threats to their integrity? Sincethattime,writershavemarvelledat thepersistence of ethnicityeventhoughthey were not quite surewhatwaspersisting. Indeed scholars have been singularlyhard-pressed to define the phenomenon.Someseeit in purely subjective terms:an individual feelshimselfto be an ethnicbecause he identifies withaspects of his ancestral culture.Othersmaintainthat 'ethnicityconcerns privilege, not primarilyculture ...'• It becomes in this wayan instrumentto promotesocialmobilityeither for the individualor the group. But describing a concept's usestilldoesnot indicatewhatit is.Undaunted by suchtheoreticalniceties,somescholarsproclaimedethnicityas significant a social category asclass itself. • From this,it isnot difficultto seewhyethnicrevivalists in recent yearshaveincreased their demands.Ethnicculture,theyinsist,must KogilaMoodley, 'Canadian Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective,' inJ. Dahlieand T. Fernando, eds.,Ethnicity, Power andPolitics in Canada (Toronto•98•), 9. Althoughdisagreeing withthisview,Moodleysays thatit isthecurrentsociological wisdom. The authormaintains instead thatethnicity isbothanobjective anda subjective phenomenon andthattheinteraction between thetwoneeds tobeexplored, ratherthansimplyasserting theprimacy of oneovertheother. NathanGlazerandD.P. Moynihan,eds.,Ethnicity: Theory andPractice (Cambridge •975), 3 Canadian Historical Review, I•xIv, 4, •983 ooo8-3755/83/• 2oo-o44 • $o•.•'5/o¸ University of TorontoPress 442 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL REVIEW pass from theprivatetothepublicsphere.Olgamustcomeoutof the closet and beasfree to beherselfin WonderlandasAngloAliceis. 3 Somemaintainthat languages other than Englishand Frenchmust have official status. 4 Others call for the creation of ethnic social movementsto force a reallocationof power in favour of the 'third force. '5This discussion hastakenplacein apparentignorance of the lasttwentyyearsof Quebechistory,whichmighthaveprovidedethnic revivalists with a sense of perspective, if not realism. Historicalwriting inevitablymirrors the concerns of the present. In the ethniceuphoriaof the sixties,historians beganto view the immigrantexperience notasanabruptbreakwiththepast,butrather as continuity. Ethnic culture did not stand as a powerful barrier betweenthe newcomerand his land of adoptionbecausethis old culturelivedon,transplanted tothenewsoilandnurturedbythewarm atmosphere of theethnicneighbourhood. 6 Sociologists provided a theoreticaldimensionto this view with the conceptof institutional completeness 7in whichdevelopment andincreasing diversification of ethnic institutionsallowed an individual to live a culturally selfcontained existencein his community without reference to the receiving society. That thissaidmoreaboutthegeographical, social, or culturalisolation of the individualthanabouttheinstitutions' vitality was not immediately apparent to these theorists.Writing ethnic history,therefore,meantkeepinga recordof thosemanyinstitutions andcustoms whichwerebroughtoverintactfromtheMotherCountry andwhichflourishedin the New World. Historianswereto approach the studyof ethniccommunitiesin the samewaythey wrote about Frenchor EnglishCanadians withtheirdistinct andcomplete cultures. Thisviewcomplemented thebeliefin culturalpluralism andtolerance whichbecame officialdogmain boththe United States and Canada. There were major flaws,however,in this ethnic triumphalism. Communityintellectualsobservedwith dismayand embarrassment thatthecultureoftheethnicgroupandthatoftheMotherCountrydid not coincide.Immigrantson the wholespoketheir nativelanguage 3 Wsevolod Isajiw,'Olgain Wonderland: Ethnicity in Technological Society,' Canadian EthnicStudies, IX, i (1977), 77-83 4 J. DahlieandT. Fernando, 'Reflections onEthnicity andtheExercise of Power: An Introductory Note,'in DahlieandFernando, eds.,Ethnicity, 1 5 KarlPeter,'The Mythof Multiculturalism andOtherPolitical Fables,' in Dahlie andFernando, eds.,Ethnicity, 62. Givingethnic collectivities powerisalsoa theme foundin A. Anderson andJ. Frideres, Ethnicity in Canada (Toronto1981). 6 RudolphVecoli, 'Contadini in Chicago: A Critiqueof theUprooted,' Journal of American History, LI (1964) 7 Raymond Breton,'InstitutionalCompleteness of EthnicCommunities andthePersonal Relations of Immigrants,' American Journal ofSociology, I•XX(Sept.•964) CLIO AS AN ETHNIC 443 badly.Their vocabulary wasimpoverished; theirknowledge of grammar , lacking; their speech,studdedwith anglicisms and English grammatical structures. They hadlittlecontact withhighcultureand clungtenaciously toculturalformslongdiscarded in theirhomeland and ill suitedto a sophisticated urbanenvironment.Theseintellectuals ,whoweretheircommunity's firsthistorians, eitherglossed over these anomalies or, evenworse, whitewashed theimmigrants' past. 8 For their part, ethnicgroupstendedto beverymuchawareof their 'shortcomings' and sufferedfrom what RobertHarney hastermed self-disesteem? Overtheyears,theyexperienced serious erosion, not to sayassimilation, to the extentthat manyinsideobservers express serious doubts aboutthefutureviability ofmanyethniccultures. •oThe realityof theimmigrantexperience isthereforefarremoved fromthe theorizingof the sociologists of ethnicity,from the celebrations of ethnicrevivalists, or from the mentalgymnastics of government officials whoare busilydevising newculturalpolicies based on such intangibles as subjective perceptions, private preferences, or the importationof metropolitan culture. That reality is bestunderstoodby discarding concepts suchas persistence andcompleteness. It maywellbethattheclassical notionof ethnicity isrootedin these concepts: anethnicgroupmaywellemerge and grow from a long and intimateassociation with a space,from sharedexperiences and memoriestransmittedto successive generations ,and from a sense of autonomyand cohesion. If so,we are not dealingin North Americawith classical ethnicgroups.The notion of a spaceis basicto ethnicity.Without it, there can be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 441-467
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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