«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
Rather than emphasizing the significance of the relationship between Canada, multiculturalism and multi-racial forms of social organization at the level empiricism, this study instead argues that this significance is located at the level of ideology. Canadian multiculturalism and US assimilation differently positions ethno-racial minority groups to questions of identity and difference. While US assimilation obliges different minority groups to align themselves with a racial majority, Canadian multiculturalism allows these groups to remain separate not only from a racial majority but from each other. In the US context, the focus on a singularly constituted ethno-racial group thus serves to counteract the homogenizing tendencies of the US state. In contrast, the emphasis on multi-racial modes of social organization in the Canadian context operates in opposition to the state’s tendency to separate different groups on the basis of ethno-racial affiliation. It thus makes sense to investigate forms of social organization characterized by multiple ethno-racial affiliations in Canada not because of Canada’s exceptionalism in housing these modes of social relations but rather because they serve to oppose a uniquely Canadian form of state power.
This argument, that multiculturalism enacts the colonial logic of divide and conquer, has been mobilized by those with diverse political affiliations. In my contention that the examination of multi-racial forms of social organization has particular significance within Canada, I am certainly not siding with critics who call for the substitution of multiculturalism with a universalistic color blind approach to governance (Bissoondath, 1994). Instead, I build on the work of scholars like Himani Bannerji (2000) who reminds us that Canadian multicultural policy was enacted to consolidate state power in a period of national crisis as a way to mute francophone nationalist aspirations, sideline the claims of indigenous populations and address the growing grievances of Canada’s non-European immigrants. As a result “official multiculturalism represents its polity in cultural terms, setting apart the so-called immigrants of color from francophones and the aboriginal peoples…an element of whiteness quietly enters into cultural definitions, marking the difference between a core cultural group and other groups who are represented as cultural fragments” (2000, p. 10). In the process of reproducing Canada as a white nation, Thobani (2007) argues that “multiculturalism co-opted and derailed the explicitly antiracist activism of people of colour, splitting their cross racial alliances as it worked to contain the demand for racial equality that sought to transform the basis of social, economic and political power” (2007, p. 160). It is by examining these multi-racial modes of social organization that we can most productively understand how a specifically Canadian form of state power is contingently produced in dialectic relation to its abject national subjects.
By focusing on social relations that cross minority ethno-racial lines, this study aligns with the work of Fatima El-Tayeb (2009) who examines the emergence of multicultural minority communities in continental European urban centers. The contribution of European Others lies in the way in which its analysis exceeds national framings to embrace a continental context and moves beyond the focus of a singular ethno-racial minority group. El-Tayeb seeks to address what she refers to as “political racelessness”, a European wide phenomenon in which continental identity is established in ways that construct non-whiteness as non-European-ness and thus operates to constantly externalize racialized populations. She argues, “The Europeanization of exclusion…[means that] patterns of identification among minorities do not necessarily follow national or ethnic borders. Interactions between different racialized communities in continental Europe are shaped by the common experience of migration and often also that of European colonization” (2009, p. xxi). She goes on suggest that these interactions “might best be explored through a shift away from a vertical look at one ethnic group…toward a horizontal perspective crossing various ethnic and national divides” (2009, p. xxii). In European Others El-Tayeb thus focuses on modes of multi-racial and multi ethnic social organization as a strategy best suited for addressing a particular constellation of exclusionary power.
But while multi-ethno-racial social forms serve as an appropriate starting point to analyze decidedly Canadian situations, what are the significance of these forms for the study of the interrelationship between race, gender and sexuality more broadly? I argue that by examining modes of social organization created by people who are produced as racialized minorities in different ways allows for a more fulsome understanding of the dominant processes of racialization to which all racialized minorities (including those who are also gender and sexual minorities) are subject. In this regard this project builds on Foucault’s (2003) work examining the relationship between racism and the state. Foucault argues that racism emerges in the process by which sovereign power reconciles the power to kill within the context of a technology of power which seeks to bring about life, “it is at this moment that racism is inscribed as the basic mechanism of power as it is exercised in modern states” (2003, p. 254). In Foucault’s model, racism has two functions: to separate the groups that exist within a population and to bring about death through life via the logic that the death of some groups will allow others to live. While this work is constructive in thinking about the complicity between the state and racism, this project demonstrates that state power operates not only through the workings of race writ large but through the interconnectedness of racialized, sexual and gendered difference.
By amalgamating those who are subject to different processes of racialization, this project goes against the tendency for cultural anthropologists to emphasize human difference as opposed to identity and similarity. However, in making a case for the analysis of multi-ethnoracial forms of social organization, I do not condone analyzing forms of ethno-racial difference as equivalent. As Ebron and Tsing (1995) argue, while “there is some truth to the interconnection between varied forms of racism…[t]o imagine all forms of racism as features of an unerring and ahistorical structural logic denies the existence of separate histories of discrimination and struggle” (1995, p. 395). The dangers of equating different forms of racism were also clearly apparent to the individuals and collectives that I worked with in this study as over the course of my fieldwork period, I saw a shift in the use of terminology from queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) to Black and indigenous, queer and trans people of color (BIQTPOC) as a way to signal the specificity of anti-Black racism and of the workings of settler colonialism. These insights are closely related to the findings of scholars of Canadian race relations who have not shied away from examining the particular ways in which Black Canadians are consistently excluded from as diverse arenas as the labor market and discourses of national identity (Das Gupta, 1996; Thomas, 2014; Walcott, 2003). In calling for the decolonization of anti-racist discourse, they have also drawn attention to the need to focus on issues of race in examining not only the relationships among settlers but also the relationships between settlers and indigenous peoples (Lawrence & Dua, 2005; Simpson, James, & Mack, 2011; St. Denis, 2011).
Within this broader analysis of racialized, gendered and sexual difference, a focus on the differences among various racial groups is woefully inadequate to account not only for the various possible permutations of raced, gendered and sexual differences, but also for the relationships among them. While it is not my intention to enumerate all of these permutations or the dynamics that exist between them as though performing some kind of mathematical exercise, I do maintain that these differences matter. In this regard, the very particular kind of racialized, gendered and sexualized difference under consideration (and its relationship to other forms of difference) is crucial in clarifying the specificity of the claims that scholars can make about their work. I have chosen to focus on race as the point of entry into this conversation. This is not to say that starting this dialogue from another vantage point is necessarily less productive as other scholars have made considerable contributions to this line of inquiry having founded their studies firmly in another domain of analysis. However, I chose race as the ground on which to base this study because, as a project situated in Canada, the domain of race provides what I believe to be substantial analytic leverage with which to contribute to the existing scholarship on the relationships between race, gender and sexuality.
THE POLITICS OF ARTWhile the previous section examined the politics of difference within a specific national form, in this section I examine how state institutions use the arts to work through questions of social difference among national populations. Scholars have tended to examine the relationship between the state3, the arts and social difference by looking at the role of the arts in the interaction between state institutions and a particular subaltern population. While this approach has proven to be helpful in illuminating both the repressive and productive dimensions of state power, it has also proven to be less useful in understanding how the state uses the arts to establish different kinds of relationships with a range of marginalized groups. Yet, examining how the arts operate in this way yields a deeper understanding of the multidimensional nature of the arts as a medium of political power. I am particularly interested in populations whose acute minority status render them oblique to dominant political discourses because, in navigating their relationship to the state, they are not able to rely on existing modes of state-minority engagement. By using the arts to examine the misalignment between politically oblique populations and conventional modes of state-minority engagement, I seek to uncover unique insights into the relationship between the state and the politics of difference.
In their attempt to investigate the politics of art production, circulation and consumption, anthropologists have had to confront long standing approaches to art in Euro-American contexts that emphasize its separation from quotidian social relations. By analyzing the contexts in which art is created and the consequences of these art forms on local social relations, they counter approaches taken by more traditional art historians that analyze creative practices in terms of I use the term state to refer to what Abrams describes as the state-system or “ the palpable nexus of practice and institutional structure centered in government and more or less extensive, unified and dominant in any given society” (2006, p. 125) supposedly universal aesthetic judgments. Art scholars trace this mode of apprehending art to Immanuel Kant (1987), who proposes a thesis of aesthetic autonomy in which art ought to be valued “for its own sake”. He maintains that aesthetic judgment is concerned solely with the pleasure that a spectator (regardless of their particular social location) takes in apprehending a particular object of art. Universally valid aesthetic judgments are also characterized by a disinterestedness in their purported inability to be affected by empirical circumstances. Terry Eagleton (1990) argues that this notion of the aesthetic as a theoretical category is closely bound to the material processes in which cultural production becomes autonomous from the social functions that it had previously served. With the institutionalization of capitalist forms of exchange that began to occur during the Enlightenment period in Europe, Eagleton contends that art works became commodities in the market place, existing entirely for themselves as opposed to existing for particular people or social purposes.
Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) landmark text Distinction has been instrumental in demonstrating how art practices are not only intimately related to the conditions in which they are embedded but also operate as mechanisms of social differentiation. In his critique of philosophers of the aesthetic like Kant and Jacques Derrida, Bourdieu argues that “art and cultural consumption are predisposed consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (1984, p. 7). Drawing from ethnographic observations, interviews and survey data, he unmasks the social basis of aesthetic choices in contemporary France. He shows how different social classes (bourgeois, petite bourgeoisie and the working class) are marked by different aesthetic preferences that are inculcated through inherited social position and the educational system. For Bourdieu, all acts of making classifications perform the work of class definition such that distinction as difference is always shaped by and in the service of distinction as superiority.
Extending Bourdieu's pragmatic analysis of art, scholars have been keen to examine how the arts function as a political economic tool of governance for state institutions. For instance, Stuart Hall (2006) analyzes the political implications of the epochal transitions in the relationship between the British state and popular culture between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. He maintains that “the shifting boundary line between state and civil society is one whose very shifts tell us a great deal about the changing character of the state. It is a significant moment for example, when culture ceases to be the privilege and prerogative of the cultivation of private individuals and begins to be a matter for which the state takes public responsibility” (2006, p. 364). In the context of a decline of British industrial dominance in the global marketplace and the rise of British trade union organizing, Hall demonstrates how the British state began to take a greater role in public broadcasting through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a way of educating the popular classes by shaping their tastes and desires.