Constitutive contradictions and “belonging” in Montreal: Cultural mediaries and anthropological theory

2000 2000

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Abstract (summary)

Front-line social service providers in Montreal, Quebec act as cultural mediaries facilitating immigrant and refugee integration into the host society. Cultural mediation requires practitioners to field many demanding, contradictory and overdetermined representations of person, place and culture. In this dissertation I argue that mediaries are uniquely positioned to construct temporal and dynamic borderzones where hypostatizations and their interstices generate conflicted cultural meanings. Far from postmodern celebrations of nomadic creativity, borderzones are agonistic, ephemeral spaces of powerful overdeterminations all about position and context.

A working matrix of four variable sets is chosen as ethnographic data: (1) a set of theories; (2) narratives and histories about the city of Montreal, nationalism and belonging in Quebec, integration theory and policy, social work, and cultural mediation pedagogy; (3) narratives about belonging and cultural mediation from my interlocutors; and (4) my historical and positional contexts as an expatriate anglophone Québécoise researcher undertaking this project. Chapters explore how these variables overdetermine constructions of cultural mediation and this ethnography. I contend that cultural mediaries may be viewed as ethnographers' applied analogues given how they create, translate and negotiate dialectic/dialogic contrasts of cultural differences implicated in these variables.

Three axes of philosophical thought are integrated and thereby modified when field data are socially positioned within analytic, dialectic conflicts: rational positivism (as positional binary logics and hegemonies), postmodernity (as relativism exemplified by hybridity and heteroglossia) and marxian overdetermination (as contextual variables defining Subjects as field effects).

This ethnography establishes that conflicts sustain contrasts which form social field effects of human subjectivity as mobile, positional identifications and their communications. Logical binaries are shown to be constructed via individuals' signifying practices which generate interstitial borderzones for identity and culture which are necessarily dynamic, conflicted and ambiguous. Far from fixed binaries of positivist or structuralist logic which lead to reductionistic and totalizing theories, cultural mediaries utilize binaries in dialectic, overdetermined tensions as momentary, shifting sets.

Acknowledging contradiction as intrinsic to constructions of meaning renders authoritative language and action necessarily ambivalent. From this emerges a complex political activism where subversion turns discursive conditions of dominance into difficult, creative uncertainties of cultural adaptation, invention and mutation.

Indexing (details)

Cultural anthropology;
Canadian studies;
Minority & ethnic groups;
0326: Cultural anthropology
0385: Canadian studies
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0631: Sociology
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Anthropological; Constitutive contradictions; Cultural mediaries; Immigrants; Montreal; Quebec; Refugees
Constitutive contradictions and “belonging” in Montreal: Cultural mediaries and anthropological theory
Steele, Janis Katherine
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 61/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780599845077, 0599845074
Pi-Sunyer, Oriol
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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