Unit 1: Identity and Multiculturalism in Canada
Canada is a diverse society in many ways, as you will learn in this course. However, as a nation, Canada has engaged in the social construction of a multicultural identity, enshrined in Article 27 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that requires the interpretation of the Charter “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (Canada 1982).
What does this constitutional mandate represent for the way diversity is lived and perceived in Canada? To examine this question, we need to start with the initial set of concepts that diversity evokes. We will begin by discussing the many sources of identity, the importance of recognition in a diverse society, and why it is simplistic to equate identity with culture in the face of the complexities that arise in an increasingly interconnected world in which identity formation is related to many aspects of our collective life but also to individual choices.
Then, we will move on to consider the policy of multiculturalism in Canada and how it has been both celebrated as a bastion of tolerance and source of Canadian pride, but also criticized as disuniting the country and perpetuating racism and a narrative of white superiority. We will discuss the issues of representation of minorities in the media and the problems of inequality between groups and within groups. In Canada, the term “visible minorities” is used when talking about people who look different than the mainstream white majority. Visible minorities are “visible” because of their physical characteristics associated with race, but as sociologists, we must bear in mind that race is socially constructed. This means that while some elements of race come from biology, the meanings and social consequences of race were created by people. In sociology, we prefer to use the term “racialized” minorities because it clearly refers to how people are marked by their race and seen as outsiders in societies that regard themselves as mainly white. Then, we’ll look at Canada’s multiculturalism policy, and how it has been both celebrated as a beacon of tolerance and a source of Canadian pride, as well as criticized for dividing the country and perpetuating racism and a white superiority narrative. We will talk about how minorities are represented in the media, as well as issues of inequality between and within groups. When referring to people who look different than the mainstream white majority in Canada, the term “visible minorities” is used. Visible minorities are “visible” because of physical characteristics associated with race, but we must remember as sociologists that race is socially constructed. This means that, while some aspects of race are inherited from biology, people created the meanings and social consequences of race. We prefer the term “racialized” minorities in sociology because it clearly refers to how people are marked by their race and seen as outsiders in societies that see themselves as predominantly white. Sociologists also use the term “othering” to refer to how mainstream society defines its own positive identity through the denigration of people who are perceived as different by the use of racial, physical, geographic, ethnic, economic, or ideological markers. Racialized minorities are othered in many ways in Canada; we will discuss how this happens when these minorities are represented as being the bearers of traditional cultures, and thus associated with oppressive practices that may contradict mainstream Canadian values. In this unit, we will explore some of the complex issues that arise when difference and inequality converge in the tension between minority-group rights and the rights of individual members of those minorities (especially women), and the pitfalls of simplistic definitions of culture and identity.
The first unit covers three main topics:
1.1: The social construction of identity, recognition, and representation
1.2: Canadian multiculturalism
1.3: The critique of multiculturalism
• Learning Objectives
After you complete the work in this unit, you should be able to:
• Discuss and give examples of how human identity is complex and multifaceted, not easily represented by belonging to one single group.
• Give examples of how identity formation is also influenced by historically looking down on certain groups of people.
• Describe the elements that constitute Canadian multiculturalism policy.
• Explain the difference between individual rights and group rights and their relationship to liberalism.
• Discuss why multiculturalism in Canada has been accused of disuniting the country.
• Discuss the issues that arise when cultural practices contradict liberal values in modern societies.
• Critically assess the arguments against multiculturalism.
Angelini, P. U., & Broderick, M. (2012). Race and ethnicity: The obvious diversity. In P. U. Angelini (Ed.), Our society: Human diversity in Canada (pp. 93–125). Toronto: Nelson.
Appiah, K. A. (1994). Identity, authenticity, survival: Multicultural societies and social reproduction. In A. Gutman (Ed.), Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition (pp. 149–163). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
CBC Television. Hot Type. (2004, September 14). True Canadians: Multiculturalism in Canada debated [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/true-canadians-multiculturalism-in-canada-debated
Havers, G. (2012). The medium diversifies the message: How media portray diversity. In P. U. Angelini (Ed.), Our society: Human diversity in Canada (pp. 313–339). Toronto: Nelson.
Kymlicka, W. (2010). The current state of multiculturalism in Canada and research themes in Canadian multiculturalism 2008–2010. Report prepared for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/multi-state/section1.asp
Phillips, A. (2007). Multiculturalism without culture. In Multiculturalism without culture (pp. 11–41) Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sánchez-Flores, M. J. (2010). Human difference and the multicultural dilemma. In Cosmopolitan liberalism: Expanding the boundaries of the individual (pp. 127–150). New York: Palgrave.
Sen, A. (2006). Making sense of identity. In Identity and violence: The illusion of destiny (pp. 18–39). New York: Norton.
Thobani, S. (2007). Multiculturalism and the liberalizing nation. In Exalted subjects: Studies in the making of race and nation in Canada (pp. 143–175). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Unit 1 Assessments
• Web Discussion 1: Identity and Multiculturalism in Canada
In this course, you are required to complete three mandatory web discussions, each of which has two tasks. You must complete at least the first task to get full discussion marks. Each of your three discussions. Therefore, your three online discussions together, and will be awarded at the end of the course. In both tasks, provide evidence and reasons to support your position. The criteria used to grade your web discussions are as follows:
• Participation in the web discussion with well-written and clear comments that bring in a fresh perspective
• Use of relevant and well-documented information and evidence to substantiate claims and comments
Note: The web discussions are a mandatory component of the course and together.
3. Select one of the topics below and post a new comment (no more than 600 words) in the forum provided.
4. Respond to one of the comments posted by another student (no more than 400 words). Do you agree with their comment? Are there points of convergence and points of divergence between you and your chosen posting? What are they? If there is no posting for you to comment on right away, keep checking back until the end of the course.
• Topic 1: Self-reflexive identity exercise: Think about the sources of your own identity. What are these sources? Do the sources of your identity come from belonging to groups you were born into or from personal preferences? Can you differentiate between the collective and the personal dimensions of your own identity? Give some examples that illustrate these differences and the diverse sources of your own identity.
• Topic 2: Multiculturalism in Canada: Multiculturalism in Canada has been accused of disuniting the country (producing ghettoization and Balkanization) because it encourages ethnic groups to keep a strong identity from their place of origin. According to this position, the policy of multiculturalism does not emphasize enough the shared rights, history, and values that define Canada. Do you agree with this criticism of Canadian multiculturalism policy? Why or why not?
• Topic 3: Ethnic group cultural practice and modern liberal values: Give an example of a recent discussion in the media about a cultural practice of an ethnic group that contradicts the liberal values of modern society. How do individuals in modern societies react to such traditional practices? In what way is this practice represented? Is the opinion of the people of the ethnic group involved taken into account in this media discussion? Do you think that the group and the group members are being represented fairly? Why or why not?
• Web Discussion 1: Identity and Multiculturalism in Canada, Topic 1Forum
• Web Discussion 1: Identity and Multiculturalism in Canada, Topic 2Forum
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