Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The perils of culturalist thinking

on Anglophones in Montreal:

What is a Montreal anglophone? It used to be an easy question to answer. A Montreal Anglo is someone who grew up in English and still speaks it — point final.

But with immigration now keeping the city's English communities afloat, and with Quebec's French-language laws diluting the pool of English-only citizens, it's getting hard to define just what an Anglo is.

It's not even clear whether most Anglos want to be identified that way in French-speaking Quebec.

They are more numerous than francophones outside Quebec, but poorly represented because they are ill-defined, according to the network.

"The community is kind of a mishmash," he said, noting that one in two Anglos now living in the city was born outside Quebec, while one in three is an immigrant.

Besides a weak sense of collective identity, Montreal Anglos face a number of other issues: demographic stagnation, high levels of unemployment and a widening divide between older, wealthier Anglos and younger, poorer immigrant families.


Maybe-- just maybe-- "a weak sense of collective identity" isn't "an issue" that anglophones "face." Maybe the fact that the statistical category of Montreal residents who primarily speak English is an "ill-defined" "mish-mash" which includes people who don't identify with it means that the statistical category isn't a community at all.

From that it also follows that "demographic stagnation" isn't "an issue" faced by the community, much less that widening economic divide. Arguendo I'll assume that such things could be issues faced by Montreal, or Quebec, or Canada. But it can't be the case that economic inequality, or trends related to it, are an object of concern within any and every statistical collection of persons. (A dynamic society, even one that is keeping overall levels of inequality constant or shrinking, will certainly have some categories within which inequality increases!)

Now, there are very likely communities within that category. Jewish Montreal is a community. Old Anglo-Scottish Montreal is a community. There are a number of immigrant communities. But this attempt to treat as pathologicla the mere fact that some statistical category isn't a community... that's weird.

In my political theory, I try very hard to take seriously the fact that people have culturalist allegiances and identities, to treat it as an important datum for a normative theory of politics, but never to treat such allegiances and identities as themselves normative. Many of my fellow multiculturalists have thought that this was a strange distinction for me to insist on, and that it's a better, nicer, more generous theory that celebrates what I merely acknowledge. This seems to me the consequence of celebrating it.

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