Us, Them, and Others: Ethnic Leveraging and National Identity in Diverse Societies

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
5.60 (PC Hoofthuis)
Elke Winter , University of Ottawa
In this paper, I view the process of socio-ethnic leveraging from two perspectives. I will not only show how a status majority elevates one minority to downgrade another, but also how this fragile leveraging can change over time. Furthermore, I will also raise the question, whether the process of leveraging can also be viewed positively, namely as having an inclusive dimension that allows the conditional but successive inclusion of minority groups. The objective of this paper is primarily theoretical. Drawing on the findings from the Canadian case, I exemplify the fragile and changing alliances between “us”, “them” and “others” and their impact upon the dominant societal project. First, I develop a conceptualization of collective identity formation as a set of dynamic triangular relationships where the conditional (and unequal) association between “us” and “others” is rendered possible by the opposition with a (real or imagined) third party (“them”). This triangular relationship is neither static nor one-dimensional, i.e. it can operate in the direction of exclusion and inclusion. The elevation or conditional incorporation of one minority group may lead to the “double” exclusion of other groups, or it may lead to minority alliances that will ultimately expand the common understanding of who “we” are. This, I will argue second, was the case in Canada during the 1990s, when multiculturalism became accepted as the by-product of a shared opposition to Quebec’s allegedly “ethnically nationalist” separatism. However, in the past couple of years, the triangular relations between “us”, “them” and “others” in the Canadian context have changed dramatically: the pro-multiculturalism coalition is weakened, and it looks as if Canada is joining -- albeit as a latecomer -- the widespread trend of European countries that are re-nationalizing their approach to immigrant inclusion. To conclude, I will return to the two sides of socio-ethnic leveraging: that of conditional pluralist inclusion, and that of “two degrees of marginalization” (Frost, 2012).