Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

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

Janis Katherine Steele, University of Massachusetts Amherst


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.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Canadian studies|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Steele, Janis Katherine, "Constitutive contradictions and “belonging” in Montreal: Cultural mediaries and anthropological theory" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978559.