French Canada (Quebec) in Transition
From Confederation to the present time, Fournier (343) argues that the sociological analysis of the transition of French Canadian (Quebec) society has been distinguished by two key words: “modernization” and “nationalization.” The first sociological framework explains Quebec transition as a function of the process of modernization, of turning Quebec into a modern society. The second explains the transition as a function of the process of nationalization, of the effort of Quebec society to achieve nationhood. Though sociologists now speak of “globalization” and of “cultural identity,” Fournier (343) maintains the same old debate remains “between the federalists, who define themselves as cosmopolitan, and the nationalists, who believe in the importance of local solidarities.” This analysis will discuss concepts related to social changes in French Canada (Quebec) during the twentieth century. A conclusion will discuss ongoing challenges faced by modern transition in French Canadian society.
The portrayal of Quebec as a society in transition or transformation is long-standing because of its perception as a “primitive” culture. This perception stems from French Canadian being viewed as a peasant society due to “cultural factors such as the weight of tradition, social consensus, strength of faith, and the omnipresence of family” (Fournier 337). Transitioning from a traditional society to a modern one was analyzed in Quebec assessing the division of labor along ethnic lines by Everett C. Hughes in French Canada in Transition. Hughes focused his study on Drummondville, a small Quebec town undergoing the process of industrialization. Hughes’ work illustrated the challenges and problems of the people of the rural parish of Quebec who were suddenly faced with the onslaught of industrialization. As Hughes (7) writes, “Together these smaller industrial cities are the lively front on which people mobilized from the rural parishes meet, for the first time, modern industry and city life, where solid French middle-class townspeople must face an English-speaking managerial class of different mentality and ways of working.” Interracial harmony was disrupted, as Hughes found, social divisions along ethnic lines developed due to industrialization. Instead of being bound by tradition and kinship as they were in the countryside, French Canadians became industrial workers and urban dwellers. Employment was under an English system rather than a French one.
Migration from rural to urban areas, changes in work, learning new forms of social scripts and adjusting to changes in population composition (an influx of non-French Québécois) have confronted French Canadians. A changing population witnessed fewer French Canadians who adopted the older and richer traditions of Canadian life. As a result of being less in number, their influence was undermined due to the control of the economy and industry by the English. Hughes (7) wrote that in towns like that of Drummondville “the traditions of French Canada meet crises occasioned by the presence of those of extreme industrialism and capitalism…where industrialization and urbanization are complicated as they generally are by ethnic differences.” In essence, we see the transition of French Canada occurred due to two ethnic groups living on what each sees as its native land with a common government that fails to achieve true nation-hood due to cultural diversity.
The Second World War had an impact on the transition of French Canada in a number of ways related to sociological change. This was especially true where the learning of new scripts is concerned. The war accelerated the pace of migration from rural to urban, industrialized cities. Agriculture was no longer seen as a way of life for French Canadians after the war, even by French Canadians. As Belanger (1) notes, the social changes taking place were no less significant: “Quebec women received the right to vote and made a strong entrance into the labor markets, education became compulsory and far more widespread, the traditional family (large, rural, religious) was changing rapidly.” These changes began to undermine nationalism in favor of modernization as the driver of French Canadian transition, especially because of right-wing nationalist views that “glorified race and anti-Semitism” (Belanger 1). Despite the war causing a re-questioning of nationalism, nationalism would become popular in the 1960s as a driver of transition but would be more “territorial” oriented and more open to newcomers within Quebec (Belanger 3). Nevertheless, when the referendum right of 1995 was narrowly lost by the nationalists, Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the loss on “money and ethnic votes” showing lingering intolerance among nationalists (Belanger 3). Nationalism then shifted into socialism or Marxism with a focus on economic and social issues to gain unity and consensus among French Canadians.
The transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft also occurred in French Canadian society. This transition is a common one in primitive or agricultural societies that endure the processes of modernization, urbanization and industrialization. Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are two concepts originated by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies that classify the “two normal types of human association” (Gemeinschaft 1). Gemeinschaft is often translated as “community” and characterizes French Canadian society and culture prior to the transition to modernization and industrialism (Gemeinschaft 1). In a way, the family serves as a perfect community and social identity is aimed at the collective interest, as when agricultural communities existed. These communities were based on “shared place and shared belief as well as kinship,” and were regulated by “common mores, or beliefs about the appropriate behavior and responsibility of members of the association, to each other and to the association at larger; associations marked by ‘unity of will’” (Gemeinschaft 1). In contrast, Gesellschaft, often translated as “society” describes associations characteristic of modern French Canada, where “the larger association never takes on more importance than the individual’s self-interest, and lack the same level of shared mores” (Gemeinschaft 1). This type of transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is often part of the process of the transition from a rural and agrarian culture or community to an urban or industrialized one.
In the 2007 Quebec general election, Liberals were elected as a “minority government,” and the ADQ became the “official opposition” with the Parti Quebecois reduced to “third-party status” (Timeline 3). It is likely that French Canada will continue to undergo further transition in future. Today, however, the sociological factors that provided cultural specificity to French Canadians a century ago are long changed. Current realities from globalization and an increase in non-French Quebecois to the drive for and debate over French as the national language, a language many French parents no longer teach to their English-speaking children, face French Canadians as they continue to strive to define their own sense of cultural and social identity.