An Interdisciplinary Overview of Canadian Research on Identity

The intersection of ethnic identity with other major identity criteria is well addressed in the research undertaken to date. The latter include: age (adolescent, elderly, children, youth), dis/abled identities, gender, gender relations, gender roles, generation, minority group, minority group membership, national identity, race, religion and sexual orientation. Ethnic expression in art, literature, the media and recreation also receives attention, as does its articulation with major social institutions including: agriculture; education (educational attainment, educational opportunities, academic performance or achievement, school, school curriculum); employment and labour (earning capacity, economic success or satisfaction); health care; social services delivery; as well as other forms of social support.

Work in political science and sociology includes research on ethnic identity and citizenship, civic participation, political participation, and voting patterns. It explores relationships with the government and the nation state, and also touches on the contributions of ethnic groups to Canada. Other work focuses on politics, power relations and the emergence of ethnic nationalism. Attention is also given to existing social conditions, differential resource allocation, social structure, socio-economic status/class and social mobility, as well as the impact of globalization processes. Finally, considerations of geography, history, demography, ethnology, as well as relevant research issues are addressed in a number of genera­l reference works on ethnic identity.

Linguistic Identity

The Canadian research literature on linguistic identity includes studies of bilingualism, host language acquisition, multilingualism, ethnic language retention, the status of native languages, and language maintenance or preservation. Attention is given to the critical link between language and culture, especially as this is negotiated through acculturation processes and articulated in specific acculturation strategies. The important connection between linguistic identity and ethnic as well as national identity also receives treatment. Other studies examine code-switching, language competency, language preference and literacy, focus on language in education, or provide brief historical or research-relevant overviews.

Specific attention is given to the intersection between linguistic identity and age (children) and to genera­tional differences. Particular linguistic identities considered include: anglophone (in Canada, Ontario, Quebec); francophone (in Canada, the Maritimes, Quebec); native; and ethnic minority.

National Identity

Research on Canadian national identity includes consideration of its expression in the arts, communications, literature, music and sports, as well as in various narratives and forms of discourse. It is examined in terms of citizenship (including citizenship education) and civic participation, as well as in terms of shared values. Attention is therefore also given to Canadian social cohesion, social divisions, social stratification, socio-economic integration, as well as to the importance of community.

The research literature explores divergent images or forms of national identity—expressed in terms of culture, ethnicity, citizenship, and/or allegiance to a given nation state or territory—and also examines identification patterns and attitudes. The role of culture, cultural consciousness and the emergence of "Canadianism" receive attention in some of the work, while other research examines the role of ideology and imagery (obstacles/ survival) in the construction of Canadian national identity. Research has also been undertaken on issues of national sovereignty, national unity, and various forms of nationalism, as well as regional differences and the emergence of regionalism. Other work considers national identity as a social identity and examines the emergence of hyphenated national identities.

The intersection of national identity with other major identities also receives fair consideration. The latter include age (children; youth), race, religion and socio-economic status or class. Surprisingly, there is very little exploration of intersections with ethnicity, nor the possible variations therein. Attention is, however, given to the impact of: immigration and immigration policy; linguistic policy (of Canada, Quebec, Canada vs. Quebec, Canada vs. USA); and multiculturalism policy (diversity, pluralism and assimilation). Other work examines the role of politics, social conditions, education (including school curriculum), globalization, technological change and transition, or addresses the connection between national identity and individual rights. Useful reference materials include work in the area of demography (population), history (historical development), and theory. A few references deal with related research issues.

Regional Identity

Research on Canadian regional identities focus on the cultural distinctiveness of, and cultural diversity within, various geographically-defined areas of Canada. The relatively modest literature focuses particularly on images or portrayals of regionalism, its expression through narratives or discourse, as well as attendant ideologies. Much of this work falls in the realms of history and literature. There is some treatment of gender, nationality, inter-regional migration, politics and political culture. However, this area of work remains relatively underdeveloped. Specific regional identities considered include: city communities, the Maritimes, Newfoundland, the North, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, the Prairies, Quebec and the West.

Racial Identity

Canadian research on racial identity is fairly comprehensive in its focuses on indigenous populations, “visible minorities” (particularly Black), as well as Caucasians (Whites). Latin Americans, South Asians and domestic workers of various origins also receive attention.

Discussion begins with a consideration of colonial legacy, the historical legacy of slavery, and the historical representation of physical difference, as well as their role in the social construction of racial identities. Attention is given to life histories, social experience, and sense of alienation felt by members of visible minority groups, as well as articulations of racial identity in narratives and other forms of discourse. Racial awareness, preference and socialization are also explored, as is the legitimization of racial difference through ideology. Much of the Canadian research on “ethnic” identity during the late 1970s and 80s concerns itself specifically with racism and anti-racist policies and practices.

Racial identity is considered both in terms of a collective identity and in terms of its cultural dimensions, in other words as ‘ethnic.’ Intersections between socially significant physical difference and other major identities are also examined; the latter include ethnic identity, national identity, citizenship, age (children, adolescents, youth), gender, sex, and generation. The racial identities of immigrants and refugees populations also receive attention, as does the impact of Canada’s immigration policies and practices on Canadian changing demographics.

The articulation of racial identity in various contexts is explored in work that focuses on the family (especially parent / child relations), education (school), employment, labour and the justice system (delinquency; violence). Its expression through language, as well as in literature, the media, music, sports and popular culture, is also examined. Consideration is furthermore given to the various social conditions and relations that directly inform racial relations. These include differential power relations expressed through social stratification (socio-economic status or class; issues of social mobility) and political interaction. Attention is also given to residential patterns, urbanization, the importance of place, and to comparisons with the United States. General reference material includes relevant bibliography.

Religious Identity

Canadian research on religious identity focuses on religious expression and practice, including through narratives and other discourse, and on socialization processes. Attention is given to ethnic awareness, ethno-religious identity, as well as minority religions and sects. Much of the literature concerns itself with the maintenance or preservation of specific religious identities, as well as to conversions and change processes. Work dealing with migration and immigration processes tend to focus heavily on the various acculturation modes or strategies (assimilation, integration, segregation, marginalization) pursued by newcomer groups in their religious practices. Intersections with major identities other than ethnicity, include a consideration of gender and generation. The relationships between religious identity, national unity, and place are also explored, as are the connections between religious identity and economics, politics and power relations. More general reference materials focus on religious demographics and history.

2. Specific Identities

The literature search revealed very good coverage of Canadian ethnic identities, with over 70 specific identities receiving detailed attention. Most of these reflect cultural groups of European, Asian, Caribbean or Latin American origin, mirroring to a large extent Canada’s immigration policies over the last few decades. There is very little coverage of African-based ethnic identities, nor has much been written about the identity or identity processes of more recent immigrants to Canada such as Ethiopians, Somalis and Tamils. The literature is also weak in terms of research on linguistic, religious, visible minorities.

Aboriginal/Indigenous/Native/First Nations Identities in Canada

Research on native identity includes work on Arctic (Inuit or Eskimo), North West Coast (Kwakiutl, Salish), and Plains/Prairie aboriginal groups. A few references specifically identify the particular cultural groups by name. Included among the latter are: the Cree, Dakota, Dene, Innu, Micmac, Mohawk, Montagnais/Naskapi, Ojibwa and Salteaux. A few pieces of work deal with Metis identity, while the odd one simply refers to Treaty Indians. Unfortunately, much of the literature tends to ignore the rich cultural diversity existing among Canada’s native populations, treating all identity issues together under the rubric of “general.”

Canadian Ethnic Identities

Canadian ethnic identities are well represented in the identity literature and account for close to half of all retrieved items (once “racial” and religious identities are teased out for separate analyses). These identities reflect cultural groups that originated from all major continents, with the exception of Africa which is more poorly represented. Regions which are indeed well represented include: Europe (general; Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern, South Eastern and Western), Asia, South Asia, the Caribbean (including both Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean/West Indian populations), the Middle East, and Latin America (Central and, South). Specific identities include: Albanian, American, Arab, Australian, British, Bulgarian, Cambodian, Chinese, Columbian, Croatian, Cuban, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, East Indian (includes Virasaiva), El Salvadorean, English, Fijian (East Indian origin only), Filipino/Philipino, Finn, French, German, Greek, Guatemalan, Haitian, Hungarian, Indo-Pakistani, Icelander, Irish, Ismaili, Israel, Iranian, Italian (includes Sicilian), Japanese (includes: Issei, first generation; Nisei, second generation; Sansei, third generation), Korean, "Macedonian," Mexican, Malaysian, New Zealander, Nicaraguan, Pakistani, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Scandinavian, Scottish, Sikh, Solomon Islander, Somali, South African, Soviet Union (USSR), Spanish, Swedish / Swede, Tibetan, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Welsh, Yugoslavian, and Zambian. Note that all terms used to refer to specific ethnic communities are those in common usage in Canada (eg. “Ismaili," “Sikh” and “Macedonian”). Other works deal with Canadian ethnic identities more generally.

Canadian Identities

Canadian identities specifically addressed in the literature include national, linguistic, regional or other culturally-based identities, plus various combinations thereof. The broadest classification considered is that of North American. This is followed by Canadian, considered in general terms, as post-colonial, and in comparison to American and Swiss identities; also in some work Canadian is contrasted with Quebecois. Within the national framework, English Canadian identity (in Quebec) and Anglo-Canadian identity (including identification with the United States) receive consideration, as do "English" versus Canadian, English Loyalist, and Anglo-Saxon or WASP identifications. French Canadian identity in the Maritimes and Quebec also receives attention, as does of course Quebeois and/or Quebec identity. Other important Canadian identities addressed include Acadian, Celtic (Anglo-Celtic) and Gaelic.

Attention is given as well to various hyphenated identities, including African-Canadian, Chinese Canadian, European Canadian, Indo-Canadian, and Jewish-Canadian. Bicultural and mixed heritage identities also receive some mention. Major regional or territorial Canadian identities considered include: Franco-Manitoban, Franco-Ontarian, Maritimer (Atlantic Canada), Newfoundlander, Northerner, Northwest Territories, Ontarian, Pacific Northwest (Cascadian), Prairie, Quebecer/Quebecois and Westerner/Western Canadian.

Linguistic Identities in Canada

Canadian linguistic identities covered in the literature include: native languages (Cree); anglophones/English in Canada, New Brunswick, Quebec, the United States; francophones/French in Canada, the Maritimes/Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick; as well as ethnolinguistic identities such as Yiddish. Specific attention is also accorded to Canadian English and Quebec French.

Religious Identities in Canada

Canadian research on religious identity addresses the following religious affiliations: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish (orthodox), Muslim and Sikh. Christian religious identities include both Catholic and Protestant; denominations include Anglican, Baptist, Calvinist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church. Ethno-religious identities such as Doukhobor, Hutterite and Mennonite also receive attention, as do Jehovah's Witness, Pentacostals and the Church of Scientology.

Visible Minorities in Canada

Canadian racial identities addressed in the literature include aboriginal/indigenous/native, "Black" (including Canadian, Afro-Caribbean and African), Asian (particularly Chinese), Latin American, South Asian and Whites. The latter “non-visible” identity has been included in this section only because it is based on a racial identification; its inclusion should in no way be understood to deny existing power differentials among majority and minority groups based on "racial" differences. The literature in this area also gives some consideration to issues of mixed racial heritage.

3. Identity Processes

Identity processes refer to identity development/formation, identity construction and identity negotiation. Identities are not just ascribed or achieved as part of the individual's socialization and developmental process, they are also socially constructed and negotiated by social actors. These identifications of self and/or other may be accepted or they may be contested; in many cases they overlap or intersect with other significant—and sometimes competing—identities (Rummens 1993). Making a distinction between self-identity, personal identity and social identity (see Introduction) helps to shed greater light on these closely intertwined processes.

Identity Development/Formation (of self, by the individual)

Identity development or formation refers to the cognitive developmental processes that each individual undergoes throughout the maturation process as he or she explores his or her place in the world and develops a unique sense of self. Research literature in this area examines the different developmental stages that individuals undergo and explores variations according to age (children, adolescent, youth, adult), ethnicity and gender.

The literature on this topic is largely dominated by the field of psychology. The latter focuses explicitly on the development of self-identity, and considers ideal self versus real self, in-group affirmation and in-group denial, as well as the development of national self-identity. It further explores self-identification processes, including the importance of identification by others, existence of discrepancies, personality adjustment, and impact of experimenter bias on research results. The existing work also examines self-labeling (ethnic) and naming processes, as well as the development of a self-concept or self-image; research regarding the latter considers self-concept clarity, as well as its sometimes negative or changing nature. It also explores the impact of significant others, measures school self-acceptance, and reflects on the influence of test language on research findings.

Other work focuses on identity searching, identity confusion and identity crisis or conflict. Some of this research explores the various stages through which individuals may pass (ego identity status), as well as their sense of influence over their internal and external environment (locus of control). Attention is also given to identification choice. Identity evaluation is also considered, as are various strategies for collective and personal self-enhancement.

The influence of social identity on identity development is explored in work that examines the perception of difference/similarity among groups, affiliation and group identification processes, and in-group pride. Identification as a social minority or majority group member is also addressed, as are (racial) identification preferences. The constancy or permanence of ethnic and racial identities receives mention, as does labeling accuracy in social identification processes.

The research literature also explores the links between identity development, self-confidence and both personal and collective self-esteem. In so doing it furthermore investigates the impact of individuals’ sense of attachment, sense of belonging, and sense of commitment, and considers: the effects on mental health and well being; personality; psychological adjustment; and the impact of memory.

The role of various factors in identity development or formation receives considerable attention. This includes an examination of the impact of: place of birth; migration; material (or economic) forces; language; cultural forms and industries (literature, oral narratives); education; religion; the state (see also Section 5); moral factors; value orientations; culture and cultural differences; as well as racism and hate / bias activity. The different contexts (intersituational) in which these developmental processes take place is also examined, as is their expression through language, literature, oral narratives and social interaction. The importance of socialization is also considered.

Other works focus on social psychology, psychological measures, theory and various theoretical approaches or perspectives (including accessibility theory, escape hypothesis, identity status approach, and light colour bias theory). Attention is also given to cross-group comparisons, minority/majority differences, identity development in visible minority group members, variations across geographical regions, as well as international comparisons.

Identity Construction (of self by individuals and/or groups)

Identity construction refers to the creation, formulation and expression of personal or social identities for the self, either by individuals or groups. Research in this area focuses largely on the socially-determined nature of identity and much of the work falls naturally within the domains of sociology and anthropology.

This research literature focuses on the development of collective group identity as well as on the emergence of new, culturally-based, collective identities (ethnogenesis). It explores their expression through images or meaning and through imagined communities, and examines the role played by shared values. The cultural appropriation as well as reconstruction, reinterpretation or revitalization of existing identities is also examined, as is the communication of newly constructed identities through narratives, discourse and language.

Particular attention is given to the social construction of difference through language, symbolic identity markers, and opposition. The social construction of ethnicity is explored in research on the ‘ethnicization’ of "English," “native,” and “Maritimer” in Canada, as well as on regional differences. Attention is also given to ethno-cultural and ethno-religious groupings. Work on the social construction of national identity addresses both Canada and Quebec, and examines regional differences and variations in its expression. The social construction of race and of religious identity also receives mention.

Research in this area also considers the role of ideology in identity construction, as well as that played by various cultural forms/industries including the arts, cinema/film, dance, literature, media, music, narratives, new media, information technology, poetry and sports. It also examines both existing parochialism and emerging transnationalism, and presents a number of theoretical approaches to the topic.

Identity Negotiation (of self/other, between/among groups, by/within groups via individuals)

Identity negotiation refers to the political nature of social identifications of self and/or other between or among, and by or within groups, via the interaction of individuals. Identities can be ascribed, achieved or simply assumed both by individuals and collectivities. The fact that socially ascribed identities (social identity) do not always correspond to the individual’s self-definition (personal identity) points not only to possible existing societal tensions, but more importantly to the power dynamics that underscore many identification processes (Rummens 1993).

Research in this area focuses on identity ascription, categorization and labeling, as well as on the construction of group identities (based on race) and construction or maintenance of group boundaries. It examines the development of group consciousness and sense of belonging, and explores structural identification. Competing, conflicting and contested identities are also analyzed, as is the existence of dual, hyphenated, mixed and multiple/plural identities. The individual’s ability to simultaneously and yet independently self-identify with two cultural identities at any one time (orthogonal identification) also receives attention. The literature furthermore explores overlapping or intersecting identities, the context-bound nature of situated identities, as well as the phenomenon of symbolic ethnicity.

Work in this area also explores the significance of misidentifications and examines the differential evaluation of socially relevant identities by various individuals and groups. It thus considers the various strategies used by different social actors in their negotiation of social position through opposition, identity politics, and the politics of difference, and pays particular attention to the negotiation and evaluation of group identities. Specific strategies addressed include: marginalization [of aboriginal, ethnic, ethno-racial (through naming), racial and religious groups]; criminalization; ethnic jokes; racialization; and stigmatization. Response strategies considered include: resistance to and/or re-negotiation of relevant identities; group empowerment; as well as demands for collective group rights (including territorial claims and divisions), all of which reflect attempts to secure greater autonomy, legitimization, and/or social control.

The research literature examines the role of identity negotiation in the development of the state, as well as the impact of socio-cultural diversity. Some of the work considers the influence of cultural dissonance and value opposition on identity negotiation processes, while other research explores the effect of ethnolinguistic status, language, language preference, social distance, and territorial or residential segregation. Ethnic saliency, the role of ethnic associations, as well as the impact of ethnic institutional completeness are other topics addressed.

Specific intersecting identities examined in this research literature include cultural identity, gender, generation and socio-economic status. Identity negotiation by immigrant groups is also considered, with special attention given to migration and immigration processes as well as to variations in acculturation strategies (assimilation, integration, marginalization, segregation) pursued. Immigrant identification with the host culture is also explored. Identity negotiation by marginalized groups through the construction of exclusionary identities, ethnopolitical action and/or collective resistance also receives attention.

The influence of cultural forms and industries on identity negotiation processes is examined in work in the area of drama and theatre, literature, media, museum exhibits and music. Consideration is further given to the role played by economic forces, employment, government, ideology, language, mass communications, the media, and television; the impact of symbols and importance of context or place receives mention as well. The research also analyzes the role of ethnic organizations, historical symbols, language and religion in the maintenance or social reproduction of socio-cultural identities, and pays special attention to such processes in settler societies such as Canada.

Identity socialization, transformation and expression through narratives or discourse are explored in this body of literature as well. Patterns of identity negotiation are examined, as is the process of identity synthesis. Other work focuses on research, theory and theoretical approaches.

4. Group Dynamics

Individual and group identities both inform and are themselves the products of social group dynamics. The latter refers to attitudes and behaviours both within and among various societal groups and population categories. The Canadian research literature includes very good coverage of inter-group attitudes and relations; it is much weaker in terms of intra-group processes. The literature synopses that follow address both inter-ethnic and/or inter-racial attitudes and relations, unless otherwise specified.

Inter-Group Attitudes

The existing research literature explores the development of inter-group attitudes in children, and considers variations according to age (children, youth). It addresses ethnocentrism and prejudice (including attributional style) as well as stereotypes based on age, ethnic presence, gender or sex, language and race. It further examines racial preference, inter-group perceptions and expectations, in-group versus out-group distinctions, as well as the role of public opinion. The expression of inter-group attitudes in images/portrayals, literature and language is also addressed.

Attitudes regarding cultural diversity, bilingualism and multiculturalism (as ideology; as programme; its consequences) are specifically examined, as are attitudes regarding immigration and various acculturation strategies (assimilation, integration, segregation, marginalization). Inter-group attitudes between anglophones and francophones receive attention; however, only these two linguistic and/or cultural groups are considered. Much of the research literature focuses on dominant group attitudes towards and relations with various ethnic minority groups; little attention has been given to inter-group attitudes and relations among them.

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