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Peripheral Europeans: The History of the Racialization of Slavs in Canada

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation investigates the racialization of the Slavs in Canada from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th. Utilizing Michel Foucault’s and Ernesto Laclau’s formulations of discourse, Berger and Luckmann’s social constructionism, and, broadly, poststructural theory, the principal aim of this work is to demonstrate that during this period Canadians recognized the Slavs as a distinct, homogenous, denationalized racial type. To this end, this dissertation draws on immigration, eugenic, political, journalistic, art, legal, literary, and other discourses in order to trace the discursive formation of race in Canada while considering how such a formation constructed the racialized figure of the Slav. Historians working in the field of Whiteness Studies have established the racialization of various Europeans outside of whiteness in the United States. This dissertation suggests that Whiteness Studies’ emphasis on the banishment of peripheral Europeans from whiteness, along with the trope of “becoming white,” does not apply to the history of racialization of Slavs in Canada. The argument advanced here is that while Slavic identity was occasionally articulated in a strained relationship to whiteness, it is more accurate to see the racialization of the Slavs as entailing an estrangement from the positive attributes associated with an Anglo-Saxon identity and a simultaneous fitting into a complex racial discursive formation whose categories were denationalized. This dissertation insists on a historical approach to the sociological study of race. Examining what various Canadian discourses had to say about the Slavic artistic ability, suitability for assimilation, criminal tendencies, community life, and potential for participation in democratic institutions, this dissertation historicizes race for the reader who today is not likely to recognize the Slavs as a racialized category. This dissertation also contributes to Slavic Studies, urging a move from “Slavic ethnic cultures” and an experience of “xenophobia,” which are popular moves in that field, to the social construction of the Slavic race and the historical experience of racism.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Chan, Wendy
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