The French Enigma: Survival and Development in Canada’s Francophone Societies – STEBBINS (CSS)

STEBBINS, Robert A. The French Enigma: Survival and Development in Canada’s Francophone Societies. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises Ltd, 2000. 254p. Resenha de: MacFARLANE, John W. Canadian Social Studies, v.36, n.2, 2002.

Much has been written on Canada’s francophone societies. Robert Stebbins, Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Calgary, draws on this literature and his own personal experiences to present an interesting account of the present situation. According to the cover, the book aims to work the expansive multidisciplinary literature into a coherent statement using a variety of social science concepts: society, community, social world, linguistic lifestyle, ethnolinguistic vitality, and institutional completeness.

Stebbins divides the work into four parts, beginning with an overview of these communities, present and past. In 1996 Canada’s 6,789,679 mother tongue francophones accounted for 23.7% of the Canadian population, with 1,002,295 of them living outside Quebec (p. 25). While he acknowledges the proportional decline of francophones everywhere in the country except Quebec, Stebbins notes with optimism that the absolute number is rising and that the proportion of Canadians outside Quebec who know French has been slowly rising (8.7 to 10.7 percent from 1961 to 1996) due to the growth of bilingualism among anglophones (pp. 29, 31, 37). He also refers to the improved legal protection provided by constitutional measures that allow better control over education for francophones outside Quebec. Of course there are challenges and some communities are more vulnerable than others.

The second part of the book is devoted to regions where the French language is most firmly established, the ‘majority societies’ (Quebec and Acadia). The third part looks at the ‘minority societies’ (Newfoundland and Ontario, and the West). The unique features of each community are presented: geography, politics, economics, education, language and culture. Some concepts used to presents the development of each region and the relative strength of the francophone societies include Raymond Breton’s institutional completeness (referring to a level of socio-cultural organization permitting the average person to sustain a full-scale linguistic lifestyle) and parity societies which include sufficient numbers of second-language members (approximately one-third) to ensure that both languages are recognized in public areas of community life (pp.19-22). Some of the contemporary issues discussed in these chapters include the role of exogamous marriages, birth rates and immigration, leisure activities and economic independence.

Finally, part four looks at the future of these Canadian communities. Stebbins argues that globalizing trends (the internationalization of francophone identity and economic ties, as well as the increasing involvement with international francophone culture, immigrants and refugees) bode well for the development of francophone societies particularly in urban areas (p. 197). He defends his optimism, pointing out that the pessimistic predictions for the survival of francophone communities have overlooked the importance of social organization (volunteer activities, community structure, education, visibility of French) and that the general failure to acknowledge the importance of leisure in the daily lives and personal growth of parity and minority francophones and in the development of their communities stands as one of the most glaring deficiencies in the interdisciplinary field of North American francophone studies (p. 220).

Students of sociology would certainly be most interested by Stebbin’s book: economic considerations receive little attention and several political interpretations are questionable (for example, that the Parti Qubcois’ sovereignty association has been embraced with equal enthusiasm by the provincial Liberals p. 84). Two important points, however, could have received more attention, beginning with the concept of identity. As noted in the foreward by Simon Langlois (Professor of Sociology at Laval University), by questioning the relevance of ethnicity, Stebbins is clear about how francophones should not be defined but less clear about what, other than language, will unite francophone communities in the future. Also deserving closer attention is the relationship between Quebec and the other communities. Stebbins refers to a new sense of responsibility in the ‘majority society’ for the linguistic and cultural welfare of francophones outside Quebec as concretely expressed in, for example, the Parc de l’Amrique franaise (pp. 93, 215). As the flags of francophone communities that flew in the Parc have all been replaced by flags of Quebec, the example is unfortunate or perhaps appropriate but deserves closer study. Nevertheless, Stebbins has provided a good summary of life in Canadian francophone societies. There is a useful bibliography of the secondary sources and several helpful maps and charts.

John W. MacFarlane – Directorate of History and Heritage. National Defense Headquarters. Ottawa, Ontario.

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