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Engaging with Identity Politics in Canadian Political Science

  • Nicole S. Bernhardt (a1) and Laura G. Pin (a1)

This paper critiques the deployment of the term “identity politics” in Canadian political science. Through a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of research articles in leading English language academic journals in the Canadian social sciences, we examine whose politics are labelled identity politics and what intellectual work transpires through this label. Identity politics tends to be applied to scholarship that foregrounds analyses of ethnicity, race and gender, but with a lack of analytical rigour, indicating a degree of conceptual looseness. Moreover, the designation identity politics is not neutral; it is often mobilized as a rhetorical device to distance authors from scholarship that foregrounds analyses of ethnicity, race and gender, and to inscribe a materialist/culturalist divide in claims-making. We argue that the effect of this demarcation of identity from politics is to control the boundaries of political discourse, limiting who and what gains entry into the political. This serves to reassert an exclusionary conception of Canadian identity.

Le présent article critique le déploiement du terme « politique identitaire » en science politique canadienne. Au moyen d'une analyse critique du discours (ACD) d'articles de recherche publiés dans les principales revues universitaires de langue anglaise en sciences sociales canadiennes, nous examinons quelles politiques sont ainsi étiquetées et le travail intellectuel que cette étiquette laisse entrevoir. Une « politique identitaire » tend à s'appliquer à la littérature qui met en avant les analyses de l'ethnicité, de la race et des sexospécificités, mais avec un manque de rigueur analytique indiquant un degré de laxisme conceptuel. De plus, la désignation « politique identitaire » n'est pas neutre : elle est souvent mobilisée comme un dispositif rhétorique pour éloigner les auteurs qui analysent l'ethnicité, la race et la sexospécifité, et pour inscrire un clivage matérialiste/culturaliste dans les revendications formulées. Nous soutenons que cette démarcation entre l'identité, d'une part, et les politiques, de l'autre, a pour effet de baliser les frontières du discours politique en limitant les acteurs et les facteurs admis dans la sphère politique. Cela sert à réaffirmer une conception exclusionnaire de l'identité canadienne.

Corresponding author
York University, Department of Politics, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON, M3J 1P3, email:
York University, Department of Politics, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON, M3J 1P3, email:
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