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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Clusters of voices : dialogic literary social activism in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, 2000 - 2010 Ramlo, Erin Janette


In this thesis, I draw on Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism and polyphony to discuss recent literary representations of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I consider the explosion of literary representations of the area over the 2000 – 2010 period in light of the complex social challenges at work in the community at the time. I begin with a brief overview of Bakhtin’s interrelated concepts of dialogism, polyphony and heteroglossia. I then provide an abridged Downtown Eastside history and consider what the drivers might be to increased representation of community in Vancouver’s cultural imagination in this decade. Comparing two non-fiction texts narrated by community members, Hope in Shadows and In Plain Sight, I argue that dialogism can activate a complex web of interaction between readers, editors, and authors that advocates for community engagement and an associated redefinition of pervasive, stigmatizing narratives about the Downtown Eastside. I then turn to the dialogic representational strategies at work in Marie Clements’ play The Unnatural and Accidental Women, paying particular attention to the formal features of the text that activate dialogism, including multiplicity, intertextuality, and double-voicing. I argue that the play is a pointed critique of a monologic culture of oppression, as it speaks back to the long history of murdered and missing women from the area. The play advocates for the potential of dialogue, connection, and community as alternatives to the repeated social and institutional silencing that has lead to the marginalization and deaths of so many women. Ultimately, I argue that the Downtown Eastside’s dialogic texts are instances of voiced resistance to the ongoing material, physical, and cultural silence of the community’s members. As such, they constitute acts of ‘literary social activism,’ or, literature that advocates for social change.

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