UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Who can speak for whom?: struggles over representation during the Charlottetown referendum campaign Kernerman, Gerald P.


In this study, I undertake a discourse analysis of struggles over representation as they were manifested in the Charlottetown referendum campaign. I utilize transcripts taken during the campaign derived from the CBC news programs The National, The Journal, and Sunday Report as well as from The CTV News. The issue of (im-)partiality provides the analytical focus for this study. Who can legitimately speak on behalf of whom, or, to what extent do individuals have a particular voice which places limitations on whom they can represent? On the one hand, underlying what I call the ‘universalistic’ discourse is the premise that human beings can act in an impartial manner so that all individuals have the capacity to speak or act in the interests of all other individuals regardless of the group(s) to which they belong. On the other hand, a competing discourse based on group-difference’ maintains that all representatives express partial voices depending on their group-based characteristics. I argue that the universalistic discourse was hegemonic in the transcripts but, at the same time, the group-difference discourse was successful at articulating powerful counter-hegemonic resistance. Ironically, the universalistic discourse was hegemonic despite widespread assumptions of partiality on the basis of province, region, language, and Aboriginality. This was possible because the universalistic discourse subsumed territorial notions of partiality within itself. In contrast, I argue that assumptions of Aboriginal partiality will likely diffuse themselves to other categories, beginning with gender, in the future. I also describe the strategies used by the competing discourses to undermine one another. The universalistic discourse successfully portrayed the group-difference discourse as an inversion to a dangerous apartheid-style society where individuals were forced to exist within group-based categories. The group-difference discourse used the strategy of anomaly to demonstrate that individuals were inevitably categorized in the universalistic discourse; impartiality was a facade for a highly-partial ruling class. In examining these strategies, I demonstrate that the group-difference discourse justified its own position by making assumptions about the operation of power and dominance in society. Thus, impartiality was impossible not for the post-modern reason that inherent differences make representation highly problematic, but because power relations hinder the ability of representatives to act in a truly impartial manner.

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