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Constituting ethnic difference : an ethnography of the Portuguese immigrant experience in Vancouver Boulter, Alison Isobel


Ethnic groups are a visible feature of Canadian society. That this is so indicates that there must be methods for making them recognizable as well as methods of accounting for that visible difference. In this thesis, I am concerned to explicate the socially organized practices which constitute particular members and groups in society as different from other members and groups. The argument presented is that it is the practices of all members of society which constitute this difference, rather than the difference being an attribute of any particular ethnic, or immigrant group. The work proceeds in two ways. First, the constitution of ethnic difference, located in the theoretical literature, is investigated. It is demonstrated that the theoretical formulations rest on an unexplicated common-sense understanding of ethnic groups and their members as different. Second, observations and descriptions of the everyday lived relations of Portuguese immigrants are analyzed. The observations include interviews with social service workers, taped discussions of participants at a conference on multiculturalism, as well as interviews with Portuguese immigrants themselves. This second source of data provides an understanding of how difference is constituted in descriptions and explanations of ethnic phenomena in Vancouver. Through the use of a method of analysis derived from Marx and developed for sociology by Smith, I have focussed the ethnography on the socially organized practices which constitute ethnic difference in Vancouver. The enactment of ethnicity in the theoretical literature, in the fieldwork, and in the observations, explanations, descriptions and accounts are treated a6 data for the analysis of the method by which ethnic difference is constituted socially. It is demonstrated that descriptions which reference cultural origin, like those which reference personality factors, disattend to the constitution of social location in Vancouver. Cultural descriptions are a method of constituting immigrant/ethnic difference. The location of immigrant/ethnic groups and their members within a particular social organization is recreated at every moment in the descriptions and other activities of members of society within the family, labour force and social service delivery system of Vancouver society.

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