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Canadian Culture Sociology 196

Charting the Course

By Erwin R. Rosinberg

Raymond Breton's class this semester is 100 percent American. North American, that is.

In fact, the class taught by the King visiting professor of Canadian studies, Sociology 196: "Sociology of Canadian Studies," is nearly 90 percent Canadian. Students feel that the course fills a void in Harvard's offerings in general, according to Matthew J. Waterbury '97.

Other students in the small conference course agree.

"It's one of the few courses in the course book that talks about Canadian culture," says Jason Sutherland '97.

Breton says that "this is not a course that has interested a lot of Americans," even though the main focus of the course is a comparative study of Canadian and American cultures.

Breton suggests America's generally low level of interest in Canada as a possible reason behind the enrollment. "Americans, when they compare themselves with other societies, do so with countries with a larger standing in the world," he says.

However, the students in the course are glad that Breton has offered a class that explores Canadian issues and society, noting the large Canadian presence on the Harvard campus. "Canadians make up a very large minority at Harvard," Sutherland says.

But the lack of courses on Canada might be explained by the professor himself, who notes that in some circumstances, "you could wonder why Canada still exists."

"The penetration of the Canadian market by American cultural industries is extremely large," he says, citing the heavy presence of American television programs and movies in Canada. In addition, "the classical Tory view of peace, order and good government is moving more towards America's view of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Breton says.

But Breton says American influences have also increased Canadian nationalism, since many Canadians who prefer American culture move to the U.S. "If you're a Canadian, you're by and large a Canadian by choice," Breton says, and much is unique to Canadian culture.

Breton adds that most of the readings for the course were written by Canadian sociologists, although one important text, Continental Divide by the American scholar Seymour M. Lipset, is an exception.

Breton says that he is encouraging students to make their own comparisons. Students have selected final paper topics based on their own areas of interest, working on issues as diverse as Canadian and American attitudes towards fame, literary interpretation, and health care.

According to Breton, the course is designed to "provide a sociological framework for the study of cultures," giving students an overview of approaches to the discipline.

"The more substantive part of the course involves comparing Canadian and American cultures on four basic dimensions," Breton says. Students study how both countries approach the relationship between individuals and collectivities, the question of diversity, inequalities and the conception of authority.

Breton says that one of the elements to consider when approaching the question of diversity is language. The dual presence of French and English in Canada, according to Breton, has no parallel in America.

As a result, "Canadians have had to accommodate themselves more to diversity than Americans--they like to believe that they're multicultural and that the U.S. is more of a melting pot," Breton says.

A comparison of diversity in Canada and the U.S. can also be approached in terms of race, immigration and native populations, Breton says.

The eight Canadian students also say that the course provides "good Canada bonding time." Breton says that "the course may have also provided an occasion for these students to learn more about their own society."

Although Breton will return to the University of Toronto at the end of the year, the William Lyon Mackenzie King professorship ensures that visiting professors will be invited to Harvard to teach courses on Canada regularly.

This northern expansion of course choice should benefit all students, Yayoi J. Shionoiri '00 argues.

"They should have a Foreign Cultures [Core] course on Canada."

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