Tag Archives: Author Blog

  • Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

    Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

    Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

    Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

    There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

    The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

    The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

    Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

    Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

    Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

  • The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015: Part 2

    by Donna E. Wood

    My June 18 blog post provided a brief overview of my recently released book Federalism in Action: the Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015. It also commented on the first two questions addressed in the book:

    1. What governance choices did each province make in taking on the federal programming?

    2. How do the devolved public employment services (PES) compare to federal delivery?

    This blog posting deals with the last two questions:

    3. How is the Government of Canada managing its role post-devolution?

    4. How does Canada’s PES work together as a whole? What challenges remain?

    To assess the third question, I needed to reflect on the federal role in a post-devolution world. In my view, there are four important dimensions. Ottawa still controls the money (most of it coming from the Employment Insurance or EI account) and sets the legislative, policy and accountability framework under which the provincial and territorial PES programming operates. There are ‘pan-Canadian’ programs to be managed. Determining how PES programming is coordinated across the country, securing stakeholder input, and ensuring that comparative research is available to improve the programs on offer requires federal leadership. Finally, not all employment services were devolved: Ottawa deliberately kept direct responsibility for key target groups: Aboriginal persons, youth and persons with disabilities.

    The Government of Canada’s performance in all of these areas between 1995 and 2015 was weak. The federal-provincial and federal-Aboriginal accountability arrangements were inadequate, confusing, controlling, and non-transparent. Given that 87 per cent of PES programming is now devolved, there is no good reason for the federal government to still be involved in the direct management of programs for youth and persons with disabilities. Pan-Canadian programming declined significantly during the Harper Conservative years after 2006 when spending was reduced and all the research institutions and coordinating bodies put in place by the Liberals were defunded.

    The Forum of Labour Market Ministers ─ the intergovernmental body responsible for pan-Canadian coordination ─ rarely met at the Ministers’ level until it was revitalized by the provinces and territories in 2013 following the Harper Conservatives unilateral decision to replace the Labour Market Agreements with the Canada Job Fund.  With the demise of the Canadian Labour Force Development Board in 1998, the only formal way stakeholder’s views were heard was when Ottawa decided to hold a consultation or seek input.

    On the fourth question, Canada’s public employment service in 2015 did not work well together as a whole, as it was highly fragmented and complex. With 52 bilateral federal-provincial-territorial labour market transfer agreements, 85 federal-Aboriginal agreements, as well as direct federal youth, disability and pan-Canadian programming, it was very hard for Canadians to figure out who did what and who was responsible for what.

    These problems can be rectified without diminishing the positive value of devolution. In my paper Strengthening Canada’s Public Employment Service Post-Devolution, released by the Caledon Institute for Social Policy in September 2016, I outlined the challenges facing Canada’s public employment service and suggested the following changes:

    • Develop a pan-Canadian multilateral labour market framework agreement
    • Consolidate the four agreements into one agreement
    • Devolve responsibility for federal youth and disability programming
    • Re-affirm the federal stewardship and coordination roles
    • Restore the National Aboriginal Labour Market Management Board
    • Develop a National Labour Market Partner’s Council
    • Include comparative research in the mandate of the Labour Market Information Council

    Since the completion of the book manuscript in 2017, federal-provincial-territorial governments have made progress on many of these suggestions. They have agreed that the four labour market transfer agreements will be consolidated into two: a Labour Market Development Agreement or LMDA (focusing primarily on those with an Employment Insurance attachment) and a Workforce Development Agreement or WDA (covering everyone else). This should significantly reduce complexity, especially with respect to accountability. These new bilateral agreements started to roll out in May 2018, with Ontario and British Columbia first off the mark.

    After a very long gestation period the Labour Market Information Council under the Forum of Labour Market Ministers was finally launched in May 2018. Its scope was clarified as focusing strictly on labour market information, not research. Pan-Canadian research will be undertaken by a new federal entity yet to be established, the Future Skills Centre. Stakeholder input will be secured through a Future Skills Council. This all seems to be good news but only time will tell.

    However, the Government of Canada has demonstrated no intent to devolve youth or disability employment programming. Given its confirmation of the ‘distinctions’ based approach to Aboriginal employment services, there will be no pan-Aboriginal labour market management board. As a result, some complexity and fragmentation in Canada’s PES will remain.

    In 2018 we celebrate 100 years of Canada’s public employment service.  Devolution to the provinces, territories, and Aboriginal organizations started more than 20 years ago. Phase one under the Chrétien/Martin Liberals involved the initial offer in 1995 and the acceptance of federal staff, assets, contracts and programming responsibilities by eight provinces and territories. It also involved the establishment of Aboriginal labour market entities and pan-Canadian institutions.

    Phase two under the Harper Conservatives moved the other five jurisdictions to similar devolved arrangements and increased funding for non EI clients. However, the Conservatives reduced federal involvement in pan-Canadian initiatives and unilaterally changed the federal-provincial transfer agreement rules.

    We are now into devolution Phase three under the Trudeau Liberals. Hopefully my book Federalism in Action: the Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015 will shed light on what has transpired in the past in order to facilitate future policy learning. There is no shortage of work that needs to be done in this often neglected but essential area of public policy.

    The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015: Part 1

  • The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015: Part 1

    by Donna E. Wood

    In 2018 we celebrate 100 years of public employment services in Canada. These are the supports and services provided by our governments to connect unemployed and underemployed job seekers with employers through information, guidance, placement, training, and labour market adjustment services. Not only does the public employment service or PES help individuals develop job skills, by facilitating job matching it helps employers fill vacancies more efficiently.

    Jurisdictional responsibility for the public employment service in Canada has changed hands four times over the century ─ from a national network of provincially managed but federally funded services between 1918 and 1940; to an arm’s length organization between 1940 and 1977 under federal control; to direct management under a federal government department between 1977 and 1996; and back to mostly provincial design and delivery using federal funding starting in 1996. However, what has not changed is the essential contribution of Canada’s public employment service to keeping unemployment rates low and labour market participation rates high.

    My new book Federalism in Action: the Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015 focuses on the past 20 years when ─ triggered primarily by a need for the Chrétien Liberal government to demonstrate ‘flexible federalism’ following the 1995 Québec referendum ─ federal PES responsibilities were transferred to the provinces and territories one jurisdiction at a time over a period of 14 years through largely similar Labour Market Development Agreements. Provincial management was solidified in 2007 with additional federal funding through what were known at the time as Labour Market Agreements.

    In 2015 provinces[1] provided public employment services through entities called WorkBC, Alberta Works, Saskatchewan-Canada Career & Employment Service Centres, Manitoba Jobs & Employment Centres, Employment Ontario, Emploi-Québec, New Brunswick Career Information Centres, Career Nova Scotia Centres, PEI Career Development Centres, and Newfoundland & Labrador Employment Skills Centres. Services for Aboriginal people were provided through 85 Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategy (ASETS) holders operating in communities across Canada and by the federal government directly through contracts arranged with community-based organizations for youth and persons with disabilities. Ottawa also retained a funding, oversight, and pan-Canadian coordination role.

    Collectively these organizations and the services they provide make up Canada’s public employment service, with most funding coming from mandatory employer and worker contributions to the Employment Insurance (EI) account and oversight provided by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission and federal/provincial/territorial Ministers through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers. In 2013/14 almost 1.2 million Canadians used provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal employment services at a cost of over $3.1 billion to the Government of Canada. Many of those receiving services were in receipt of federal Employment Insurance or provincial social assistance benefits.

    My book assesses how Canada’s public employment service performed between 1995 and 2015 under predominately provincial, territorial and Aboriginal ─ as opposed to federal ─ management. The data source was 132 interviews with 170 people in every province; federal parliamentary committee hearings and reports; federal performance and evaluation reports (including the annual Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report); provincial accountability reports; as well as academic and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) assessments. The analysis was framed around four questions:

    1. What governance choices did each province make in taking on the federal programming? Why? What outcomes have been achieved and how do these compare across provinces?

    2. Considered collectively, how do the devolved PES services compare to when they were delivered by the Government of Canada?

    3. How is the Government of Canada managing its role post-devolution?

    4. How does Canada’s PES work together as a whole? What challenges remain as our public employment service moves into the 21st century?

    On the first question, provinces were compared on four elements drawn from the international literature (single gateways, decentralization, outsourcing, and partnerships) in four groupings: the Far West (British Columbia and Alberta); the Midwest (Saskatchewan and Manitoba); the Middle (Ontario and Québec) and the East (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador). Provinces made very different choices on these elements, based on their individual history, devolution timing, and their political culture/dynamics. To compare provinces, I used efficiency, effectiveness and democracy as criteria. Considering all of these elements and criteria, Québec’s PES choices provide a best practices model that the rest of Canada should examine more closely and potentially emulate.

    On the second question, in 2015 almost triple the number of Canadians were served compared to 1995 when the Government of Canada was directly responsible. However, this change needs to be read in conjunction with a change in the programming provided: from more expensive long term interventions (including training) to less expensive ‘light touch’ employment assistance services. The change in programming was an outcome of the indicators chosen by Ottawa following the 1995/96 EI reform as well as the fact that ─ other than for two years during the 2008/09 economic downturn ─ there was no increase in federal funding. Even with this change in programming emphasis, federal evaluation studies carried out over the years have consistently demonstrated the positive impact of provincial and Aboriginal oversight of the PES.

    On the third and fourth questions examined in the book, stay tuned to my next blog posting. A preview of challenges and suggestions for change were detailed in a submission I made to federal/provincial/territorial governments in 2016 as part of their consultations on the labour market transfer agreements. Take a look at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy version of my thoughts published in 2016 as Strengthening Canada’s Public Employment Service Post Devolution. I’ll bring these issues forward to 2018 in my next blog posting.

    Federalism in Action: The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015 is now available for purchase.

    [1] PES arrangements in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut were not examined in the book.

    The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015: Part 2

  • On 'Undoing Babel', a Guest Post by Tristan Major

    Tristan Major is the author of Undoing Babel: The Tower of Babel in Anglo-Saxon Literature and an assistant professor in the Department of English Literature and Linguistics at Qatar University.

    The origins of my book began with bewilderment over a single sentence. While reading a sketch of biblical history written by the Old English author Ælfric of Eynsham, I was struck by his brief statement that idolatry had come into the world immediately after the fall of the Tower of Babel. In this account, the lack of any further explanation or elaboration gives the impression that such a claim was relatively commonplace and that it would not be attested or cause any confusion. But for me, an account of the origins of idolatry located so specifically after a definitive moment in biblical history raised questions. Why would Ælfric think that idolatry occurred only and immediately after the Tower of Babel? Was this unique to Ælfric or was it a more widely held belief that he is simply repeating? What does idolatry have to do, if anything, with the multiplicity of languages that the Tower of Babel is better known for?

    After spending more than a decade chasing these questions, I now have a better understanding of the issue. While conducting the research for my book, Undoing Babel, I soon became aware of a need to trace the multifaceted strands of interpretations of the Babel narrative across time. They first appear with early Jewish adaptations of the narrative, which then form the basis for the interpretations of the Latin-speaking Christians of Late Antiquity, who also read and commented on the story in new ways—more suitable to their own contexts and concerns. In turn, these interpretations formed the basis for how the authors of Anglo-Saxon England, and finally, Ælfric himself, read and understood the narrative.

    My initial query on the the origins of idolatry was answered, but it also gave way to the many other unique intellectual developments that slowly developed over time until becoming part of an accepted range of interpretations and implications of the story. By examining these developments closely, I began to see how literary communities are themselves not stable but rather full of potential that allows new interpretations of a text to emerge, form, and then eventually fade out of acceptance. But by applying the findings of this research more generally outside of literary communities of the past, it also became apparent to me how new interpretative traditions continue to develop and form. As I spoke to people curious about my research, I would hear how variously the Tower of Babel narrative continues to produce diverse understandings and new significance. Interestingly, while many people were well aware of the fundamental elements of the story, especially its connection to multilingualism, others exhibited fairly original interpretations, often dealing with religious or political resistance. On one occasion, I was told an elaborate (and totally idiosyncratic) account of the narrative which involved a renewed rebellion from Satan and his followers that attempted to use the tower to attack an indifferent God and free the people of the earth. On another occasion, I discovered that the Tower of Babel could signify a celebration of diversity that ultimately aims overcomes the monolithic tyranny of our contemporary, globalized, consumerist culture. In both instances, the original condemnation of the builders is turned into something positive, and the destructive results of the tower’s construction, as implied in the original text of the Bible, are eschewed and turned back into something altogether constructive.

    These “folk” interpretations will likely not gather any kind of traction among the general literary communities that will determine their viability. But they do indicate how creative interpretation can be and how far it can stray from the original understanding of the text. Despite a temptation to disregard communities of the past as less sophisticated that our own, the freedom for interpretation of a literary text to develop persists across all times and readers.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my research began with confusion over a single sentence, which eventually led me to trace the development of interpretation over a millennium of literary sources. Now that I understand why Ælfric wrote what he did, I am certainly looking forward to the next time I find myself confused over some small, seemingly insignificant point.

  • 'Unbound': Winner of the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award

    Guest post by Dr. Lindy Ledohowski

    “Identities – ethnocultural, gendered, socio-economic, minoritized, regional – are interesting facets of who we are. Often we both are and are not multiple selves simultaneously, and as we asked authors to contribute to this collection, the key question we wanted them to think about was this: What does Ukrainian Canadian-ness mean to them in contemporary Canada? We were both surprised and pleased with their responses.

    This book demonstrates that on close scrutiny, as with any vibrant and dynamic community, there may be more divisions than similarities among the views of individual Ukrainian Canadians. More than sixty years have passed since the first English-language Ukrainian Canadian novel was published, and the literature playing with notions of what it means to be Ukrainian Canadian suggests that it means many things to many people. This book explores the spaces where, in the words of Myrna Kostash, “our collective, though not necessarily common, interests coincide.” And while this exploration uses Ukrainian Canadian (in all its iterations) as its focusing lens, it speaks to other minoritized subject positions in Canada and abroad, and perhaps most loudly to contemporary mainstream Canada as well.”

    So begins the introduction to Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home. In thinking about identity politics and contemporary Canada, as diasporic and postcolonial scholars who focus on contemporary Canadian literature both Lisa Grekul and I approached co-editing a collection focusing on English-language Ukrainian Canadian literature in a radical way.

    As scholars, both Grekul and I are committed to multiplicity to identities rather than a single, hegemonic way of looking at the world. When we asked our contributors to provide something for the book we envisioned creating, we wanted to give them the greatest degree of openness we could.

    We did not want to constrain their voices, which meant that we did not want to constrain their generic or stylistic choices. It also meant that we were committed to a consultative and collaborative process to bring this book to fruition.

    The book, as a result is an expression not only of some of the best thinking and writing about contemporary Canadian identity politics and literature, but also an articulation of being “unbound” by genre or expectation. This book is profoundly scholarly and profoundly creative simultaneously. And its creation is the culmination of the best feminist practice that we lived over years to pull it together.

    We are terribly and justifiably proud of this book.

    Then when we found out that it was a finalist for the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award, a nation-wide literary prize in Canada that is only offered every two years, we were over the moon.

    Then on March 1st when the winner was announced and Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home became the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award winner, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

    Grekul was in the middle of a busy teaching term at UBC, Okanagan on the other side of Canada from the Toronto-based gala awards night, and I was glued to my iPhone in Kuala Lumpur 13 hours ahead of Toronto.

    Marusya Bociurkiw, one of the contributors who has also been a Kobzar finalist before, represented us, and when she texted me: “WE WON!” I thought she must be joking. As Twitter exploded with the announcement, and Bociurkiw pulled another contributor onto stage with her Erin Moure – who was also a finalist this year in her own right – we all felt the years of hard work being recognized.

    This book is important. This book is revolutionary. This book is interesting. This book is powerful. This book is political. This book is beautiful.

    And this book is a nation-wide literary prize winner.

    On behalf of my co-editor, Dr. Lisa Grekul, I must thank our amazing, talented, intelligent, and formidable contributors:
    Maruysia Bociurkiw
    Elizabeth Bachinsky
    Janice Kulyk Keefer
    Myrna Kostash
    Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
    Erin Moure
    Daria Salamon and Weronika Suchacka who wrote the preface and Natalka Husar who allowed her painting '500 people you didn’t know' to be used as the cover art.

    Lisa Grekul is a novelist and associate professor in the Department of Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

    Lindy Ledohowski is an educational leader and literary scholar. She serves on the board of trustees for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

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