Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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How multicultural is Canada really? An investigation of the inclusion and exclusion of culturally diverse groups in English Canadians‘ representations of Canadian nationhood and identity

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posted on 2021-11-14, 09:45 authored by Girling, Adrienne N.

The current thesis aimed to contribute to a national psychology for Canada by examining majority group (i.e., English Canadians) representations of nationhood and national identity as they relate to the cultural diversity comprising the nation. This dissertation took a macro-level approach to examine the content of English Canadians‘ representations, situating the research within a theoretical framework consisting of two families of existing social psychological theories of social representations (i.e., Social Representations Theory; Moscovici, 1961; and Social Representations of History; Liu & Hilton, 2005) and social identity (i.e., Social Identity Theory; Tajfel & Turner, 1979; and Self-Categorization Theory; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). A multi-method approach using a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques was employed to examine societal- and individual-level representations of Canadian nationhood and identity. The thesis had three major goals: 1) To determine the content of Canadian nationhood and identity; 2) To investigate if minority groups (i.e., French Canadians, Aboriginal peoples, and newer immigrants and their descendants) are included in and/or excluded from English Canadians‘ representations of Canadian nationhood and identity; and 3) To examine whether individuals‘ representations reflected government and mass media representations. The dissertation begins by reviewing existing literature on the content of Canadian nationhood, identity and diversity, providing an interpretive analysis using the guiding social psychological theories. Three empirical studies follow, which examined different aspects of representations of nationhood and identity. Study 1 used Critical Discourse Analysis (van Dijk, 1993) to investigate English Canadian print media representations of nationhood and identity by analysing the media response to two events concerned with the integration and accommodation of religious and cultural minorities, and immigrants. Study 2 examined ordinary citizens‘ representations of Canadian history through the use of survey methods. Study 3 examined implicit and explicit associations between ethnicity and Canadian nationhood. The findings revealed that governmental, media and individuals‘ representations of nationhood and identity were highly similar to one another, allowing us to advance a model of the content of Canadian identity. It was found that cultural groups are incorporated in English Canadians‘ representations of nationhood and identity in different ways from each other, depending on the context. It was shown that French Canadians represent a non-negligible component of nationhood and identity, but that they are sometimes reluctantly included in representations when they make demands on the majority. Aboriginal peoples are symbolically represented in English Canadians‘ representations of Canadian history, but are almost entirely absent from discussions of present day society and diversity. Newer immigrants and their descendants are sometimes included in present day representations of Canadian nationhood and identity, but are absent from historical representations. The Enlightenment Values of equality, freedom, democracy and reason (Michael, 2000) emerged as a crucial component of Canadian nationhood and identity, and this research suggests that they may represent why French Canadians are included in representations, as well as the key that newer immigrants and their descendants need to use to achieve inclusion (or conversely, warrant exclusion if they violate these values). Over all it was found that multiculturalism is not in itself a Canadian value, as has previously been suggested (Adams, 2007; Kymlicka, 2003), but it is instead a respect for the Enlightenment Values and an accommodation of diversity within these values that English Canadians treasure. Potential limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed. The thesis concludes with a consideration of how the results can be applied to increase the inclusion of minority groups in the majority group‘s conceptions of nationhood and identity. This work should serve as a launching point for discussions between the cultural groups about inclusion and exclusion.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Liu, James; Ward, Colleen