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The Search for a New National Identity

The Rise of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, 1890s–1970s


Jatinder Mann

This book explores the profound social, cultural, and political changes that affected the way in which Canadians and Australians defined themselves as a «people» from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s. Taking as its central theme the way each country responded to the introduction of new migrants, the book asks a key historical question: why and how did multiculturalism replace Britishness as the defining idea of community for English-speaking Canada and Australia, and what does this say about their respective experiences of nationalism in the twentieth century? The book begins from a simple premise – namely, that the path towards the adoption of multiculturalism as the orthodox way of defining national community in English-speaking Canada and Australia in the latter half of the twentieth century was both uncertain and unsteady. It followed a period in which both nations had looked first and foremost to Britain to define their national self-image. In both nations, however, following the breakdown of their more formal and institutional ties to the ‘mother-country’ in the post-war period there was a crisis of national meaning, and policy makers and politicians moved quickly to fill the void with a new idea of the nation, one that was the very antithesis to the White, monolithic idea of Britishness. This book will be useful for both history and politics courses in Australia and Canada, as well as internationally.
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Taking an historical and political perspective in this book I have explored the move from a monolithic British and white-centred national identity in English-speaking Canada and Australia to one based on multiculturalism and a non-discriminatory immigration policy. These shifts in national identity were the contexts in which migrant policy changed from assimilation to ultimately a multicultural policy in the two countries. This is the first time that any scholar has attempted to explain migrant policy in Canada and Australia in this way in as much depth as I have done, as well as compare the two experiences.

During the nationalist era—that is, from the late nineteenth century down to the 1960s—both English-speaking Canada and the Australian colonies identified themselves as an integral part of a wider British race. However, Britishness was always complicated in Canada by the presence of the French-Canadians. They could not identify with British race patriotism—they even felt excluded by it. Unlike their English-speaking compatriots in Australia, English-speaking Canadians had to share their country with a competing European founding group—one that had arrived before the British: the French-Canadians. This meant that expressions of British race patriotism in English-speaking Canada were more nuanced and problematic. This issue would arise repeatedly and goes a long way ← 223 | 224 → towards explaining the major differences between the English-speaking Canadian and Australian experiences.

Along with Britishness, whiteness formed the second pillar of the national identities of both English-speaking Canada and Australia. They...

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