Analyzing online discourses of Canadian citizenship: O Canada! True North, Strong, and Free?

Thomas, T. (2015). (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. 

This dissertation reports on findings from a research study that sought to trace how discourses of Canadian citizenship and the resultant social relations that they produce evolved alongside online discussions of Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values. The presentation of The Charter spurred much debate amongst citizens living not only within Quebec, but across Canada, as well. In response, Canadian citizens took to the Internet, among many outlets, to exercise their personal and political agency in order to engage in at times, antagonistic conversations about 
this controversial socio-political topic. As citizens debated the relative merits of The Charter and voiced their agreement or disagreement with the Quebec government’s proposition, they began to define for themselves what 
it means to be a citizen. This inquiry used corpus-assisted (critical) discourse analysis to examine 34 online discussions concerning The Charter appearing within one online environment (reddit). It aimed at three interrelated objectives: 1) to trace how citizens’ conceptualizations of citizenship and the social relations that they produce evolved alongside online discussions of Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values, 2) to analyze these conceptualizations in order to determine where these articulations converge and/or diverge from existing discourses of citizenship, and 3) to assess the possibility for Canada to constitute a site of both radical and plural democracy. Findings from this research reveal that online discussion were framed primarily by discourses of liberal democracy, nationalism, and the current Western security environment, which are deeply in tension with respect to themselves and to one another. Despite these tensions, however, findings reveal that groups who are perceived as occupying majority positions within society often attempt to delegitimize overt counter-discourses that challenge dominant conceptions of Canadian citizenship. Regrettably, this forecloses the possibility of transforming conflicts arising from difference into sites of socio-political flourishing. This research highlights the need for citizenship educators to engage with pedagogical strategies that open up spaces for contestation and conflict surrounding issues of privilege, belonging, and cultural difference. Moreover, it forwards potential strategies to converge the on- and offline 
worlds in favour of citizenship for and within radically democratic and plural societies.