Role of discourse in a theory of politicized collective identity: the 1995 Québec referendum debate




O'Connor, Shawn Casey

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Politicized collective identity (PCI) is a recent social psychological model developed by Simon and Klandermans (2001), which theorizes how the identity of social groups engaged in power struggles becomes politically or socially active, that is, how group identity becomes politicized. Virtually absent from current PCI theory is any mention of the role of language in the politicization process. The purpose of the present study was to incorporate recent theorizing in language into a theory of PCI. The analysis focussed specifically on the use of linguistic structures and strategies in both reflecting and shaping the final stage of a fully politicized collective identity, that is, the efforts of groups to involve the wider society in their struggle. Methods and theory taken from critical discourse analysis were applied to campaign material arising out of the intensely contentious political struggle over Quebec independence during the 1995 referendum campaign. The primary material was the official referendum campaign booklet, to which both sovereignists (the Yes side) and federalists (the No side) had contributed an extensive outline of their respective positions. Given the advanced stage of politicization of these groups, this material served the third and final stage of PCI—the attempt of each side to involve society by triangulation, in which groups seek to enlist the support of third parties in their struggle. The results revealed how this stage was constituted in and through discourse, that is, in a wide variety of linguistic structures and strategies such as lexical choice, metaphors, semantic macrostructures, and intertexuality. It was also noteworthy that the first two stages that Simon and Klandermans had proposed (grievances and adversarial attributions) were reintroduced in the third stage as topics of discourse and were recruited into the involvement strategies of the Yes and No sides. These findings demonstrate that the theoretical integration of language and PCI contributes to a greater understanding of how groups enlist third parties and thus builds upon Simon and Klandermans's theory of politicized collective identity.



group identity, political aspects, Quebec, history, autonomy and independence movements