The Changing Social Structures

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Jean-Charles FALARDEAU


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Few of the valuable historical and economic studies of French Canadian society describe the main patterns of its culture and the characteristic elements of its structure. Well-intentioned accounts by visiting observers have often suffered from an exotic slant that distorted otherwise penetrating intuitions. The pioneer Canadian sociologist Léon Gérin has left us the only valuable monograph on the rural French Canada of the past 1 ; more recently, Horace Miner has systematically analysed a rural community of the present 2. For the past ten years, almost any one commenting on or writing about contemporary urban and industrial French Canada has made use of Everett-C. Hughes' admirable French Canada in transition 3 which hits at many essential aspects of our changing society beyond the perspective of the individual town of Cantonville. A certain number of research projects undertaken at the University of Montreal and at Laval during the last decade reflect the first consistent attempt by French-Canadian scholars to study their society, as part of the Canadian whole and as part of the North American continent.

This essay summarizes what is now known, on the basis of such research about the social organization of French Canada 4. More precisely, it ascertains the extent to which the process of Industrialization [102] has been associated with changes in the historically important structures of our society. An investigation of this problem centers around a few general questions : What traditional institutions, if any, have remained untouched ? Which have been transformed ? Which have been forgotten or utterly discarded ? What new structures have been imported or created in anticipation of, and in response to new situations ? All that one can hope for at this stage is to clear a path toward a broad vista. Yet, these questions cannot be ignored ; answers to them can be found only by examining our society as a whole, as it was and as it is.

Since the data on certain fundamental problems has not even been gathered, we have to rely upon a great number of tentative generalizations. Our task consists more in stating research problems than in presenting a definite picture. Even so, we must distinguish between at least three levels of phenomena that constitute the totality of social life : the ecological structure of the local communities ; the division of social labour within the society and the new trends in family life, in parochial organization, in the relationships between the clergy and the urban population and in the patterns of communication between the English and the French ; finally, the many ways in which the traditional symbols and values of our society have been modified and the corresponding motivations, attitudes and outlook that have recently developed among significant groups of the population.


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In Quebec as elsewhere, new industries have burst existing communities and have brought new ones into being. Yet, there are still many urban communities, even cities of appreciable size, whose chief function is far from industrial. There are others in which industry and other economic activities are equally important. As Faucher and Lamontagne indicate in their historical essay, typical geographical-industrial complexes have been created at successive stages in our industrial development. The growth of industries, especially since the 20's, has determined a compartmentation of the province into new economic regions. The most [103] accurate of the recent studies recognize the fifteen areas referred to by Keyfitz and it is the task of the economic geographer to delineate and to describe them more fully. We need only recall here that the types of urban or semi-urban communities vary from region to region and, within regions, according to the type of dominant industries.

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