Reclaiming Rights: Subaltern Praxis and Counterhegemonic Strategy in French and Canadian Social Movement Politics

Gates, Andrew, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Rubenstein, Jennifer, AS-Dept of Politics, University of Virginia

This study examines how French Muslim activists seeking to overcome discriminatory legislation and social marginalization and the Indigenous Idle No More movement in Canada engage their respective publics as they work to dismantle enduring structures of colonial power. Both movements deploy a diverse and creative set of strategies in their praxis, combining contentious and institutional strategies and alternating between conventional political rhetoric and radical critique. As they systematically engage their polities’ political institutions, normative discourses, and national symbols, they also condemn their longstanding injustices. Despite the apparent tensions between these constituent elements of their praxis, interviews with activists enable us to better understand how these serve, individually and holistically, to dislodge the specific forms of hegemonic power they confront. Muslim activists expose the Republic’s colonial foundations and the ways in which these structure its exclusionary models of citizenship, while visually and discursively reconfiguring prevailing conceptions of French identity and republican citizenship. By reimagining the Republic as both a historical community and a future-oriented normative project, they seek to transform its present nativist exclusions. INM fuses demonstrations of resurgent Indigenous sovereignty with the recovery of treaty law and other forms of discursive and institutional engagement. By exposing settler colonialism’s injustices on historical, normative, and legal grounds, while disclosing their own Indigenous vision of the future, they seek to stop land theft and forge a new political covenant, rooted in parallel sovereignty, sustainability, and respect. In both cases, we discover a multi-pronged approach to radical praxis, which works to destabilize naturalized power hierarchies on multiple fronts. By reappropriating publicly salient discourses and co-articulating these with their own commitments, these activists establish a critical discursive interface for expressing their post-colonial hopes. These movements’ respective strategic approaches each depart in important ways from the forms of praxis canvassed by recent theoretical scholarship. By clarifying the practical function of their component parts and the ways these together serve to advance these movements’ diverse ends, the cases deepen our understanding of the complex considerations driving the development of subaltern praxis, revealing how marginalized actors might transform existing structures of domination.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
praxis, strategy, subaltern activism, social movements, colonialism, human rights, historical memory, republicanism, liberalism, multiculturalism, deliberation, hijab, veil, burkini, Indigenous sovereignty, Idle No More, resurgence
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