Mixed Race Life Stories: The Multiracializing Gaze in Canada’s Multicultural Era

  • Author / Creator
    Paragg, Jillian E
  • The social production of bodies as mixed race provides insights into the particular operation of the external racial gaze within the context of multiculturalism in Canada. This project explores those insights by applying a combination of critical race and life course perspectives to the life story narratives of those who grew up during the era of official multiculturalism. I move from examining the social interactions of the racial gaze to the lived experience of the gaze on mixed race bodies, drawing on 21 in-depth life story interviews conducted with people of mixed race aged 37-59 in three Canadian cities. Drawing on Haritaworn’s conceptualization of multiracialization and this corpus of interview respondents’ life story narratives, I examine how mixed race bodies are produced and reproduced through an external racial gaze. I show how the multiracializing gaze operates through the particular discourses of official multiculturalism and how mixed race individuals learn and respond to the gaze across their life course. Respondents’ narratives indicate that within the context of official multiculturalism, the multiracializing gaze operates in three particular ways. Firstly, it operates through the assumption of categorical identities of origin and belonging – an assumption deeply linked to the dominant imaginary of whiteness. On the one hand, mixed race confounds the ‘pure’ categories of race and blood through which identity and kinship are recognized, unhinging the categorical gaze. On the other hand, that same categorical gaze is recuperated through the desire to imagine and know the originary point of mixing read off of the multiracialized body. Respondents’ experiences of learning about race and the racial gaze across the life course demonstrate this two-way operation of categorical identity production, setting the stage for understanding how they navigate the social and discursive terrain of their identities. Secondly, the multiracializing gaze produces a key problematic: a tension between mixed race’s transformative possibilities and its concomitant potential to reproduce dominant discourses. This echoes a debate in the literature on cultural hybridity regarding the politics of hybridity as transcendent. I examine three key arenas where respondents provided insight into this complex and contradictory social terrain: navigating ‘mixed race’, navigating national belonging (‘Canadian’ and ‘multicultural’) and navigating complex commonalities. The ‘story’ of identity that respondents form through their navigations of these three key arenas is evident in what I call the ready identity narrative: the narrative that respondents have ready to give to others when they are questioned about their identities. Thirdly, I argue that the multiracializing gaze is lived not only on the body in the immediate ‘moment’ of the gaze on the body, but also in anticipation of it. I argue that the ready identity narrative illuminates the link between the immediate experience of the gaze and the anticipation of it. The narrative is developed iteratively in response to and in anticipation of the gaze, including across the life course. Respondents’ formative moments (and their memories of those moments) shape the ready identity narrative, as does moving through the world in a body that is produced as mixed race: all of these make up the ‘luggage’ of anticipation. Put another way, the immediate and the anticipatory are two-sided moments that feed off each other. I point to three key facets that enable us to get at the lived experience of the multiracializing gaze: the everyday embodied lived experience of the gaze is made up of both respondents’ felt sense, as well as how they make sense of their encounters with the gaze; the phenomenology of the everyday is iterative; and that encounters occur at different times and across different spaces and are part of a broader social milieu.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2017-06:Spring 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Sociology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
    • Kelly, Jennifer (Education Policy Studies)
    • Mahtani, Minelle (Human Geography)
    • Abu-Laban, Yasmeen (Political Science)
    • Kaler, Amy (Sociology)