Working (in) the gap: a critical examination of the race/culture divide in human services

  • Author / Creator
    Wolfe, Ruth Rebecca
  • This project entails a critical examination of the race/culture divide in human services from the vantage point of middle women – non-professional grassroots advocates who emerged in the 1990s to address inequities that minoritized immigrants experience with main stream human services in Canada. The race/culture divide denotes critical race theorists' critique of a focus on cultural difference that obscures racism. Shaped by critical race theory and critical research methods, and drawing on interviews and participant observation involving 25 middle women, my findings reveal that the middle women's articulations of barriers and gaps as systemic inequities are at odds with main stream services' tendencies to focus on cultural challenges. This tension results in the discursive production of a cultural niche, a gendered space of exploitation of a culturally defined Middle Woman, who is thus rendered perpetually immigrant. The study illuminates how the Middle Woman navigates a complex and perilous tension between jeopardizing relationships with main stream organizations and simultaneously resisting what she experiences as disrespectful, unacceptable, unethical and overtly racist interfaces with human services. Although the middle women recounted numerous, visceral and detailed culturalist-racist interfaces in systemically racialized human service systems, they were equivocal about naming racism until I raised it directly. They gave meaning to "in Canada" experiences through their particular pre-migration realities in a process of continuous comparison between "back home" and "here," positioning them differentially in relation to Canada, and therefore also to the possibility of naming racism in Canada. The middle women engage in a continuous process of discerning racism, always weighing it against other explanations for inequitable treatment. The project thus draws attention to the toll that navigating the race/culture divide takes in embodying the sensed and draining the spirit. It draws attention to the process through which I, as a white researcher, came to see the workings of our racialized society. My research contributes to the literature on the race/culture divide and whiteness studies, and has implications for research on racism, dialogue about cultural competence and anti-racist practice, and conceptualizing settlement and responsive human services.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2010
  • 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
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Mayan, Maria (Extension)
    • Kelly, Jennifer (Educational Policy Studies)
    • Etowa, Josephine (Nursing)
    • Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
    • Abu-Laban, Yasmeen (Political Science)