Jody Mason Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, Jody Mason has been awarded the 2019 Gabrielle Roy Prize (English section) by The Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures (ACQL) for her book Home Feelings: Liberal Citizenship and the Canadian Reading Camp Movement (McGill-Queen’s University Press).

The winner of the annual Gabrielle Roy Prize was chosen by a jury composed of Margery Fee (University of British Columbia), Heidi Tiedemann Darroch (Camosun College), and Veronica Austen (St. Jerome’s University) who affirm:

“Home Feelings: Liberal Citizenship and the Canadian Reading Camp Movement distinguishes itself for its tremendous research and critical insight. In constructing an analysis of the Canadian Reading Camp Association, the precursor to Frontier College, Mason offers insight into how reading and literacy were used in a citizenship-building project to form workers as liberal subjects and prevent the radicalization of immigrants. She draws on a range of primary sources – reports, letters, government documents – to construct a meticulously detailed historical account that allows her to form new theoretical insight about the ideological construction and functioning of reading and literacy. Mason is to be particularly commended for the impressive rigour of this book.”

The Prize is expected to be awarded in person at Congress, next Spring 2021.

Upon receiving the Prize, Professor Mason reflected on writing her award-winning book.

Reflections on Home Feelings: Liberal Citizenship and the Canadian Reading Camp Movement

by Professor Jody Mason

I worked in community literacy as a graduate student in Toronto and I’ve long known that I would someday write something about the relationship between the literacy movement and ideas about the literary. Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest (1989) and Heather Murray’s ‘Come, Bright Improvement!’: The Literary Societies of Nineteenth-Century Ontario (2002) are in some ways very different books—one about the uses of English literature as an instrument of rule in colonial India and the other about the rather unfamiliar conceptions of the literary that shaped the reading cultures of Victorian Ontario––but both insist that literary value has a history that might be reconstructed by looking at practices of use. In addition to analyzing what’s on the page, these scholars consider where texts go, and how, and why. Both stamped my thinking and teaching long before I began to think in earnest about actually doing any research of this kind on my own. In 2011, after my third child was born, I began working with the archival fonds of Frontier College, Canada’s longest-running organization devoted to teaching adults to read. Housed at Library and Archives Canada, the fonds is enormous (more than one hundred meters of textual materials!). The book I ended up writing, Home Feelings, uses a small part of the fonds to tell a larger story about how the mutual relation of literacy, literature, and citizenship in Canada in the first half of the twentieth century worked to establish settler authenticity and authority.

The Canadian Reading Camp movement—forerunner of Frontier College–– is not widely known, despite its importance in Canadian cultural, social, educational, and, I would argue, political history. Founded in 1899 or 1900 by a Presbyterian minister influenced by the values of the social gospel movement, Alfred Fitzpatrick, the movement inaugurated its work in 1900-1901 in four lumber camps near Nairn Centre, Ontario. The rooms, housed in makeshift shacks, were stocked with reading material but were unsupervised. The association grew quickly; by 1903, there were at least twenty-four reading rooms in shacks, tents, and rail cars across northern Ontario. It continued to expand its work westward with the growth of the railroad, mining, and construction industries that relied on itinerant, increasingly non-British immigrant, labour. As the association grew, so its methods altered. The unsupervised reading room gradually ceded place to the librarian-instructor, and, subsequently, by the end of the association’s first decade, to the labourer-teacher––often and then almost exclusively university students who worked by day and conducted classes in English and other basic subjects by night. The growth of the Canadian Reading Camp movement was precarious in these early decades: the association received no government funding at the outset (although it began to receive modest provincial grants during its first decade) and instead relied on donations from churches, individuals, and the companies that benefited from its operations.

Between 1899 and 1939, the Canadian Reading Camp Association (known after 1919 as Frontier College) derived most of its work and much of its raison d’être from the non-British immigrant labourers who were filling the nation’s work camps. Even in the earliest days, instructors made particular efforts to reach out to foreign-born workers, particularly those who could not speak English. These efforts increased steadily as more and more labourer-teachers went West in the first decade of the twentieth century in order to work on rail and construction gangs, which were populated overwhelmingly by non-English speaking workers. The relevance of these efforts to the concept of “citizenship” was articulated in 1912, when the association’s annual report indicates its desire to impart “our ideas of citizenship and our ideals of life” to immigrant camp workers. As the link between the immigrant and “the red” was solidified in liberal thought, and as labour conflicts such as the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike generated new liberal anxieties about the stability of the capitalist economy, the work of Frontier College focused almost exclusively on a counter-literacy for liberal citizenship. The publication of the association’s A Handbook for New Canadians in 1919 was the culmination of two decades of fieldwork, and it laid the basis for the association’s future citizenship education efforts, which were to augment considerably during the 1920s. After 1932, the work of Frontier College shifted somewhat. Labourer-teachers were deployed not to regular work camps but to the relief camps for unemployed men operated throughout the first half of the 1930s by the Department of National Defence.

Toronto Daily Star, November 8, 1920, p. 4

Toronto Daily Star, November 8, 1920, p. 4.

            Though the principal case study analyzed in Home Feelings is the Canadian Reading Camp Movement, the book is in a more general sense an attempt to bring a sociology of literature approach to bear on the history of citizenship in Canada. British Canadian reformers affiliated with Frontier College defined their settler claims to national space through a pedagogy of national citizenship that served primarily to distinguish them from both a non-British immigrant settler population and Indigenous Peoples. This early-twentieth-century practice of citizenship education was forged in close relation to imaginative literature, drawing deeply on the liberal reformist and idealist conceptions of the literary that had emerged in Victorian Britain. A key element in the early twentieth-century consolidation of the nation’s liberal order, citizenship and its pedagogy were entwined from the beginning in literary print culture and the intimate “home feelings” this culture was believed to cultivate.

A history of social and cultural practices, Home Feelings attempts to think through the particular durability of liberal thought. For example, the early-twentieth-century creation of a literacy for liberal citizenship that was primarily aimed at cultivating obedient and productive workers and that harnessed the sentimentality of the intimate public sphere shares much with current emphases on skills training for employment, individual adaptability, and family as a network of private support in precarious times.

(c) Canada Post 1999. Reproduced with permission.  A Postage Stamp which states' Education for All'

(c) Canada Post 1999. Reproduced with permission.

The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to Home Feelings:

“This book analyzes the production, use, and consumption of a print culture of liberal citizenship through a critical history of the early-twentieth-century Reading Camp Movement, employing an interdisciplinary approach that draws on social history, the history of reading, literary and cultural studies, and the sociology of culture in order to show how contests among non-state actors were important in shaping ideas about citizenship that may seem to be simply effects of postwar state policy. Eschewing the nation’s more frequently studied urban centres, the better-known state literacy and citizenship initiatives of the postwar period, and evolutionary narratives of social citizenship, I argue that literature, literacy, and citizenship were being brought into new relation and were subject to new kinds of meaning and contestation in early-twentieth-century Canada, particularly in the frontier work camps where Frontier College focused the efforts of its Reading Camp Movement. As the British Canadian settler majority sought to define itself in relation to an expanding non-British immigrant population and as capital’s need for non-British immigrant labour produced important social and political tensions, an early pedagogy for citizenship emerged that drew on the affective dimensions of citizenship (“home feelings”) as a means of engaging a principal adversary and interlocutor – socialist and communist print cultures and the non-British immigrant communities with which these were associated.

More broadly, the arguments of the book explore what Corrinne Harrol and Mark Simpson call “literary/liberal entanglement”: both emerging in the late seventeenth century, these paradigms share a “history of entanglement,” one “foundational to politics and culture across English-speaking liberal modernity.”[1] If state legal mechanisms for monitoring and controlling immigration proliferated during the decades under examination here, my interest is in how the Reading Camp Movement combined the cultural mechanisms of literature, literacy, and citizenship to encourage apparently benevolent forms of liberal selfhood, particularly among non-British immigrants. In the context of Frontier College’s early-twentieth-century work, older ideas about literacy and literature came to shape conceptions of citizenship and ideas about its cultivation: post-Enlightenment beliefs in literacy-as-progress and the particularly Victorian commitment to the prophylactic functions of books, literacy, and literature in the context of industrial capitalism … came to lend authority and purpose to emergent citizenship education efforts. Both literacy and citizenship served as important instruments of social distinction, differentiating those who could “give” them from those who – be they British or French Canadian workers, as in the earliest camps, or non-British immigrant workers, as was increasingly the case by the early 1910s – lacked them.

The Reading Camp Movement emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century from a social reform tradition deeply shaped by both the literacy-as-progress and literature-as-prophylactic arguments; it was also influenced, however, by a maternal-feminist ideology that privileged the family as the ideal site for the cultivation of the citizen. All of these forces coalesced in the association’s emphasis on literacy and the private consumption of books as tools of individual improvement, yet the association departed from the traditions of the reform-oriented workers’ education movement in its privileging of popular fiction and poetry, which Frontier College founder Alfred Fitzpatrick viewed as necessary proxies for the homes and families rendered absent by the needs of the labour-camp economy. As the organization came into contact with a state reluctant to support the use of these tools among adults and with an increasingly non-British immigrant and non-English speaking population of camp workers, it adapted its conception of literacy and moral citizenship to a pedagogy for “Canadianization,” an assimilative vision of citizenship that worked to consolidate settler prerogatives and to cultivate the individualism and autonomy of liberal selfhood. Literary forms retained an important place in this emergent pedagogy for citizenship, assuming the function of introducing the immigrant and his family to the interventions of the state. However, in the relief camps for the unemployed where Frontier College deployed its services during the 1930s, instructors turned from the language of citizenship – a term increasingly appropriated by the unemployed movement – towards poetry as a means of cultivating individual moral reflection and of encouraging individual responsibility to the family over commitments to collective organizing.

Importantly, all of these various interlacements of literary culture, literacy, and citizenship demonstrate the affective dimensions of liberal citizenship that are occluded in Habermasian analyses of the liberal public sphere and its “bourgeois reading public.” Attending consistently to the important role that women and family – and the more general affective dimensions of citizenship that I call “home feelings” – played in an emergent pedagogy for liberal citizenship, particularly as these informed the uses of literary culture as a counter to leftist political print, the chapters that follow reorient the analysis of Canadian citizenship away from the public sphere–focused approaches that have typified evolutionary liberal narratives of citizenship.[2] While the pedagogy for liberal citizenship that Frontier College deployed in frontier camps was far from stable – the respective values of literature, literacy, and citizenship shifted in response to the race and class relations of each period – the individualism that it promoted consistently endorsed the worker’s intimate relation to home and family as a crucial aspect of citizenship.

Those Frontier College commitments that produced a less receptive state response in the 1910s and 1920s – the critique of labour camp conditions, the dismantling of hierarchies of manual and mental labour, the democratization of access to public universities – were abandoned in the name of survival. More amenable to state interests was an argument, increasingly adopted by Frontier College, that proffered literacy and citizenship as remedies for a political threat that was identified with the non-British immigrant labour force, while attenuating focus on the exploitative labour relations of the industries that depended on the work camp. Yet if these early elaborations of the meanings of literacy, culture, and citizenship were important to the formation of state institutions in the postwar period, they were subject to significant contest in the first three decades of the twentieth century as Frontier College confronted various state bureaucracies and as it attempted to engage camp workers who interrogated or, more often, chose not to avail themselves of its versions of literacy or citizenship.”

[1] Corrine Harrol and Mark Simpson, “Introduction: Toward a Literary History for the Twenty-First Century.” In Literary/Liberal Entanglements: Toward a Literary History for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Harrol and Simpson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017), 7.

[2] See Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. by Thomas Burger (Boston: MIT Press, 1991).

Friday, September 25, 2020 in
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