French-Language Quebec Youth Identity Symposium at UW-Madison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Friday, February 15, 2008

CONTACT:    Ritt Deitz, Executive Director, UW-Madison Professional French Masters Program (608) 262-4090,

Historic Under-the-Radar French-Language Quebec Youth Identity Symposium at the UW-Madison French House on March 13.

MADISON—How do young people in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec  As they enter professional life in their twenties (and sometimes later), in a global age defined by international movement and rapidly shifting career expectations, is being a North American French speaker in Canada more important to them than it was to their parents?  Are they more likely than their elders to advocate for some form of separation from Canada, as many Québécois did in the build-up to the 1980 and 1995 referendums on sovereignty?  Or have those with feelings that would have been considered “separatist” twenty years ago turned their wishes into new forms of affiliation and solidarity?  Most urgently, what kind of impact has massive immigration into Quebec from non-Western countries, and affirmative-action-style provincial legislation known as “reasonable accommodations,” had on young French-speaking Québécois identity? identify themselves culturally?

These are the questions that visiting Quebec scholars and filmmakers will discuss at a one-day symposium, on Thursday, March 13, on the campus of the UW-Madison, at a French-language symposium called “Diversité culturelle et identité francophone:  la jeunesse québécoise et la crise des ‘accommodements raisonnables'” (Cultural Diversity and Francophone Identity:  Quebec Youth and the ‘Reasonable Accommodations’ Crisis).  As public debate has raged in Quebec over the last year, regarding laws that accommodate particular cultural practices among immigrants in particular (while seeming to ignore practices affiliated with Catholicism and other French-Canadian traditions), academics have engaged the public and each other in a particularly intense way.

One young intellectual in particular—sociology doctoral student Mathieu Bock-Côté—published a book last fall that gained him a lot of very sudden media attention.  In La Dénationalisation tranquille (“The Tranquil Denationalization”—a play on the 1960’s society-changing “Tranquil Revolution” that stimulated a new national thinking among Quebec’s French-speaking majority), this 29 year-old Quebec nationalist harshly criticizes several of his intellectual elders of the previous generation for abandoning all academic interest in understanding (let alone celebrating) the French-Canadian heritage of Quebec’s francophone majority, in favor of what he sees as a facile, postmodern, “multicultural” reading of modern Quebec identity.

Bock-Côté will be at the Madison symposium, alongside eminent Laval University (QuébecCity) historian Jocelyn Létourneau, one of the two main targets in Bock-Côté’s book, and University of Quebec sociologist Mircea Vultur, whose research deals heavily with professional and cultural trends among young Québécois.  One Québécois student at the UW-Madison told Professional French Masters Program Executive Director Ritt Deitz that her brother-in-law was “looking into round-trip tickets from Montreal” just so he could see Bock-Côté “debate” Létourneau in Madison, Wisconsin, and that it “blew her away” that such a current (and heated) discussion of immigration, identity, language and culture in Quebec would be taking place in the American Midwest.

The March 13 symposium will feature two round-table discussions.  The first, “Youth Perspectives,” will start at 8:30 a.m. and feature four young Francophones.  In attendance will be Christian Laurence and Jéricho Jeudy, co-founders of the Montréal-based (and now world-wide) digital-video and filmmaking collaborative KINO’00.  (Both were instrumental in the creation of local KINO chapter Wis-Kino in 2002, along with Chad Vader co-creators Aaron Yonda and Matt sloan.)  Two French-Canadian graduate students, Geneviève Dorais (a lifelong Montrealer doing doctoral work in Latin American history at the UW-Madison) and Renée Anne Poulin (a French-Canadian from Sudbury, Ontario) will complete the first roundtable.

The second and final roundtable will feature authors Bock-Côté, Létourneau and Vultur.  The symposium is free and open to the public and will end at noon.  All presentations and discussions will take place in the French language.

Symposium Schedule:  Thursday, March 13, 2008

(Round tables, coffee break and discussion take place at the French House, 633 N. Frances Street, Madison, WI 53703)

8:30am  Opening remarks by Aliko Songolo (Chair, Department of French and Italian) and Ritt Deitz (Executive Director, Professional French Masters Program and symposium organizer).

9 am  “Youth Perspectives” Round Table

10am Coffee break

10:15 “Researchers’ Perspectives” Round Table

11-noon:  Discussion and Debate

Notes on the Authors and Organizers

Mathieu Bock-Côté is a doctoral student in sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal and author of La Dénationalisation tranquille (Editions Boréal, 2007).

Jocelyn Létourneau is a historian at the Université Laval (Québec City) and author of many books, most recently Que veulent vraiment les Québécois? (What Do the Québécois Really Want?), published by Editions Boréal, 2006.

Mirceau Vultur is a sociologist and researcher at the Centre Urbanisation, Culture et Société  at the Quebec National Institute for Scientific Research in Quebec City and co-editor of Les jeunes et le travail (Youth and the Working World), published in 2007 by the Presses de l’Université Laval.

Ritt Deitz is Executive Director of the UW-Madison Professional French Masters Program (, an interdisciplinary French graduate program for students fluent in French but who want to work using French internationally outside academe.  PFMP students do professional internships in business, international education, European Union affairs, international development, and media / arts / cultural production, all in French-speaking countries, as part of their degree program.  Deitz teaches a course every year in the program on Quebec culture and society and screened La Colonie, his 2003 musical mockumentary about a Québécois invasion of Wisconsin, at festivals in Madison and Paris.