29/04/2021 – Making Middle-Class Multiculturalism: Immigration Bureaucrats and Policymaking in Postwar Canada.

In the 1950s and 1960s, immigration bureaucrats in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration played an important yet unacknowledged role in transforming Canada’s explicitly racist immigration policy into a formally universal one. In response to external economic and political pressures for change, high-level bureaucrats developed new admissions criteria gradually and experimentally while personally processing thousands of individual immigration cases per year. Making Middle-Class Multiculturalism shows how state agents’ perceptions and judgments about the admissibility of individuals – in socioeconomic, racial, and moral terms – influenced the creation of formal admissions criteria for skilled workers and family immigrants that continue to shape immigration to Canada. A qualitative content analysis of archival documents, conducted through the theoretical lens of a cultural sociology of immigration policy, reveals that bureaucrats’ interpretations of immigration files generated selection criteria emphasizing not just economic utility, but also middle-class traits and values such as wealth accumulation, educational attainment, entrepreneurial spirit, resourcefulness, and a strong work ethic. By making “middle-class multiculturalism” a demographic reality and basis of nation-building in Canada, these state actors created a much-admired approach to managing racial diversity that has generated significant social inequalities for immigrants and Canadian-born alike.

About the speaker

Jennifer Elrick holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto and joined the Department of Sociology at McGill University as Assistant Professor in 2016. Her research explores how states define their populations, e.g. through statistical classifications and immigration policy, and the forms of social stratification that emerge as a result. Her most recent work focuses on immigration policy and policymaking in Canada and Germany and is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC).

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