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Collection « Les sciences sociales contemporaines »

Reflections: Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia. (2005)

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir du livre, Reflections: Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia. Commemorative Volume with Essays by Pieter J. de Vries, Gerald Dewey, Roberta Hamilton, and John D. Jackson. Edited by Jean-Philippe Warren, Anouk Bélanger, Sally Cole, Christine Jourdan, Joseph Smucker, and Anthony Synnott. Montréal: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, 2005, 102 pp. Une édition numérique réalisée par Marcelle Bergeron, bénévole, professeure retraitée de l'enseignement à l'école polyvalente Dominique-Racine de Chicoutimi. [Autorisation accordée par Jean-Philippe Warren le 19 mars 2008 de diffuser ce livre dans Les Classiques des sciences sociales.]


forty and flying 

Those were the days ! 

Those were the days when professors, fitting the description of a 1968 student, often "smoked like a defunct locomotive, spilling their "cinders" over their suit, and when finished, used to grind the Gaulloises into the floor." 

Those were the days when you might be hired by a midnight phone call from future colleagues offering you a job at Sir George or Loyola if you were crazy enough to accept it. 

Those were the days when student and faculty activism held strong, and when sit-ins, strikes, and protests were a natural dimension of university life. 

Those were the days when what was to become the Concordia University Department of Sociology and Anthropology was created. 


In 1918 the Loyola School of Sociology and Social Service was located in the facilities of Bourget Academy on Mountain Street. Despite its name it was essentially a school of social work. The prehistory of the Department really started at Sir George Williams with Harold Potter, a sociologist, whose background was with the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) on Drummond Street. Potter hired Kurt Jonassohn in 1961, whom he knew from the Y, and who completed an MA degree at McGill University before heading off to Chicago. They hired Hubert Guindon in 1962, a Franco-Ontarian, also finishing up at Chicago, and they then hired John Jackson, with a YMCA background, who had just finished his PhD at Michigan State University on French-English relations in a small Ontario town. 

The Department of Sociology at Sir George was founded in 1963 and the following year it received the Department of Sociology and Anthropology designation – but formal degree programs in Sociology were not offered at Loyola College before 1966. Both Departments nourished an activist culture, had deep roots in the Montreal community, and showed a commitment to a bi-cultural reality. Through all the changes over the decades, this trinity has persisted. 

As the stories told by Gerald Dewey, Pieter de Vries, Roberta Hamilton, and John Jackson make clear, the 1960s and 1970s were turbulent decades. Many students were demanding increased roles in government and the democratization of the university. The Quiet Revolution had already begun in Québec. The Civil Rights movement, Women's Movement, and the Black Power movement were engaging gender and racial inequality in the United States. And independence movements were sweeping Africa and the Caribbean. But in Montréal, at Loyola and Sir George this activism mainly came from four sources : a) the social gospel tradition of the YMCA at Sir George and the Jesuit grounding of education at Loyola ; b) the popularity of sociology in an era of belief in social reform ; c) the influence of the "Chicago School" with its emphasis on field work ; and increasingly d) Marxism (later replaced by the three world label 'Marxism-Leninism-Maoism'). 

Whatever the influences, at the heart of student activism on campus were students in sociology, according to this 1967 report :


The sudden, almost unbelievable rise of ardent student activism on this campus is not, we believe, accidental. [...]
Those of you who know the people who have been most intimately involved in the activist cause already are aware that these people have, very abruptly, undergone a very obvious and remarkable change in personality.
Frank Brayton was last year entirely apolitical. This year, he is of the political persuasion so far left that it exceeds the political spectrum by several degrees.
Max Ross last year sat unobtrusively as an N.D.P. member of Model Parliament. Early this year he was instrumental in the formation of COMFRU [Committee for a Free University], the ultra-activist organization, that initiated the Bookstore Strike and participated in the McGill sit-ins.
Why ?
Brayton and Ross, as well as Ray Lazanick, Anna Marie Hill, and other members of the COMFRU hierarchy all major or honour in Sociology." [1]


Then came the Sir George "riots" of 1969, which put Sir George Williams University on the international map. This was a loss of innocence. The destruction of the university computer in the brand new Hall Building also symbolized, as Jackson argues, the end of the old style education system and the beginning of mass university education : the factory production system of truths and beliefs. In the old days, Department meetings were held in the university cafeteria on the seventh floor of the Henry Hall Building and in the old seminar room of the Loyola Campus, around a table in a haze of cigarette smoke. Professors, it was said, knew every student by name. After 1968, new rules were put in place to deal with student grievances which began to distance professors and students. And the university kept expanding. 

In 1974 the merger of Sir George Williams University and Loyola College took place. The two traditions could hardly have been more different. The populist, working class, Chicago school, Protestant, YMCA tradition of Sir George and the Catholic, Jesuit run, private school tradition of Ignatius Loyola. The iconic founders were Sir George, an English Victorian gentleman, and St. Ignatius, a visionary Spanish 16th century mystic and missionary. The two Departments merged reasonably well, with meetings alternating from one campus to the other, Chairs alternating, and faculty often teaching in both places. 

The merger was a turning point in the ideology of the Department. Until then both Loyola and Sir George had both been teaching departments. Publications were not expected and grants were virtually non-existent. But in the 1970s and 1980s, with the establishment of both federal and provincial granting agencies and increased graduate training in Canadian universities, the pendulum began to swing to emphasize the need for faculty, in addition to teaching, to conduct research, apply for funding and publish the results of their research.

Today : 40 years later 

From the beginning faculty members have shown impressive dynamism. In the sixties, as Jackson recalls, Kurt Jonassohn was assisting his colleagues in the development of the Summer School. This was a great initiative as many distinguished foreign scholars were invited to teach here in the summer and enjoy Montréal, which they did. But this was only one of hundreds of ongoing projects put forth by faculty over the years. We by no means venture to draw a complete list : research on theory, genocides, nationalism, feminism, social problems, media, democracy, justice, immigration, globalization, identities, youth, gender, modernity and postmodernity, senses, industrialization, citizenship, and so many more topics have been explored on many different regions of the globe around the five continents. At the same time new faculty were being hired and the Anthropology side of the Department – which really started in 1967 with the hiring of Norman Klein as the first full time Anthropologist – was being strengthened and expanded with new hires. 

Today, the Department continues to build on this tradition and to flourish. Enrollments continue to climb. We now have well over 1,500 program students at the undergraduate level. We are graduating about 20 MA students every year, many of whom have in turn gone on to publish books and articles from their theses. We now have 26 full time faculty (among which is a Canada Research Chair and a Concordia Research Chair) and about the same number of part-time faculty, plus 6 Limited Term Appointment and 1 Extended Term Appointment. 

This numerical expansion has been matched by enormous productivity and creativity at all levels. The undergraduate students, under the leadership of LTA Louise Gauthier, in 2001 launched a series entitled "Stories from Montreal" of the best ethnographic essays produced in the Fieldwork course. Two volumes have been published with two more in process. The graduate students now run an international conference every year, with participants from across Québec, Ontario, and the Maritimes as well as New York State. 

The faculty have published 36 books since 1999, and scores of articles and chapters in books. This is an amazing creation and distribution of knowledge. The Department also runs a number of research centres. Many of our faculty are editors or on the boards of a large number of organizations, journals or societies. This, of course, is an extraordinarily wide range of interests and skills available to our students.


Who Knew ? 

In the end, one of the most striking aspects of the 40 year old Department is the speed of change. Who knew that the massive computer churning out computer cards not so long ago would be replaced by small laptops which almost everyone has ? And that some 40 or 50 computers would be available for student use in the Department ? Who knew that smoking would be banned ? That the Annexe on Bishop, a favorite haunt on Fridays, and serving only two pint bottles of beer, to the horror of visiting Americans, would become a Brazilian restaurant ? That the practice of fraternizing with students in pubs at the end of term would decline so drastically ? That the new Hall Building would pale into insignificance beside the even newer state of the art Engineering and Science buildings which have just gone up downtown and at Loyola ? That some of our former students would morph into our faculty ? That almost all of our faculty would have research grants ? That from a nearly all-male faculty in the mid-60s, the majority today would be women ? That an English-dominated Department would turn out to be increasingly bi-lingual (and in fact multi-lingual) ? That our students would be publishing books of their own work which have been used as texts both at different universities ? That more and more international students would select our Department in which to study ? 

A striking aspect of our Department is the extraordinarily high levels of student satisfaction with the teaching in the Department. Every five years all departments in Québec are evaluated by the Ministry of Education, and the University (not the Department) surveys students according to the ministry demands. The survey conducted in 2004 on a random sample of students found that at the undergraduate level, 90% of the students found the courses well taught, 93% thought that the courses fairly reflected gender and ethnic diversity, 97% reported that all views are treated with equal respect and 94% agreed that overall the quality of instruction is high. It does not get much better than that – except that graduate students reported even higher levels of satisfaction ! 

Now we have moved into totally renovated new quarters in the Hall Building. Previously scattered over four buildings on two campuses, we are now together on one floor for the first time since the merger and, cyclically, in the same building in which the Department was housed 40 years ago. Plus ça change... ! 

On our 40th Anniversary, then, we have much to celebrate, and much to be proud of. We take this occasion to salute our predecessors who founded and helped to build this Department : staff, faculty, students, and administrators.


Anouk Bélanger
Sally Cole
Christine Jourdan
Joseph Smucker
Anthony Synnott
Jean-Philippe Warren

[1] "Hoax Revealed ? Beware : These Men May Be the Perpetrators of a Terrible Hoax", The Georgian, December 5, 1967, p. 5.

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Jean-Marc Fontan, sociologue, UQAM Dernière mise à jour de cette page le jeudi 7 août 2008 16:26
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur de sociologie au Cégep de Chicoutimi.

Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean, Québec
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