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The Ottawa-Gatineau region is unique. Intersected by the country’s most symbolically charged provincial border, the region is characterised by a particular dynamic influenced by the border that, on several levels, represents a major spatial discontinuity despite the long period it has been in place. Populations, cultures, and practices, along with legislation and law, are different on both sides of the border. Yet the border does not present substantial obstacles to the exchanges and interactions of everyday life. In some respects, the activities of individuals in the region limit the risks of Canadian dislocation by fostering a transboundary territoriality both for individuals and groups as the cradle for a new Canadian identity.

 

Objectives:

This research project seeks to shed light on the intrinsically ambiguous and contradictory effects of the border in the region known as the National Capital. Based on the premise that the border modulates the spatial practices of individuals and groups who live in the region, and who have appropriated the border both symbolically and materially, the project aims to reconstruct their everyday experiences of places and spaces that the border separates and brings together. The study examines the practices and representations associated with the border, the unique cultures it helps create, the collective identities that emanate from its existence, as well as the political actions that fuel it. The study will show how these historically structured border features are taking on a new character in the contemporary context of the relations that develop between the populations of Ottawa and Gatineau under the influence of the larger environment. Inspired by the most recent work on the border concept, we are focusing on the following three dimensions: the border as a barrier, an interface, and a territory. Our analysis of the processes surrounding the construction of the border will be based on the theoretical and methodological propositions involved in the study of everyday spatial practices. Narrative, which asserts not only progression, practices and representations, but also strategies and ploys, will be our material. Our attention will focus on minority populations, who tend to be more vulnerable and prone to putting in place certain strategies for benefiting from the opportunity structure offered by the border. The targeted groups include official language minorities, populations of new arrivals, gays and lesbians, single mothers, and homeless youth. Each of the targeted groups acts according to a different logic in regional space. 

 

Methodology:

Stage 1.  Establishing the context: the region, its populations (2007-2008). Not much is known about Ottawa-Gatineau’s social space. Different initiatives by public groups have, nevertheless, highlighted certain characteristics of the region’s social space. We will seek out these traits and analyze them, paying particular attention to border-related issues. This first stage of research also seeks to build a solid base of information on the target populations through existing data on the groups (census, surveys, etc.), along with their organisations and institutions. It also seeks to conduct deeper analysis of directly and indirectly related programs and policies, at different levels of government, and the issues they raise regarding the management and delivery of services. Information-gathering will take several forms, including initial document review as well as interviews with organizational representatives.

Stage 2.  Collecting narrative through discussions with individuals and groups (2008-2009). Of all the approaches used to reconstruct the everyday, the interview is the most common. We will focus on this approach to conduct two types of interviews: group interviews (10 to 12 participants) to identify the issues surrounding the border experiences of the different target populations and individual interviews to deepen our understanding of different aspects of the experience. The goal of these interviews is not only to explicate the realities of the participants with respect to spaces and places in different contexts (living, appropriation, production, consumption, relaxation, management, etc.), but also to reveal the tensions and contradictions that enter into their relationships with social space. Interview themes are expected to include difference, belonging, segregation, exclusion, identity, and power in relation to the concept of borders. 

Stage 3.  Analysis and synthesis: the reconstruction of social space and the border effect (2009-2010). The information gathered through the interviews, especially the regional social space constructed through the process, will be analyzed during the third year of the project. In addition to transcribing the proceedings of the interviews, the research team will conduct an in-depth analysis of the content. Initially, the narratives related to each particular group will be studied in detail. A comparative analysis will then be carried out to determine the differences and similarities between the groups’ spheres of reference.

 

The scope:

Situated at a practice/theory interface, this project is a deliberate effort to show that the border continually acts as a structuring factor of the region’s social conditions. Whereas globalization, both economic and cultural, has led many to somewhat hastily declare the “end of territory”, one of the goals of the project is to renew interest in one of geography’s key concepts by illustrating its scope in understanding the everyday geography of certain of Ottawa-Gatineau’s more marginal groups.

 

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