Further Information

This on-line bibliography has been created by the Culture-from-Below Research Group, directed by Prof. Roxanne Rimstead in collaboration with several research assistants working toward an M.A. or Ph.D. in Comparative Canadian Literature / Littérature canadienne comparée at the Université de Sherbrooke (Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada). Our research work is funded by SSHRC and FQRSC.

This on-line bibliography is a work in progress. The goal of the three-part bibliography is to share research tools for further work on Canadian culture from below with literary and cultural studies scholars, students, activists, social scientists, service providers, and people from below who wish to write their own stories.

The bibliography includes primary sources on domestics, prisoners, prostitutes, the unemployed, the homeless, and those on welfare, political radicalism, and youth culture in Canada and Québec as represented in genres such as novels, short stories, life writing, reportage, films, personal essays, plays, and poetry in English and French. The secondary sources include selected international theory of analyzing and understanding representations of culture from below. Furthermore, there is a special section devoted to women, specifically on women in need, women on the streets, and women in service, and on radical knowledge about testimony by these women.


A Three-Part Bibliography on Culture from Below in Canada

Part I of this bibliography, posted in March 2008, is on primary sources that give expression to the lives and stories of domestics, prisoners, prostitutes, the unemployed, the homeless and those on welfare, political radicalism, and youth culture in French and English. These voices from below appear in both high and popular culture in Canada. For this reason, the bibliography includes genres such as novels, short stories, life writing, reportage, films, personal essays, plays, and poetry in English and French.

Part II of this bibliography, posted in Spring 2009, is on selected secondary sources on the theory of analyzing and understanding representations of culture from below. It will include both Canadian and international sources to provide a broad conceptual basis for interpreting representations of domestics, prisoners, prostitutes, the unemployed, the homeless, and those on welfare, political radicalism, and youth culture.

Part III of this bibliography, also posted in Spring 2009, is focussed on women in need, women on the streets, and women in service. This bibliography consists of testimonies and stories by and about poor women and women on welfare, prostitutes, homeless women, and domestics in Canadian and Québécois culture. It will also contain a section on theory and radical knowledge, including selected international sources on radical knowledge about testimony by these groups of women.


What is Culture from Below?

Culture from below as a concept originated in British Cultural Studies in mid-twentieth century, but the feeling of being lower than others in a hierarchy based on social power and status is age-old and exists in the popular and literary imagination as studied by Stallysbrass and White, Hall, Williams, and Willis.

Although seldom used these days, “culture from below” is a promising concept to describe the subculture or counterculture of certain excluded members of society who are economically disenfranchised or deprived of voice according to class, status, or economic hierarchy. In its early days, the concept was used to describe the neighbourhood culture of the working class in Britain, especially when discussed by Marxist critics and the early “culturalist” school within British cultural studies (Thompson, Hoggart, Williams, Hall et al.). Later studies in Britain gave over to less local and cohesive group identities in subculture studies (Hebdige, Willis, Hall et al.).
In Canada, however, cultural studies has largely avoided identification with economically disenfranchised and impoverished groups (Blundell et al.). We have seen the notion of culture from below supplanted by the less class-bound notions “popular” and “mass” culture and focus on ethnic and gendered identities rather than class or poverty.

This project adapts the concept of culture from below for Canadian contexts. It applies a less homogenizing and nostalgic model than that of working-class culture in the past and one that is not tied to stable class categories, in order to help us understand the voices of diverse disenfranchised groups in a shifting economic and social context. It does not replace working-class culture, however; it overlaps with working-class culture. We selected specific groups of subjects for greater focus, but our list of subjects is not comprehensive, simply representative: prisoners, the unemployed, political radicals, youth, the homeless, and people on welfare. Even among our selected groups of subjects there are significant shifts and overlaps.

In order to better understand culture from below, this bibliography includes voices from both below and above to see how a whole society generates the notion of culture from below about certain groups of subjects. In Canadian literary studies, relatively little attention has been given to economically marginalized subjects within the wealthy nation. This bibliography demonstrates how important figures of culture from below are to Canadian fiction, life writing, poetry, children’s literature, film, theatre, and reportage.


Research Projects by Roxanne Rimstead

Disturbing Memories: Counter Memory and Culture from Below (SSHRC standard research grant, 2005-2009)

How are the unemployed, prisoners, youth, and political radicals remembered and forgotten within the nation, how do these subjects remember their own experiences, and how do they resist exclusion through counter memory? Remembering and forgetting are strategies used to construct a sense of preferred national history.
Repeated performances of the past, for example in the form of official histories, stereotypes, visual icons, and government documents, are used to define and position cultural others in respect to more powerful groups within the nation. Economically and politically marginalized groups may be subject to “organized forgetting” or cultural amnesia if their dissent disturbs the national imaginary of the wealthy, prosperous nation.

As a means of resistance, poor subjects and political radicals may perform acts of counter memory which challenge not only their own marginalization, but also the Canadian dream and meritocracy. When “disturbing memories” are inscribed through life stories, novels, autobiographies, poems, oral histories, street art, graffiti, and films, they may have the power to challenge the national imaginary. Whether in the form of visual, textual, or oral memories, performances of the past need to be understood in terms of the cultural forms through which they speak and the cultural politics of being heard in the present.

This study will be of use to students, professors, political activists, and advocates for social justice because it will help democratise our knowledge of culture from below and critique the relation of memory acts to political possibilities. This research will also offer students an introduction to and a critique of both cultural memory and culture from below as fields of analysis.

This original and timely research represents initiative in three fields of knowledge which are currently under-represented in Canadian cultural studies -- namely poverty and working-class studies, comparative Canadian studies of French and English culture, and the emergent field of memory studies. At least four aspects of the inquiry will be of interest beyond national borders: the refinement of theories of cultural memory by and about economically marginalized subjects; the development of original close reading strategies; the discussion of how diverse cultural forms shape memory acts and are shaped by them in turn; and the problematisation of the category of culture from below. A public website will offer an annotated bibliography of images, works, and criticism that may be consulted by experts and the public. The critical readings will form the basis of an illustrated book-length study on memory acts and reading strategies.


L’interprétation des témoignages, des autobiographies et des récits littéraires comme savoir radical : les récits de pauvreté sur les femmes dans le besoin, les femmes dans la rue et les femmes "en service" (FQRSC Programme d'appui aux projets novateurs 2006-2008)

This interdisciplinary study will recover and construct radical knowledge about four specific groups of poor women and the social space they inhabit in Canada and Québec, while taking into account the ethics of this knowledge construction. It will bring reading methods from the humanities to bear on questions about poverty from the social sciences.

This project responds to current attempts by literary critics and social science experts to understand the standpoint of women on welfare, homeless women, domestics, and prostitutes by reading their first-hand accounts. It also takes into account epistemological problems of representing experience and making truth claims based on experience (Ireland).

The general objectives of the study will be threefold: 1. to analyse how these women make meaning of their experiences and construct a sense of self and community mediated by experiences of welfare, domestic work, homelessness, and the sex trade; 2. to suggest how readers of such stories might, in turn, make meaning of life stories alongside literary works, social icons, and official documents on these women; and 3. to understand how these narratives can be interpreted as sites of alternative forms of knowledge for advocacy and for policy formation.

I chose these four groups of women as a focus because the literature on domestics, prostitutes, bag ladies, and welfare mothers is compelling and the social space they occupy is particularly problematic. Many limiting and flattened images of them have become entrenched in the language of policy formation, public opinion, academic inquiries, and their own self-images. This project will launch a "cultural" book and a public website for service providers and humanities researchers. I expect poor and once-poor women authoring their own life stories to consult the site as well.


The Culture-from-Below Research Group:

This website has been created by Prof. Roxanne Rimstead and students from the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Comparative Canadian Literature at Université de Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.  The students’ names appear after the section of the bibliography on which they collaborated. The bibliography is edited by Natasha Dagenais and Roxanne Rimstead. The technical support for the site is offered by Marc-André Dulude, an M.A. student from the Communication program at Sherbrooke.

Roxanne Rimstead has published internationally on cultural studies, feminist criticism, textual resistance, working-class culture, poverty and literature, oral histories, and Canadian Literature(s). Her book Remnants of Nation: On Poverty Narratives by Women appeared in 2001 (U of Toronto P) and won the Gabrielle Roy Prize. An early essay on Emily Carr’s Klee Wyck won the Don D. Walker Award (Western Literature Association). In 2003 she guest-edited a special issue of Essays on Canadian Writing called Cultural Memory and Social Identity. A full professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, she teaches Comparative Canadian Literature / Littérature canadienne comparée and English and Intercultural Studies / Études anglaises et interculturelles. She is a member of the editorial boards of Canadian Literature and Race, Gender & Class: An Interdisciplinary and Multicultural Journal (SUNO). Her current research is on culture from below as a concept to be reworked within cultural studies. She is also a member of a bilingual research team headed by Simon Harel (CELAT) called Zones de tension : expressions de la conflictualité dans la littérature québécoise et canadienne 1981-2006.

Michelle Ariss is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Canadian Literature at the Université de Sherbrooke under the direction of Dr. Roxanne Rimstead. The subject of her SSHRC and FQRSC funded research is the cultural work of a book review magazine, with specific focus on Books in Canada and Lettres québécoises. She taught language and literature courses in the English Department of the Université de Moncton for six years; she is currently a chargée de cours teaching editing at the Université de Sherbrooke. A reviewer and Contributing Editor to Books in Canada, she holds an M.A. in English Literature from Queen’s and an M.A. in English Teaching from the Institute of Education, University of London. For the Culture-from-Below project, she is working on the homeless, on women in need, and on welfare.

Natasha Dagenais obtained her Ph.D. in Comparative Canadian Literature at the Université de Sherbrooke in 2008. The title of her dissertation is “Testimonial Life Writing as Cultural Survival: Indigenous Voices from Canada and West Africa,” an intercultural study of life writing by Indigenous subjects as a site of testimony to personal and collective survival. Her research interests include Canadian Literature, Indigenous writing from Canada and Africa, testimony, prison narratives, poetry, and literary translation. For the Culture-from-Below research project, she worked on domestics and prisoners. In addition, she is currently editing the online bibliography on Culture from Below.

Christophe Degaule has been teaching French since 1994. He is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Canadian Literature at the Université de Sherbrooke. His dissertation is about the confrontation of cultures, specifically hegemonic culture and culture from below, in the television series Les Bougon, c’est aussi ça la vie! He also has an M.A. in communication. For the Culture-from-Below research project, he is working on films and television series.

François Desharnais is an M.A. student working on his thesis about the intercultural implications of death in Brian Moore’s Black Robe and Lee Maracle’s Ravensong. He teaches workshops on improvisation and is an active participant in dramatic improvisation.

Luis Dominguez is an M.A. candidate from the Université de Sherbrooke working on testimonies by indigenous subjects in Canada and Latin America. He worked for the project in its early stages and is now completing his thesis and living and working in Montréal.

Marc-André Dulude is an M.A. student from the Department of Communication at the Université de Sherbrooke. He is working on the motivations of actors-contributors of the Free / Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) community in Quebec. He is also the webmaster for this project. Il est étudiant à la maîtrise en communication. Son projet porte sur les motivations des acteurs-contributeurs québécois au phénomène du logiciel libre et Open Source au Québec. Il est aussi le webmestre du projet.

Jackie Hall graduated in 2008 with an M.A. in Canadian Comparative Literature from the Université de Sherbrooke. The focus of her research has been the cultural construction of the female body, theory on the body, feminist theory, and feminist literary criticism. Within literary texts she explores the agency of the body, the body as access to knowledge and as resistance to the cultural construction inscribed on the female form.

Dominique Hétu est étudiante à la maîtrise en littérature canadienne comparée à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Son mémoire porte sur les représentations des luttes quotidiennes dans les espaces urbains dans la littérature moderne et contemporaine du Québec et du Canada. Pour le projet de recherche Culture from Below, elle travaille sur la troisième section, Les femmes et la culture d’en bas / Women and Culture from Below.

Linda Goin is an M.A. student working on "Black Determined Mothering as a Social Construct and Strategy to Articulate Resistance in Novels by Black Female Writers from Britain, Canada, and Nigeria."

Amir Hossein Roostaee is an M.A. student in Comparative Canadian Literature at the Université de Sherbrooke. The subject of his Master’s thesis is a comparison of Iranian love poems by Forough Farokhzad and Canadian love poems by Dorothy Livesay. For the Culture-from-Below research project, he is working on Political Radicalism.

Zahra Roostaee is an M.A. student in Comparative Canadian Literature at the Université de Sherbrooke. Her research interest lies in children’s literature, and the title of her Master’s thesis is “The Reception of the Harry Potter Series in Iran and Canada.” For the Culture-from-Below research project, she is working on Youth.