Sociocultural ambivalence and the aura of Newfoundland

since 2018 and in progress

Underlying my interdisciplinary doctoral studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland is the observation that Newfoundland has a unique aura which cannot be explained by either historical, political, social, or environmental factors alone. The thesis is that, rather, it is the result of the universal, yet little reflected upon, phenomenon of ambivalence, i.e. the simultaneous relevance of two opposing values or concepts inherent to a single scenario.

Unlike ambiguity which stands for an uncertainty emerging from two opposite yet equally desirable or choosable options, ambivalence stands for the embracement of the opposition instead. Ambivalence differs from dichotomy and duality by not being exhausted by two mutually exclusive poles but being able to accommodate attributes that evade the opposition. This space between the poles, which enables the embracement of their opposition, allows ambivalence to defy its purely pejorative connotation by opening up the potential for creativity and productivity.

Ambivalence has occured in Newfoundland in a number of sociocultural contexts since the settlement from Europe, sometimes impeding creativity and development and at others stimulating them: (1) the centrality and remoteness of the island in historical and early modern economic contexts; (2) the autonomy and dependence Newfoundlanders have long been exposed to within the merchant credit system; (3) the dignity (within the outports) and powerlessness (towards environment, economy and politics) that shaped their lives; (4) the role of white Newfoundlanders as colonizers and those colonized; (5) their imaginary indigeneity and the cherishing of a European heritage; (6) the tradition-eroding "modernization" after confederation and concurrent efforts to preserve those traditions; (7) nostalgia and experimentation in the "Newfoundland Renaissance;" and (8) Newfoundlanders' attachment to the land and their obsession with resource development.

The reverberations of these ambivalences, I argue, are palpable in Newfoundland today. By tracing and analyzing ambivalence in contemporary Newfoundland on collective, individual and institutional levels, novel trajectories of understanding the local society and culture will be developed. Furthermore, the concept of ambivalence will be established as an alternative research lens that allows for the identification of new types of connectedness and differentiation between places across cultural, political, and geographic spheres.

The academic findings will be augmented by photography, video and sound pieces of both documentary and artistic character. Ultimately, an illustrated publication will be connected to digital resources online. The idea is to interweave scholarly argumentation and outcome with multimedia artworks to stimulate the eye, the ear and the brain.

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