Cultural Ambivalence and the Aura of Newfoundland

Interdisciplinary PhD project at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in progress

Based on a deeply interdisciplinary approach, the project develops cultural ambivalence as a distinct and potentially creative analytical device and applies it to Newfoundland as a most rewarding object of study. Ambivalence is here conceived as the simultaneous relevance of two opposing concepts or values, and culture is understood as a particular way of life of a people, period, or group. The project's objective is two-fold. First, it aims to establish cultural ambivalence as a potent research lens applicable to diverse locales and phenomena; second it seeks to enrich and revalue the perception of Newfoundland from inside as well as from outside the province. The latter will be achieved by reinterpreting a number of alleged cultural, social, and economic fissures, tensions, or inconsistencies as belonging to a coherent network of instances of cultural ambivalence that radiates a site-specific aura in the Benjaminian sense.

Past and present instances of cultural ambivalence in Newfoundland identified, analyzed, and interrelated include: favouring and opposing settlement by British stakeholders in the eighteenth century; autonomy and dependence in nineteenth century outports; 'modernization' and cultural preservation in the post-confederation era; historical centrality and socioeconomic remoteness; attachment to and exploitation of the land; and experiences of settler Newfoundlanders of being both colonizers and colonized.

Notably, by embedding the ambivalence of concurrent strong attachment to the land and often termless resource exploitation in a larger culturally ambivalent scenario, and by fathoming its creative potential, the project will contribute to the development of alternative approaches of reconciling conflicting interests of environmental preservation and economic stability or growth − a highly relevant topic not only in Newfoundland but, I suggest, of particular momentum here. The investigation of the highly sensitive and certainly controversial question of whether settler Newfoundlanders can be both colonizers and colonized, and what creative potential that view might possibly imply, has the makings to enhance the socially not less relevant discourse on Indigenous/settler relations in Newfoundland.

The project also includes the creation of visual and multimedia artworks to augment the scholarly findings and raise their accessibility.

Project sketch, last updated January 2021

Regarding Uncertainty, Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, 21-23 May 2019

Presentation on Creative Ambivalence: Abstract, Slides


Creative Ambivalence, series of digital montages, 2019

[Newfound] Land as..., series of digital montages, 2020

The project is supported and spurred by my supervisory team, Dr. Jennifer Dyer (Arts and Humanities, Cultural Studies), Dr. Stephen Crocker (Sociology, Media Studies, Globalization), and Dr. Valerie Legge (Literary Studies, Critical Theory), as well as by scholars from the fields of Anthropology, Archaeology, Philosophy, and Settler Colonial Studies at Memorial University and beyond.

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