Media @ McGill

“Territory and Society in North America”


By William Straw

Since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, in 1994, academics in Canada and Mexico have sought to build solid structures for ongoing collaboration and exchange. The Associacion mexicana de estudios sobre Canada (AMEC) was born before NAFTA, in 1992, but AMEC's subsequent growth has been spurred by economic integration at the continental level. Conferences such as this one allow scholars to share their work in contexts wherein the relationship of Mexico and Canada is a central concern, not just a minor distraction from the larger question of both countries' positions vis-à-vis the United States.

“Territory and Society in North America”, the Association's 12th conference, confirmed the lively and productive traffic in ideas and scholars which now flows between Canada and Mexico. Attendees at the conference included over 50 Mexican undergraduates from North American Studies programs, drawn to the event by their interest in Canada. Some 20 Canadian academics presented papers, in keynote or panel sessions, with the University of Alberta and McGill the best represented of Canadian institutions. Representatives of both Canadian Embassy and Délégation générale du Québec addressed the conference, in separate events strategically placed at opposite ends of the schedule.

Media and culture were not the primary themes of this year's AMEC conference, but they were the focus of many lively and well-attended sessions. A decade ago, Mexican and Canadian media scholarship might have been marked by its preoccupation with the United States, with the most visible signs of media industry power. This year, presentations were more likely to focus on those lower level media which function more invisibly to bind countries and populations, like the money remittance systems for immigrants analyzed by Jenny Burman and Susana Vargas Cervantes or the print advertisements devised by the Seagram's company, a half-century ago, as it sought to build factories in Mexico and markets for tequila in Canada (this was the focus of a paper by McGill Communications student Lisa Sumner.) Media@McGill member Will Straw offered an analysis of the free daily newspapers which have transformed journalism and reading habits across the Western world. This is a phenomenon whose roots are in Northern Europe (and the Swedish-born Metro chain) and in which US-based companies remain minor players.

At UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, scholars in the humanities have worked together for several years on key questions in Canadian literature and film. In one of the conference's most cohesive and rigorous panels, Laura López Morales, Claudia Lucotti, and Graciela Martínez-Zalce addressed the status of Francophone writers outside Quebec, English writers within Quebec, and the Canadian films of the Indian-born director Deepa Mehta. Rather than simply invoking models of cultural difference developed elsewhere, panel members built their analyses on the important foundations laid by Canadian scholars such as Sherry Simon or François Paré. Here, as elsewhere in the conference, the impression conveyed was that of a richly textured intellectual exchange between Mexican and Canadian scholars.