Ethnoterritorial justice: A pragmatic analysis of arguments linking social identities to constitutional reform in Belgium and Canada

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Gavan Duffy


Social identities, Constitutional reform, Belgium, Canada, Ethnic conflict, Argument analysis

Subject Categories

Peace and Conflict Studies | Political History | Race and Ethnicity | Social Psychology and Interaction


This dissertation examines ethnoterritorial politics in Belgium and Canada in order to investigate the relationship between social identities, political mobilization strategies, and constitutional arrangements.

Ethnoterritorial conflict can be considered as strategic interaction. I examine such research, discussing insights provided by theories of nested games and dynamic models of conflict. I examine research conducted on the regulation of ethnoterritorial conflict, paying special attention to federalism and consociationalism. After briefly discussing debate over the material and psychological nature of such conflict, I indicate how social identity theory may contribute to political understandings of identity-based politics.

Historical evidence from Belgium and Canada, gained primarily from secondary sources, with some supporting archival and interview data, supports claims about the dynamic and context-dependent nature of identities in conflicts. Both cases indicate changes in issues salient to conflict, and in the relative potency of various group identities.

The dynamic nature of identity leads us to view ethnoterritorial conflict within a framework of communicative interaction. I present a method of text analysis that combines linguistic pragmatics, speech act theory, and argument analysis. I explain several expectations, based on Habermas's theories of justification and social identity theory, about the strategies proponents and opponents of constitutional reform will use.

In the analysis of the 1987-8 Belgian debate over the Third Reform of the State sparked by the controversy over Fourons, I examine arguments presented by Gérard Deprez, José Happart, and Guy Spitaels. In a similar analysis of the 1987-1990 debate over the Canadian Meech Lake Accord, I focus on the arguments of Robert Bourassa, Brian Mulroney, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Most of the expectations derived from social identity theory and Habermas's theories are supported by these case studies. This dissertation contributes to the study of linguistic pragmatics, argument analysis, ethnoterritorial conflict, identity, and normative theory. It shows that social identities play a central role in the normative justification of political practices and institutions, and that our understandings of ethnoterritorial conflict can be enhanced with sensitivity to the use of social identity in leaders' attempts to mobilize constituents for collective action.


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