Negotiating cultural identities: Conflict transformation in Labrador

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


John Burdick


Negotiating, Cultural identities, Conflict transformation, Labrador, Canadian studies

Subject Categories

Indigenous Studies | Politics and Social Change | Sociology of Culture


In this study I have set out to examine the relationship between social conflicts and cultural identities in Eastern Canada, paying particular attention to the experience of the Innu, Inuit and Métis of Labrador. Preliminary research for the project was conducted in Labrador in August, 1995. Qualitative, ethnographic field research was conducted from 1997-1999 in conjunction with a two-year voluntary service assignment performing regional peacebuilding activities with Mennonite Central Committee, the relief, service and peace agency (NGO) of the North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches.

The study focuses specifically on the interrelatedness of social conflicts, cultural identities, and negotiation processes. Research questions examined include: (1) In what ways do components of cultural identities become politicized in social conflict? (2) How do the "politics of conflict" influence the ways in which elements of cultural identities are defined as essential or non-essential? and, (3) To what extent are cultural identities negotiable? A secondary dimension of this study involves the exploration of issues in research methodology. Key questions are addressed in relation to the mediator role for applied research approaches.

Conventional conflict resolution theorists and practitioners have treated culture in the context of social conflict as merely another variable capable of affecting substantive outcomes. This approach holds that substantive issues such as those widely regarded as being integral to individual or collective cultural identities are prone to escalation, resistant to resolution or altogether non-negotiable. This study advances an alternative view which focuses on the processes by which culture (and identity) is shaped by conflict rather than merely being a cause of or complicating factor in it. The findings of this project recognize the salience of identity for conflicts in Labrador, identify a different directionality in the conflict-culture relationship, and indicate that aspects of identity have a significantly transactional character which points to the fundamental negotiability of identities in formal negotiation contexts.


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