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Queer Inclusions, Continental Divisions: Public Recognition of Sexual Diversity in Canada and the United States.

Queer Inclusions, Continental Divisions: Public Recognition of Sexual Diversity in Canada and the United States

By DAVID RAYSIDE. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Pp. xvi, 388, bibliographical references, index.

David Rayside's Queer Inclusions, Continental Divisions is an analytically rigorous, elegantly written, and superbly researched book on the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada and the United States during the last three decades or so. It contributes significantly not only to gay and lesbian studies but also to the literature on social movements and succeeds in illuminating a number of important differences between Canada and the United States, such as the role of religion and its differential impact on the recognition of sexual diversity. The author, who teaches political science at the University of Toronto, is not and does not pretend to be value-neutral. "I write," Rayside admits, "as an engaged scholar, but in so doing I also strive for an analytical and critical care that I hope marks my earlier work" (p. xiv). That Rayside is committed to the greater recognition of sexual diversity will be evident to readers of his book. For example, he writes, "The persistence of willful blindness to the need for change makes the case for a formal recognition of sexual diversity in educational policy self-evident" (p. 15). What makes his book a fascinating account of its subject, however, is not the moral judgments it expresses so much as the stories it tells and the explanations it offers. Moreover, all the stories and explanations deal with the question of change or its absence. Readers of the book will find that, ultimately, Rayside is as much concerned with the theory of change as he is with the public recognition of sexual diversity and with similarities and differences between Canada and the United States.

The theory of change cannot be neatly separated from the practice of change. Like other engaged intellectuals, Rayside has contributed to practice. "I have been fortunate," he writes, "in my opportunities to participate in the process of securing public recognition of sexual diversity, locally in Toronto, provincially in Ontario, ... and throughout the broader academy" (p. xiv). In this book, however, Rayside adopts the orientation of a theorist rather than a practitioner. As a theorist, he knows that to change the world in a meaningful way it is necessary to understand change, which, for him, primarily means explaining change. The language of explanation runs throughout the entire book and weaves together many stories about change or its absence. It also structures the discussion of Canada and the United States. "What explains," he asks, near the beginning of the book, "the contrasting patterns on some issues fronts [between Canada and the United States], and the absence of such contrasts on others?" (p. 5). Towards the end of the book, the language of explanation becomes more specific and more technical. In the concluding chapter, he focuses on "explaining American 'pioneering'" and "explaining the absence of American takeoff," followed by an analysis of "factors explaining take-off in family regimes: Canada and elsewhere." There is also a section concerned with "Explaining Parenting Anomalies" (pp. 283-312). Although Rayside is certainly not blind to the limits of change or the need to explain them, he insists that recent changes "make it harder to imagine that the clock will be turned back, and that gains will simply stop being registered" (p. 315). If anything, the clock, Rayside believes, will go forward because "[m]embers of the public will increasingly recognize that the demands for public recognition are coming from their own children, their parents, their neighbours, their workmates, their closest friends" (p. 316).

Although Rayside frames his main arguments and conclusions in the language of explanation, he avoids using the language of scientific objectivity, and his book does not purport to discover any laws of social change or any statistical generalities that necessarily dictate different policy outcomes in the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada and the United States. Instead, he marshals many kinds of information--ranging from empirical surveys to court decisions to newspaper reports and autobiographical accounts--in an attempt to explain or illuminate or understand issues of change or its absence in a number of policy areas. Moreover, since Rayside does not devote much attention to methodological questions, the real significance of his book should be sought not in the rigorousness or incontestability of its explanations so much as in the important contribution it makes to deepening and expanding our understanding of the public recognition of sexual diversity. In this regard, his detailed mapping in two chapters of the complex contextual landscapes that sexual diversity activists encounter in their quest for change in Canada and the United States is a treasure trove of helpful analytical distinctions, insightful empirical generalizations, and shrewd political observations. His dual chapters on Canadian and American recognition of same-sex relationships, on parenting and adoption by same-sex couples, and on school curriculum and school reform are thoughtful and highly informative investigations that are bound to stimulate further reflection and intense debate. "Both Canada and the United States," Rayside observes, "are in many ways unusual cases" (p. 314). They are also, as his book demonstrates, extremely complex cases, and such cases are difficult to fit within even sophisticated explanatory models.

Nevertheless, one of the most fascinating aspects of Rayside's book is precisely his goal of explaining changes in the public recognition of sexual diversity and, in particular, the use he makes of the idea of "take-offs" in explaining the process of change. In one way or another, the idea of "take-offs" figures prominently in virtually every chapter of the book. For example, in the chapter on "Broadening Activist Agendas," Rayside notes, "What Canadian activists have lacked in resources they have more than made up for in political opportunities on family issues, allowing for a kind of 'take-off' in regime change. This has not happened yet in schooling. That, we will find, is a very different and disheartening story" (p. 91). In the chapter "Canadian Recognition of Same-Sex Relationships," he writes, "the take-off pattern recorded on relationship issues calls for reflection" (p. 122). In the chapter "American Recognition of Same-Sex Relationships," he observes, "Public policy and law in the United States never experienced the kind of take-off that had occurred north of the border, but steady gains in recognition continued, even in the face of the most intense mobilizing by the religious right that equal rights advocates had ever seen" (p. 158). In the chapter "School Reform and the American Culture Wars," he writes, "No policy take-off has occurred, to be sure, and the overall record is far from good. Still, change began earlier than just about anywhere else, and the spread of inclusive policy has been steady" (p. 278). Finally, in his concluding chapter "Comparative Reflections on Public Recognition of Sexual Diversity," be notes, "The absence of American take-off is also the product of the U.S. Supreme Court's failure to prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities" (p. 302). Later on, in the same chapter, he writes, "Canada is unusual for being one of the first countries in the world to experience a form of take-off in the recognition of families led by lesbian and gay couples, even before the question of marriage took centre stage" (p. 315).

The idea of "take-offs" is not entirely original to Rayside, although the use he makes of it is certainly his own. A much earlier use of the idea can be found in W.W. Rostow's book The Stages of Economic Growth (Cambridge: University Press, 1960) and his 1956 article "The take-off into self-sustained growth" (The Economic Journal, Volume 66, pages 25-48). Rayside does not discuss Rostow and, given their different subject matters, he is right to ignore him. At the same time, a critical appreciation of Rayside's book can be enhanced by a consideration of Rostow's work. Rostow's work created considerable excitement when it appeared because of the scientific claims it made about explaining economic "take-offs" and the specific policy prescriptions it generated. His writings must now be read with considerable caution, however, due to the significant limitations exposed by critics. Rayside's book is unlikely to suffer a similar fate partly because he makes much more modest claims for his own explanations. "No single explanatory factor," he writes, "dominates the analysis of Canadian and American distinctiveness.... Understanding change is just as complex as chronicling it" (p. 18). Rayside also differs from Rostow in another respect. Rostow subtitled his book A Non-Communist Manifesto and devoted much effort to criticizing what he took to be the essentials of Marx's theory of historical development and revolutionary change. Unlike Rostow, Rayside neither endorses nor critiques Marx's theory, and his book is free of the kind of ideological rigidity that mars Rostow's work as well as some other books on social change and human emancipation. But although Rayside has not written an ideological book and avoids polemical disputes with philosophers of change, his book does expressa point of view and there are things that it does not say. Its fundamental point of view, which this reviewer shares, is that greater recognition should be given to sexual diversity in Canada and the United States. What it leaves largely unsaid is that in the on-going struggle to change the status quo, there will be not only many gains and many losses but also many compromises because enduring recognition is almost always mutual recognition that requires a large number of reasonable accommodations.

In sum, virtually every book has a perspective or set of values that it defends, and no book should be expected to say or explain everything. What can surely be said of Queer Inclusions, Continental Divisions is that its author has an encyclopaedic knowledge of a very complex subject and has written a book on the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada and the United States that is an indispensable guide not only for the perplexed but also for the theorists and practitioners of change.

Samuel LaSelva is professor, Political Science Department, University of British Columbia.
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Author:LaSelva, Samuel
Publication:Canadian Public Administration
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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