Education News – Of poppies and coffee mugs: sociology prof ponders national identity

Education News – Of poppies and coffee mugs: sociology prof ponders national identity

ANTIGONISH (CUP) ? It might be safe to say that most people would not be finding national identity stirred in with their early morning large double-double; however, Patricia Cormack, a sociology professor at St. Francis Xavier University, is otherwise inclined.

In her article ??True Stories? of Canada: Tim Hortons and the Branding of National Identity,? recently published in Cultural Sociology, she outlines the curious shift of Tim Hortons as an icon of Canadian culture to one of a Canadian institution and its role in the formation of national identity.

Sitting in the Tim Hortons by St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., preparing for one of her classes near Remembrance Day in 2004, Cormack took notice of the 25-cent poppy coin that was being officially distributed by the Canadian coffee chain.

Later that same year, Tim Hortons celebrated its 40th anniversary, releasing a limited-edition commemorative mug, which was marketed as a meaningful gift that could be given to family and friends for Christmas.

Although none of this may strike someone as odd, these events got Cormack thinking. The authorization of Tim Hortons as an exclusive distributor of the Remembrance Day 25-cent coin was legitimized because ?the franchise is a distinctive Canadian enterprise.?

The strategy behind the marketing of the 40th anniversary mug as a thank-you gift for the long withstanding ?friendship? between Tim Hortons and Canadians was again a legitimizing statement of the company’s ?own confidence as an integral part of Canadian ritual and memory.?

What is it about Tim Hortons that allows us to believe that it is the institutional embodiment of national identity?

?An institution is bigger [than cultural icon]?It’s a place you go to, to think about who you are and how you behave,? she said.

?It comes out of the question of how Canadians find identity. Heritage Minutes, the CBC?those are official ways of doing Canada. [Those state institutions] think It’s good for you. But sometimes you get sick of being told what’s good for you. Tim Hortons allows us to produce identity in a commercial space. It feels more organic because you don’t have the state hanging over you,? said Cormack.

?Think about the coin. The state mints the coin, and they go to Tim Hortons to distribute it. You go from the state mint to the commercial coffee chain’they feel comfortable going that route and it changes the meaning of the coin in a certain way. They recognize the power of Tim Hortons.?

With Canada being a nation founded by immigrants, the concept of Canadian culture is one of contention. Overriding the politics of institutionalized multiculturalism are the familiar themes of ruggedness and honesty, which according to Cormack, have been consciously capitalized on by the Tim Hortons franchise.

Tim Hortons ?appeals to a version of Canada we like??a Canada that is characterized by its ease and calmness, which allows our own personalities to creep into our notions of identity.

This publication of Cormack’s work has garnered media attention from across the country. ?It’s the only thing I’ve ever written That’s had any attention at all,? she said, laughing. ?I was quite surprised.?

With this unexpected interest in her work, Cormack, as a restless sociologist, had to figure out why they were coming to her. ?The media loves to talk about Tim Hortons and Canada. It’s a topic That’s wildly popular?people like Canadian identity and Tim Hortons.?

Cormack’s future endeavours include more research on Canadian identity: ?Right now, I’m trying to think about the idea of Canadian identity and culture, and how It’s administered by the state. How do cultural policies re-inscribe our desire of the state??