Thesis Defense – Julie Graff

THESIS DEFENSE – The defense of Julie Graff’s thesis (UdeM / EHESS, Paris), entitled “The role of material culture in contemporary Inuit societies’ cultural preservation strategies” will be held by videoconference on Wednesday, December 15th at 10:30 am.

Participation by videoconference on the StarLeaf application:  

Meeting ID: 473 580 7556

This research was co-directed by Louise Vigneault (UdeM) and Marie Mauzé (EHESS, Paris)


This research focuses on the place of objects, their meanings, their uses, their stories, in a context of colonial disruptions and in the light of current resurgence processes affecting contemporary Inuit societies. I look more specifically at the issue of cultural preservation. I take part in the academic discussions carried out for a few years in the field of material culture, around the social and memorial functions of objects. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach, I also wish to take part in completing a multicultural grasp of the different discourses, formulated from the outside and from the inside, on the North. This research is firstly concerned with the building of the former Catholic mission in Kangiqsujuaq (Nunavik). This building is now part of Kangiqsujuaq heritage and memorial landscape, as the community’s oldest structure still standing. The objects left in it collectively function as witnesses to the relationships established between different people and groups. It supports as such the articulation of an Inuit history of non-Inuit material culture in the North. Another element of my research was the role played by the assemblage of objects in collections, their qualification within different categories, their definition and documentation by various actors. The cultural and heritage institutions founded throughout the 20th and 21st centuries function as a network of social tools for appropriating culture, thus moving away from individual and community initiatives, by implementing a number of structures and methods. This thesis then addresses the issues and ambivalence related to the institutionalization of cultural preservation and transmission. Part of the research is then devoted to the place of individual creativity in the reconstruction of transmission modalities and in the revitalization of practices. The thesis finally looks at the establishment of a rhetorical sovereignty, with a focus on the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, by first exploring the different moments of contestation in museums. It then examines the shifting interpretative paradigms around objects, and more specifically around objects categorized as works of art. As such, I address a particular aspect parallel and interrelated to questions of cultural preservation, by exploring the narratives around objects and the resurgence of Inuit epistemology in interpretive paradigms. I then touch upon the stakes of presenting and representing narratives of continuity and survivance. This thesis follows a mostly thematic outline divided into four chapters highlighting the specificity of operations carried out in different environments and by a diversity of individuals. It brings the conclusion that cultural preservation, within Inuit societies, can be understood as a reflexive process, aiming at self-regulation and self-referentiality, which includes not only dynamics of material and immaterial safeguarding, but also discourses of cultural affirmation, processes of reappropriation, actualization, and revitalization, as well as moments of dissension, contestation and forgetting.