The Cajun Ideology: Negotiating Identity in Southern Louisiana
Fiedler, Michelle Y.
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The Cajuns are an American ethnic group founded primarily on the ideology of a shared history and language. Their history begins with the expulsion of the Acadian peoples from Nova Scotia in 1755 and continues into modernity with the Cajuns of Louisiana. The goals of this paper are to present an updated ethnographic account of Cajuns in Louisiana, as well as to present an example of how ideology and rhetoric may be utilized in the social sciences to explore and present ethnographic research. The data presented are based on first-hand observations and interviews conducted in the field in and around Lafayette, Louisiana, during a 2008-2009 field season.I argue that identity is based in a cognition-social-discourse model of ideology. Cognition encompasses shared memories, such as history; social refers to the elements of culture; and discourse aids in the negotiation and maintenance of ideology and identity, in large part due to rhetoric. Participant interviews are utilized to explore the ways in which individuals express their personal identities and their cultural ideologies. An Acadian ancestry and the Cajun French language appear to be the primary boundaries under negotiation in the Cajun ideology. Other cultural elements, such as food, music, and personality traits, are also part of the Cajun ideology and identity, and are used as symbolic rhetoric to validate membership in the Cajun culture. While the overall Cajun ideology has not changed substantially since published accounts in the 1980s, the extremes of the negotiated boundaries, as well as the mechanisms of reproduction and maintenance, have changed. Academia, tourism, and the Internet are offered as contemporary mechanisms through which the Cajun ideology is negotiated, reproduced, and maintained.This project adds a renewed perspective to the Cajun academic literature by presenting data collected through first hand interviews and observations, as well as addressing contemporary ways in which individuals navigate and maintain their identities within a Cajun ideology. Furthermore, this project explores the ways in which a theory of ideology may be utilized in anthropology to present ethnographic data for a multidisciplinary approach to culture, identity, and ethnicity.