Dr. Matt James

Dr. Matt James
Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor
Political Science

PhD (2000) (UBC)

Office: DTB A340

2020 Spring term office and advising hours:

By appointment.

  • Reparations
  • Political apologies
  • Transitional justice
  • Social memory
  • Social movements
  • Canadian constitutionalism and citizenship
  • Canadian politics

Canada’s Culture of Redress as a Discursive Design (SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 2011-2014)

To varying degrees and ends, in recent years many contemporary societies have been engaged in reassessing, debating, remembering, and making reparation for past injustices of colonialism and racism.

For example, the Canadian federal government has issued at least five official political apologies for historical wrongs and has paid financial compensation for such injustices as the Japanese-Canadian internment, Chinese “head tax,” and Indian residential schools.

Indeed, in Canada redress has become formalized and regularized as an ongoing area of state activity. Under the Community Historical Recognition Program, volunteer and community groups are invited to apply for funds with which to undertake projects of acknowledgment, remembrance, and public education concerning particular historical injustices specified in the Program criteria.

Similarly, the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was given a five-year mandate starting in 2009 to commemorate, investigate, and report on the policy of mandatory boarding schools for Native children which brought so much pain and destruction to Indigenous communities.

Recent research appears to suggest that not only these official redress programs but also many of the group demands and activities surrounding them share important underlying commonalities. These commonalities include assumptions about how causal responsibility for major historical wrongs should be apportioned and about how wrongs should be officially addressed and remembered.

Causal responsibility is typically assigned to past governments and leading societal institutions (such as the major Christian churches), taken as undifferentiated wholes, rather than with local institutions or individual planners, actors, and decision-makers. Remembering injustice is seen as a matter of attending to the voices and experiences of affected communities and victims, and not as a forensic task of digging deeply into the circumstances and mechanics of how and by whom the injustices were committed.

This overall approach to injustice characterizes what we can call, to adopt Pauline Wakeham’s helpful phrase, Canada's “culture of redress.” Yet this culture has not been systematically mapped, analyzed, and assessed.

Mapping, analysis, and assessment are what this project proposes to provide. The project will study the demands of major redress-seeking groups; the federal government’s official contemporary responses and policy frameworks; the activities, events, and creations funded under these responses and frameworks; and the roles played by Canada’s official redress actions in processes of civic debate.

In short, it aims to investigate Canada’s overall culture of redress in order to understand how Canadian responses to historic injustice are governed.

The project also has an evaluative purpose: to assess how Canada’s culture of redress affects our capacity to deliberate collectively as a political community. Have Canadian redress initiatives and debates helped to forge more inclusive civic discussions, promote civic participation, and build inter-group comprehension and trust, as some research would lead us to expect?

Or, as other scholarship warns, have they created problematic new biases, exclusions, distractions, and pathologies?

By answering these questions, this project will help scholars, citizens, activists, and policymakers to better understand our dominant patterns of contemporary engagement with past injustices, and, where appropriate, to work to improve and transform them.

Dr. James teaches courses on reparations, social movements, and Canadian politics.

Teaching 2019-20

Fall 2019:

Spring 2020:

Courses taught
  • POLI 101: Canadian Politics
  • POLI 320: The Canadian Constitution
  • POLI 360: Canadian Federalism and Public Policy
  • POLI 432/533: Issues in Politics - The Politics of Social Movements
  • POLI 432/533: Issues in Politics - The Politics of Historical Injustice and Memory
  • POLI 516/616: Graduate seminar in Canadian Politics



  • Misrecognized Materialists: Social Movements in Canadian Constitutional Politics, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2006.

Journal articles:


  • "Occupy: History, Physicality, Viturality". In Group Politics and Social Movements in Canada, ed. Miram Smith, 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.
  • Neoliberal Heritage Redress." Reconciling Canada: Critical Perspectives on the Culture of Redress, ed. Jennifer Henderson and Pauline Wakeham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.
  • "Memory, Identity, and Diversity in BC," in British Columbia Politics and Government, ed. Michael Howlett, Dennis Pilon, and Tracy Summerville. Toronto: Emond Montgomery, 2009.
  • "Wrestling with the Past: Apologies, Quasi-Apologies, and Non-Apologies in Canada," in The Age of Apology: The West Faces its Own Past, ed. Mark Gibney, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Jean-Marc Coicaud, and Niklaus Steiner. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
  • "Do Campaigns for Historical Redress Help Erode the Canadian Welfare State?"in Multiculturalism and the Welfare State: Recognition and Redistribution in Contemporary Democracies, ed. Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • "The Permanent-Emergency Compensation State: A ‘Postsocialist' Tale of Political Dystopia," in Critical Policy Studies, ed. Michael Orsini and Miriam Smith. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006.
  • "The Politics of Honourable Constitutional Inclusion and the Citizens' Constitution Theory," in Rethinking Canadian Citizenship: Essays in Honour of Alan C. Cairns, ed. Philip Resnick and Gerald Kernerman. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004.
  • "Being Stigmatized and Being Sorry: Past Injustices and Contemporary Citizenship," in A Passion for Identity: Canadian Studies in the 21st Century, ed. David Taras and Beverly Rasporich, 55-75. Scarborough, Ont.: Nelson, 2001.
  • "Redress Politics and Canadian Citizenship." The State of the Federation 1998/99: How Canadians Connect, ed. Harvey Lazar and Tom McIntosh, 247-281. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.
  • "Building Transdisciplinary Standpoints: An Integrative Bibliography," With Gabriele Helms and Paddy Rodney, in Painting the Maple: Essays on Race, Gender and the Construction of Canada, ed. Sherrill Grace et al., 262-278. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998.
  • "Women Speaking: Heather Rose and the Culture of Health Care," with Joan Anderson, Sherrill Grace, Gabriele Helms and Paddy Rodney, in Northern Parallels: Fourth Circumpolar Universities Cooperation Conference Proceedings, February 23-25, 1995, ed. Shauna McLarnon and Douglas Nord. Prince George, British Columbia: University of Northern British Columbia Press, 1997.
  • "Multifarious, Processual and Pervasive: Towards an Interdisciplinary Dialogue on Constructions," with Gabriele Helms and Paddy Rodney, in Vol. II, Proceedings of the Race, Gender and Construction of Canada Conference. Vancouver: UBC Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Relations, 1996.

Reviews and Other: