Mirabel: In the Name of Development

January 26, 2017

Written by guest blogger, Éric Gagnon Poulin.


On September 9th, 2003, Montreal International Airport, named Dorval Airport, was officially renamed Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Yet the former Prime Minister of Canada had planned to shut it down to build the largest airport in the world on 97,000 acres of land: Mirabel. The goal was to reach 60 million passengers and 650,000 aircraft by the year 2000, which was far from its destiny. In fact, its occupancy started declining in 1977, all passenger flights were transferred to Dorval in 2004 and its terminal was demolished in 2014. This article (“Mirabel : Au nom du développement,”) published in the latest issue of Anthropologica (Volume 58, Issue 2), is a summary of my research results on “La mobilisation politique des expropriés de Mirabel” (Gagnon Poulin: 2010), based on three key concepts: development, private property and resistance.

By roughly summarizing, an expropriation is the action of removing the property of an individual or a community for purposes of ‘public utilities’ or for what they call the ‘common good’. It was therefore inevitable to reflect on the relationship between humans and their private properties in order to understand the possible impact of such dispossession (Castel 2005, Laurin 2012, Radin 1993). How did the population respond to this loss? Initially, the expropriation was presented to them, not as a loss, but as a gain. In order to justify this project, the Canadian government adopted a post-war developmental rhetoric in the name of ‘modernity’ and ‘reason’ (Escobar 1995, Rist 1999, Elbaz, Fortin, Laforest 1996); A speech that the population had to question to be able to understand in order to oppose and resist the expropriation itself (Bourdieu 1984, Breagh 2007, Moore 1978). The concepts of individual (or unorganized) and collective (organized) resistance, as well as the notions of ‘hidden transcript’ and ‘public transcript’ by James C. Scott (1985, 1992) have been particularly helpful in analyzing my ethnographic data and understanding the slow but finally powerful social mobilization.

At the same time, I produced and directed a documentary film on the same subject: “Le fantôme de Mirabel” (Gagnon Poulin and Fortin: 2010), that was presented as a European premiere at the 2nd European Forum against Large Unnecessary and Imposed Mega Projects in France in July 2012.

Éric Gagnon Poulin’s article, “Mirabel : Au nom du développement,” is featured in the latest issue of Anthropologica (Volume 58, Issue 2), and is available to read exclusively on Project MUSE.
You can follow Éric on Twitter @fantomemirabel

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