Cause and country: The politics of ambivalence and the american Vietnam war resistance in Canada

John L Hagan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Neil Smelser's (1998) Presidential Address to the American Sociological Association is a critique of rational choice theory that seeks to shift the focus from reason and opportunity to ambivalence, for example, in studies of social change processes involving migration and social movements. Smelser emphasizes that ambivalence is an intrapsychic process that operates beyond reason and opportunity. I critique and reconceive Smelser's ideas about ambivalence in considering the largest political exodus from the United States since the American Revolution, the migration of more than 50,000 young Americans to Canada during the Vietnam War. The concepts of reconstructed identity and residual ties, and the reduction and persistence of ambivalence they respectively imply, help to mediate responses to political opportunity and opposition encountered by American Vietnam War resisters in Canada. These concepts can be used to rearticulate the meaning of ambivalence in ways that are consistent with Stryker's structured symbolic interactionist theory of identity and role choice. Census and interview data confirm the reconceived mediating role of ambivalence: Although most of the young Americans who came to Canada stayed, and most of those who staved reconstructed their identities as unambivalent Canadians, those who came during the imposition of the Canadian War Measures Act were most likely to return to the United States, or if they settled in Canada, to remain less reconstructed in identity and more residually tied to the United States. The latter more ambivalent war resisters who settled in Canada are still today less likely to participate politically by voting in Canadian federal elections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-184
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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