Burkowicz describes himself as “a sociologist doing history . . . a theorist interested in race and social movements.” He considers the role of discourse in the construction of a homogenous Slavic racial identity “a kind of large scale category that subsumed the identities of the Poles, Russians, Serbs, and Ukrainians and obliterated the differences between them.” In doing so, Burkowicz turns to the dominant social discourses represented in a variety of publications – newspapers, political debates, ads, medical pamphlets, scholarly accounts, magazines, novels, etc. – to examine the ways in which the Slav emerged as a figure of racial apprehension in the Canadian imagination from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.
“My hope,” says Burkowicz, “is that a historical examination aids sociology in refining its approach to the study of racialization . . . that is, of the way that racial identities are constructed and sustained. Max Weber observed that history can provide us with the knowledge of empirical evidence of events while sociology can help us make generalizations about them.”
Burkowicz argues that there is something to be gained by combining both: “Neither discipline has adequately approached this topic on its own. Historians who have begun to examine the racialization of Europeans haven’t looked at the Slavs in Canada – we can say that a gap exists here – and social scientists have for too long assumed that as Europeans, the Slavs were just not racialized – we can say that there is a bit of incredulity here as concerns intra-European racism.”
Burkowicz says he pursued the topic of the racialization of the Slavs “mostly out of curiosity … and with the faith that knowing how racial identities were constructed in the past would help us understand how they function today.” Indeed, the limited term lecturer in Sociology at SFU and newly appointed faculty member at Douglas College sees evidence of the relationship between his research focus and current events emerging in his classroom. “I teach a third-year sociology course called Race, Immigration, and the Canadian State, which covers some aspects of my research along with the work of other scholars who write on more contemporary questions regarding immigration and race. What struck me and my students was just how continuous racialization is. The figure of the Slav can be easily replaced with the figure of the Italian, the Jew, and the Chinese, and today quite seamlessly with the Arab and the Muslim.”
Moreover, he says, there are similar concerns attached to each racial immigrant category, whether these are questions of assimilability (dress and family structure) or security (ie: radicalism): “If the Muslim is today denounced as a Jihadist and potential terrorist, the Slav was denounced as a potential anarchist. This is to say that the Islamophobia that we are witnessing right now is not unique; it has been well rehearsed in Canadian society.”