Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Lisa Phillips


This dissertation studies exemplary conduct along Upper Canada's early frontier. Presuming that exemplars reproduce core ideas of conduct for those who construct them, it is no surprise that exemplars by which authorities sought to make Upper Canada in Britain‟s image appeared in multiple arenas including legal discourse, newspaper publication, writings on conduct, informal notions of gender and domesticity, and travel writing. At the overlap of these different spaces, through special attention to an early burglary trial, the private dwelling house emerges in this dissertation as the moral core of Upper Canada. This claim interprets British legal definitions of human rights and duties, and a specific orientation to intention that these definitions entail, as supporting an intense emphasis on appearances that manifested as notions of conduct. I suggest that the articulation of absolute and relative rights, and their respective duties, creates a gap between individuals as elements unto themselves and individuals defined in terms of social relationships. This gap was reconciled by taking observable acts, including evidence of proper conduct, as measures of elements that were beyond direct observation, intention most crucially, which in turn measured the value of the act. As a consequence, observation—a web of relations involving acts, people observing them, who themselves are observed by others, and so on—got infused with a moral force it would not require if one could read intentions directly. Legal discourse thus put an emphasis on proper conduct that went beyond the letter of laws, whose formal expression had only limited influence on how conduct appeared in casual publications. My theoretical baseline is the practice approach of Ortner (1989), which views action, embodied in individuals, as emergent in analytic tensions between public institutions, particular situations, patterns in history and experience, and unpredictable, extra-systemic input. Since conduct is based in observation, and because the immanent structuring forces of practice entail relationships, I add to Ortner's model the necessary presence of multiple actors who are present to each other. This model helps unpack the concrete bodies, relations, moments, and constraints in which exemplars emerge, and also emphasizes their conservative tendency.

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