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Hommage à Jacques Bélanger/A tribute to Jacques Bélanger

Hommage à Jacques Bélanger/A tribute to Jacques Bélanger

Gregor Murray, Gilles Trudeau et Christian Lévesque

Volume : 73-3 (2018)


A Tribute to Jacques Bélanger (1952-2018)
Our reaction to news of the death of our dear colleague and friend, Jacques Bélanger, on 28 June 2018, was one of deep sadness and dismay. As so many RI/IR readers will know, Jacques was a distinguished Professor in the Industrial Relations Department at Université Laval, a frequent contributor to RI/IR, and the co-director and co-founder of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work, the CRIMT.

Jacques was a brilliant intellectual, innovative theorist and accomplished teacher. In the few words permitted here, we can only provide a glimpse of his multiple contributions to research and the advancement of knowledge across diverse aspects of contemporary work and employment. Despite his international renown, Jacques Bélanger was profoundly attached to his origins and, in particular, to his birthplace and village of origin, Saint-Vallier de Bellechasse. His predilection for scholarly activity, as well as his evident lack of interest in the manual work required on the family farm from where he hailed, predestined an academic trajectory. He commenced his studies at Université Laval where he completed his BA and MA degrees. Recognizing his remarkable potential, the Abbé Gérard Dion, founder and guiding light in the Industrial Relations Department, convinced Jacques to undertake his doctoral studies at the University of Warwick, starting in February 1978.

Thus began an experience that would profoundly affect Jacques Bélanger’s entire university career. At the time, in the best of British traditions, doctoral students were simply thrown into the deep end of the research pool. With absolutely no course work on offer—the only requirements being a research proposal and the final thesis—how was a student even to start such a journey? Drawing on the finest empiricist traditions, and having to contend with this altogether serious student whose knowledge of English could be generously described as rudimentary at best, his supervisor, world-renown scholar Professor Hugh Clegg, dispatched Jacques to a foundry in the Black Country somewhere beyond Birmingham, one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. From this experience, Jacques’ impeccable command of English was forged. Indeed, from these initial workplace encounters and in the supportive industrial relations research environment that he so cherished at Warwick, Jacques Bélanger was to develop a rigorous ethnographic approach that would guide his research methodology for decades.

Jacques sought to comprehend actor strategies, convinced of the coherenceof their reasoning, in spite of and because of the contingent and structural factors likely to constrain or facilitate their actions. In his eyes, the globalization of the economy does not unduly determine what happens in workplaces; rather it gives rise to new actor strategies. Jacques’ passion was to discover these strategies as they are applied in workplace settings. The originality and the methodological rigour of this intellectual trajectory is well reflected in a series of books he coauthored: Workplace Industrial Relations and the Global Challenge (1994), Being Local Worldwide (2000), Work and Employment Relations in the High-Performance Workplace (2002) and L’organisation de la production et du travail (2004).

Jacques made a significant contribution to the analysis of the foundations of conflict and cooperation in the employment relationship through his studies of forms of resistance and consent on the part of employees in their workplaces. He was also a trailblazer in the analysis of multinational firms. For example, with British, Canadian and Irish colleagues, Jacques initiated in the first decade of this century a vast research project on human resource practices in the subsidiaries of multinational firms. Over a decade, nine national teams on four continents participated in this project. Drawing on his multiple field studies, Jacques also greatly stimulated the development of comparative industrial relations research in Canada, thus exerting a huge influence on generations of younger scholars.

Jacques was profoundly attached to his alma mater, the Department of Industrial Relations at Université Laval. He returned there in 1980, after two and half years at Warwick University. This was still a time when a young professor could teach by day and complete his thesis at night. Jacques taught at Laval his entire career where he was valued as a passionate and dedicated teacher. Always driven by intellectual curiosity and the desire to kindle this curiosity among his students, Jacques mentored many to the completion of their MAs and PhDs. A large number of his students went on to have distinguished careers in universities and elsewhere.

Jacques Bélanger was a generous and inspiring colleague. He was always motivated by collective projects rather than individual careerism. He thought of the production of knowledge in industrial relations as a collegial endeavor, based on fruitful exchange and collaboration between those from different countries and disciplines. Using this philosophy, in the 1990s, he played a leading role in the development of a multidisciplinary research team comprised of a diverse group of scholars who shared an interest in the regulation of work in a globalizing economy. His initial group was comprised of researchers from Université Laval, Université de Montreal and HEC Montréal. This was the beginning of a formidable and enduring intellectual adventure, giving rise in 2002 to the creation of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work, the CRIMT. Until quite recently, Jacques was still a co-director of CRIMT, along with Professors Gregor Murray and Christian Lévesque.

So many of us have been affected by Jacques’ intelligence, his analytical rigour, his critical take on the world, his intellectual and pedagogical devotion, his devastating yet subtle sense of humour and, above all, his deep humanity in recognising the capacity of each individual to improve their lot, be it in the workplace or beyond. Now that Jacques is no longer with us, we have a chance to turn our attention away from the terrible illness that led to his premature death. Today we celebrate the person that he was and, for us, will always remain. Jacques was inspirational in so many ways. We owe him an immense debt for his legacy.

As for the signatories of this tribute, not only have we lost a highly valued colleague, but we have also lost an irreplaceable friend. That he lives and will continue to live in our memories is therefore all the more precious for those who have known him over so many years.