Guy Rocher | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Guy Rocher

​Guy Rocher, CC, CQ, sociologist, professor and senior civil servant (born 20 April 1924 in Berthierville, Québec).

Guy Rocher, CC, CQ, sociologist, professor and senior civil servant (born 20 April 1924 in Berthierville, Québec). A key player in the Quiet Revolution and an activist, Rocher is considered a pioneer of sociology in Québec. His academic research, speeches and action for and about the Québec State have made him a driving force in democratizing educational opportunities in Québec.

Training and Academic Career

After a classical education at Collège de l’Assomption from 1935 to 1943, Guy Rocher campaigned for Jeunesse étudiante catholique (JEC) in 1943. He developed an interest in activism during his time there and chaired JEC canadienne from 1946 to 1948. After earning a master’s degree from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Université Laval ― then directed by Father Georges-Henri Lévesque, who encouraged him to pursue an academic career ― he received a PhD in sociology from Harvard University in 1958.

Rocher became a professor at Université Laval in 1952, directed the Department of Sociology at the Université de Montréal from 1960 to 1965, and was assistant dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences between 1962 and 1967. During the 1968–69 school year, he worked as a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley, where he finished writing the three volumes of his General Introduction to Sociology, an essential reference work that would introduce generations of students to the field.

Back in Montréal in 1969, Rocher returned to teaching at the Department of Sociology at the Université de Montréal and was named vice-chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, a position he held until 1974. In 1979, he became an associate professor at the Centre de recherche en droit public in the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal, where he continued his research in the sociology oflaw and the sociology of ethics, and explored other modes of social regulation.

Parent Commission

Both an intellectual and a man of action, Guy Rocher was named to the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Education (better known as the Parent Commission) in 1961. The Commission, tasked with planning Québec education reform (see Education Organization), led to the creation of the Québec Ministry of Education in 1964 and of the collèges d’enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP) in 1967. At that time, Rocher also chaired the committee for the creation of the Université du Québec à Montréal (1965–66) and was a member of the MacDonald task force on academic research in Canada (1967–74).

Senior Civil Service

Having continued his research on the sociology of education in the early 1970s, Guy Rocher decided to put his academic life on hold to work with the Québec government as associate secretary general of the Conseil exécutif, and then as deputy minister of Cultural Development (1977–79) and Social Development (1981–82). During that period, he helped develop the Québec language policy (white paper and Charte de la langue françaisein 1977), cultural policies (white paper in 1978) and the policy on scientific research in Québec (green paper in 1979, followed by the white paper in 1980).


Having authored over 20 books and 200 articles, chapters in collective works, studies, and working documents (including the Parent Report, 1963–66), Guy Rocher has a high media profile and speaks at many conferences in Canada and abroad. Among his most notable publications are A General Introduction to Sociology (1969) (translated into six languages and awarded a Social Science Federation of Canada prize), the survey work Talcott Parsons and American Sociology (1972), Le Québec en mutation (1973) (a collection of his essays on the modernization of Québec), and a compilation of his Études de sociologie du droit et de l’éthique (1996).

Social Activism and Legacy

An engaged sociologist, Guy Rocher does not shy away from the political stage when it comes to issues he holds dear. Retired since 2010, the Université de Montréal professor emeritus publicly supported the spring 2012 student strike, pointing out that the Parent Commission stood for abolishing tuition fees. In 2014, he expressed support for the Québec values charter project, contending that state secularization was the logical follow-up to the Quiet Revolution. He also regularly writes about education in the newspaper Le Devoir.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Parent Report in 2013, the Ministre de l’Éducation, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche du Québec highlighted the contributions of Guy Rocher and Québec’s first minister of Education, Paul Gérin-Lajoie, to the development of the higher education system in Québec by creating the Prix Paul-Gérin-Lajoie and the Prix Guy-Rocher. Given out for the first time in 2014, these awards recognize excellence in high school and university teaching.

Awards and Distinctions

Companion of the Order of Canada (1971)

Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1973)

Outstanding Contribution Award, Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association (1989)

Prix Marcel-Vincent, Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences (1989)

Knight of the National Order of Québec (1991)

Pierre Chauveau Medal, Royal Society of Canada (1991)

Prix Léon-Gérin, Les Prix du Québec (1995)

Honorary Doctorate (Law), Université Laval (1996)

Honorary Doctorate (Sociology), Université de Moncton (1997)

Molson Prize, Canada Council for the Arts (1997)

Prix Esdras-Minville, Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal (1998)

Sir John William Dawson Medal (for an interdisciplinary work), Royal Society of Canada (1999)

Honorary Doctorate (Social Sciences), Université du Québec à Montréal (2002)

Prix Condorcet-Dessaulles, Mouvement laïque québécois (2009)

Distinguished Academic Award, Canadian Association of University Teachers (2009)

Prix Jacques-Parizeau, Intellectuels pour la souveraineté (2011)

Prix Hommage, Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (2012)

See alsoHistory of Education.

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