Sociology 250

December 7, 1999

Canadian Sociological Approaches

1. Introduction

In terms of sociological theory, Canadian sociologists have generally used and developed the theories and approaches of sociology from other countries and adapted them to Canadian circumstances. These perspectives include the three major classical traditions, along with various approaches from the United States, most specifically the structural functional approach of Parsons, the human ecology approach of the Chicago school of sociology, microsociological approaches from the United States, and feminist approaches from Europe and the United States. While there are many Canadian contributions to sociology, there is no uniquely Canadian sociological theory that can be identified as having an influence outside Canada.

Since Canadian sociology was relatively underdeveloped as a discipline before the 1970s, Canadian sociologists borrowed ideas and approaches from other disciplines. This was true in the early years of the century, in the 1960s and early 1970s and has remained through the present. Political economic and historical approaches have been widely used, so that Canadian sociologists have often been concerned with political issues – especially macro political issues such as social movements, regionalism, dependence and nationalism. In recent years, sociological developments in other countries have strongly influenced Canadian sociology. Since sociology is an international field, Canadian sociologists have become part of each of the major trends within sociology, contributing to these developments and interpreting and using Canadian society within each approach.

2. History of Canadian Sociology

Sociology in Canada has a relatively short history, since most sociology departments were not established until the 1960s. The only independent sociology department within Canada before 1961 was the department at McGill University in Montreal (established as a department of Social Science in 1922 and renamed a Sociology department in 1925). At the University of Toronto, there was a sociology branch of the Department of Political Economy, but it did not become a separate department until 1963. (Note Pullman’s anecdote concerning opposition to sociology at the University of Alberta in the 1940s, Hiller, p. 16). The Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association was established in 1965 and held its first meetings in Sherbrooke in 1966, the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology began publishing in 1964 and the Canadian Journal of Sociology in 1975. Brym notes that before 1960 only about a dozen books on sociology had been published and only a few Ph.D.s in sociology were awarded in Canada. At the University of Regina, sociology has been taught since 1964, and the Sociology Department was organized in 1969 with the arrival of Jim McCrorie. The Social Studies Department was merged into the Sociology Department in 1975 to become the Department of Sociology and Social Studies.

From 32 sociologists teaching in Canadian universities in 1956, there was a quick expansion to 917 by 1977. Most of the latter were either from the United States or other countries, or Canadians trained in the United States or other countries. Sociology grew much more rapidly than most other disciplines with less than 1% of all university faculty being sociologists in 1956, but with almost 3% sociologists in 1977.

The rapid expansion of the university system in the 1960s, with a growth in the number and size of universities, was an important feature of the expansion of sociology as a discipline. University education had been quite restrictive and privileged before the 1960s. Many new universities were established in the 1960s, and older universities were expanded at the same time. The result was that university education became more open to a much wider range of secondary school graduates, and became mass education. There was also a great expansion in the number of women who attended university, an expansion in the number of students generally, and even a shift in the types of subjects studied. As a critical subject of study, sociology had not been part of elite study. It was often assumed that those who obtained a university education would become part of the dominant groups within society, so that sociology was not part of the curriculum. Hiller notes that within many English Canadian universities there was

a general reluctance to accept sociology as a discipline, particularly in anglophone academic circles. Partially through an inheritance from the British tradition where sociology was excluded from the curriculum of the traditional universities in deference to the established disciplines of philosophy, economics and history, sociology met with similar hostility in Canada. Resistance to sociology was also related to its identification as a 'peculiarly American discipline' and to its adoption of research methods in field work that were frequently ridiculed (p. 15).

By the 1990s, sociology was well established in Canadian universities, with enrollment in sociology being one of the larger undergraduate enrollments. Graduate programs in sociology now produce ample numbers of Canadian doctorates in sociology, perhaps an oversupply. Canadian sociology has begun to integrate the distinctive Canadian influences with the sociological developments from other countries into a sociology that attempts to understand and explain most aspects of Canadian society. Whether this will ultimately produce a distinctive Canadian sociology is not clear.

In the following notes, some of the distinctive features that are associated with the study of sociology in Canada are noted. The major traditions from classical and American sociology are not discussed in any detail here, and instead the focus is on those aspects of sociology in Canada that might be considered different in Canada from approaches in other countries. Also note that almost all of the following notes deal only with sociology in English Canada. Sociology in Quebec has had a different history and emphasis.

3. Distinctive Features about Canada

Canada is a liberal democracy with a capitalist economy and a social welfare system more developed than the United States but less extensive than in many European countries. As a result, Canadian society may be considered to be very similar to other liberal capitalist societies in Western Europe or the United States, so that it might be unnecessary to have a distinctively Canadian approach to the study of society. Canadian sociology has drawn on sociological traditions developed elsewhere, and Canadian sociologists have contributed to those traditions. At the same time, there are a number of distinctive features to the history and geography of Canada and the social organization of Canadian society. Some of these features have also been noted by political economists, historians, political scientists and several of these are outlined in the following paragraphs.

a. Colonial Status. As a nation, Canada was established as an outpost of western European society, and this connection lasted much longer in Canada than in the United States. Each part of Canada was originally a colony of France or Britain and, unlike most other countries of the Americas, Canada never had a revolution to end colonial control. The long colonial connection led to a strong ruling elite, and to a political and social culture that is more conservative than that developed in other countries of the Americas, especially the United States. In the twentieth century, this colonial and elite legacy became associated with strong central state and a form of liberalism that is somewhat less individualistic and more collective than what is prevalent in the United States.

b. Canada-United States Differences. The proximity, size and power of the United States, its influence on Canada, and the differences between the two countries have been themes throughout Canadian history. The long colonial connection resulted in a number of political and social features of Canada that are somewhat different than in the United States. Canadians are often viewed as less individualistic than are people in the United States, with a greater emphasis on collective approaches in Canada. An associated development is the social welfare state as a means of organization, as opposed to greater reliance on individual initiative and private charity, as in the United States. The orderly development of the western frontier, under the guidance of the NWMP and the RCMP, as opposed to the disorderly and lawless United States frontier is a feature of Canadian westward expansion. The strong central state or provincial government exercises control in many areas such as health care, education, unemployment insurance, the Wheat Board, and agricultural marketing. In the private sector of the economy, the Canadian economy has traditionally been very monopolized, with only few firms in each industry and a great degree of central control of financial and economic decision making in Montreal or Toronto.

Canadians are often considered to be less individualistic and less entrepreneurial than people in the United States, and more reliant on the state. Even social movements sometimes express this reliance on the state. Youth organizations of the 1960s, the women's movement, and aboriginal movements have all been heavily funded by Ottawa and some of the provinces. In order to initiate change, social movements have often made appeals to the state in a manner that would be considered very unusual in many other countries. In the United States, such movements may make demands on the state, based on the constitution or on an appeal to basic rights, but the expectation is that the people will solve the problem themselves. In Canada, the appeal to government is more likely to address some injustice or problem that has developed, with an understanding that there is some responsibility on the part of the state to solve the problem.

c. Influence of geographical and natural conditions. The maritime influence in the Atlantic provinces, the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes system, the Canadian shield, the prairie, the Rockies, the natural features of British Columbia, and the remoteness and isolation of the Canadian north have been emphasized by Canadian social scientists as influencing Canadian social and political organization. Other factors affecting Canadian social and economic are the size and vastness of Canada, the low ratio of population to land, and the type, extent, and location of natural resources. Further, the distance from Europe and the proximity of, and long border with, the United States have been factors that have influenced the direction of and the institutions involved in Canadian social and economic development.

d. Immigration and settlement and, more recently, bilingualism and multiculturalism have been important themes in developing an understanding of Canadian society. The ethnic mosaic and cultural pluralism have been considered by some writers to characterize the integration of newcomers to Canada, in contrast with the melting pot approach in the United States. There are a variety of cultural influences that make it difficult to define a uniquely Canadian identity, or at least an English-Canadian identity. The multicultural model, since 1971 an official federal government policy and department, can be considered to be uniquely Canadian. This contrasts with the development of a single national identity in most European countries and in the United States. A single national identity has also been characteristic of Quebec, and it may be these differences between the multicultural identity of English Canada and the single nationality of Quebec that has created some of the problems between these two groups in Canada.

In contrast to the extensive numbers of studies on immigrants, settlement, and multiculturalism, the contribution of and problems associated with aboriginal society have not been major topics of sociological study. Only in the last ten to fifteen years has there been much study of the situation and contributions of the original peoples of Canada.

e. Regionalism and nationalism. Given the proximity, size, and power of the United States, its influence has always been very important. The United States has exerted a strong direct economic, social and cultural influence on Canadian society and culture. In addition, the United States provides a target for nationalists, and by contrast, a means of establishing an independent identity around opposition to that influence and power. Within Canada, there are four or five distinct regions, each with their own separate history and culture. The distinct culture and society of Quebec is most notable, but regional social movements such as the farmer's movement, the CCF, Social Credit, and the Reform Party have all helped to solidify different regional identities.

4. Influences on Canadian Sociology

a. Classical approaches. The classical theories of Durkheim, Weber and Marx are a major part of the sociology curriculum at Canadian universities, and are the main theoretical perspectives used in Canadian sociology. Other approaches such as structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, feminism, and postmodernism are also widely used. None of these can be said to have their origins in Canada, although Canadian sociologists have sometimes made contributions to these contemporary approaches. In this sense, Canadian sociology is international in character.

b. British and European approaches have often been influential. While some Canadians went to the United States to study, others went to Britain and brought some of the traditions from Britain to Canadian sociology. For example, S. D. Clark and John Porter both studied in Britain, and Leonard Marsh came from Britain. More recently, Giddens, British Marxists, and other British writing has often been a point of reference for debates in Canadian sociology. This has particularly been the case in Marxist (New Left Review, Maurice Dobb, Eric Hobsbawm) and feminist writing. Some Canadian sociologists have developed critical theory (originally from Germany and Italy) and postmodernism (primarily using ideas from French writers).

c. United States. There has been a strong influence from the various sociological and social science perspectives developed in the United States. The influence of Parsons and structural functionalism is well known. Some United States sociologists who came to Canada arrived with this as their approach; others developed new approaches in opposition to Parsons. In either case, Parsons and structural functionalism was often a point of reference.

The other major influence from the United States, especially on early Canadian sociology, was the work of the Chicago school sociologists such as Robert Park, Ernest Burgess (born in Tilbury, Ontario) and Roderick McKenzie (born in Carman, Manitoba). These early sociologists were human ecologists who studied the city and the natural and human environment. They could be considered to be in the tradition of Simmel and Durkheim, emphasizing the importance of the metropolis, solidarity and harmony and the manner in which these were created. The Chicago school studied communities and changes in these, how individuals were shaped by these communities, and how people and groups formed communities. These sociologists emphasized social research and social reform, and were often closely allied to the social work tradition of a helping profession. They regarded the city as "a social laboratory in which human nature and social processes could be examined" (Shore, p. 127). They were concerned with how individuals are integrated and communities created, a concern that became expressed in Canada with studies of Prairie settlement.

The Chicago school was also concerned with the "expanding metropolis and the influence it exerts over contiguous regions" (Shore, p. 121). This was particularly evident in the views of R. D. McKenzie on human ecology. Roderick D. McKenzie was born in Carman, Manitoba (1885-1940), attended the University of Manitoba and taught at the Manitoba Agricultural College. In 1913 he entered the sociology program at the University of Chicago. He completed a doctoral dissertation on a neighbourhood study of Columbus, Ohio and then became a professor at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan. McKenzie developed an ecological approach from the study of plant science and applied this to human communities. The ecological approach notes the influence of geography, space, and the environment on human social organization and change, adaptation, specialization, differentiation, complementarity, and stability that appear as human communities expand within the spatial and environmental framework.

McKenzie also emphasized centres of dominance that tend to develop in higher organisms and coordinate and control the organism (Shore, p. 110). McKenzie looked on societies and communities as evolving so that "they become more differentiated and the points of dominance more concentrated" (Shore, p. 111). This idea of dominance is apparent in the city, with a central business district and are also apparent in the larger region, with some dominant urban centres. These ideas became expressed in Canadian urban sociology (see Shore on Dawson, pp. 125-7) and also may have been influential in creating the metropolis-hinterland or centre-margin ideas of Innis, Easterbrook and A. K. Davis. The work of Carl Dawson and S. D. Clark also shows the influence of the human ecology approach.

The liberalism and individualism of American political science and the frontier approach of some American historians like Frederick Jackson Turner also were an important influence, at least on S. D. Clark (Harrison, p. 48) While the Turner view of the frontier was not so applicable to the Canadian situation, it provided a reference point against which westward Canadian expansion could be studied.

Another influence within United States sociology that was felt in Canada was the social gospel, "an attempt to apply Christianity to the collective ills of an industrializing society." (Canadian Encyclopedia, p. 2026.). The concern of religion with practical issues in the real world led many from a religious background to demonstrate an interest in improving people's lives here on earth. The social gospel was less concerned with abstract theology or personal salvation, than with social reforms. Some who promoted the social gospel also were interested in developing sociology as a practical discipline. The language of social gospel and sociologists was similar, with emphasis on being able to understand and improve society. The social teachings of the gospels were emphasized by the social gospel movement. The Chicago Divinity School was a centre of social gospel in the United States and attracted some like Carl Dawson to Chicago. In Canada, it was often in church sponsored universities that sociology departments were first established.

An example of this tradition in Canada is that of J. S. Woodsworth (1874-1942), the first leader of the CCF. Beginning as a Methodist minister, Woodsworth became interested in the plight of immigrants in Winnipeg, and by 1919 was a supporter of the Winnipeg general strike. Woodsworth became a member of parliament for Winnipeg North Centre, until his death. Woodsworth is primarily noted for his political activism, but Smillie notes the importance of the social gospel in inspiring and directing Woodsworth's early activities. Woodsworth is not noted as a sociologist but in 1913 he conducted a survey on social conditions in Regina, project that was sponsored by the Methodist and Presbyterian churches (Smillie, p. 101). Tommy Douglas also came out of this tradition, beginning as a Baptist minister and later entering politics.

In the 1960s, the rapid expansion of sociology in Canada was associated with a great influx of sociologists trained in the United States. While most of these made efforts to study Canadian society, the influence of their United States training undoubtedly had an important effect on the direction that Canadian sociology took. One side of this was the neglect of some of the earlier Canadian sociological traditions. On the other side, many who were trained in the United States developed an antipathy toward much United States sociology and this helped establish Canadian sociology with a somewhat different emphasis than the forms it took in the United States.

5. Canadian Approaches to the Study of Sociology

a. McGill University. The Sociology Department at McGill University was established by the McGill Board of Governors in the 1920s. The Board was composed of wealthy businessmen who were interested in developing a socially useful curriculum. One of the aims of the department was to train social workers, so that a close relationship with social work and social reform was developed in the Department. Another feature was the fact that many early sociologists had studied theology. Carl Dawson, a student of the Chicago sociologist Robert Park, was hired in 1922, and in 1925 the sociology department was established. In 1929, a $110,000 Rockefeller Foundation grant was awarded to study unemployment in Montreal. Dawson and another student of Park, Everett Hughes studied various aspects of change in Canada. Hughes wrote French Canada in Transition and Dawson studied immigration, settlement and the building of community in western Canada by new ethnic groups.

Dawson began by studying Montreal, and the studies he and his students did of the communities of Montreal are important examples of Canadian urban sociology. These were historical studies of Montreal neighbourhoods, examining the different regions of the city as Montreal grew from a small town to a major industrial and financial centre. These studies argued that

the structure, growth, and expansion of the city had a tremendous impact on the social life and value of its residents. ... they were not prepared ... to attribute its problems to unregulated capitalism. The city loomed large in their eyes – they saw it, and not some economic system, as the mechanism that sifted and sorted the population and determined its values and institutions (Shore, p. 144).

Dawson was also interested in the effect of the city on the surrounding region, and this led him to examine the general pattern of settlement in Canada (Shore, p. 147).

In the late 1920s, the Canadian Frontiers of Settlement project examined settlement patterns on the Prairies. Dawson conducted a study of the Peace River Area and also co-authored Pioneering in the Prairie Provinces: The Social Side of the Settlement Process (1940). This examined the evolution of urban and trading centres on the Prairies, and the natural features associated with settlement patterns. They also examined transportation and communication and their influences, and spent considerable time examining the types of services that were developed and available in rural areas. Some of the data they gathered is along much the same lines as that carried out by the Sample Survey Unit and the Canadian Plains Research Centre of the University of Regina in the 1970s and 1980s.

Leonard Marsh was a sociologist who was hired by Dawson to study unemployment. He had studied in Britain and was familiar with the British social reform tradition of the Fabian Society and Sir William Beveridge. Marsh wrote Canadians In and Out of Work and during the second world war headed a commission that wrote Report on Social Security for Canada. This laid the groundwork for much of the social welfare tradition in Canada, arguing for a system of social insurance, social assistance, pension plans, unemployment insurance, and children's allowances. (More of the approach of Marsh is outlined below in f., in connection with Porter and the study of social class and stratification in Canada).

While much of the early sociological research in Canada took place at McGill, sociology in Canada today was not directly or strongly influenced by the developments at McGill. Many of these McGill studies are excellent, but they were generally ignored as sociology expanded in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of the reason for this may be the influence of the University of Toronto and the historical and political economic schools of thought.

b. Political Economy The political economy tradition within Canadian sociology comes from several different sources. Some of these are as follows.

i. Dept. of Political Economy, University of Toronto The most important influence here was Harold Innis (1894-1952) a native of Oxford County in southern Ontario who obtained his doctorate at the University of Chicago. He joined the Department of Political Economy at Toronto in 1920 and stayed there until his death. Innis is one of the few Canadian social scientists who became well known outside Canada and was president of the American Economics Association in 1951. He was head of the Department of Political Economy and dean of the School of Graduate Studies, he exerted a strong influence, and as an economic historian, argued for the historical and political economic approach, as opposed to the sociological. At Toronto, sociology remained within the Department of Political Economy until a separate Department of Sociology was established in 1963. Innis’s doctoral thesis was A History of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (1923) and he is best known for The Fur Trade in Canada (1930) and The Cod Fisheries: The History of an International Economy (1940). He also wrote innumerable essays on economic history and his later writing were concerned with communications. One of his students who examined communications in more detail was Marshall McLuhan. Theories of communication were developed and expanded by Innis, McLuhan, Dallas Smythe and Arthur Kroker.

Innis is best known for his writings on economic history and the staple approach to the study of economy and society. For Innis, a staple was a product with a large natural resource content but little or no processing of the product. Innis argued that staple production in Canada strongly affected and determined the course of Canadian economic development. The major staples in Canada were cod, fur, forest products, and later wheat, gas and oil, and mining products. In Innis’s view, the geographic boundaries of Canada, the nature of the economy, the nature of government, and even some aspects of social organization, were all strongly determined by the nature of the staple product.

Innis’s theory is a materialist theory without social class. The importance of natural features and the influence of the environment are often downplayed in sociology. What the staples model suggests is that these must be considered as exercising an influence. While these are developed in a particular social manner, a society having different geographic and environmental features will also develop differently. If social class, and some other sociological concepts can be added to these natural features, this may help improve sociological explanation.

One sociologist who did use some of the ideas of Innis was S. D. Clark, a sociologist at the University of Toronto from the 1940s through the 1960s. Samuel Delbert Clark was born in 1910 near Lloydminster in Alberta. Better known as S. D. Clark, he studied at McGill, the London School of Economics, and Toronto, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1937 and appointed as the university’s first sociologist in 1938. Clark studied with Innis and attempted to relate elements of Canadian social organization to Innis’s staple approach. Clark also studied the social gospel, the Social Credit movement, political protest movements and suburban society. In Harrison’s view, Clark straddled the individualist and collectivist tradition within Canadian sociology (p. 122). While he was an important sociologist in his time, his work is not cited extensively in contemporary sociology and his ideas might be usefully incorporated into current sociological approaches.

ii. Western Canadian writers focussed on various aspects distinctive to the Prairies and western Canada. Most important were Vernon Fowke, Kenneth Buckley, and H. Clare Pentland. All were political economists whose writings had important implications for the analysis of Canadian society. Fowke developed a model of the state and society that explained the development of the wheat economy in terms of an integrated set of national policies – the railroad, the tariff, settlement, and the development of agriculture. Buckley showed how movements of capital and population were connected. Buckley and Fowke both taught at the University of Saskatchewan. Pentland provides a useful and insightful analysis of the development of capitalistic labour markets, applying a form of Marxian analysis to the development of labour markets in Canada.

In western Canada, the influence of the social gospel and agrarian protest movements all played an important role in social reforms, the development of cooperatives, political parties such as the CCF and Social Credit, and the development of community within western Canada. Farmers constituted a petty bourgeois class, all having fairly similar social and economic situation in the first part of the twentieth century. These farmers and their families created communities and social movements that can be used to help build a better model of the petty bourgeois than exists in the Marxian framework. Writers such as Jim McCrorie and John Conway continue this tradition today, as does our department generally. More recently, some have begun to examine the manner in which farmers as a social class have become divided, with different strata among farmers. The division surrounding the selling of shares in the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and the division of farmers over the question of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly are examples of these divisions.

The Saskatchewan Royal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Life was established in 1952 and completed its final report in 1957. It was concerned with the "basic changes in rural life and the farm economy of Saskatchewan ... new rural social problems ... the ability of our young people to become established in the agricultural industry ... [and] the opportunities for extending the amenities of rural life" (Vol. 14, p. v). This Commission examined many aspects of agriculture and conducted some more sociological studies of education, migration and home and family life. Among the participants were Meyer Brownstone, Joe Phelps, William Harding, and Peter Woroby. After this Commission had completed its work, the Centre for Community Studies at the University of Saskatchewan carried on similar studies for a number of years.

c. Dependency, Nationalism, Regionalism and Metropolis - Hinterland Analysis, Nationalism

A number of the distinctive features of Canadian development that we noted earlier have led to an emphasis on the differences and inequalities among Canadian regions, the domination and exploitation of some regions by others, regional identities, centre-margin approaches and metropolis-hinterland analysis. The writings of Innis, Creighton, Mackintosh, Fowke, Buckley, and Easterbrook provide an historical and political economic background that sociologists and political economists from the late 1960s through the 1990s have used to examine these regional differences and inequalities.

The position of Canada as a whole has been analyzed by applying Marxist theories of imperialism, the dependency model of Andre Gunder Frank and Samir Amin, and the world systems approach of Immanuel Wallerstein. These approaches have also been influential in examining regional inequalities and exploitation of one region by another. Some have put primary emphasis on Canada-United States relations, with the suggestion that Canada was or is more or less a colony of the United States. Other writers have argued that Canada is part of the first world and itself exploits third world or poorer countries, especially in the Caribbean and in parts of South America. In Canada, the dependent nature of Canadian industrialization and domination by the United States may be emphasized. This could be a staple model with a class analysis. What these approaches mean is that they analyze development in a different way than the more conventional modernization theories. Underdevelopment and dependency are seen as the other side of development.

Some of these Canadian approaches are as follows. The Watkins Commission, chaired by economist Mel Watkins was set up by the Liberal government and made its report in 1968. Watkins is an economics professor at the University of Toronto, and carried on the tradition of Innis and Easterbrook, connecting the staple model with a form of Marxist class analysis. Watkins, along with Jim Laxer, became influential in the NDP and were leaders of the Waffle in Ontario, a group that argued that Canada was dominated by the United States, and that Canadian nationalism was progressive and could lead in the direction of socialism. The Watkins Commission showed the extent of foreign ownership and argued that this hurt Canada. The arguments from this Commission and the Committee for an Independent Canada (set up by Walter Gordon) were influential in setting up the Foreign Investment Review Agency, Petro Canada and various other attempts that would allow Canadians to exercise more control over their economy.

Tom Naylor, in an influential article in the early 1970s, combined the Canadian historical approaches of Creighton and Innis with the Marxian categories of mercantile and industrial capital. Naylor, a professor of Economics at McGill University, argued that the colonial ruling and business class in Canada was essentially a mercantile class that made profits by marketing and transportation. According to Naylor, these Canadian capitalists were not interested in developing Canadian industry, with the result that Canadian industrial development has lagged and Canadian industry became dominated by United States capital.

In contrast, historian Stanley Ryerson argued that Canada developed as an industrial nation in much the same way as other industrial nations elsewhere. He argued that Canada was an unequal union with English Canada dominating French Canada, and that the United States did have considerable influence within Canada. At the same time, Ryerson used a Marxist analysis to show that Canadian industrialization created an industrial capitalist class and a proletariat, and the conflicting relationships between these classes was the main force in Canadian history.

In Western Canada there has been a long tradition of complaints about high costs of consumer goods and farm inputs, low prices for agricultural products, domination by financiers in Central Canada, limited processing of raw materials on the Prairies, extraction of surplus from the west with the benefits going to urban areas in Central Canada, loss of population, and lack of political representation and influence. These were often part of farmers movements (Grain Growers, Coops) or political movements (Social Credit, CCF, Reform Party). Some of these ideas became expressed sociologically through the metropolis-hinterland argument. Arthur K. Davis who came to Saskatchewan to work at the Centre for Community Studies in 1958, and later became a professor at the University of Calgary (1964-1968) and at the University of Alberta (1968-1981) attempted to popularize this approach. Davis brought with him the United States influences of Parsons, reactions against Parsons, Mills and the Monthly Review approach to Marxist thought.

Davis argued that "for the historical review of Canadian and North American society ... we prefer a metropolis-hinterland perspective. Metropolis continuously dominates and exploits hinterland whether in regional, national, class, or ethnic terms" (Davis, p. 12). This perspective considers there to be conflict between metropolis and hinterland, and "a tendency on the part of hinterland groups and interests to fight back eventually against their metropolitan exploiters in order to gain a larger place in the regional or national and international sun. ... The metropolitan-hinterland perspective is obviously a variation of the dialectical approach stemming from the Marxist tradition of social thought" (Davis, p. 13). Writing in the 1960s, Davis favoured "Quebec's move for independence, a step which he called ‘the most promising recent development in Canadian society’ because it might contribute to a Canadian-hinterland vs. American metropolis showdown" (Nock, Lessons from Davis, pp. 403-404). Davis thus integrates some of the models of Innis and the historical and political economic approach with a type of Marxism to produce a model of dependence and resistance to that dependence.

Other studies and approaches that might be included in this section.

Marchak and studies of B. C.

Quebec and Quebecois nationalism. Stanley Ryerson.

Canada and the US. S. M. Lipset, Gad Horowitz, C. B. McPherson, George Grant.

Maritime writers. Institute for Social and Economic Research at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Regional underdevelopment in Maritimes.

Studies of the North.

d. Immigration, Settlement, Ethnicity, Multiculturalism

Frontiers of settlement. Dawson.

Immigration. Mabel Timlin

Population studies. Keyfitz.

Ethnicity and multiculturalism.

Aboriginal studies.

e. Urban Studies.

McGill University and Carl Dawson.

University of Winnipeg.

f. Social Class, Social Stratification, Elites and the State

In recent years, one of the major areas of study within Canadian sociology has been that of social stratification and class structures. These studies bring together some of the early studies of Canadian class structures, a Marxian class analysis, some of the historical and political economic tradition, and more recent developments in the study of class. The latter generally build on a Marxian analysis of class, but deal with the issue of the middle classes and other problems in the Marxian model by using elements of the Weberian approach, Durkheimian or structural functional analysis or some of the game theoretic and analytical Marxian approaches. The approach of Erik Olin Wright in the United States and Wallace Clement in Canada are the most notable examples of this.

Before 1960, there were very few sociological analyses of Canada which examine the capitalist class in Canada or considered that class conflict was an important feature of Canadian social and economic development. While the Family Compact and Chateau Clique were part of colonial history, it was commonly held that Canada in the twentieth century was a parliamentary democracy with a reasonably competitive capitalist economy. Farmers and members of social reform movements of the early to mid twentieth century often argued that there were powerful bankers and financial interests or wealthy industrialists. However, there appears to have been little coherent theory of a Canadian capitalist or working classes or a theory of change based on class contradictions and class conflict.

Early in the century, an American, Gustavus Myers, had written A History of Canadian Wealth (1914), describing the amassing of Canadian resources and wealth in the hands of a few wealthy individuals and families. Myers also showed how these wealthy Canadians were often the same people who governed the country. In nineteenth century Canada, the capitalist and the governing class were often the same people and, in these circumstances, there was little difficulty in identifying these as a ruling class.

In Montreal, the class divisions were very noticeable, and in 1896, a Montreal businessman, Herbert Ames wrote The City Below the Hill. Ames had studied at Amherst College in the United States and was influenced by the settlement house and social gospel traditions that he encountered there (Copp, p. 19). This was an early sociological description of a part of the Montreal working class – French, English and Irish. This study did not paint a very positive picture of the working class, with much child labour, unemployment and poor health and housing conditions. Ames hoped that by showing the prevalence of these conditions would spur business people to undertake social reform.

In 1930, some sociological researchers at McGill University set up the McGill Social Science Research Project which examined issues such as unemployment, social welfare, immigration, labour mobility, land tenure and education (Shore, Ch. 6). This Project was originally funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States and had as its aim the establishment of "an interdisciplinary social science research program to study employment and unemployment" (Helmes-Hayes, p. 86). Leonard Marsh (1906-1982) was hired to head the Project, and several of the studies are published with him as author or co-author. Marsh brought with him the experience of the British studies of poverty and working class life, and the Fabian approach of the inevitability of socialism through social reform (rather than revolution). In Canadians In and Out of Work, Marsh used Census data and other sources to examine the social stratification of Canada and concludes that there are four classes in Canada: "the well-to-do, the middle classes, the working classes, and the farm classes" (Helmes-Hayes, p. 90). This may be an essentially Weberian approach to class, with Marsh considering there to be "section of the community subject to certain economic conditions" and also status communities "the area over which certain characteristic conventions and valuation are accepted" (Helmes-Hayes, p. 90). Marsh and his associated made many studies of employment and unemployment, but eventually the Project was terminated because senior McGill University professors and administrators considered the approach too radical. Marsh himself wrote much of Report on Social Security for Canada (1943), a report that may have been ignored by government at the time, but provided a blueprint for the social security system that Canada developed. This includes the unemployment insurance program, the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan, old age security and family allowances. Marsh worked for the United Nations for a time and from 1948 through 1972 was a professor at the University of British Columbia.

The situation began to change after 1960. Several studies of the Canadian capitalist class were published. This was then followed by extensive historical studies, and numerous theories concerning the nature of the Canadian capitalist class. The first of these studies was carried out by Libbie and Frank Park in Anatomy of Big Business. This book was published by Progress Publishers, the publishing wing of the Canadian Communist Party in 1962. The Parks showed the extensive interconnections among the major Canadian corporations, with many interlocks of directors of these corporations. In the view of the Parks, this was centred around the large commercial banks, providing a strong means of control by wealthy individuals with financial interests. While the Parks’ research appears to have been excellent, this book had little impact in academic circles at this time.

In the mid 1970s, Peter Newman published two volumes of The Canadian Establishment, the latter being devoted primarily to the Bronfman family. While somewhat journalistic in tone, and lacking any particular theory, Newman's books provide interesting and informative reading concerning the life and structure of some sections of the Canadian capitalist class.

Studies of poverty became more prevalent in the late 1960s. The Economic Council of Canada released a report on poverty in 1968 showing that 27% of Canadians were living in poverty. A special Senate committee was set up in 1968, chaired by David Croll. Two reports were released in 1971, the official report and The Real Report on Poverty. Data on poverty is now updated regularly by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Council on Social Development.

John Porter. Studies of social stratification in Canada became much more common after the work of John Porter became available. John Porter (1921-1979, born in Vancouver, died in Ottawa) was one of Canada's most important sociologists in the 1950s through the 1970s. He was a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa for most of his academic life. He studied in Britain at the London School of Economics, where he came into contact with the concept of social class. He was concerned with the issue of equality of opportunity and the exercise of power by political, bureaucratic, economic, labour, and other elites in society. His major work The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Canada (1965) showed how a small minority of powerful and rich men controlled the Canadian economic and political system. Porter was concerned with challenging the image that Canada was a classless society with "no barriers to opportunity" (p. 4). Porter is also known for the development, along with Peter Pineo, of the Pineo-Porter index of socioeconomic status. In honour of Porter and his importance in the development of sociology in Canada, the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association now has an annual award called the Porter award.

Porter concludes The Vertical Mosaic by noting:

Canada is probably not unlike other western industrial nations in relying heavily on its elite groups to make major decisions and to determine the shape and direction of its development. The nineteenth-century notion of a liberal citizen-participating democracy is obviously not a satisfactory model by which to examine the processes of decision-making in either the economic of the political contexts. ... If power and decision-making must always rest with elite groups, there can at least be open recruitment from all classes into the elite. (p. 558).

Porter argues that Marxist analysis of class, based on ownership or non-ownership of the means of production is a "questionable criterion of class in modern industrial society" (p. 25). Porter also rejects power as the basis for social class because he observes that there is little conflict between those have power and those who do not. Instead, Porter attempts to construct a new model based on the study of elites.

The latter are those who have assumed the major decision-making roles in the various institutional systems in the complex society of the modern world. These institutional systems are ... hierarchically organized, and individuals or groups at the top of our institutions can be designated as elites. Elites both compete and co-operate with one another: they compete to share in the making of decisions of major importance for the society, and they co-operate because together they keep the society working as a going concern. Elites govern institutions which have, in the complex world, functional tasks. ... It is elites who have the capacity to introduce change ... . (p. 27).

Porter's analysis is thus a combination of structural functional analysis with notions of elites, partly inspired by Marxian analysis, but attempting to present a non-Marxian approach. As will be seen, the particular nature of the Canadian capitalist class also could be considered to be a reason why Porter could develop such a model. The Canadian capitalist class of the 1950s was a fairly tightly knit group of wealthy, mainly Anglo-Saxon males, mostly centred in Montreal and Toronto. This group controlled most of Canadian finance and industry, and also called many of the shots in the political sphere. This Canadian capitalist class thus appeared to be an elite, or was an elite. Porter considers there to be several elites, and he examines the economic, political, labour, and ideological (education and religion) elites. In this, he may have been inspired by the United States sociologist C. Wright Mills and his study of the United States power elite.

Porter's analysis of elites was replicated by Wallace Clement, a sociologist who is now a professor at Carleton University. His study The Canadian Corporate Elite: An Analysis of Economic Power, was published in 1975. As one of the major Canadian sociologists today, Clement has also studied the labour process in the mining industry and has written extensively on the Canadian capitalist class and on class structures. Clement has developed a more Marxian approach, or a modified Marxian-Weberian approach to social class and stratification. In order to see how Clement analyzes social stratification in Canada, it is necessary to consider some of the other models of class that have developed within the conflict theory approach.

Note : See Appendix II for more notes on Clement and comparative class analysis.

Other writers and approaches to include:

Jorge Niosi

Strong canadian state, nature of this state and implications for models of the state.

Studies of social mobility. Boyd, McRoberts, Pineo, etc.

Blishen scale - developed before SES in the United States

Studies of poverty. Ames, Marsh, Senate Committee and Real Poverty Report (1971).

Labour movement. Pentland, Mackenzie King, Logan, Lipton, Jamieson, Palmer.

Other conflict approaches. Seccombe.

Our Generation. Anarchist and ecological approaches.

Canadian Dimension.

Role of State. Royal commissions, statistical agencies, commissioned studies. Dominion Bureau of Statistics and Statistics Canada. Statistical studies.

Methods. Community studies, surveys.

g. Feminism

Dorothy Smith – experience of women to become an integral part of sociology.

Before the feminist movement of the 1960s, there are few if any influences of the feminist approach on sociology. Movements such as the struggle of women to get the vote, the temperance movement, etc. were important. Some historians are now attempting to rediscover the role played by women in early days in Canada – e.g. Marjorie Cohen, Joy Parr, Bettina Bradbury.

The feminist movement has been characterized by greater reliance on the state than in other countries. Royal Commission on the Status of Women

Black notes that "there seems to be no equivalent elsewhere to the way in which the National Action Committee on the Status of Women was able to incorporate into its membership -- as it still does -- first-wave survivor groups, representatives of women's liberation, the new pressure groups organized around the RCSW recommendations, the many sectoral women's groups, as well as the cultural and service inheritors of women's liberation." (Bury, Code and Dorney, Changing Patterns, p. 168). Given the variety of groups and experiences that have been represented in this organization, there may be reason to argue that this does demonstrate the common situation of women. On the other hand, this also demonstrates the conservative nature of collectivism in Canada.

Armstrongs and Phillips. Women in labour Force.

Royal Commission on Reproductive Technology - no free enterprise, no free choice in many areas, but a commission of twelve at the national level to ensure that women are not mistreated.

There are now major streams of feminism in Canada, but it is not clear that these are all that different from those in other countries. Some of the major sociological approaches in Canada also have feminist contributions within them.

h. Post Modernism

Innis, McLuhan and communications theories.


6. Conclusion

There appear to be few unique Canadian aspects of sociological theory that have general applicability, with the possible exception of the staple model. In general, Canadian sociology has used concepts and approaches that are not strictly sociological, relying on historical, political economic, geographical or technological approaches that deal with the different history and nature of societal development, development of classes, class struggles and the nature of the state. As applications of social theory, each provides examples of how social science approaches can be developed.

More recently, Canadian sociologists have made contributions to sociology more generally. For example, Clement was part of the Comparative Class Structure Project and Dorothy Smith is a major feminist writer. Others that are less well known contribute to a variety of journals and books.

There are a considerable number of implications of the Canadian applications for the classical sociological approaches, more recent sociological approaches, and theories from the other social sciences. The basic concepts and formats of these other sociological approaches are not challenged by any Canadian uses of these approaches. Instead, some of the shortcomings of the approaches are illustrated by Canadian examples. Hopefully the theoretical approaches can be improved by considering some of the applications within Canadian sociology. For example, it is clear that the Marxian approach needs modification in dealing with each specific country, even though some of the broad structural approaches of the Marxian model help explain the history and structure of Canadian society. The liberal, structural functional approach obviously needs modification in dealing with the political and social realities of Canadian society and the Canadian state.



Brym, R. J. with B. J. Fox, From Culture to Power: the Sociology of English Canada.

The Canadian Encyclopedia, second edition (Edmonton, Hurtig, 1988).

Carroll, W. K. et. al., Fragile Truths: Twenty-Five Years of Sociology and Anthropology in Canada, Ottawa, Carleton University Press, 1992.

Copp, Terry, The Anatomy of Poverty, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1974. HV 4200 M6 C6

Davis, Arthur K., "Canadian Society and History as Hinterland Versus Metropolis," in R. Ossenberg, Canadian Society: Pluralism, Change and Conflict, Scarborough, Prentice-Hall, 1971, pp. 6-32.

Easterbrook, William T. and M. H. Watkins, Approaches to Canadian Economic History, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1967.

Harrison, Deborah, The Limits of Liberalism: the Making of Canadian Sociology, Montreal, Black Rose, 1981. HM22 H37

Helmes-Hayes, Richard C. and Dennis Wilcox-Magill, "A Neglected Classic: Leonard Marsh's Canadians In and Out of Work," Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 30 (1), 1993, pp. 83-109.

Hiller, Harry H., Society and Change: S. D. Clark and the Development of Canadian Sociology, Toronto, University of Toronto, 1982. HM 22 C32C53

Innis, Harold A., Essays in Canadian Economic History, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1956.

Innis, Harold A., The Fur Trade in Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1970 edition.

Kroker, Arthur, Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis/McLuhan/Grant, Montreal, New World Perspectives, 1984. CB 478 K76 1981

Nock, David A., Star Wars in Canadian Sociology: Exploring the Social Construction of Knowledge, Halifax, Fernwood Publishing,1993.

Nock, David A., "Lessons From Davis: The Sociology of Arthur Kent Davis," Canadian Journal of Sociology, 20 (3), 1995, pp. 387-407.

Shore, Marlene, The Science of Social Redemption: McGill, the Chicago School, and the Origins of Social Research in Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto, 1987.

Smillie, Ben, Beyond the Social Gospel: Church Protest on the Prairies, Saskatoon, Fifth House, 1991.


Last edited on December 8, 1999.

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