Sociology 250

November 29, 2002


Canadian Sociological Perpectives – I


1.  Introduction


Rather than develop new sociological theories, Canadian sociologists have generally used and developed theories and approaches from other countries, adapting them to Canadian circumstances.  These perspectives include the three major classical traditions (Durkheim, Marx, Weber), along with various approaches from the United States.  The latter include the structural functional approach of Parsons, the human ecology approach of the Chicago school of sociology, microsociological approaches such as symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology, and feminist approaches.  There are many Canadian contributions to sociology but no uniquely Canadian sociological theory, at least not one having a major influence outside Canada.


Where Canadian sociological approaches have been innovative, it has been in applied sociology, examining and analyzing issues and problems facing Canadian society.  I regard Canadian sociological contributions in the following areas as innovative and contributing to the discipline of sociology as a whole.

·        Dependency, nationalism, regionalism, resources – analysis of metropolis and hinterland, core and periphery

·        Vertical mosaic – corporate ownership and social stratification

·        Multiculturalism and diversity – national minorities and immigrant groups, Quebec, and aboriginal society

·        Feminism – women’s experiences/situations and political participation

In each of these areas, there are some distinctively Canadian sociological analyses and contributions.  Some of these approaches emerged because of distinctive aspects of Canadian society, thus limiting their application elsewhere but at the same time providing analyses that may be useful for sociology as a whole.   In addition to these four areas, Canadian sociologists have produced useful community studies and analyses of communications and the media.   


Since Canadian sociology was relatively underdeveloped as a discipline before the 1970s,  Canadian sociologists borrowed ideas and approaches from other disciplines.  This was especially true in the first half of the twentieth century, and has remained the case even though Canadian sociological analysis has developed dramatically over the last forty years.  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.  Since sociology is an international field, Canadian sociologists have become part of each of the major trends and approaches within sociology, contributing to these developments and interpreting and using data and analysis from Canadian society within each approach.


2.  History of Canadian Sociology 


Sociology in Canada has a relatively short history with most sociology departments being established after 1960.  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 doctorates 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.  Many of the latter were 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 restrictive and privileged before the 1960s.  Many new universities were established in the 1960s and older universities were expanded.  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, geography, and social organization of Canada.  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 the colonial 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.  Vernon Fowke (1907-1966) 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.  His best known work was The National Policy and the Wheat Economy (1957).   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,



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. 



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



Last edited November 29, 2002


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