Authors: Katie Mazer*, University of Toronto
Topics: Natural Resources, Economic Geography, Canada
Keywords: Labour, natural resources, unemployment, subjectivity, mobility
Session Type: Paper
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded
Extreme, volatile, and mobile labour regimes are a longstanding feature of Canadian resource industries. Workers have often travelled out of peripheral high unemployment regions to periodically pursue work in these industries. Examining mobility between eastern Canada and the Alberta petroleum industry, this paper considers how such extreme labour relations became normal for these workers and sending communities. How did a 5000 kilometre trip into gruelling, remote, and isolated work comes to be seen as a acceptable solution to the problem of seasonal unemployment and low wages in workers’ home communities? In considering this question, I focus on several powerful narratives about this group of workers and their work ethic that hinge on racial, geographical, and gendered explanations of their ‘natural’ inclinations: toward, as the case may be, laziness, greed, and irresponsibility or discipline, reliability, and physical outdoor work. I draw on interviews with employers and employment counsellors, media representations, and workers’ own reflections to consider how these narratives function to shape and constrain not only workers’ sense of selves, but also their political imaginaries. I argue that, despite all the challenges of oil work, the interplay of stories that simultaneously pathologize and celebrate these workers has encouraged their attachment to resource frontier as a pathway to a better life. In interrogating the formulation of these men as a distinct class of workers, this paper is concerned with the broader ways that the production of social difference is foundational to the reproduction of capitalist relations and geographies.