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  • Autonomous State: The Struggle for a Canadian Car Industry from OPEC to Free Trade by Dimitry Anastakis
  • Alexander Burnett and Brendan Sweeney
Autonomous State: The Struggle for a Canadian Car Industry from OPEC to Free Trade by Dimitry Anastakis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. 549pp. Cloth $90.00, Paper $39.95.

Dimitry Anastakis’s Autonomous State: The Struggle for a Canadian Car Industry from OPEC to Free Trade provides a thorough and detailed examination of the Canadian automotive industry in the 1970s and 1980s and logically follows his 2005 book Auto Pact: Creating a Borderless North American Automotive Industry, 1960–1971. Autonomous State addresses a gap in scholarship through its analysis of Canada’s oft-overlooked yet highly strategic approach to foreign relations. The in-depth investigation of the “activist” state and its use of creative and aggressive policies to grow Canada’s share of the North American automotive industry represents a significant contribution to a growing literature that focuses on the role of the state in an increasingly globalized and putatively neo-liberalized political economy.

Autonomous State uses the automotive industry as a vehicle to examine the development of Canada-US political and economic relations from the first Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) crisis in 1973 to the implementation of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1989. The book’s organization is effective: chapters are arranged thematically rather than chronologically, delving deeply into events like the 1980 Chrysler bailout, the breakup of the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the establishment of such Japanese firms as Honda and Toyota in Canada. In so doing, a time period that is rich in information is synthesized in an accessible fashion.

However, a risk of this method is the potential for overlap, which occurs several times at the expense of coherence and flow. Yet revisiting these events also reflects Anastakis’s thorough research and extremely detailed analyses. By engaging with archival records, government publications, documents from non-governmental organizations, and academic literature, the author aptly communicates his expertise in the subject matter. Furthermore, the use of qualitative interviews adds a rich complexity that does not go unnoticed. These interviews complement and reinforce Anastakis’s insistence on the importance of individual personalities and the capability of Canadian politicians and policy-makers of that era. This is perhaps most evident in his recount of Ford’s investment in Essex County in the late 1970s. In his words, a “state is only as activist as its key actors, and a policy only as strong as the personalities behind it” (p. 338).

Media sources also play an understated but essential role in conveying detailed content. Photographs and newspaper headlines help contextualize the political climate, and satirical and editorial comics contribute to the reader-friendly approach that distinguishes Anastakis’s work. Charts and data are limited but effective, and when best applied, they illustrate larger trends addressed in the text.

In many cases, media sources improve the content. However, in some instances their use seems laboured. In these circumstances, there was a sense that they were included to avoid continuous pages of text and to maintain cohesion with previous chapters or sections. This reflects the significant breadth and depth of detail and analysis condensed into one volume.

The book’s purpose and the academic conversations to which Autonomous State seeks to contribute are clearly laid out in the introductory chapter. However, the intended audience is not as explicitly defined. Perhaps we can help. A historian by discipline, Anastakis expertly blurs the boundaries between political science, economics, [End Page 193] policy studies, economic geography, and communications. Through this, Autonomous State can benefit readers from a variety of backgrounds. And while its depth and specificity may not be appropriate for even the most advanced undergraduate audience, certain chapters—or even the book in its entirety—could contribute to the reading lists of graduate-level courses. In short, the depth of information provides much to consider for academics, yet the accessibility of the writing and media hint at a wider audience.

Autonomous State is an invaluable resource for those interested in the development of the Canadian automotive industry. Beyond the automotive industry, Anastakis makes valuable...


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