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184 The Canadian Historical Review us largely as faceless parts of an aggregate whole, in their domestic settings - they are embodied, as much as they can be, through the use of records other than those generating numerical data. Although his questions and his methods are familiar, Gossage's true achievement in Families in Transition lies in this: by layering the evidence he uncovers in his principal sources with the descriptive material found in pastoral publications , local histories and genealogies, private photograph collections, parish.surveys, and municipal records, he can tell us so'mething more about everyday life in an industrializing community than what is reflected in the numbers, important though they are. My quibbles have more to do with the frustrations inherent in family history - ofnot being able to get much more than fleeting glimpses of intimate familial relations which, by virtue oftheir very private nature, consistently elude our voyeuristic tactics - than with real shortcomings in Gossage's study. Families in Transition is a lucid, engaging, painstaking examination of familial change in relation to structural change, and has earned an important place in the developing Canadian historiography. CYNTHIA COMACCHIO Wilfrid Laurier University The Limits ofLabour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929. DAVID BRIGHT. Vancouver: UBC Press 1998. Pp. 286, illus. $85.00 David Bright has put together a carefully crafted community study that explores the complexities ofworking-class experience in early twentiethcentury Canada. Calgary is a good site for this kind ofintensive investigation . It had a significant industrial base with a sizeable workforce. It had a lively local labour movement. It also had a reputation as a more cautious labour community than some of its Prairie counterparts, especially Winnipeg. These characteristics suggest that it was not 'typical ,' since, as Bright rightly points out, every working-class community has its own unique dynamics. But it had the ingredients to allow for some rewarding exploration ofworking-class formation and experience in a local context, with wider relevance within Canada. Bright takes us part ofthe way along that road, but stops short ofthe rigorous treatment that the subject calls for. Although the author claims to be part ofa 'third generation' oflabour historians, his approach is similar to the 'second' - a sophisticated, nondeterministic Marxist sensibility that refuses to presume a direct, uncomplicated link between class location and behaviour or consciousness . His main claim to disagreement with Bryan Palmer et al. is a more Book Reviews 185 sober pessimism than the exuberance of the 'culturalists' of the early 1980s, although his position is not so far from Palmer's more recent writings. In practice, that means that he stakes a strong claim to the continuing relevance ofclass analysis in Canadian historical writing, but he labours hard to document how working-class Calgary remained fragmented rather than united by a common class culture. His overarching theme is how the local labour movement failed to unite the city's workers into a coherent force capable ofacting on common concerns. Fragmentation can be a useful way of approaching working-class history, but it can become an overly easy explanation for the failure of collective working-class action. Wherever it appears, the working class is in an almost perpetual state offormation and reformation (especially as a result ofrecruitment from new pools oflabour, regular restructuring of the labour processes, and the dislocations of unemployment and geographical mobility). It also has much weaker resources for mobilizing than the dominant classes and can be drawn into other classes' constructions ofreality. Fragmentation is thus a normal feature ofworking-class existence and, by itself, has weak explanatory power. Rather than assuming that unity is the natural state and that its absence must be explained, working-class historians will generally get more mileage out oftrying to uncover the diverse ways that workers negotiated the relationships in the world they found themselves in. Bright chooses to oversimplify the story by reducing most social experience in working-class Calgary to the single pattern offragmentation. Unfortunately, pursuing that theme too often involves superficial assessments of social processes. The changing production processes in Calgary's factories are described as fragmenting, without any in-depth consideration of what kind of work experience was resulting from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 184-187
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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