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Canadian sociology has a rich history, and the diverse fabric of the contemporary field has much to offer our discipline, our universities, and our intellectual life throughout North America and internationally. Established at McGill University in the 1920s and the University of Toronto in the early 1960s, sociology as a distinct academic discipline has since been institutionalized in universities throughout the country and is now a core element of Canadian liberal arts education and research-oriented social science (Brym and Fox 1989; Helmes-Hayes 2002; Hiller 1982; Shore 1987). We argue that sociology in Canada offers three major unique strengths to the discipline. First, as a result of its unique historical genesis, Canada’s brand of sociology is remarkably diverse methodologically relative to other national traditions and is strong in historical, interpretive, and quantitative traditions. Second, Canada’s position relative to the United States represents a complex “optimal marginality” that allows a place for critical analytic clarity due to its distance from the disciplinary core, which is largely centralized in the United States and Europe. Finally, as a result of the institutional context of Canadian sociology and its political culture, there is rich potential for public academic contributions in the discipline. These strengths will be discussed with regard to historical and contemporary contributions of Canadian sociology. We will proceed to explore some of the institutional and professional obstacles Canadian sociology faces, and finally, we will provide thoughts on its likely future.
Three Research Traditions in Canadian Sociology
Perhaps more than any other brand of national sociology, the Canadian tradition is marked by a great deal of methodological diversity and an openness to competing but complementary approaches to research. It is true that sociology on the whole is characterized by diverse research methods, which are of course made up of competing paradigms of multivariate, historical/comparative, and interpretive sociology (Alford 1998). However, it is our contention that the Canadian model is probably more diverse than the European and American traditions in relative terms. European sociology is marked by a stronger emphasis on social theorizing and qualitative and historical methods. American sociology is dominated, in line with the flagship journals American Journal of Sociology (AJS) and American Sociological Research (ASR), by a quantitative approach. We argue that because of Canada’s unique position and historical ties with respect to both British and American traditions, the Canadian tradition enjoys a more even methodological balance. We perceive this methodological diversity offered by Canada as a major strength for the discipline and an example of the rich potential offered by multimethod approaches generally.
It is a major problem that sociologists have been divided by arbitrary distinctions created by methodological and theoretical orthodoxies. Most contemporary research consists of either qualitative ethnography linked to interpretive theory, quantitative statistical methods aligned with multivariate modes of theorizing, or archival data embedded in historical narratives. Contemporary efforts at “triangulation” improve on research done within one single paradigm of social inquiry, and discussion among different levels of inquiry improves the sociological imagination. The evidence for sociological theories is most compelling when these different methodological approaches are combined, and when the discipline allows a place for each type of research tradition. For a variety of geographic and historical factors, these three research logics of multivariate, interpretive, and historical-comparative have carved out relatively secure spaces in sociology in Canada.
Multivariate Research in Canada
The origins of Canadian quantitative sociology, as was the case in the British tradition we often draw on, lie with quantitative policy-oriented research dealing with poverty, social exclusion, and the welfare state. From the important early policy work of Leonard Marsh and, later, John Porter, sociologists in Canada have contributed an enormous amount to the research base for welfare state design and implementation as well as playing a pivotal role in the legitimation of state spending on social provisions (HelmesHayes 2002). Leonard Marsh’s (1940) Canadians In and Out of Work represents the first book-length account of class analysis in Canada and its relation to the labor market, and his famous “Marsh Report” (1943) on social security provisions was a major step toward more egalitarian social policy based on solid empirical research (Helmes-Hayes and Wilcox-Magill 1993). Following in this tradition, John Porter’s book The Vertical Mosiac (1965), in particular, is a classic study about nationality and ethnicity in the Canadian stratification system that has given rise to a rich tradition of quantitative research on elites. In dealing with Canadian government officials who were more concerned with the practicality of policy proposals than abstract theoretical arguments, many of the early Canadian sociologists developed skills at gathering and presenting quantitative data on policy-relevant issues. Numbers mattered in the emergence of sociology in Canada, and this tradition continues today with Canadian federal government-sponsored research on topics such as health care, poverty, immigration, and racism (e.g., Armstrong 2001; Armstrong and Armstrong 2003; Armstrong, Armstrong and Fegan 1998; Boyd 1979; Boyd et al. 1985; Boyd and Thomas 2001; Breton 1990; Breton and Reitz 2005; Fong 2003, 2004; Fong and Wilkes 2003; Li1996,1998,2003;Reitz1980,1998;Sinclair1985,1988).
In the past 25 years or so, quantitative research in Canada has become more theoretically focused and has moved in more technical quantitative directions than was the case in its early Fabian-influenced origins. An English Canadian research tradition has emerged, for example, that has subjected the comparative U.S.-Canada research program of Seymour Martin Lipset to extended critique, revision, and expansion, based on a sophisticated set of statistical analyses (Baer 1990; Baer, Curtis, and Grabb 2001; Baer, Grabb, and Johnston 1990, 1993; Grabb, Baer, and Curtis 1999; Grabb and Curtis 1988, 2005; Grabb, Curtis, and Baer 2000, 2001; Ogmundson 1994). Recently, Andersen, Curtis, and Grabb (2006) have written a methodologically sophisticated critique of Putnam’s arguments surrounding civic engagement based on a comparative and longitudinal statistical analysis of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. They show that the decline of civic engagement central to Putman’s influential argument appears to be a uniquely American process and seems to be explainable not by television or a generational dynamics but by a decline of female civic participation in an American society that lacks collective social supports for child rearing. There is also extensive quantitative research done, for example, in Canada on voting behavior, the social origins of crime, social psychology, higher education, and work and occupations (Gartner 1991; Gartner and MacMillan 1995; Gartner and McCarthy 1991; Hagan 1989a, 1989b, 1991; Hagan and Foster 2001; Hagan and Leon 1977; Hagan, MacMillan, and Wheaton 1996; Hagan and McCarthy 1997; Hagan and Wheaton 1993; Nakhaie 1992, 1996, 2002). The methodological sophistication of Canada’s best quantitative researchers rank with top international standards (Baer 2005).
Starting with the Marxist critique of Porter’s student Wallace Clement in The Canadian Corporate Elite (1975), we have a vast scholarship produced in Canada that analyzes class dominance and the links between corporate class and major decision-making processes (Carroll 1986, 1992b, 2004; Clement 1975, 1977, 1986, 2001; Clement and Myles 1994; Fox and Ornstein 1986; Ornstein 1986, 1988, 1989). The combination of the sophisticated quantitative work of what is sometimes called the “York School” of Marxist elite studies and the influence of the social network approach of Barry Wellman at the University of Toronto has led to strong scholarly work on elites in Canada (Ogmundson 2002, 2005; Tindall and Wellman 2001; Wellman 1979, 1999). More recently, the dominance of The Vertical Mosiac as well as neo-Marxist and network paradigms have been challenged by quantitative scholars working from a feminist perspective, as well as by scholars raising questions about the centrality of race, for what are called “visible minorities” in Canada (Helmes-Hayes and Curtis 1998; Nakhaie 1997).
Ethnography in Canada
Canadian sociology is also characterized by a rich qualitative research tradition that is well known internationally. Formed initially at McGill University in Montreal, with close ties to the University of Chicago, qualitative symbolic interactionist research traditions have spread throughout Canadian sociology, leading to the development of a strong interpretive tradition in Canada. The sociology department at McGill was first founded by Carl Dawson in 1925, who was influenced in large part by the ecological tradition at Chicago, exemplified by the likes of Albion Small and Robert Park (Camara and Helmes-Hayes 2003).1 These ties to Chicago brought over Everett Hughes, who had moved to Canada after marrying a Canadian woman from British Columbia (Helen Hughes) and conducted his landmark study French Canada in Transition while in Montreal, making use of ecological approaches to studying the city (Hughes 1943). Hughes pioneered ethnographic methods in Canada, and later taught the Canadian expatriate Erving Goffman while he was a foreign student at the University of Chicago. The ethnographic tradition continued at McGill, then McMaster, and now throughout Canadian sociology at a number of universities across the country.
The ethnographies produced by Canadians are rich and varied. Goffman (1959), of course, is the most famous of Canadian sociologists even though his links to his homeland were not strong after he left the University of Toronto as an undergraduate to pursue his Ph.D. in the United States. Orrin Klapp is also known as an important Canadian theorist of identity, and he also made use of qualitative cases to forward his conceptualization of public reputations in American society (Klapp 1962, 1964). Like Goffman, his ties to Canada are somewhat tenuous as much of Klapp’s work was produced south of the border. Robert Stebbins is an example of the opposite kind of cross-border migration— an American who settled at the University of Calgary. Stebbins has studied deviance (Stebbins 1995), sporting culture (Stebbins 1987), and work and occupations (Stebbins 1984, 1990) and has developed the notion of “serious leisure” (Stebbins 2004) to help characterize devoted participation across both leisure and occupational spheres. Jack Haas and William Shaffir (1991) have explored the process of professionalization medical students undergo as a type of status passage into the world of medicine, and Shaffir has written extensively on religious orthodoxy (e.g., Shaffir 1974). Canadian scholars have written excellent ethnographic work on Afro-Canadians in Nova Scotia, gender and family, schooling, the dynamics of cities, and education (Albas and Albas 1984; Clairmont and Magill 1974; Eichler 1988, 2001, 2002; Fox 1993; Luxton 1980). Prus (1989a, 1989b) has studied sales and marketplace activity as it happens in process vis-à-vis concrete settings such as shopping malls and trade shows and has contributed to work on deviance in his work on professional hustlers and the hotel community (Prus and Irini 1980; Prus and Sharper 1977). Not satisfied, however, with simply describing various research sites, Prus (1996, 1997) has argued for fieldwork tactics that are combined with a conceptual framework of “generic social processes” by providing transcontextual theoretical comparison points for field observations.
Part of the strength of ethnography in Canadian sociology comes from an institutional legacy—many Canadian sociology departments remain as sociology and anthropology departments, even at departments that produce sociology Ph.D.s. Moreover, the professional body representing Canadian sociologists houses anthropologists as well and was called The Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association (CSAA) for years, although this recently changed to The Canadian Sociology Association (CSA). As a consequence of these factors, and because of our historical links to Great Britain, social anthropology plays a strong role in the intellectual life of Canadian sociology, providing the symbolic interactionist tradition with natural allies. In addition, the Fabian policy orientation of many Canadian sociologists and the focus on regional diversity in this highly decentralized federal state has often been combined with qualitative research approaches to produce rich research on fishing communities on the East Coast and logging on the West Coast as well as urban issues (Hannigan 1998; Marchak 1983, 1991, 1995; Marchak, Aycock, and Herbert 1999; Sinclair 1985, 1988).
The Historical Comparative Tradition in Canada
Finally, Canadian sociology has always been profoundly historical in its orientation. Canadian sociologists have long stressed the need to understand the deep historical roots of Canadian culture and life in our colonial past as well as our earlier reliance on natural resources such as fishing and fur trading. Furthermore, there has been a need to understand the complex relationships between our first nations, the French in Québec and the British in Upper Canada, in the forging of the nation, and our deeply ambivalent historical relationship with the United States. Historical sociology tends to be dominated by the great theorists produced in the United States, such as Barrington Moore, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Theda Skocpol, but Canadian sociologists have produced some excellent historical sociology in their own right.
Canadian historical sociologists have studied a variety of topics over the past 50 years, beginning with the influential work on social movements and regionalism by S. D. Clark (1948, 1959, 1976), who is often heralded as Canada’s original historical sociologist. Harold Innis (1923, 1927, 1930, 1946), Clark’s mentor and a groundbreaking economic historian and political economist, laid the foundation for a uniquely Canadian school of “staples” that stresses the importance of geography and the resource basis of Canada’s original economy of fur, water, wood, and fish (Buxton and Acland 1999; Creighton 1957; Kroker 1984). More recently, Canadian historical sociologists have studied early state formation in Europe, comparative nationalisms, the origins of the welfare state in comparative perspective, slavery in the United States, labor history, work and class inequality, the transformations of Western welfare states, academic disciplines, political theory and the origins of the census in Canada, and religion (Budros 2004; Carroll 1986, 1989; Clark 1995; Curtis 2001; Hall 1986, 1988, 1994, 1996; McDonald 1993; Myles 1984; Ogmundson and Doyle 2002).
The dynamics of national and linguistic conflict and division in Canada between French and English, our origins and present condition as a country of immigrants, and the fact that our nation was, like the United States and Australia, founded on the realities of white settler colonialism has also created rich historical comparative research on these topics. Emerging from the tradition of writing on marginality and the hinterlands pioneered by S. D. Clark, there is also excellent historical sociology on regionalism in Canada (Brym and Fox 1989). Canada’s geographic location adjacent to the United States, the economic and cultural domination exerted first by the British and French, and now the Americans, and the history of Québécois domination by English Canada has meant that there has always been an interest in various “dependency,” “cultural imperialism,” and “world systems” theories in Canada (Veltmeyer 1997). It probably helped, of course, that Immanuel Wallerstein taught at McGill University for a number of years. More recently, however, one can see these various issues analyzed in Canada from a historicalcomparative perspective.
Obviously, Canada is not alone in having these three research paradigms inside the discipline of sociology. The argument is not that there is more or better multivariate, ethnographic, or historical-comparative research produced in Canada than in other countries. Canada is a relatively small national sociological community with approximately 800 full scholars teaching in the discipline (Curtis and Weir 2005). We have not produced enough of the broad historical-comparative research like Barrington Moore, and our ethnographic tradition is, after all, an American import from the University of Chicago. Nonetheless, if one takes the scale of the discipline into account and tries to come up with an empirically grounded estimation of what percentage of research in Canada is either multivariate, ethnographic, or historical-comparative, then the Canadian discipline would probably be closer to an equal proportion for each research logic than is the case, for example, in the United States, Britain, Germany, or France. This places Canadian sociologists alongside other small nations with diverse methodological traditions where quantitative research has not come to dominate the profession as it does in mainstream American sociology.
Canadian Sociology as Optimally Marginal
Anglo-Canadian sociology occupies a unique sociological and historical position relative to the United States that offers potential for unique insights. While Canadian sociologists have maintained close links with American sociology, they also retain a certain intellectual distance from the assumptions that dominate American culture and its sociology. As a result, Canadian sociology has been more open to various intellectual currents that are marginalized within the American tradition. Examples of this include the “standpoint feminism” of Dorothy Smith, radical Marxist sociology, and a greater attention to new developments in European social theory (Brym and Fox 1989; Carroll 1992a; Smith 1975, 1987, 1995, 1999). Canada enjoys a particular position of “optimal marginality,” in that it is both close to the intellectual energy, cultural capital, and resources of America, yet maintains a certain distance from American political, cultural, and intellectual orthodoxy.
There is a long tradition in sociological analysis that emphasizes the creative potential that comes from strong links to core societal and institutional resources (Collins 1998; Gieryn and Hirsch 1983; Merton 1949; Wolfe 1998). Contrary to this view, an opposing tradition has argued that insights come not only from the core power centers of knowledge cultures but also and importantly from the margins of power and privilege. Strangers and nomads, from this perspective, can see society more clearly than those deeply embedded in existing power relations and social structures (Coser 1965, 1984; Galliher and Galliher 1995; Kauppi 1996; McLaughlin 1998; Seidman 1994). McLaughlin (2001) has argued that this long-standing debate is stale and irresolvable and that the concept of “optimal marginality” suggests that there may be some forms and combinations of social marginality that lead to insight and innovative ideas and others that do not. The case of Canadian sociology illustrates both possibilities.
An important contribution Canadian sociology can make to intellectual life is forwarding what Michael Burawoy called the “provincializing” of American sociology (Burawoy 2005a). What Burawoy means by this is that American sociologists, as scholars rooted in the dominant political and cultural power in the world at present, tend to inappropriately universalize the American experience. Articles in American sociological journals and textbooks tend to make broad references to the criminal justice system, higher education, the family, or race relations in general, when they are actually only presenting the American case. Scholars and individuals outside the United States tend, of course, to see through this obvious blindness to both the experiences of others and how the American sociological tradition must be understood as a particular form of intellectual work, shaped by a specific American history and set of institutional arrangements. At the same time, sociologists in the United States have pioneered a series of methodological approaches and research traditions that can help us better understand the world. The task is to take and modify the insights of the American sociological tradition, placing the literature on American society into a larger global context where fruitful comparisons can be made.
Canadian sociology is well positioned to contribute to this task of globalizing the sociological imagination. It is easy to dismiss the cultural arrogance implicit in the tendency of American scholars to read their own particular national experience as a universal sociological phenomenon. At the same time, there is no doubt that American sociology has produced a vibrant sociological tradition that is home to many of the most important figures in our discipline. Furthermore, the early founders of American sociology have drawn on the top European theorists as their paradigmatic exemplars. Sociology today is far more global than it was in the past, as the discipline has grown throughout the European community and in the global South. Sociologists in English Canada, with their links to both the American and the British sociological traditions, combined with Québec’s links to sociology in France and Continental Europe, represent a sociological community that is literally in the global crossroads of two-way traffic between the discipline in the United States, Europe, and the world (Breton 1989; Leroux 2001).
There is an institutional angle to the optimal marginality of Canadian sociology, relating to the particularly flat structure of Canadian higher education (Davies and Guppy 1997). Canadian universities, when compared with American or European schools, are remarkably homogeneous across a range of institutions. That is to say, while there are elite universities in Canada, the differences between these institutions, less prominent research universities, and lower-tier teaching schools are comparatively small. The Canadian university system is flat in comparison with the divide between the private elite institutions like Harvard or Yale, elite public institutions, more mass public institutions, and the hundreds of public, local, and regional universities across the United States. Moreover, Canadian universities are essentially public, and thus the Canadian higher-education system does not have the scores of relatively elite liberal arts schools.
In Canada, a national market for universities does not exist as it does in the United States. Students generally go to university locally, or they go to the United States (Davies and Guppy 1997). This softens the brutal competitive edge that drives the American university system. Canadian universities are not dominated by an Americanstyle “test” culture where competitive SATs (Scholastic Assessment Test) or GREs (Graduate Record Examinations) are central to the admissions process. The tuition is more or less the same low level at all English Canadian universities, and is even lower in Québec. In Ontario, for example, one can attend a massive and prestigious research-oriented university, a small teaching-oriented school, or a moderate-sized research institution all for essentially the same price. Canadian universities, moreover, do not have huge endowments and do not have a tradition of raising money from alumni. Nor are big business-oriented, high-profile sports programs a major part of the Canadian academic scene. Certainly, no Canadian universities have the long and rich elite traditions of Oxford, Cambridge, or the great French or German institutions of higher learning.
Some of this is changing, of course, as Canadian university administrators attempt to raise tuition in differential ways for professional programs, move toward a model of what has been termed “academic capitalism,” and compete in a global context with major international universities (Slaughter and Leslie 1999). Nonetheless, this relatively flat structure and local culture creates a situation whereby the intellectual leadership of the elite institutions are not as influential or accepted lower down the institutional hierarchy (Polster 2001). The very idea of elite institutions of higher education runs against Canada’s more egalitarian political milieu, although Canada’s roots in the British Empire provides a background history of elitism that is still embedded in university practice and culture in various ways.
These points are documented in the comparative literature on education, but it needs to be emphasized how this particular structure of higher education shapes the dynamics of academic disciplines in distinct ways. The nonelitist structure of Canadian sociology seems to allow for more diversity and more of what might look like, to mainstream American sociologists, more innovative approaches. For example, the Canadian Sociological and Anthropology Association once gave its highest book award, the Porter Prize, to a book by David MacGregor on Hegel and Marx, recognizing the strength of the critical tradition in Canada (MacGregor 1984, 1992). And John O’Neill (1976),Arthur W. Frank (1995, 2004), and Barbara Marshall (1994) have done quality work on the sociology of the body and sexuality that would probably be further from the mainstream of the discipline in the United States than it is in Canada.
The relative unwillingness of different sociology programs in Canada to accept the intellectual leadership of more elite universities, especially the more Americanoriented departments, undermines the intellectual control and power of mainstream sociology in Canada. This has advantages and disadvantages for the discipline. The school of Marxist sociology, the sociology of intellectuals and knowledge, and criminology and deviance are just three examples where alternative approaches have gained a stronger foothold in the disciplinary orthodoxy in Canada. In the following section, we discuss these examples of how Canadian sociology’s marginality and flat institutional hierarchy have been “optimal” for the discipline, before outlining some of the challenges these historical and institutional realities create.
Canada’s marginal position has created a space for a very left-wing Marxist-oriented political economy tradition. While Marxist sociology is, of course, quite strong in the United States, Marxist studies of the Canadian political economy, as represented in the journal and network around Studies in Political Economy, are probably far closer to the center of mainstream Canadian sociology (Brym and Fox 1989). The most influential early Marxist scholarship in Canada emerged with Leonard Marsh’s work, and as discussed above, a dialogue with the Vertical Mosaic tradition as young Canadians attempted to build on John Porter’s (1965) “power elite” and policy-oriented analysis of social inequality in Canada (Clement 1975, 1977, 2001; Helmes-Hayes and Curtis 1998). Later, feminist scholars and sociologists, influenced by various critical theories of race, raised important questions about Porter’s assumptions and analysis, and the debate has produced a positive and productive outcome for Canadian sociology. Analysis of the corporate networks central to Canadian politics and economic decision making, the historical origins of Canadian economic and cultural dependency, perspectives on the Canadian welfare state, and, more recently, socialist-feminist-inspired research have created a very strong critical tradition in Canadian sociology (Béland and Myles 2003; Eichler 2001; Ornstein 1986).
A central debate in Canadian sociology has revolved around the perspectives on Canadian society promoted and developed by Seymour Martin Lipset. Not strictly Marxist in its theoretical approach and political stance, James Curtis, Edward Grabb, and Douglas Baer are at the center of a materialist-oriented Canadian political economy tradition that questions Lipset’s stress on values and history in shaping the U.S. and Canadian differences (Grabb, Curtis, and Baer 2000). The work of Grabb et al. (2000) combines historical-comparative analysis with a sophisticated use of survey data on volunteering, religion, and political opinions analyzed with advanced statistical methods. The argument has been that North America can be understood as four distinct regions: essentially the American Red and Blue states, alongside English Canada and Québec. The Curtis/Grabb/Baer tradition represents some of the best work Canadian political economy has to offer, despite various debates within the discipline regarding the ideological underpinnings (e.g., Carroll 2005).
There also exists an extensive feminist sociology in Canada that deals with gender dynamics within the family, critiques gender blinders, and adds a qualitative dimension to a Canadian political economy sometimes dominated by multivariate methods (Clement and Vosko 2003; Fox 1993). Clement and Myles’s (1994) Relations of Ruling represents a sophisticated theoretical approach to combining class, race, and gender in critical comparativehistorical research, a work that is clearly rooted in the Porter tradition but one that also extends beyond the original perspective in productive ways.
The influence of Canadian political economy has spread beyond the original networks of the founding generation of radical sociologists in Canada. There is a strong critical tradition in the analysis of health care politics in Canada, often linked to debates about the privatization of the national health care system (Armstrong 2001; Armstrong and Armstrong 2003; Armstrong, Armstrong, and Fegan 1998). There is extensive research in Canada on the sociology of aging and the politics of pensions, a tradition that is now far more empirical and less ideological than was the case in the 1970s and 1980s (Béland and Myles 2003; Marshall 1980; Myles 1984). Furthermore, there is a growing social movement literature in Canada that combines the more traditional resource mobilization/ political process/framing theories from American sociology with a critical edge and applied focus that has been forged in debates with the Canadian Marxist tradition (Carroll 1992b; Cormier 2004; Kowalchuk 2003a, 2003b; Staggenborg 1986, 1988, 1989, 1998, 2001; Tindall and Wellman 2001).
Sociology of Knowledge and Intellectuals
Canadian society has produced a unique sociology on the politics of knowledge and intellectuals. Modern society is no longer shaped centrally by industrial or even service production, but has become a knowledge society shaped by information and communication. Largely influenced by Luhmann’s systems theory, Nico Stehr has pioneered an empirically based tradition that stresses the politics of knowledge and attempts to theorize the knowledge society (Stehr 1992, 1994). The dynamics of interdisciplinary knowledge production and use, science and technology governance, and the influence of the Internet are just some of the topics analyzed in this rich interdisciplinary Canadian sociology (Baber 1996; Wellman 1999).
Robert Brym has been at the center of a widely cited research tradition produced in Canada on intellectuals in both Russia and North America (Brym 1980, 1987, 1988, 2001; Nakhaie and Brym 1999). Intellectuals have also been central in this effort as Canadian sociologists draw on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and their own experiences in shaping the Quiet Revolution in a national/provincial context (Fournier 2001, 2002; Leroux 2001; Pinard and Hamilton 1984). Furthermore, Michele Lamont’s research agenda on intellectual and cultural capital was originally conceived as research on the social sciences in Québec (Lamont 1987, 2000; McLaughlin 1998). Public intellectual Dennis Wrong (1998) is another Canadian who wrote extensively about the context of intellectuals and ideas in relation to social classes, institutions, power, and the state. The influence of Foucault in Canada, in particular, has resulted in studies of the historical origins of power dynamics rooted in knowledge production and state data gathering (Curtis 2001). Combining a historicalcomparative sociological and a broad social theory orientation in the tradition of Irving Zietlin, Joseph Bryant (1996) has produced a broad-ranging and important study of the social origins of Greek philosophers that goes well beyond Alvin Gouldner’s (1965) classic study of Plato.
Dorothy Smith has pioneered a critical sociology of knowledge tradition in Canada, arguing for a sociology for women and, more recently, a sociology for the people. Through the development of her socialist-feminist ethnomethodology, Smith has made Canadian sociology an important crossroad for a critical sociology of knowledge (Smith 1975, 1987, 1995, 1999). Today Smith’s theories of institutional ethnography are widely influential in Canadian sociology, and she helped establish a critical perspective on knowledge now popular in Canadian social science.
There is a growing interest in science and technology in Canadian sociology. For example, Miall and Miall (2003) analyzed the social dynamics of geological science in their study of a research group working under the auspices of Exxon. Baber’s (1996) work on science, Ungar’s (1994, 1998, 2000) writings on global warming and the social construction of ignorance, and Woolgar and Pawluch’s (1985) writings on “ontological gerrymandering” are also important parts of this Canadian-based sociology of knowledge, science, and technology.
In general, Canadian scholars have long focused on media, communications, and technology because of the influence of Harold Innis (1950) and Marshall McLuhan (1994). Harold Innis (1950) wrote extensively on the social dynamics of communication after moving away from his earlier focus on Canadian economic history. McLuhan’s (1994) famous phrases “medium is the message” and the “global village” have become common terminology the world over. The body of scholarship produced means that Canadian scholars have been at the center of research on mass media, new information technology, and the Internet.
This critical focus on knowledge has expanded an already rich tradition of the history of sociology. The gender biases, in particular, have been critiqued by Canadian feminists, who critically look at the role of women in the founding of sociology; assumptions about gender in the classic canon of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim; and the broader epistemological issues essential to producing a sociology that is inclusive of women (Eichler 1988, 2001, 2002; McDonald 1993, 1994, 1998; Sydie 1987, 1994). There is also a poststructuralist body of literature that looks at the writings of Marx as forms of rhetoric, alongside work that critically examines the whole notion of canons, founders, and classics in the discipline (Baehr 2002; Kemple 1995). William Buxton’s (1985) work, which has emphasized the nationalist ambitions and imperial blinders embedded in the sociological corpus of Talcott Parsons, is a good example.
An important early text in this area is Robert Brym and Bonnie Fox’s (1989) From Culture to Power, a historical account of the political economy-oriented Canadian sociology as it emerged in critical dialogue with the Parsonian tradition. The critical history of demography in Canada is also well represented by Bruce Curtis’s (2001) awardwinning The Politics of Population, an analysis of the origins of Census research in British North America. The history of sociology holds a prominent position in Canada. Indeed, Canadians have been central to the rethinking of the history of sociology, often from a critical and feminist perspective (Eichler 2001, 2002).
Critical Criminology and Deviance
The relative marginality of social science in Canada, combined with a distinctive criminal justice system, has led to the development of a particularly strong and perhaps unique critical criminological tradition. With a smaller incarcerated population than in the United States, and thus far less employment opportunities in the applied sector of the field, criminology in Canada has a theoretical, critical, and grand historical orientation. Canada’s historical links with Great Britain, moreover, have created a larger presence of the neo-Marxist, Birmingham School of cultural studies, and Foucault-styled analyses of criminology, as compared with the highly quantitative and policy-oriented tradition in the United States.
John Hagan has given the discipline in Canada an empirically focused and rigorous research program on the social origins of crime (Hagan 1989a, 1989b, 1991; Hagan and Foster 2001; Hagan and Leon 1977; Hagan, MacMillan, and Wheaton 1996; Hagan and Wheaton 1993), and he is not alone in producing first-rate mainstream criminology in Canada (Gartner 1991; Gartner and MacMillan 1995; Gartner and McCarthy 1991). Even when critical sociologists have criticized the work of Hagan and his students, the criminology literature represents a lively, interesting, and is far less rooted in the concrete demands of criminal justice practitioners as is the case in the United States. Furthermore, Canadian criminologists have strong links to empirical and theoretically driven multimethod research traditions found elsewhere (Ericson and Baranek 1982; Ericson, Baranek, and Chan 1987).
Perhaps the size of the Canadian criminal justice system and the low levels of national government funding for criminological research have left more opportunity for the development of deviance literature that is more theoretical and qualitative in nature. The ethnographic tradition has long been associated with the study of deviant groups, and the Canadian tradition has taken advantage of openings within the larger intellectual community to produce a successful research tradition. Robert Prus’s (Prus and Irini 1980; Prus and Sharper 1977) landmark ethnographies of card and dice hustlers, and then hookers, cons, and the social organization of seedy hotel life, are widely recognized as Canadian classics in the interpretive tradition. Robert Stebbins (1995) has considered the relations of deviants to the larger community and their management of stigma and identity, which has inspired a generation of Canadian ethnographers on this same topic (e.g., Atkinson 2003). Daniel Wolf (1991) produced a classic ethnography of organized crime through covert participant observation among outlaw biker gangs. There is also a tradition of writing about youth and deviance in Canada, much of which challenges some of the Willis “resistance” orthodoxy (Davies 1995; Tanner 2001). Hagan and McCarthy’s (1997) study of homelessness will likely remain influential for many years to come. Furthermore, Hagan’s own study of American draft resisters in Canada perhaps exemplifies the point that certain forms of deviance can be discussed more openly in the broader political and intellectual climate in Canada (Hagan 2001).
Toward a Canadian Public Sociology
Canadian sociology is well positioned to contribute to the global discussion of what Michael Burawoy has called “public sociologies” (Burawoy 2004, 2005b). At issue is how sociologists can build on their core “professional” research, “policy”-oriented consulting, and “critical” sociology to take these ideas outside of the university to dialogue with laypersons through a “public sociology.” This vision of a public sociology has given rise to an extensive debate, with some scholars arguing that this activist orientation threatens the professional standing of the discipline within the modern research university. Others suggest that Burawoy does not go far enough in challenging sexism, racism, and social inequality. A major task for the development of a global public sociology will be comparative research into how the specific institutional arrangements, cultures, and histories of countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden create different opportunities and challenges for bringing the sociological imagination into public debate and dialogue.
The Canadian case provides a particularly interesting and important example of public sociology. The Canadian parliamentary system and the relative social democratic consensus have created enormous opportunities for policyoriented sociology in Canada. Beginning with the work of Leonard Marsh and John Porter, there is a long-standing Canadian tradition of policy-oriented research that assists in shaping government action on health care, immigration, poverty, social security, and multiculturalism (Brym and Myles 1989; Brym and Saint-Pierre 1997). As the global sociological community debates the intellectual and political issues at stake, the Canadian case will undoubtedly continue to provide a useful example.
Critical sociologists such as C. Wright Mills (1967), Alvin Gouldner (1970), and Canada’s own Dorothy Smith (1975, 1987, 1995, 1999) have engaged in academic dialogues about the moral, political, ontological, and epistemological assumptions embedded in the professional activities and structures of the discipline. The strength of policy sociology in Canada has given rise to a particularly strong and vocal critical sociology. Dorothy Smith has long argued for a reform of the discipline from the standpoint of women. This has inspired a direct critique of mainstream American sociology and has fueled a strong agenda for Canadian policy-oriented scholars to get involved with direct interventions in the state. Critiques of mainstream sociological methods and theory are widespread in Canadian sociology departments.
Public sociology has always been strong in Canada, something that first emerged with the policy-oriented writings on social inequality of John Porter. This public sociology now includes issues relating to social movements, gender and sexuality, race, and, perhaps most prominently, health care. Perhaps representing more of the Gramscian “organic public intellectual” than the elite-oriented “traditional public intellectual” (Burawoy 2004), Canadian sociologists like Wallace Clement (1975, 1977, 1986, 2001), William Carroll (1986, 1992a, 1992b, 2004), Patricia Marchak (1983, 1991, 1995, 1996), Gordon Laxer (1989, 1991), and Pat and Hugh Armstrong (Armstrong 2001; Armstrong and Armstrong 1978, 2003) have had a strong influence on Canadian intellectual life and debates about social policy.
The Future of Canadian Sociology
The portrait of a rich and lively Canadian sociology is only part of the picture. Canadian sociology faces many institutional and intellectual challenges that have been widely discussed in recent debates (Baer 2005; Brym 2003; Curtis and Weir 2005; Johnston 2005; McLaughlin 2005, 2006; Murphy 2005; Sydie 2005). Despite the many strengths discussed above, the discipline in Canada is challenged by at least five major problems: (1) a lack of resources rooted in the institutional flatness of the Canadian highereducation system, (2) our links to the British sociological tradition with its undeveloped disciplinary core and organizational permeability, (3) the sometimes excessive shrillness of a critical sociology that was forged in the 1960s without the foil of an established mainstream sociology, (4) the division between sociology in Québec and the rest of Canada, and (5) the relative weakness of professional sociology in English Canada.
The flatness of the Canadian education system is, from the perspective of the authors, a positive thing for Canadian society. It is true that the American combination of elite and public research universities, along with their unique system of liberal arts colleges, produces excellent research traditions, stable academic disciplines, and, for the lucky few, an excellent education. However, the system places an enormous financial drain on public funds and generates academics who are often more interested in research than in educating the new generation. This creates an enormous pressure on middle-class economic resources that permeate throughout the politics and culture of a society deeply divided by class and race. Canadian higher education provides far more modest resources for research, is less competitive and cut-throat, and, one could argue, does not drain the society of as much tax revenue and elite philanthropy.
As a consequence, however, Canadian universities, even the most elite and research oriented, do not have anywhere near the resources that are provided in the United States. Flowing from this context, Canadian sociology faces a highly competitive environment in higher education and often finds itself pushed in an applied direction toward health, criminology, welfare state policy, and vocational training, while being squeezed out, at the other end of the academic spectrum, by the new interdisciplinary subfields of cultural studies, communications, and critical/social theory. Canadian sociologists, for example, partly because of these resource issues, meet annually at an interdisciplinary scholarly meeting run by our federal government, not in an autonomous professional gathering as in the American Sociological Association. These factors often lead to the production of low-level policy research, excessively polemical ideology, specialized work in methods (either qualitative or quantitative), or studies on narrow topics that lack a larger theoretical vision. The possibilities for ambitious multimethod work become even more limited as publication pressures create disincentives for faculty to engage in book-length projects, tackle larger research projects, and attempt to combine complimentary methods.
Another challenge to the institutional health of Canadian sociology is rooted in our colonial relationship to the British Empire. Anglo-Canadian universities have always had a British flavor to them, something that can be seen in terms of faculty hiring, university governance, and culture. Steve Fuller (2000) describes England as “the major nation with probably the weakest institutional tradition in the field” (p. 508). A theoretically driven, empirical sociology came late to Great Britain, for a variety of reasons (Abrams 1968; Kumar 2001; Lepenies 1988). Furthermore, the dynamics of the publishing industry in the United Kingdom (Fuller 2000), the politically active intellectuals to the left of the Labour Party, and the relative weakness of an empirical research tradition have combined to produce a sociology that is dominated by a “Verso Press radicalism” that is polemical, politically engaged, and far less professionally oriented than what is produced in the United States. The English connection to Canadian sociology has been well documented by early commentators (Clark 1976) and contemporary historians of the discipline (Hiller 1982). Helmes-Hayes (2002) has argued that “from the early years of the century up until the thirties, scholars in traditional disciplines, many schooled in England, either ignored sociology entirely or worked actively (to) prevent its development” (p. 84). At the University of Toronto, in particular, Harold Innis and his protégé S. D. Clark were particularly hostile to American-style multivariate sociology (Helmes-Hayes 2002).
Canadian sociology is also challenged by the fact that the discipline was essentially founded in Canada during the social and political turmoil of the 1960s, and thus we brought cultural and political biases of the New and Old Left into scholarly discourse. American radical sociology in the 1960s transformed an institutionalized discipline, albeit one with liberal and conservative tendencies. The result for Canadian radical sociology in the 1960s, in contrast, was a weakly institutionalized discipline. Many Canadian sociology programs went much farther than American departments in institutionalizing student involvement in hiring and tenure processes. Simplistic critiques of liberalism dominate too much of Canadian sociology, making for a discipline far less credible with our students and the public than it should be.
Sociology in Canada is also inhibited by the deep cultural division between the field in French-speaking Québec and the rest of Canada. Québécois sociology was deeply involved in the political turmoil of the late 1960s and 1970s, and they helped create an increasingly autonomous provincial culture and politics, separate from political dynamics in both English Canada and the United States. More linked to French and Continental intellectual traditions as well as the needs of provincial policymakers, there is remarkably little contact between French and English sociology in Canada. This resembles the reality of Canadian politics more broadly, with the French and the English connected only loosely by a weak national identity. It is difficult to imagine sociologists in Canada doing much to overcome the “two solitudes” of the national identity until the larger national polity is better able to bridge this ethnic and regional divide.
All these factors mean that professional sociology in English Canada is relatively underdeveloped. State policy interests in health care in particular and the priorities of the National Funding organization known as the Social Science and Humanities Research Council influence academic reward structures and hiring patterns significantly. Canadian sociology is shaped, to a remarkable degree, by the teaching demands of undergraduate education, the funding opportunities for applied research, and the fads promoted by university administrators. Theoretically oriented and empirically grounded research programs in sociology in Canada suffer from this institutional context, leaving a discipline far less vibrant, lively, and autonomous than it could be (Ogmundson 2002).
Despite these obstacles, not all is gloom. Recent events in Canadian sociology suggest a potentially bright future. A lively debate in the discipline indicates that there is the political will to resist pressures that would otherwise drown the Canadian sociological imagination in trendy efforts at interdisciplinarity. There is a new generation of excellent Canadian-trained sociologists active in the discipline today, alongside Canadians trained in the United States and Britain, and there is a healthy contingent of scholars who have moved to our nation to make it their new professional home. The recent debate about moving sociology away from excessive quantification and of the importance of public sociologies in the context of a new global vision brings some of Canadian sociology’s particular strengths to the foreground. Canadian sociology’s unique global position has generated a rich tradition of alternative perspectives, a vibrant multimethod sociological imagination, and a willingness to take sociology in new and innovative directions, suggesting real hope for the future.
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