Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

Synopsis

Company towns were the spatial manifestation of a social ideology and an economic rationale. The contributors to this volume show how national politics, social protest, and local culture transformed those founding ideologies by examining the histories of company towns in six countries: Argentina (Firmat), Brazil (Volta Redonda, Santos, Fordlndia), Canada (Sudbury), Chile (El Salvador), Mexico (Santa Rosa, Ro Blanco), and the United States (Anaconda, Kellogg, and Sunflower City). Company towns across the Americas played similar economic and social roles. They advanced the frontiers of industrial capitalism and became powerful symbols of modernity. They expanded national economies by supporting extractive industries on thinly settled frontiers and, as a result, brought more land, natural resources, and people under the control of corporations. U.S. multinational companies exported ideas about work discipline, race, and gender to Latin America as they established company towns there to extend their economic reach. Employers indeed shaped social relations in these company towns through education, welfare, and leisure programs, but these essays also show how working-class communities reshaped these programs to serve their needs. The editors' introduction and a theoretical essay by labor geographer Andrew Herod provide the context for the case studies and illuminate how the company town serves as a window into both the comparative and transnational histories of labor under industrial capitalism.

Excerpt

The company town, a planned community owned or controlled by a single company, has symbolized the power of industrial capitalism to exploit natural resources and transform society both in its vast ambition and its remarkable futility. It has represented the ambitions of industrialists and social reformers to transform working-class culture and impose work habits that could increase labor productivity and diminish social conflict. It has embodied the vision of architects and urban planners for new spaces of human habitation that promised—but not necessarily accomplished—improvements in living conditions for working families in material, social, and spiritual terms. Company towns have symbolized the controlling presence of industrial companies, but they have also been the site of working people’s struggles to improve the conditions of work and build communities on their own terms. The essays in this volume examine the economic, political, social, and cultural history of company towns in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and the United States to illustrate the impact—often uneven and contradictory—of processes of industrial modernization on working people throughout the Americas.

The title of this volume unites two concepts, “company towns” and “the Americas,” whose definitions and analytical use are still matters of scholarly debate. This volume does not resolve those debates, but it clarifies the concept of “company town” by exploring a spectrum of cases, and it shows by example how a focus on the Americas enriches our understanding of industrial modernity at both the micro and macro level. The introduction prepares the ground by providing a brief history of the company town with particular attention to its importance for the industrial development of the Americas. Moreover, the introduction explores past uses of the term “company town” and discusses similar analytical concepts used in the scholarly literature. The review of the scholarly literature focuses heavily on the historiography of labor in the Americas, which has been the main line of investigation on company towns and the people who . . .

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