Northern Communities Working Together: The Social Economy of Canada's North

By Hall, Rebecca Jane | Canadian Review of Social Policy, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Northern Communities Working Together: The Social Economy of Canada's North


Hall, Rebecca Jane, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Northern Communities Working Together: The Social Economy of Canada's North Edited by Chris Southcott. Toronto, On: University of Toronto Press, 2015, 304 pp. ISBN 9781442614185

The "social economy", as a conceptual framework, seeks to capture the value - economic and social - of work conducted by communities, organizations and individuals, 'that have social objectives central to their mission and their practice' (Quarter et al. in Weaver, 2013). Northern Communities Working Together: The Social Economy of Canada's North is a collection that uniquely applies the conceptual tools of the social economy to Canada's North (defined in this text as the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Labrador (Southcott, 2015, p.3). The collection is the product of The Social Economy Research Network of Northern Canada (SERNN°Ca), established in 2006; 1 it is edited by Chris Southcott and includes 13 chapters by 24 contributors.

In the introductory chapter to this text, Southcott notes that the term 'social economy' is, for the most part, not used in northern Canada and that it required explanation by the authors in their fieldwork. The novelty of the framework begs the question, how did the contributors determine that the social economy was the most effective analytical tool for their purposes; which are, developing insights on the social and economic landscape of Canada's North? Frances Abele, a member of SERNN°Ca and a contributor to this collection, provides a compelling response to this query, writing in 2009 that 'focusing on the social economy draws our analytical gaze to the local level, compelling an analysis that provides a helpful corrective to the policy studies that fix on large state initiatives and their motivations, and the broad brush economic debates about the northern economy. It promises to illuminate the unremarked efforts of volunteers, often women, and to integrate the non-waged helping and productive activity in to our understanding of northern development' (p.46). Adding to Abele's analytic imperative, Southcott opens the collection by framing the social economy as a critical space through which northern communities are facing contemporary socio-economic challenges; including the rapid social change associated with colonial pressures and the boom and bust cycles of resource extraction.

The collection takes up the northern 'social economy', then, with an aim of specificity, rather than consistency, across chapters; a choice that yields a rich tapestry of socio-economic accounts. Indeed, the varied approaches the authors deploy speak to the distinct local socioeconomic tendencies within the North. Specificity is achieved through the analytic flexibility fostered in this collection, tied together through three notable characteristics of the northern social economy that are introduced in Chapter One and provide an organizing function throughout the text, weaving together the diverse analyses: these three characteristics are the mixed economy; the role of the State in the North; and northern resource exploitation. The chapters are divided into groupings: the first grouping is a series of overview chapters that cover the North as a whole; the next grouping of chapters takes social economy concepts prevalent in southern Canada - notably research on volunteerism and cooperatives - and applies them to the northern context; while the last grouping focuses on the specificities of the social economy of northern Indigenous communities. …

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