UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Concerning labour markets and the commodification of social difference in the Alberta oil sands MacArthur, Ewen


In this thesis, I consider ethnographic conversations I had during fieldwork in Fort McMurray and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 2016 with two sets of workers: Albertan trades-workers employed in the oil sands (pipe-fitters, welders and boilermakers) and Filipino/a Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) employed in the local service sector (cooks, caregivers and kitchen helpers). I analyse these workers’ self-reflections on their own work routines as providing a sightline into the ways labour market processes and regulatory frameworks are manifest in and negotiated through their lives. I draw especially on the theories of Karl Polanyi and Karl Marx in my analysis. Through ethnography I also show how the labour market processes these thinkers analyse shape, and are shaped by, social differences they each tend to neglect (e.g. nationality, citizenship, migration status, race, ethnicity, gender), and which more recent post-colonial, feminist, and critical race theorists have emphasised. Hence from the Albertan context, I conceptualise how state-regulated labour markets re-fashion, and are re-fashioned by, the cultural identities of workers. I show how local labour market processes re-make and aggravate social differences between Albertan trades-workers and Filipino/a TFWs in Alberta, in ways that are not superficially or simply motivated by forms of discrimination (e.g. xenophobia, racism, sexism), but which nonetheless agitate and divide an emergent “precariat” (Standing 2011). I hope this thesis can provide the basis for further ethnographic and comparative research.

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