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Oldtimers, newcomers, and social class : group affiliation and social influence in Lethbridge, Alberta Marlor, Chantelle Patricia


The results of an ethnohistorical study of Lethbridge, Alberta led to my questioning current presumptions in the Canadian social inequality literature that social class, income, educational attainment, gender and ethnicity are principal factors in shaping social inequality in Canada. The ethnographic evidence suggests that membership criteria associated with locally-defined, historically-evolved groups mark who has political influence (a specific form of social power), and where the ensuing social inequalities lie in Lethbridge. A theoretical framework describing how historical circumstances lead to the redefinition of which socially-defined characteristics become local status markers is presented as the underlying theoretical orientation of this thesis. The framework does not preclude the possibility that social groups other than those studied in this thesis use social class, occupation, income, education, gender and ethnicity as status characteristics or group membership criteria. The framework is my attempt to clarify the often-unclear relationship among social inequality concepts. A mail-out social survey (N=238) was used to empirically test the hypothesis that Lethbridge group membership is a better predictor than social class, income, educational attainment, gender and/or ethnicity of who has political influence in Lethbridge community decision-making. Data was analyzed using analysis of variance (ANOVA), bivariate correlation, and multiple regression. Mixed levels of support were found for the Lethbridge group hypotheses, with the "fits in" and "local trade/business people" receiving considerable support; North/South/West sider, and religious affiliation receiving some support; and Old-timers receiving no support. In contrast, the only social inequality hypothesis to receive more than minimal support was level of education. It is concluded that status characteristics are more fluid, local and historically negotiated than assumed in the social inequality literature. Suggested directions for future theoretical and empirical work include refinement of the relationships among social inequality variables and further empirical tests of the theoretical framework proposed here.

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