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Openings in the forest economy : a case study of small forest operators in the Bulkley Valley, BC, Canada Bronson, Elizabeth Anne

Abstract

The thesis is an exploration of the current role of the small business forest sector in hinterland forest communities, and the extent to which their economic and social positions correspond to the role envisioned for them by two prevailing visions of the future of the forest industry. One, advocated by Canadian political economists, predicts a continuation, indeed an intensification of corporate concentration, with attendant downsizing and job losses. Corporate restructuring is seen in part to induce small business development, through subcontracting arrangements and local entrepreneurialism, as a response to losses of core forest industry jobs. The second interpretation, advocated by the alternative forestry school, views the current crisis in the forest industry as an opportunity to return to decentralised approaches to ecologically-based forest management which encourage 'democracy in the forests', leading to community and environmental sustainability. Local entrepreneurs are an important part of this new 'value-based' forest economy. Interviews with small forest operators reveal a diversity of economic and social identities that do not conform well to either of the positions ascribed to small business by the Canadian political economy or alternative forestry literatures. The representations of small business found in these two literatures homogenize and suppress this diversity, making it difficult to 'see' small forest operators as anything other than contractors to the conventional system of corporate forestry, or alternative operators in an ecosystem- and community-based forest economy. In the place of these singular, marginalizing representations, I argue, using poststructural and feminist approaches to economic geography, for a 'third way' of exploring small forest operator subjectivities through overdetermined multiple class processes. Exploring small forest operator identity through multiple class processes avoids the essentialism found in fixed representations. It recognizes the transformative potential of small business in the forest economy, without denying the potential for exploitation that exists both within small business and corporate forestry. Class processes rendered invisible in the Canadian political economy and alternative forestry narratives, such as unpaid labour performed by family members and volunteer work in local planning processes, as well as work performed for wages and profit, are considered in this multiple class processes approach.

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