Community by Necessity: Security, Insecurity, and the Flattening of Class in Fort McMurray

Claire Major, Tracy Winters


High wages in the oil sands well exceed the Canadian average, making complex class differences less apparent here than elsewhere. This lends itself to a homogenizing narrative of community despite differences in wages, background, citizenship status, and so on. Wolf’s useful counter-framework outlines specific processes by which workers are situated, and by which they situate themselves, in labour hierarchies within the accumulation process. Drawing on interviews and participant observation involving two groups (university-educated immi- grant professionals and high-school educated mine labourers and tradespeople from Newfoundland), we argue that layers of precariousness in both these groups thrust them into “community by necessity.” The unsettling nature of work in the oil sands emerges as a story within a story. In the larger narrative, where “Fort McMurray is jobs,” community is invoked as a place in which household financial security is possible. Inherent in that security, however, is a story of pervasive insecurity wrought by the possibility of injury on the job, paternalism, or redundancies created through company restructuring and economic crises. “Community” is necessary to keep people in place (literally and metaphorically) and at the same time elides ongoing struggles against dispossession.


class, immigration, Newfoundland studies

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