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Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine: Rival Images of a New World in 1930s Vancouver

Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine: Rival Images of a New World in 1930s Vancouver (Paperback)

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In the early years of the Great Depression, thousands of unemployed

homeless transients settled into Vancouver's "hobo

jungle." The jungle operated as a distinct community, in which

goods were exchanged and shared directly, without benefit of currency.

The organization of life was immediate and consensual, conducted in the

absence of capital accumulation. But as the transients moved from the

jungles to the city, they made innumerable demands on Vancouver's

Relief Department, consuming financial resources at a rate that

threatened the city with bankruptcy. In response, the municipality

instituted a card-control system-no longer offering relief

recipients currency to do with as they chose. It also implemented new

investigative and assessment procedures, including office spies, to

weed out organizational inefficiencies. McCallum argues that,

threatened by this "ungovernable society,"

Vancouver's Relief Department employed Fordist management methods

that ultimately stripped the transients of their individuality.

Vancouver's municipal government entered into contractual

relationships with dozens of private businesses, tendering bids for

meals in much the same fashion as for printing jobs and construction

projects. As a result, entrepreneurs clamoured to get their share of

the state spending. With the emergence of work relief camps, the

provincial government harnessed the only currency that homeless men

possessed: their muscle. This new form of unfree labour aided the

province in developing its tourist driven "image" economy,

as well as facilitating the transportation of natural resources and

manufactured goods. It also led eventually to the most significant

protest movement of 1930s' Canada, the On-to-Ottawa Trek.

Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine explores the connections

between the history of transiency and that of Fordism, offering a new

interpretation of the economic and political crises that wracked Canada

in the early years of the Great Depression.

Todd McCallum is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Dalhousie University.

More books by Todd McCallum

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