Regionalism on the Celtic Fringe: How a Peripheral Community Resists, Negotiates, and Accommodates Political and Economic Integration
MetadataShow full item record
‘Informal’ peripheral regions have received limited scholarly attention in Canada. This political-economic history of Cape Breton Island analyses how institutional actors build, maintain, and reconstruct a peripheral region, adapt to globalization, and address regional development. The role of culture, identity, institutions and leadership is explored. Analysis combines new regionalism and identity theorizations with new institutionalism’s historical and sociological branches. This theoretical framework facilitates analyzing institutions and regions more broadly in new globalizing and regional settings as well as the identity and agency-related concept of regionality. The triangulated qualitative approach utilizes primary, secondary and online sources and semi-structured ‘elite’ interviews. Before Confederation, Cape Breton regional identity was imprinted by the Mi’kmaq and other ethno-cultural groups, resulting in ‘Unama’ki’, ‘Isle Royale’, and ‘Celtic Fringe’/ ‘Gaelic sanctuary’ regional constructions. Into the 20th century, industry-fueled growth cemented a culturally cohesive, Gael-inspired, class-conscious regional construction. Later abandonment of the coal and steel industries by private owners prompted state response to sustain the region. The resultant ‘socialist Island’ was an adaptation in an evolving institutional context. Multi-level political, economic and cultural actors have tried to salvage and reconstruct the region into the neo-liberalism-influenced era of globalization. Regional actors have attempted to both address and initiate regionalization of various institutions and adjust to ‘development downloading’, the new economy, and demographic hurdles. Bright spots signal optimism for the future: Grassroots institution-building, Gaelic cultural revitalization and the notable rise of Mi’kmaw leadership in economic development circles. Although Cape Breton’s future construction is uncertain, the region has been undergoing reconstruction through adaptation and innovation as it moves toward a more endogenous and autonomous development model. While this can be restrained by path dependencies and centralized control at the core of the Westminster system, to some degree regional cultures and institutional actors can resist, accommodate and offset globalization-related pressures and, through incorporating regional preferences, identities, and institution-building, have an ‘indigenizing’ effect on region-building and development.