Doug Baldwin’s article, A Study in Social Control: The Life of the Silver Miner in Northern Ontario, presents a complete sociological examination of the relationship between capitalist enterprises and the social hierarchy that it serves. Baldwin’s work, although overly historical in the preface of the article, thoroughly explains the causal dependencies in regard to the development of a micro-culture. The article demonstrates that similar mechanisms also propel larger groups to societies and that there are analogous instances that can be seen through each stage of development. Baldwin is an academic writer who does express the intended ideas well, but to a select, sociological audience. The article does fail to give equal weight to the tandem of determinism and momentum.
Boom towns represent a small, easily identifiable example of the creation and erosion of a community and culture. Specific people are drawn for specific reasons and related needs and industries follow. A micro- society is developed which can be an analogous situation to the development and erosion of a larger nation. By examining the boom town, a person can examine the mechanism that drive and/ or destroy larger societies.
Northern Ontario is no different than other precious metal-driven boom towns in the Western world. The elements of weather and geography are uniquely harsh, but that only made an industry for related tradesmen and women. The historical brevity of a boom town demonstrates the need for supporting industry, including leisure activities, to new, emerging societies. The special aspect of boom towns, is that they exist within a larger society, so the related industries need not be created from scratch, and often are an integral part of the small culture’s creation, or at the very least, are quick to the new culture.
According to Baldwin, there was a direct relationship between the intrapersonal contentment of the miners and the profit that they generated (Baldwin, 1977 ). The difficulty was finding the balance between alleviation of the physical and mental plights of mining, and not allowing the distractions to impact the profit they generated. Alcohol and prostitution are frequently connected to boom towns, and Ontario was no exception. But since said industries were present since the near dawn of the society, regulations forbidding them were moot.
Authoritarian control breeds rebellion, and having drunk workers, or miners suffering from indebted syphilis are all equally destructive to mining profits. The leaders of the towns developed an altruistic strategy to help combat some of the known consequences and negative aspects of boom towns: bring in families and married men. The idea that camps full of married men would decrease alcohol and prostitution would be foolish, unless their families were also present. The new dynamic would require a change from the boom town formula and significantly more resources, resulting in a greater investment.
The efforts to develop the new town holistically was an effort to exert social control over the workers. Knowing that rules and regulations would be placed on men who would not follow, or care about the rules, and knowing that there would be industries present that could potentially derail efforts for profit, but also knowing that the workers needed leisure activities attracting married men, or men with families and supporting the family was an attempt to address all of the issues at once. Families absorb a tremendous amount of resources in compared to a single man who works all day, so the change in approach was a gambit.
On a larger scaled, the idea of having a fellowship to keep a person accountable is not new. Churches, athletic teams, developing organizations all use similar inter-dependency to achieve collective goals. The idea of whether or not a collaborative effort could be coordinated based on the ideas of a similar fellowship is not new either. A society is made up of individuals, and when the individual is not allowed to be themselves, then erosion within the society will occur as well. With the family however, individuals still receive a fellowship, but are allowed to be themselves within in, thereby addressing the need for accountability within social control, but also providing a needed amount of noticeable freedom (Baldwin, 1977).
One idea of note however, is the role(s) that social determinism and momentum play in the creation of a boom town. Determinism suggests that all related behavior is innately woven into boom towns, and that said behavior must be dealt with one way or the other. Momentum argues that mining is difficult and that men need relief; their culture considers alcohol and prostitution relief, thus the next step is that those activities will follow. The question is that if the culture of how to cope with physical and mental struggles were to change, could the entire problem be avoided? For example, if the boom town existed in a place where people were to read when stressed, would there be a need to invest further resources to prevent possible decay?
Baldwin’s work was successful in his examination of how the micro-culture of a boom town exerts social control. The example of Northern Ontario was apt in demonstrating the counter-intuitive nature of making a profit with extraction industries and their related 19th Century trades. The article’s only lacking was due to the limitations of a sociological examination, not the fault of the author, or conclusions.
Baldwin, D. (1977). A Study in Social Control: The Life of the Silver Miner in Northern Ontario.
Labour / Le Travail, 2, 79.