Canadian province-building : the state as educator and entrepreneur in Alberta
This study provides an account and analysis of the development of systems of educational provision In capitalist democracies, especially in connection with the social origin and relative autonony of those systems. Using the case study of Athabasca University, a Canadian distance-education institution in the province of Alberta, the study is a critical work of historical sociology, in which the shifting social role of a system of educational provision during two transitions of a regional political economy is analyzed. Comparative observations are made in reference to other systems of educational provision and organizations, in particular the training department of a large Company based In the same region as the Unversity. The study explores the social origin and relative autonomy of systems of educational provision In relation to educational ideologies, which are themselves associated with social ideologies. Pierre Bourdieu's theoretical construction of "fields of power'' allows for a consideration of power as a relational phenomenon in the study. In other words, power is understood as being exercised in a way that simultaneously takes account of the power of other actors and groups. Fields of power also allow for an analysis of power as it is exercised at various levels of organizations and within society. The study is organized in two phases. First, an account is developed of the historical period in which the Unlversity and the Company were created, but especially the period of establishment for the Unlversity, 1970 - 75. Conclusions are offered concerning the causal associations between the historical antecedents that gave rise to the two organlzations. It is argued that both the University and the Company were established In part to enact the AIberta government's efforts to enhance Its powers within the Canadian federation (a process called province-building), The second phase is concerned with a more recent period of three years, 1993 - 95. By this time, province-building was not as significant a concern for policy-makers, and the organizational responses of the University and the Company reflected this shift. A divergence of practice is observed at the University and the Company, with actors at the Company encouraging the development of collectivist values for employees, while at the University no such overt strategy was followed, The study concludes that a consumerist model of education developed by the University in 1970 - 75 and expanded In 1993 - 95 contributed significantly to the institution's social origin and relative autonomy. The model was used as an Ideology in the earlier period and as a strategy In the later one, serving to forestall the institution's closure during both periods of crisis, though Ieading to ambiguous social outcomes. A consumerist model may on the one hand be progressive in that expanded access to educational opportunities is made possible. On the other hand, the consumerist model will tend increasingly to provide educational services to those social segments that already have access to educational opportunities.