Atlantic Canada and the Political Economy of the Commons
As a society, we have a limited historical understanding of how “the commons” (the cultural and natural resources that belong to or affect a community) have been regulated on land and water. They are often treated as legacy practices, expected to weaken and dissipate with time. Social scientists tend to trace the transition from common-use property and resources to private control and ownership as part of the narrative of progressive modernity. Dr. Elizabeth Mancke challenges these assumptions.
As Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Studies, Mancke is demonstrating that British North Americans (later Canadians) were concerned with passing legislation to regulate a diversity of commons. Her focus is on Atlantic Canadian commons.
The diversity of Atlantic Canada’s commons—from resource extraction industries, such as fisheries and timber, to subsistence hunting and fishing—offers opportunities to analyze how regulatory regimes overlap, sometimes with complementarity, sometimes in opposition. Atlantic Canada’s jurisdictional complexity created systems of commons governance with many players at their centres: Indigenous, imperial, international, provincial, local, inter-provincial and federal.
Using a broad assessment of pre-Confederation legislation to compare jurisdictions, Mancke and her research team will address a key criticism of research on the commons—namely, that it is focused on residual behaviours that linger as societies modernize. In contrast, Mancke’s research shows that regulating the commons is an integral part of a modern society. Her goal is to develop a strong foundation of research that is historically informed yet relevant for contemporary policy-making.