The recreation of a settler society: Lisa Tink, Fit to be Canadian? The Recreation Industrial Complex in Canada, PhD dissertation, University of Alberta, 2021


Abstract: In recent years, both recreation scholars and practitioners began calling for a sectoral return to municipal recreation’s historical roots as a public good (e.g., Mahaffey, 2011; ISRC & CPRA, 2015; Cureton and Frisby, 2011; Smale and Reid, 2002; Taylor and Frisby, 2010). Blaming neoliberal ideology for the current pay-per-use model, these calls for a more inclusive recreation system not only highlighted the negative impacts of a consumer-based recreation system, they suggested that the profession’s ‘business-like’ practices should be of concern because they are in direct opposition to the field’s historic mandate of ‘equal opportunity’ for access. A central assumption underlying these calls for the recreation profession to return to ‘its historical roots’ is that municipal recreation services, until late ‘80s and ‘90s, were available to all members of society. This narrative – of a more inclusive and equitable era in recreation’s past – is, however, a romanticized account of public recreation’s history. As I will argue throughout this dissertation, public recreation has always been, and continues to be, a location where racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist, outcomes are (re)produced. Using Foucauldian genealogy, I trace some of the conditions that have given rise to what I have labeled the recreation industrial complex. More specifically, I use a vast collection of formal and informal archival documents to demonstrate how our public recreation facilities (both past and present) are intricately linked to the white supremacist logics of Western exceptionalism, settler colonialism, ableism, racism, capitalism, and (hetero)patriarchy. I begin by analyzing three seemingly unrelated pieces of Canada’s past: Indigenous legislation, immigration policy and race science. I do so in an attempt to politicize the category ‘Canadian’ and demonstrate how it has been taken-for-granted in our traditional recreation histories. I then weave these seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian history into a recreation context. More specifically, I analyze two distinct eras of recreation facility development – the social medicine era (1880s-1920s) and the social welfare era (1930s-1970s) – and provide examples of how recreation was both produced by, and reproduced technologies of white supremacy. Finally, I demonstrate how these historical discourses, practices, and policies have created the conditions for the a public recreation system that positions everyone except white, middle to upper class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied boys and (younger) men as an excludable type (Titchtosky, 2003). By exposing the ways particular bodies came to be centered in a recreation context, the purpose of this work is to demonstrate how historical inclusions and exclusions (whether intentional or not) were in fact part of a broader biopolitical project intended to sustain white supremacy, with the goal of encouraging critical dialogues about what is inherently problematic, difficult, and dangerous in the discourses, practices, and policies that govern our contemporary public recreation systems.

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