Domestic Reform: Political Visions and Family Regulation in British Columbia, 1862–1940.
Contains Bibliography, Index
Elaine G. Porter is an associate professor of sociology at Laurentian
This ambitious book is focused on revealing the intentions of male legislators for giving married women rights and entitlements, apparently betraying their patriarchal interests. Combining a wealth of original and secondary data, Clarkson provides insights into the political decision-making rationales of legislators, judges, lawyers, and husbands and wives involved in litigation. The passage of legislation granting rights to married women and children was shown to support Ursel’s contention that politicians had to steer a rocky course between production and reproduction. Thus, the legislators and judiciary in the late 19th century clearly used family legislation to counteract the excesses of capitalism with few intentions of ceding husbands’ control over their wives. By the 20th century, maternalist feminist organizations have had some legal success in the area of child welfare. Although Clarkson has characterized the latter as having “asserted control over various aspects of social life” in ways that represented a “substantial reversal of power relations,” many of the same problems have continued until today.
A secondary theme running throughout relates to the academic discourses on regulation. This is explored through published court documents and newspapers as well as non-published sources such as B.C. Supreme Court bench notes. These were used to reveal the class, gender, and racial biases of the politicians and women’s reform organizations that were overlaid by the political rhetoric of nation building and equality, respectively. The author drops snippets of evidence showing the recalcitrance of the general population to guide their lives by state regulation and, instead, using legislation to their advantage. Because his information came from political and legal records, Clarkson recognizes that his data were not suited to examining the effects of regulation on the populace. Nor does this book rest on addressing theoretical questions; only in passing does Clarkson note the support of his findings for different historical interpretations. This book’s strength lies in the weight of different factors that are combined to form nuanced portraits of the political and legal actors adapting legislation from other constituencies to the ever-changing socio-economic and political landscape of British Columbia.