Halifax professor is studying work in Canada through song

July 10, 2017

The issue of employment—having it, not having it, being your own boss, dealing with a terrible boss, etc.—has long been a staple in the subject matter of song. It’s not usually in favour of the boss man. In fact, the very first song I thought of when getting to work on this post was “Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck (hopefully my editor doesn’t read too much into that!). But of course, the nuances of how people make their living are varied and complex and cover a vast range of attitudes and history and ethics. Dalhousie University researcher and Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Health Lynn Shaw knows that well.

So who better to take a deep look at the history of work in Canada through music? That’s exactly what she’s doing. As reported by Metro, she has been researching the topic, hoping to find out what the history could mean, “for young people finding employment in the future.” Apparently so far, it’s taken her through 183 songs, including gems from such celebrated musicians as Stompin’ Tom Connors and Rita McNeil. Besides her own research, the help of family and friends has assisted in her search for “enduring messages” from Canadian workin’ tunes for a lectureship for the Canadian Society of Occupational Science.

In the past couple decades, there’s been a major shift in the job market as the number of traditional jobs—i.e., something you can land out of university and stay at for 30 years until you retire—has dwindled, and we’ve witnessed the rise of automation and the gig economy. Shaw is focused specifically on the future of work in Canada and what songs can teach us about where it might be going. “The whole point of this was to… change the discourse around the constant underemployment or unemployment of young people,” Shaw told the Metro. “If we start to think about it in a more positive way, this is moving forward, perhaps we could start to build new, innovative ways to think about how to help people transition into work.”

Shaw’s study focuses on tunes from the 1800s to 2014. Can you think of any good ones that might have flown under her radar?


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About the Author

Matt Williams

Matt Williams is a writer and photographer. Born and raised on the Prairies in Winnipeg, he’s slowly made his way farther and farther east, spending a few years covering music in Toronto before running clear out of country and ending up on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In between, he’s made numerous detours, interviewing and photographing countless artists across North America and beyond. He heads up Amplify’s Instrumental series, where he talks with musicians about the relationships they’ve formed with their most important tools.

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