Banking on identity: Constructing a Canadian banking identity one branch at a time

18 08 2017

The Journal of Historical Sociology (impact factor: 0.553) has published a paper that should interest all Canadian business historians and all historians of financial institutions. The author is Simarjit S. Bal, a PhD student in Political Science, University of Alberta. I hope to meet Simarjit, perhaps at a future event organized by the Canadian Business History Association.

 

Abstract:

This paper seeks to explore the role that the Canadian branch banking structure has played in producing a national Canadian economic space as well as nationally oriented conservative Canadian banking subjects. Explosive growth in the scope of Canadian bank branch networks between 1880 and 1930, both in terms of number of branches and their geographic range, forced banks to re-evaluate their management practices. To manage an increasingly unwieldy structure, banks worked to centralize control and homogenize operations and the bankers themselves. Through centralization, bank head offices developed more robust branch reporting tools, which allowed them collect and repurpose disparate data into new national level information and knowledge. Working as centres of calculation, bank head offices used this new information to integrate a nationalist outlook throughout the network, deploying disciplinary technologies and techniques, in an effort to detach bankers from a local or regional orientation. This paper shows that, rather than merely a tool for efficient allocation of capital, the branching structure is a productive socio-technical structure, which helped to construct the very nature of the national space it sought to manage.

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