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The Proposal Economy: Neoliberal Citizenship in “Ontario’s Most Historic Town”

Pamela Stern and Peter V. Hall

University of British Columbia Press, 2015

In 2001 the northern Ontario town of Cobalt won a competition to be named the province’s “Most Historic Town.” This honour, though purely symbolic, came as Cobalters were also applying for and winning federal and provincial development grants to remake this once important silver mining centre as a destination for mining heritage tourism. This book, based on extended ethnographic and multi-method research in Cobalt, examines the multiple ways that development proposal writing is intertwined with neoliberal citizenship and becomes a technology of neoliberal governance. Under current forms of neoliberal governance, proposal making and applying for grants have become normalized activities for individuals, non-profit organizations, schools, and municipalities. The authors argue that the residents of Cobalt have become entrenched in a “proposal economy,” a system that empowers them to imagine, engage, and propose but not to count on the state to provide certain services. They further show that, by embracing this technology of neoliberal governance, the long-standing civic practices and citizenship subjectivities in Cobalt are being transformed.

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