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The making of an ‘arcane’ infrastructure: immigrant practitioners and the origins of professional engineering regulation in Ontario

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Many immigrant professionals have difficulty securing the appropriate licenses required to practice their professions in Canada. Complex licensing procedures managed by professional regulatory institutions compose what a former federal immigration minister called an ‘arcane infrastructure’. This article draws on a discourse analysis of historical professional periodicals to investigate the origins of these institutions, using the regulated engineering profession in Ontario as a case study. Within a conceptual framework based on institutional cultural capital, cultural regulation of labour and habitat, the article analyzes the justifications employed by Canadian engineering societies to establish institutional qualification standards. We conclude that these standards represented a strategic effort on the part of engineering society members to protect their professional, social and economic interests by excluding non-members and foreign engineers. Passage of engineering licensing legislation in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s institutionalized these processes of exclusion and established the professional regulatory framework that is still in place today.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1 ( ), Email: 2: Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1 ( ), Email:

Publication date: 2007-06-01

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