In Memoriam: Dr. James Napier McCrorie (Jim)

Jan 13 2014

James Napier McCrorie (Jim)

The recent passing of James Napier McCrorie (Jim), founder and architect of the Department of Sociology and Social Studies at the University of Regina, marks the loss of an important member of the Canadian sociological and activist community. Born in Montreal, Jim proudly took his working class roots to McGill where he earned his B.A Honours and MA in 1958 and 1959. The intellectual tradition of the McGill School left an indelible impression on his approach to sociology, as illustrated by Jim’s abiding commitment to empirical research, particularly field research. Jim’s decision to undertake a study of the Farmers’ Union of Canada as his Ph.D project at the University of Illinois (completed in 1967) is illustrative of his commitment to empirical research and social justice.

Throughout his career Jim was always a socially and politically engaged sociologist with an abiding aversion to social and economic injustice and inequality. As a result Jim quickly became attached to the Prairies and many of the progressive family farmers he encountered; however the scope of Jim’s involvement in the Region went beyond working with progressives in the Farmers’ Union. He undertook an empirical study working with railroad workers in the mid 1960s, publishing a significant study that was part of the Freedman Industrial Inquiry Commission Report on the impact of technology on workers and working conditions. At about the same time he became embroiled, as one would expect, in the controversies and political action around the introduction of Medicare in Saskatchewan, publishing “The Farmer and the Saskatchewan Medical Care Controversy”. It was on the Prairies that Jim met the love of his life, Elaine Cameron. After their marriage in 1965 Elaine and their three children, Aaron, Ann and Ian provided the bedrock for the rest of Jim life.

When Jim arrived in Saskatchewan there was one University in the Province, albeit with two campuses. As the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan grew and emerged with its own identity and political orientations, it was natural that it would attract a sociologist of Jim’s caliber and orientation, and that Jim would himself be attracted to the progressive pedagogies and social activism that was emerging in Regina. After an initial Special Lecturer appointment prior to completing his Ph.D., and a subsequent year at the University of Calgary, Jim returned to Regina in 1969 and remained there until his retirement. Jim served as Department Chair while building the Department, and then as a Professor until his retirement in 1996. He was Director of the, Canadian Plains Research Center for a decade, l985-l995, overseeing the academic degree-granting programs, the research portfolio, and expanding output of the CPRC Press including the important regional scholarly journal, Prairie Forum. He played an important role in the debates that eventually saw the establishment of a new and autonomous university in 1974 - The University of Regina.

In its early days the Department at Regina focused considerable attention on the West as a distinct region. Jim’s senior undergraduate and graduate courses invariably included work by Harold Innis and Vernon Fowke. Jim’s close friendship and collaboration with colleagues from other departments, including Arthur K Davis (University of Alberta), resulted in Jim encouraging students and colleagues alike to take an approach to sociology that was interdisciplinary, empirically grounded, intellectually rigorous, critical, activist and engaged. Jim played an important role in making the University of Regina’s Woodrow Lloyd Lecture a forum for progressive debate.

Jim’s doctoral dissertation was the basis of In Union is Strength, essential reading for any student of the Prairies and social movements. His approach to sociology and strength as a sociological observer of the human condition is apparent in his monograph, Kazahkstan Diary: Impressions Of A Post Soviet Republic. A passionate reader of biographies, and always a public intellectual in the very best sense of term, he applied his sociological insights to his beloved Scotland, producing The Highland Cause: The Life And Times Of Roderick Macfarquar in 2001. Not even his closest friends could avoid the sociological gaze of Jim McCrorie as illustrated by his intimate yet insightful portrayal of his dear friend (who loved playing music and a good yarn as much as did Jim), The Guy In The Green Truck – John St. Amand – A Biography. In 2012 he published, No Expectations: A Memoir, a title that speaks volumes to his modesty and sense of humour. He remained active and engaged all his life, as illustrated by his critical and insightful commentary on the Lac-Magantic disaster in the September 2013 CCPA Monitor. There are, of course many other articles and book chapters on a variety of issues and causes.

Jim’s service to the national sociological community included a stint (1976-1979) as Editor of the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology (precursor to the Canadian Review of Sociology) and involvement on several Association committees of what was then the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, now the Canadian Sociological Association. Prior to its disappearance he was active in the Western Association of Sociology and Anthropology, with an on-going commitment to the Society for Socialist Studies and the Rural Sociological Association. Over his career Jim delivered a number of significant lectures including the Dunning Lecture (Queen’s) and the Sorokin Lecture at the University of Saskatchewan. True to his values Jim had requested that contributions in his memory be directed to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives or the heart care program at the Paul Schwann Centre, University of Regina.

Dr. Murray Knuttila, Professor of Sociology at Brock University

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