Deindustrialization may not be a recent phenomenon but the study of it is. The word has its origins in the Second World War when the Nazis stripped occupied areas of their industry. The term was then picked-up by the Allies in the war’s immediate aftermath to describe possible postwar retribution against Germany. It was only in the midst of the economic crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, however, that deindustrialization re-surfaced as an explanation for economic change. The study of deindustrialization thus emerged in response to the catastrophic decline of employment in manufacturing and basic industries. By the early 1980s, North America and Western Europe were hemorrhaging tens of millions of industrial jobs and trade union membership collapsed in many countries. Inner city areas, one-industry towns, and industrial suburbs were particularly hard-hit, accelerating urban decline, outmigration, employment mobility, and in some cases gentrification. This displacement is often highly gendered and/or racialized.
In the bitter aftermath of deindustrialization, working-class communities are often enveloped in silence and contend with stigmatization. Anyone who has interviewed displaced workers, or is from a working-class family, has seen or felt some of the pain and suffering that has resulted. Working people have resisted these changes, but a discourse of inevitability has established itself. For most former industrial sites, abandonment is fleeting: lasting a few years, or perhaps a decade or two. For others, decline and out-migration persist for longer.
Deindustrialisation has profound cultural and political, as well as socio-economic effects. The arts have provided one means of engaging with or resisting deindustrialization, and digital media another. In recent years, industrial heritage preservation has surged in popularity, as has the public fascination with industrial abandonment where rubble is often aestheticized into ruins. The gritty appeal of former industrial buildings, adapted to new uses, also tells us something important about the times we live in. The environmental, health, and political legacies of deindustrialization are similarly important.
The conference will bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines as well as artists, musicians, poets, digital practitioners, film-makers, community-based projects, and others who are engaging with deindustrialization, its aftermath, and working-class resistance. An edited collection and a special issue of a journal are planned.
Deindustrialization and its Aftermath is being organized jointly by Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling and the Scottish Oral History Centre at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. For more information, contact Steven High, Co-Director of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Andrew Perchard at the University of Strathclyde, Scottish Oral History Centre, at email@example.com .