Panel 3: Industrial Nostalgia

Nostalgia cannot only be found in politics, but in late twentieth century Europe became a mode to look back towards the industrial past. This was the topic of the third panel. It started with JÖRG ARNOLD’s paper on “The Future that Never Came: De-Industrialisation, Nostalgia and the Politics of Temporality”. Arnold examined the decade before the miner’s strike of 1984/85 when a renaissance of the British coal industry seemed just about to be possible. These hopes, however, were quickly crushed leaving many miners and unionists traumatised—not, in Arnold’s view so much by the loss of the past but by the loss of a future that never came.

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TIM STRANGLEMAN’s paper “Smokestack Nostalgia? The Work of Memory in Understanding Industrial Decline” explored how the industrial past is remembered today. He noticed a growing reflection on industrial loss and its meaning and the rise of an aesthetic obsession with what he called the “deindustrial sublime”: former factories have become destinations of dark tourism, prowling grounds for urban spelunkers and photo fodder for luscious coffee table books.

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The final paper of this panel, PETER N. HÖRZ’s “Processions Towards Railway History—On Rusty Tracks” was devoted to one subculture mourning the decline of a specific aspect of the industrial past: railway hikers. Walking along abandoned railway tracks they they mentally reconstruct the times when these tracks were still in use, thus preserving the memory of a past that has been destroyed by the transport policies of the 1970s. Hörz considered these hikes as performative acts akin to a procession, a ritual or a game.

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