The unfinished industrial past

A group of about 12 people standing in front of a renovated industrial building with a sign that says "Appleton."As someone interested in the processes by which some piece of life becomes framed as “past,” I find industrial history endlessly dynamic to think with. In many places around the world, including the part of New England where I live, industry feels and is often understood to be past, but of course it’s not – the capital that propelled it has simply been moved elsewhere. This slippage in time and space is compounded by the fact that industry is still present in virtually everything we encounter in our daily lives, including the warming climate we exist within.

So although I started studying industrial history somewhat inadvertently (I was intending to study immigrant representations and relationships at what just happened to be an industrial history site), it’s become foundational to everything I’m thinking about. Below is some of my work focused specifically on industrial, deindustrialized, and postindustrial places and projects.

I’ve also been a visiting scholar at several industrial history sites, including Bethlehem, PA, Lowell, MA, and Paterson, NJ. The picture above shows a scholars’ group getting a tour of Lowell in the summer of 2014. It always intrigues me to be part of these visits because one of the things I’m particularly interested in is the role of people tasked with reframing industry as past, sometimes mourning, memorializing, or trying to understand it, and often repurposing the material traces that industrial capital leaves behind. Here’s some of what I’ve written about that:

The two most recent pieces focus on the way that work in the knowledge sector itself is increasingly taking on industrialized qualities (for example, becoming more mechanized, routinized, and geared toward exporting replicable products like designs, plans, exhibits, and brands). I argue that these similarities have the potential to prompt new kinds of alliances between high-status (but often low-security, low-wage) knowledge workers and those in other sectors who are struggling with the more corrosive patterns found in industrial capitalism.