Beyond the Ruins

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Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization. Edited by Jefferson Cowie and Joseph Heathcott. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003. Pp. xvi+372. $49.95/24.95.

Summary

Beyond the Ruins is an excellent collection of essays on the deindustrialization of the United States in the latter third of the twentieth century. The studies are grouped under five headings, "Rust," "Environment," "Plans," "Legacy," and "Memory," each of which reflects a different approach to deindustrialization ranging from an examination of empty movie theaters to worker narratives. This format perfectly suits the goals of the editors who hope to move "... the discussion beyond prototypical plant shutdowns, the immediate politics of empolyment policy, the tales of victimization, or the swell of industrial nostalgia" and "rethink the chronology, memory, spatial relations, culture, and politics of what we have come to call 'deindustrializaition.'"(1-2) In juxtaposing such a variety of case studies, the editors accomplish just that, and the monolith of "deindustrialization" is pried apart into a complex and mutable experience.

For example, it is easy to see how Bryant Simon's smart investigation of the decline of movie-going in Atlantic City in "Segregated Fantasies: Race, Public Space, and the Life and Death of the Movie Business in Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1945-2000" belongs in the same volume as Krik Savage's examination of the heritage of steel, "Monuments of a Lost Cause: The Postindustrial Campaign to Commemorate Steel." Simon deftly traces the rise and fall of the Atlantic City movie industry through Jim Crow practices, desegregation, white flight, and the advent of the casino. Ultimately he argues what makes Atlantic city's story of deindustrialization so unique was "It reflects the refusal of so many white middle-class Americans to live or vacation or even go out for a night in desegregated public spaces."(87) Savage's treatment of the legacy of steel in Pittsburgh, PA is an inventive study of the way steel has been publicly memorialized in a method similar to military commemoration. He notes, "Traditionally, it is the very purpose of a commemoration to overlook this violence [behind the things we hold most dear] in order to assert a more stable and peaceful future."(255) While his subject is very different than Simon's, we see several similarities between the essays: the transformation of public space, the contributions to collective memory, and the historical distinction of deindustrialization by both time and place.


Commentary

KA Fall 2009

Beyond the Ruins is a great example of an edited volume encouraging new and unique approaches to familiar yet understudied materials. While the thirteen essays diverge greatly in their content and methodology, they are more than loosely tied together. And ultimately what they provide is an excellent representation of how diversely and historically uniquely deindustrialization has been experienced by different people in different parts of the country. Deindustrialization is so often not simply represented by, but defined as a series of empty buildings across the landscape. These authors all challenge that notion, and dig, as the title implies, "beyond the ruins."

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