Nostalgia for industry in the hinterlands

Posted: 21 November 2011 in Uncategorized
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Should we be nostalgic for industry in the hinterlands?

Here are the opening paragraphs of my remarks during a very good session on that theme at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Montréal:

I hate nostalgia. And I especially hate the nostalgia for industry in the hinterland.

I live in, work in, and drive through that hinterland—from the South Side of Chicago through Gary and Michigan City to South Bend. And I find a shared nostalgia for industry, especially on the Left, particularly among left-wing activists and union members. A nostalgia for a previous period of manufacturing (located sometime, it’s never clear, in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s), which is connected (at least in their minds) with good working-class jobs and good working-class politics.

(Nostalgia isn’t, of course, a monopoly of the Left. The right-wing, in the United States, Western Europe, and elsewhere in the world today, is busy building a bridge to the 19th century. Their own fantasy of a better time and place, when robber barons ruled, taxes were low, government regulations were minimal.)

I hate both kinds of nostalgia. But certainly, for the purposes of our discussion today, the nostalgia for industry in the hinterland. Who in their right mind wants that industry back? The stockyards of Chicago, the steel mills of Gary and Michigan City, the Studebaker plant of South Bend. Not me.

I’m glad they’re closed (or, in the case of the steel mills, barely operating—mostly for specialty steel, since the bulk steel is all now imported). They were horrible jobs, under terrible work conditions and poor pay. Industries that first built and transformed and then devastated the entire hinterland between Chicago and South Bend.

Nope, I have absolutely no use for that kind of nostalgia. It romanticizes a time that never was, and remains mired in a vision of how things were, mourning the loss, unable to grasp the possibilities of moving in a new and different direction.

Comments
  1. […] As for me, I have no particular nostalgia for industry in the hinterlands. […]

  2. Tim says:

    “under terrible work conditions and poor pay.”

    Bad conditions, yes. But by what contemporary standard was union steelworker pay bad? I’m thinking of the late sixties and early seventies.

    Thanks

  3. […] readers know, I have no particular nostalgia for industry. Or for the supposedly good manufacturing jobs that were the mainstay of the American Dream in the […]

  4. […] readers know, I have no nostalgia for U.S. manufacturing. On top of that, I simply don’t expect manufacturing to experience […]

  5. […] readers know, I have no nostalgia for U.S. manufacturing. On top of that, I simply don’t expect manufacturing to experience any […]

  6. […] I have explained before, I hold no particular nostalgia for industry in the hinterlands of the U.S. […]

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