“Please fill the gap” — (industrial) culture as a post-industrial placeholder?

“Please fill the gap” — (industrial) culture as a post-industrial placeholder?
Foto: Jana Golombek, DBM

Greater Pittsburgh and the Ruhr area since the 1970s

Structural change and de-industrialisation have long been the subject of research in various disciplines. First, it was the political and economic aspects that were the focus of research. The process of deindustrialisation, however, was not merely a quantitative and qualitative change in the world of work, but, like industrialisation, a fundamental change in the social fabric. What has been neglected in research so far is the question of the cultural significance of structural change over time, also with regard to the question of how individuals and entire communities re-interpret the process of de-industrialization through processes of remembrance. Also, the importance of (everyday) culture in the course of this process requires a closer look, especially as it is often used as an important instrument in the conversion process.

Using two regions — the Ruhr area and Greater Pittsburgh — the study will investigate the extent to which their inhabitants construct new narratives and memories of industrial work and the process of de-industrialization through material and immaterial cultural representation. Here, the focus is not only on former industrial workers or their families, but also on 'outsiders' who respond to the phenomenon of deindustrialisation, even if it is not directly part of their own memory. It will be investigated which different strategies are used to fill, both symbolically and factually, the gaps that arise. As material witnesses of structural change, industrial-cultural sites and their new uses play a special role in this context. Other interpretations can be found in the work of cultural initiatives and regional actors; in photography and intangible heritage such as narratives, music and literature, from which, in turn, various phenomena have, emerged such as 'ruin porn' or 'rust-belt chic'. The concrete subjects of investigation are the regional museums as well as different forms of material and immaterial industrial culture in the respective regions. The analysis of the representation in museums illustrates the 'top-down' narrative, while looking at processes working in the opposite direction, through an analysis of the work of different cultural initiatives and phenomena, the 'bottom-up' access to industrial culture is made visible. Following this a closer examination will be given to the actors and recipients in this field between 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' narratives, in order to make statements about the effects of different strategies in dealing with industrial culture on society.

Project Lead

Dr. Lars Bluma

Host institution

German Mining Museum Bochum (Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum)

Financial support



Prof. Dr. Stefan Berger (Supervisor), Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB)


since 2015