CfP: Workshop Industrial Heritage Activism: Memory Politics in Public Labour History (session at the III ELHN Conference)

Call for Papers, deadline 30 October 2018

CFP - Industrial Heritage Activism: Memory Politics in Public Labour History

Parallel to the neoliberalisation of political culture is Labour History enjoying a renaissance. In public history, the memory and heritage of the age of heavy industry recently attracted increasing attention, especially because the (mis)management of deindustrialisation processes can be interpreted as essential to the crises of democracy we witness today. At the same time, the increasingly popular understanding of planetary history as currently being fundamentally anthroposcenic, and since the usage of the steam engines during the industrial revolution as being predominantly shaped by humans, sheds new light on the way we might conceptualise the industrial past in the future. Indeed, the future of labour history remains open and requires public engagement with memory politics.

Contributions from the fields of critical heritage studies and memory studies, and changes in the heritage sector more generally, have diversified the conceptual understanding of industrial heritage. Whereas in the past industrial heritage has mainly been explored through the lens of physical preservation of factories and industrial sites, today’s perspectives increasingly involve a critical engagement with the material legacy in a broader sense and representations of memories. Global comparisons show that postindustrial memory regimes are very place dependent and that deindustrialisation is an extremely uneven process, which is strongly dependent on particular political cultures under conditions of structural change. There is also memory activism “from below” interacting with such forces “from above”. It is this interaction that this workshop seeks to discuss in a comparative framework and over time.

The papers will contribute to the critical turn in industrial heritage studies and explore relations, actions and ideologies influencing how industrial heritage has been preserved. This can be done by identifying movements, groups and individuals instrumental in the construction, preservation and reinterpretation of the materialities of the industrial heritage in its variety of forms (e.g. factories, landscapes of extraction and infrastructures). For example, we hope to discuss how carefully crafted heritage discourses about labour in the carbon-based past have textured contemporary understandings of economic and environmental sustainability and future expectations. Sites associated with a carbon-based economy might have significant similarities in contrast to other types of heritage, however each type of site has its own materiality that influences people how - or prevents people to – reflect on the effects of the labour in the past. We may wonder how such sites have been integrated in the heritage discourse, or why they haven’t been part of it; and how their monumentality has been used for visitors to historically engage with the labour performed, working/health conditions, labour movements, deindustrialisation, and environmental transformations.

To understand the power structures behind the memory politics of the industrial age, it is important to define the actors who have intentionally or unintentionally manipulated our understanding of the industrial past through industrial heritage. Contrary to traditional assessments focusing on the state as the authoriser of certain discourses, today increasingly non-state actors also play a central role in the presentation of the industrial age. For example, multinationals fund sites as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy, local social movements rematerialise sites of extraction to contest dominant narratives and local governments revive old sites for economic purposes. We are realising that the history of industrial heritage has been shaped by a variety of protagonists defining the discourse and representation of the past, such as politicians, companies, city planners, civil society activists, academics, artists and last but not least former workers of the industries. These different actors each are each driven, consciously and unconsciously, by deeply rooted dispositions and sociopolitical structures that require careful analysis.

The workshop, entitled “Industrial Heritage Activism: Memory Politics in Public Labour History” will take place over a maximum of two days within the framework of the third conference of European Labour History Network in Amsterdam on 19-21 September 2019.

We invite abstracts of 200-300 words until 30 October 2018. Please also send us a short biographical statement with your abstract.

For further information please email Gertjan Plets ( and Christian Wicke (