Bachelorseminar „Deindustrializing Hoboken“

Heute beginnt das neue Semester, in dem ich estmals an der Universität Antwerpen lehren werde. Das Seminar ist forschungsnah konzipiert und soll Studierende auf dem Weg zu einer Thesis begleiten. Im ersten Semester werden wir dabei regelmäßige Sitzungen haben, in denen wir Texte und Quellen besprechen und mögliche Themen für die Thesis diskutieren. Im zweiten Semester (2022) werde ich die Bachelorarbeiten individuell weiter betreuen.

Mein Bachelorseminar ist Teil meines aktuellen Projekts zur Geschichte der Deindustrialisierung. Entsprechend schließt das Seminar an die Forschungsfragen dieses Projekts an:

Deindustrializing Hoboken. Everyday Life and Community in Transformation, 1970-2000

Like many other industrial towns in Europe, the city (since 1983 district) of Hoboken was deeply affected by deindustialization between the 1960s and the 1990s. With the closure of several plants, most prominently the Cockerill Shipyard in 1982, many people lost their jobs, families were confronted with an uncertain future and the local community had to adjust to an entirely new situation. Simultaneously to the challenge of declining employment opportunities, rising migration, demographic shifts and changing gender roles also had an impact on the neighbourhood. In this seminar we want to reconstruct how these shifts changed everyday life in Hoboken. Instead of telling a story of loss, however, the aim is to analyze how the people coped with the decline of the traditional industrial economy, found ways to compensate for loss and created new forms of economic, social and cultural activities that replaced the once dominant way of life attuned to industrial work.

In particular, the seminar will look into the following developments from the local perspective:

  • New forms of economic activity: Which kinds of jobs replaced industrial employment? How were these jobs obtained and organized? What role did public assistance, (small) entrepreneurship, or informal arrangements play? How important were illicit, or even illegal, economic activities?
  • Changing meanings of consumption: How did consumption relate to declining financial resources? Did strategies of (over-)compensation emerge, in which certain kinds of conspicuous consumption acquired a new cultural value? What role did shopping, displaying status symbols and routines of (self-)representation, in particular those in which people styled their bodies and sexuality, play.
  • Socializing and community: Which was the effect on those forms of social interaction, which shaped the sense of belonging in the neighbourhoods? Did people recede from the public sphere or did new bonds emerge among neighbours? What was the function of public activities, such as celebrations or sport events, in this?
  • Reorganizing civil society: How did local organizations, both formal and informal, such as citizens’ initiatives, political parties, interest groups or religious congregations, address challenges, set the agenda and take action? Which new organizations emerged and how did existing ones take up new issues?
  • The invention of an industrial past: Did the emergence of industrial heritage, preserving abandoned factories and plants as historical landmarks, complement the process of industrial decline? How was the memory of the fading industrial past constructed and how were its remnants turned into tangible and intangible assets in plans for redevelopment?

Finding answers to these questions entails the challenge to first acquire sources, some of which are not readily available, and then to organise the data retrieved from these sources in a meaningful way. In this seminar we will combine a diverse set of sources, including local newspapers, such as the Gazet van Antwerpen, material from social science studies, which were conducted in the 1980s, archival repositories at stadsarchief Antwerpen, such as letters of complaint, and finally sources which we will acquire through cooperation with the local community in Hoboken. This will require some “detective work” but will be rewarded by tapping into sources no-one has ever used. The focus will be on sources which refer to a specific location and offer data for serial analysis, such as recurring newspaper advertisements for a certain type of shop, standardized field notes from social science surveys or membership lists. We will then use GIS to analyse this qualitative data and try to identify spatial and temporal patterns of change. This approach to analysis is based on the assumption that the shifts in everyday life, which we are interested in, aggregated around places and nodes of social life, such as pubs, beauty parlours, sport grounds, employment centres, places of worship or abandoned industrial plants. These places were important either because they were the site of social interaction or because the figured prominently in the mental maps of the local community.