Sociologist Beverley Skeggs argues that the shift from redistributive politics to the politics of recognition has placed considerable emphasis on the “individual morally authorizing themselves through their own experience.” Indeed, Skeggs claims that “the wounded attachment is premised on the belief that the experience of pain, hurt and oppression provides greater epistemological authority to speak.” If wounding and pain become the measure of injustice, those hurt by structural violence and inequality are usually ill-positioned to be seen or heard. With this in mind, this article shifts our attention to the violence regularly inflicted on industrial workers in a capitalist economy, taking Sherry Lee Linkon’s notion of the half-life of deindustrialization and applying it to the long-term emotional fallout of job loss revealed in oral history interviews conducted with industrial workers in Detroit, Michigan. These interviews reveal a kaleidoscope of emotions, ranging from fear and anxiety to pride, irony, absurdity, loss, confusion, defiance, hope, shame, and, most of all, betrayal. Oral history interviews make clear that class values and working-class identity in Detroit were inculcated in childhood within blue-collar families. Men and women grew up in an industrial culture where trade unionism was a badge of honor. The actions of employers are therefore read through a moral lens; you can hear the hurt in people’s voices. In some cases, their sense of themselves as displaced workers was reforged in the fires of deindustrialization into a new class identity.
The Emotional Fallout of Deindustrialization in Detroit
STEVEN HIGH is professor of history at Concordia University and cofounder of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. He is the author of many books and articles on the collapse of industry in the second half of the twentieth century. His books include Industrial Sunset: The Making of North America’s Rust Belt (2003), Corporate Wasteland: The Landscape and Memory of Deindustrialization (2007, with David Lewis), The Deindustrialized World: Confronting Ruination in Postindustrial Places (2017, with Lachlan MacKinnon and Andrew Perchard), and One Job Town: Work, Belonging, and Betrayal in Northern Ontario (2018).
Steven High; The Emotional Fallout of Deindustrialization in Detroit. Labor 1 March 2019; 16 (1): 127–149. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-7269362
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