Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization


The immediate impact of deindustrialization—the suffering inflicted upon workers, their families, and their communities—has been widely reported by scholars and journalists. In this important volume, the authors seek to move discussion of America’s industrial decline beyond the immediate ramifications of plant shutdowns by placing it into a broader social, political, and economic context.

Emphasizing a historical approach, the authors explore the multiple meanings of one of the major transformations of the twentieth century.The concept of deindustrialization entered the popular and scholarly lexicon in 1982 with the publication of The Deindustrialization of America, by Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison. Beyond the Ruins both builds upon and departs from the insights presented in that benchmark study. In this volume, the authors rethink the chronology, memory, geography, culture, and politics of industrial change in America.

Taken together, these original essays argue that deindustrialization is not a story of a single emblematic place, such as Flint or Youngstown, or a specific time period, such as the 1980s. Nor is it limited to the abandoned factory buildings associated with heavy industry. Rather, deindustrialization is a complex process that is uneven in its causes, timing, and consequences. The essays in this volume examine this process through a wide range of topics, from worker narratives and media imagery, to suburban politics, environmental activism, and commemoration.

"Beyond the Ruins chronicles the human stories beneath the statistics of plant closures and job losses. It is must reading for anyone concerned about the current wave of deindustrialization that is undermining the job security, good wages, and respect in the workplace once widely enjoyed by manufacturing workers.”

– John Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO

"This outstanding and thought-provoking collection describes the complex roles of the many players in tales of deindustrialization.”

- Laurence F. Gross, University of Massachusetts, Lowell

"Consciousness of historical change makes Beyond the Ruins an invaluable contribution both to the literature on deindustrialization and to recent American history. . . . Deindustrialization is not only what is done to American communities, it is what we do with ourselves. And a good place to start thinking about what we can do is this fine book”

- Gerald Friedman, University of Massachusetts

"This important collection challenges us to think anew about the experience of post-World War II American cities….In underscoring the importance of political and cultural factors, the authors uncover the varieties of collective, institutional, and above all human action that have shaped structural transformations in the past—and that can be mobilized toward a more equitable future.”

– Alice O’Connor, University of California, Santa Barbara


"In this landmark study, some of our smartest urban geographers and historians revisit the industrial graveyards of New Deal America. These case studies should be court-ordered reading for those civic boosters who think that the deep wounds of plant closure can be healed with a new office park or some ‘dead tech’ sculpture gardens.”

-Mike Davis