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Harrowed landscapes: white ruingazers in Namibia and Detroit and the cultivation of memory

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This article compares the ruins of Detroit and Namibia, focusing on the ways that previously dominant white groups use those ruins. In both cases ruined buildings appeal to these groups as particularly evocative objects. While the ruin seems always to signify transience, mortality and historicity, its more specific meanings are semantically underdetermined, varying by historical context and social group. Many white suburbanites use Detroit's industrial ruins to nourish their nostalgic longing for the city's golden era of Fordist prosperity. This does not seem to entail any confusion of past and present, however. The nostalgic object is unambiguously perceived as historical. By contrast, German-Namibians use colonial ruins to satisfy and perpetuate a sense of melancholia that simultaneously denies and acknowledges the end of German colonial power. Both forms of consciousness prefer ruins that are gradually being reassimilated into nature to the restored heritage sites of the tourist industry.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2008

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