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Rust Belt Chic: Deindustrialization, place and urban authenticity

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In the context of deindustrialization and urban decline, America's industrial heartland came to be re-imagined as the 'Rust Belt'. Synonymous with outmoded and decrepit landscapes, identities and practices, the term has operated as a form of stigma, as places such as Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh became symbols of industrial, institutional and individual failure. However, in the contemporary period 'Rust Belt' is increasingly accompanied by an apparently incongruous term: 'chic'. Focusing on the narratives and essays of a younger, educated and predominantly white demographic, the article explores discourses of 'Rust Belt Chic', examining the social, cultural and political significance of this emergent phenomena thinking through the ways in which it constructs the past, present and future of deindustrialized landscapes. It is argued that within these narratives the region is valued for its liminality, for its proximities to the industrial past and a sense of history and tradition, along with its distance from what is seen as the failures of the post-industrial city. The article considers this reappraisal of the region and its material and symbolic significance in the context of deindustrialization and urban regeneration, examining how claims about the region are used to articulate a particular form of urban 'authenticity'.
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Keywords: Rust Belt; authenticity; deindustrialization; industrial heritage; place; urban regeneration

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121662407 University of Manchester

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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