The Industrial Heritage of Rjukan, Norway: From Industrial Fairy-Tale to Narrative of Decline
My last book ("Kulturelle hjørnesteiner", Cappelen Damm Akademisk 2014) deals with culture and sustainable place planning with empirical work from Rjukan and Notodden towns in Norway. These are former industrial towns that experienced rapid growth from the early twentieth century based on large-scale industrialization followed by prolonged deindustrialization.
Since the book came out, I have become more interested in the production of heritage related to industrialization and de-industrialization at Rjukan, more concretely how the past at Rjukan has been understood and used. Production of heritage is not innocent or value-neutral, but is deeply related to the workings of power in society. I am interested in narratives of place as place heritage, the ideological uses of place narratives in place- and nation-making, and the prospect for writing new narratives. Place narratives do not only transform the meaning of the past in the present, but bring the meaning of the future to the present as well. They create narratives of potential space, visions of future places, which then are used to legitimate interests in the present. The making of place narratives through heritage production, a process in the present, link temporal aspects of the past with the future, which further link spatial aspects concerning here and there, local and global, space and place.
Rjukan has had an iconic meaning as the birth place of Norway as a modern, industrial nation. Place narratives of Rjukan have been accorded particular and ideological value in modern, Norwegian society, and two in particular taken together help to constitute Rjukan´s meaning. The first narrative tells a story about Rjukan as the cradle of Norway as a modern, industry nation, where Rjukan is animated as a place of future and progress, a narrative which includes a vision of a sustainable future. The other depicts Rjukan as a problem associated with deindustrialisation; this is a narrative where a sustainable future is absent. These place narratives have been useful to legitimate and uphold a grand and global narrative of Norway as a modern, industrial nation.
These reflections are further developed in my chapter in "Theory and Practice in Heritage and Sustainability: Between Past and Future" edited by Graham Fairclough and Elizabeth Auclair in the series Routledge studies on culture and sustainable development (Routledge 2015).