Published in TICCIH Bulletin nr 69, 3rd quarter 2015
On the 5th of July, 2015, UNESCO has inscribed Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site on the World Heritage list. This represents great opportunities for the local communities of Rjukan and Notodden, located in the interior southern part of Norway. According to the proposal, the site is a unique expression of new industrial developments during the second industrial revolution, based in hydroelectric power production, industry, transport system and urban communities. The development of industry here depended however totally on the presence on the water landscape, so that the cultural and physical features of landscape here is a total production system (Birkeland 2015).
How are we to value industrial heritage in the Anthropocene? The Anthropocene refers to the human-dominated, geological epoch that we are now living in. It is a concept that covers the last 250 years’ immense human impact on the earth where global warming, environmental degradation and unsustainable development are huge warning signs.
I want to argue for perspectives on industrial heritage research that meets these challenges. This implies partly to uncover some of the taken-for-granted premises in industrial heritage research, namely human-centeredness, or anthropocentrism. Human-centredness is a central feature of industrial, modern society, and it is often missed in industrial heritage discourse. In modernity, nature was socialised and domesticated in particular ways. Industrialisation brought a sea change in how humans understood nature. We can view industrialisation as a crisis of reason (Plumwood 2002). Industrialisation turned nature into an object for human projects and interests and naturalised the need to transcend the limits of nature to create value for humans and society through the use of machines.
I suggest that the making of nature into resource is a part of the heritage of industrial society. This requires an understanding of the relationship between nature and society as a power-relationship. We need a social analysis that includes nature-society relationships (Castree and Braun 2001). The need to include nature is overlooked in most research from the humanities on industrial society, who focus on issues of social and economic injustice, power and class relations within society, but who are blind to its own anthropocentrism. An analysis of class relations only is not enough. Nature is the neglected other in the industrialised world, expressing a profound society-nature dualism.
In this perspective it is important to ask whose heritage industrial heritage is, and how the interests of those who have a right to this heritage - but who are not in power to secure this right - are to be heard. This is an important question as there are some stakeholders who in industrial societies have been silenced, the natural landscape. Who speaks for the natural landscape?
One simple reason for this perspective is the need for youth to learn about the two faces of industrialisation: how it contributed to improved welfare, health and a better world for the masses, but also how it led to global warming and an urgent need for improving environmental sustainability and climate change transformation.
So, what can be done? New research confirms that the understanding of industrial heritage as a living landscape is promising in terms of a move away from human-centeredness and towards facilitating cultural change by seeing culture as a fourth pillar of sustainability (Birkeland 2008, 2014, 2015, Soini and Birkeland 2014, Dessein et al 2015). Industrial heritage is a living landscape, a totality that results from the mingled agency of the human and more-than-human world. The industrial landscape is, further, an everyday landscape, the landscape as seen from those who live or inhabit the industrial landscape.
Sustainable heritage management must thus reflect a conscious inter-generational and non-anthropocentric view of the industrial landscape. The crucial question is whose values ideas of industrial heritage reflect, and whom heritage should be for. These core questions should not be left for the technocrats and engineers to manage. Use and re-use of industrial heritage must be embedded in the values and interests of those who have stakes in the industrial landscape, but most important, should include the care of the physical landscape. These questions concern cultural sustainability understood as eco-cultural justice, justice in relation to local values and justice in relation to nature, and the overall role of culture in sustainable community development.
Birkeland, I. 2015. The Potential Space for Cultural Sustainability: Narrating the future of a post-industrial town. Theory and Practice in Heritage and Sustainability: Between Past and Future, edited by Elizabeth Auclair and Graham Fairclough. Routledge Series in Culture and Sustainability. London: Routledge
Birkeland, I. 2014. Kulturelle hjørnesteiner. Teoretiske og didaktiske perspektiver på klimaomstilling. Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk
Birkeland, I. 2008. Cultural Sustainability: Industrialism, placeless-ness and the re-animation of place. Ethics, Place & Environment, 11(3), 283-297.
Castree, N. and B. Braun. 2001. Social nature: Theory, practice and politics. Oxford: Blackwell.
Dessein, J., Soini, K., Fairclough, G. and Horlings, I. (eds.) 2015. Culture in, for and as sustainable development. Conclusions from the COST Action IS1007 Investigating Cultural Sustainability. University of Jyväskyla, Finland.
Plumwood, V. 2002. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. London: Routledge.
Soini, K. and I. Birkeland. 2014. Exploring the scientific discourse of cultural sustainability. Geoforum, vol 51, nr 1 (pp 213–223)