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13.30  "Nostalgia for the Future": Memory, Nostalgia and the Politics of Class

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13:30, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

Nostalgia has a bad press. For some, it is pointless and sentimental, for others reactionary and futile. Where does that leave those of us interested in labour history and labour heritage—is it all just “smokestack nostalgia”? Deborah Rudicelle (2015) wonders, for example, whether “smokestack nostalgia” might even be both literally and metaphorically toxic.

We would like to explore the tensions between these less than flattering characterizations of nostalgia and a more enabling, progressive understanding of how working-class communities do nostalgia.

In doing so we draw on interviews, oral histories, and ethnographic observations of community heritage initiatives in the ex-coal mining town of Castleford in West Yorkshire, England, and interviews with visitors, volunteers, and staff at sites and museums of industrial and working-class heritage in England, the United States, and Australia.

Our discussion will outline the complexity of social memory and nostalgia that emerges at these sites, and we will make a distinction between what we have termed “reactionary nostalgia” and “progressive nostalgia.” We believe that the latter suggests that nostalgia can be a source of resilience in working-class communities, and affirm commitments to progressive goals. As one informant put it, there can be a “nostalgia for the future” emerging from memories and memorializations. We believe that drawing on the past can help mould the sentiments and nurture the emotional commitment to social justice issues that the Left so desperately needs.

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