12.00  The Construction of Industrial Heritage and the Working Class in Norway: A Case Study

9:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper will depart from a historical study of one industrial plant located in the southern part of Norway in 1887. The plant is Porsgrund Porselænsfabrik (PP), a porcelain factory, which has an important position in the local history of Porsgrunn. The porcelain factory was the only one of its kind in Norway, and the production of porcelain goods can be characterized as high quality works of art. The porcelain goods were spread on wide national and international markets and through the years, PP has been an object for the construction of local pride and patriotism. In historical and contemporary documents we can find the positive values that have been ascribed to PP. Porcelain has been referred to as “White Gold” and Porsgrunn identifies itself as the “Porcelain City.” 

In the late twentieth century, the production of porcelain was, however, “outsourced” and today, only a few porcelain workers are still working at the factory. Today the local museum and municipality aim to establish PP as a design centre and a tourist attraction. The history of production of porcelain in Porsgrunn is accordingly, transformed to industrial heritage, and this paper will address the general question of “What does industrial heritage change?” More specifically, the principal research questions of this paper are: Which narratives are constructed when industrial past is transformed into industrial heritage? How is industrial heritage used in the construction of local identity? How is the working class constructed in industrial heritage narratives? 

This paper will analyze how industrial heritage, local identity and the working class are constructed with PP and the city of Porsgrunn as cases. Based on empirical studies of historical documents and oral sources as well as contemporary documents the paper aims to reveal the complexity of how selections from the industrial past of Porsgrunn are transformed into what is presented as valuable industrial heritage. Industrial heritage narratives will be analyzed as an outcome of selections and therefore concealing and subduing specific past incidents, groups and individuals while at the same time highlighting others. Accordingly, industrial heritage is approached as a product of selections made by certain agents and for certain purposes, such as local identity and reduction of class and gender tensions. Whose heritage is reflected in in the history of industrial communities? Questions such as these will reveal both the authorized and dissonant narratives.

The knowledge contribution of this paper and my empirical study of PP and the local community, Porsgrunn, is to see how industrial heritage is constructed when communities change from industrial to post-industrial societies and industrial production of goods is transformed to cultural attractions. Parallel with the transformation, a growing attention of the importance and values of industrial heritage is formed. In this process the narratives of the industrial past also change from dealing with the problematic parts such as class struggle, oppression, polluted working environments, and accidents, to a harmonic one dealing with positive parts of the story such as economic and social welfare, workers’ community, solidarity, local pride, and belonging. This paper aims to contribute to the understanding of what the change of industrial heritage changes concerning the construction of industrial narratives, local identity and the working class.

University College of Southeast-Norway

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