Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Industrial Heritage and Place Identity in Spain: From Monuments to Landscapes

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Industrial Heritage and Place Identity in Spain: From Monuments to Landscapes

Article excerpt

Old factories are still running!" exclaimed an Irish colleague who was visiting Pablo Alonso in the summer of 2011. Our friend's surprise points to one of the paradoxes that industrial heritage faces in Spain: Academic and institutional discourses and ideas about the enhancement of industrial remains can travel faster than the actual demise of their productive functions. Moreover, these discourses definitely spread more quickly than do feelings of nostalgia or emotional connection to industrial heritage among residents in nearby communities. These issues lead to some paradoxical situations in Spain. Should factories and mines be preserved just after the end of their productive functions? What should be kept for the future? How can preservation projects proceed amid widespread attitudes of rejection or indifference toward industrial heritage on the part of local communities?

Industrial heritage has been said to celebrate the lower classes' everyday material culture and way of life (Martinez and Closa 1999), a heritage of the people rather than for the people (Samuel 1994). Conversely, it has been suggested that heritage is always an affair of higher classes (Smith 2006). In fact, the lack of interest in industrial heritage among members of the Spanish working class is understandable. The "heritage affair" is broadly a feature of cultural agendas set by metropolitan middle--and upper-class interests and priorities. Furthermore, the lack of broader public engagement does not have much to do with the fact that not enough time has passed or that younger people--who will supposedly be nostalgic about remains of the past--have to replace the elder generations. Industrial heritage has thus been largely utilized as a future-oriented economic resource, neglecting emotional and popular potential for the generation of new identities and connections with the past. An exception to this concerns areas where the legacy of industry is connected with narratives of national or regional identity, such as in Catalonia or the Basque Country and, to a lesser extent, Asturias. Here, awareness concerning industrial heritage is far more developed than in other Spanish regions, and local engagement is more pronounced.

In this article we argue that both the mismatching between academic and institutional expectations and the utilization of industrial heritage as an economic resource entail a break with local communities and partially explain the lack of territorial and landscape approaches to the enhancement of industrial heritage. Heritage can only function as a self-fulfilling prophecy in economic terms when local communities are involved and feel connected to projects that aim to shift from a productive economy to a tourism-based one.

Furthermore, a naive and object-oriented approach to industrial sites prevails, in which the enhancement efforts focus on "industrial monuments" such as the old train, the factory, or the mining pit. Meanwhile, industrial territories are largely disregarded or merely represented in museum displays. We argue that evidence points to an incipient shift in industrial heritage practices in Spain, one that moves from the dyad museum-monument to a conception that considers it part of complex cultural landscapes, with significant implications for spatial planning and for the conceptualization of industrial heritage.


Industrial heritage appeared as both a material by-product and a social construction thanks to the gradual advent of postprocluctivism in the most-developed economies after World War II. When conceived as a material remain with attached aesthetic values, it is linked to processes of territorial valorization resembling what has elsewhere been defined as the "becoming-rent of profit" (Harvey 2002; Vercellone 2008). When related to memory, community, and the past it connects with place identity. Both aspects are always present in "heritages" of all kinds and are always intertwined to a certain extent. …

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