Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Boneyards of the Sortatropolis: Exploring a City of Industrial Secrets: Lansing, Michigan-Part I

Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Boneyards of the Sortatropolis: Exploring a City of Industrial Secrets: Lansing, Michigan-Part I

Article excerpt

When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.

Jean Baudrillard (1991).


The urban spaces that once were home to giant industries have slowly emptied out over the last century, and in their place, development, proposed as "progress," consumes the cityscape. Federal, state, and local governments use policies and practices of "progress" and "renewal" to create a sense of possibility, promise, and "future," to continue the turning over of city blocks, often displacing those that would find their homes in those spaces. Even if the development takes place on seemingly "abandoned" spaces, the connections of those spaces to the community is often disregarded in the name of moving forward.

This paper explores the automotive industrial history of Michigan's capital city, Lansing, and the connections between the pastwhat is no longer "known," and the present. At the same time, those connections, reaching from those intangible moments, stretch into the possibilities of a universal "Future," that would be guided by visions from ruling power (Halberstam 2011). In Lansing, the history of industry is muted by the trudging forward of modern governance and the discourse of "opportunity." Once an automotive industrial center, that past has been covered over, like a shallow grave, by historic resistance on the part of those that would ultimately make the decisions about what and how the people in the city, the region, and the state remember that innovation.

Further, the focus of this work centers primarily on the neighborhood historically known as REO Town. REO Town is culturally relevant to the development of the capital city as a site of innovation, possibility, and "Future." While a rather small invisible boundary denotes this part of the Sortatropolis, it is one of the only "neighborhoods" in the city of Lansing to have its own distinct "identity," conjoined with the myths and romance of an automotive industrial past. While REO Town will serve as the beginning point of this exploration, it would be a disservice to the inquiry if its connections to the city were ignored. REO Town serves as a site of beginning, but not ending, for the story of Lansing as a Sortatropolis: a city that was, and whose bones remain exposed under the dirt of "modern progress."

Using the concepts of "traumascapes," as described by Marie Tumarkin's (2005) work on global sites of trauma, I have developed the term "Sortatropolis" to further illustrate the parallels between the past, evident in the city's infrastructure, and the present, where this infrastructure crumbles, but is still visible just below the surface of "progress." The concept of haunting, as discussed by scholars such as Avery F. Gordon (2008), Kathleen Stewart (2007), and Thomas J. Csordas (2007), illuminates the strands that I use to connect the social structuring of the past in Lansing to further highlight a time when the relationships between social worlds, especially those of labor and community, were intertwined. Additionally, Steve May and Laura Morrison (2012), whose work focuses on the narratives of former factory workers who experienced layoffs, write: "... significant shifts in global economy produced a growing contradiction between capital and community. Left behind, in the ruins of the tension between capital and community, were closed factories, displaced workers, and a growing number of industrial ghost towns" (260). The traces of those relationships are still visible in the Sortatropolis: evidence of prosperity that was all the future could be. Factories facilitated neighborhoods, which facilitated planning for streets and sidewalks, which facilitated schools and businesses that would serve those working in the factories (Lyman 1929). These connections build the social fabric of a community, bound by the understanding in the social contract between company and labor , between capital and community (May and Morrison 261). …

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