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SSHRC awards $2.5M to Concordia-led collaborative research on deindustrialization and the rise of populism

History professor Steven High will lead the transnational investigation into the consequences of working-class job loss in the West
June 3, 2020
Steven High: “Our project will make Concordia the global centre of deindustrialization research.” | Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash
Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

Twenty-four researchers and dozens of partner organizations will collaborate on an investigation into deindustrialization and its political consequences.

The project, Deindustrialization and the Politics of our Time, will be based at Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling under the direction of Steven High, professor in the Department of History and founder of the centre.

The group has received extensive financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), through a Partnership Grant, to carry out the seven-year-long project.

“Steven High has assembled world experts in history, art and deindustrialization studies to carry out this project,” says Paula Wood-Adams, interim vice-president of research and graduate studies.

“The group’s work will help forge new insights into issues of critical public importance, helping us understand the global situation we are facing.”

The working class in a post-industrial world

Over the past several decades, millions of manufacturing and industry jobs have disappeared from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and other prominent, industrialized countries.

The departure of these jobs has left many working-class communities feeling economically abandoned in a rapidly changing world.

At the same time, many who had worked in industry are negatively caricatured as poorly educated, bitter white men, unable or unwilling to adapt to a new reality. These clichés, however, hide many of the real problems caused by deindustrialization.

High worries about the realities covered up by these stereotypes.

“Sometimes I fear that our academic ideas about ‘smart cities’ and ‘urban futures’ have further marginalized many working-class and racialized communities,” High says. “Excitement about the future sometimes makes us forget about those who are not benefitting from the economic changes.”

Moreover, while racial minority segments of the working class might miss out economically, they can also be affected by the political consequences of deindustrialization.

“Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing populism are linked to deindustrialization and economic change,” High says. “One of the primary aims of this project is therefore to investigate the ways in which race, gender and class get knotted up with these economic and political developments.”

Because deindustrialization is an ongoing, decades-long process, the research will be useful immediately as well as in navigating a changing world in years to come.

Multinational research effort

Deindustrialization is a manifold, complex process, so the investigation requires a multinational research effort. While particular or local case studies are instructive, the group wants to pool its efforts to get an in-depth, but also global, perspective on deindustrialization.

Much of the research will focus on oral histories. This will allow researchers to see deindustrialization through the eyes of the particular communities and individuals living through these changes.

“The seven-year project will produce transnational workshops, a summer institute, several publications and an edited volume. The grant will fund generous fellowships to recruit outstanding graduate students at Concordia, and it will fund postdoctoral fellows here as well,” High notes.

“Once the pandemic is over, our graduate students will have the opportunity to attend the annual summer institute with emerging scholars from around the world. This will significantly widen their horizons and help them build a transnational cohort of researchers.”

The group will also develop a research commons, which will be stored online, allowing future researchers to benefit from the stories and data they collect.

“Concordia is committed to studying the cities in which we live,” High says. “Our project will make the university the global centre of deindustrialization research.”

Concordia leadership in social sciences and humanities research

With this grant, Concordia faculty have won more than $6 million in SSHRC research funds  this year. The total comprises 22 Insight Grants, worth $3.6 million, five Connection Grants and a Partnership Development Grant, Knowledge Synthesis Grant and Partnership Engage award.

The projects span a range of topics within areas such as communications, history, design, business and psychology.

“We are very proud of Steven and all the SSHRC award winners,” Wood-Adams says.

“This funding is an investment in the kind of collaborative, transdisciplinary research that will offer widespread social benefit. It represents a commitment to the values that orient Concordia’s Strategic Research Plan.”

Find out more about Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.


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