Trajectories of Postindustrial Cities from a Biographical Perspective: Detroit (USA) and Lodz (Poland)

Research project financed by National Science Center (NCN), (OPUS, Nr 2016/20/S/HS6/00567)  – 2016 – 2020.

Principal investigator: Agata Zysiak


Two former industrial giants on opposite sides of the Globe – well-known and described city of Detroit and regionally important city of Lodz developed in different economic and political circumstances, but have many in common. In both cases postwar prosperity brought working class to the center of social imaginary (G. Therborn) resulting in emergence of, respectively, the corporate welfare state and the socialist one. Two “workers Eldorados”, based on almost opposite life-styles, values and models of society lasted no longer than one-generation lifetime. Changes of industrial structures and locations, the inflexibility of mono-industrial giants, and a general shift to late capitalism and post-fordist mode of production occurred in both cities.
The collapse was as inevitable as unforeseen by many. Proposed comparison focuses on a micro-level of industrial decline and collapse of working class modernization projects.

Planned as a comparative study, the research was performed to develop rather into a parallel demonstration of theory (T. Skocpol, M. Somers). I am interested in a biographical dimension of macro-scale processes, local responses to global changes and the difficult process of rescaling urban experience. I compare two former industrial colossuses: Lodz (textile industry) and Detroit (auto- industry). Both cities underwent rapid modernization and intensive growth during the 20th century, experiencing serious social and economic problems and conflicts, and both spectacularly collapsed during the last few decades. Still, the differences between both cities are even more important – it is crucial to mention racial structure and the role of the Second World War, urban sprawl and political circumstances. Selected cases bring more diversity than similarity, but the general frame of industrial decline makes them excellent examples of global processes and their local articulations.