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The De-Industrialising City

Urban, Architectural, and Socio-Cultural Perspectives


12–13 December 2016

Organisers: Jörg Arnold (Nottingham), Tobias Becker (London), Simon Gunn (Leicester) and Otto Saumarez Smith (Oxford)
Venue: German Historical Institute London
Joint Workshop with the Society for the Promotion of Urban Discussion (SPUD)


When the Coventry-based band The Specials released their single ‘Ghost Town’ in June of 1981, they appeared to give poignant expression to a broader sense of crisis that characterised Britain’s urban environment in the early Thatcher years. The song’s invocation of urban decay, social dislocation and violence, juxtaposed to a romanticised past of ‘good old days [when] we danced and sang and the music played in a de boomtown’, struck a chord with contemporary audiences. It provided a fitting soundtrack to the urban riots that broke out in many British cities later that summer. Yet at the same time, the band’s innovative fusion of the different musical influences of Ska and Punk, their attention to branding and style, and not least of all their ethnically diverse line-up, pointed in the direction of opportunities and new departures amid the gloom that the music so hauntingly evoked. Above all, the song ‘Ghost town’ illustrated that the urban environment had become a space in which intersecting developments were taking shape that characterised the late twentieth century more generally: de-industrialisation and transformation; migration and multiculturalism; conflict and resilience; farewells and new beginning.


Conference programme (PDF file)

Conference report (PDF file), published in: GHIL Bulletin 39 (2017), Vol 1