Changing places of work: a place-based approach for re-imagining work in fossil free industrial towns of the future

Deep decarbonisation will involve widespread social and economic change. The implications for industry, work, and society will likely be as significant as in previous industrial revolutions. Research on previous industrial restructuring has demonstrated, however, that resultant changes are likely geographically uneven, as industries are often geographically concentrated. Such concentrations of economic activity not only create economic place-based dependencies, but also social ones: industries and industrial work become entwined with workers’ and communities’ social identities. Enabling a successful low-carbon transition therefore requires us not only to understand the impact on working lives, but also how green transitions act within, and impact upon, the places and their identities in which industries-to-be-transformed are based.

Adopting a qualitative case study approach, this research will generate new insights into the impacts of low-carbon transitions in three key ways:

First, we adopt an interdisciplinary place-based perspective to analyse how the impact of low-carbon transitions on working lives is mediated by the places and social identities that are connected to the steel industry. Additionally, through combining historic, current, and future-oriented analysis we identify how earlier industrial restructuring was managed, and the ongoing legacies of this, providing important lessons for managing the changes to come.

Second, by linking with feminist theories of work, we use this place-based perspective to bridge between practical suggestions and critical perspectives on working lives, developing a set of utopian demands that situate ‘desirable work’ centrally in a wider aim of thriving communities. Combined, this proposal will thus provide an understanding of how a transformation of working lives can contribute to thriving communities in zero carbon economies.

Third, through a focus on the Swedish steel industry, we focus our attention on a high-carbon industry that is only just beginning to shift, but where Sweden has the potential to play a world-leading role.