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Manufacturing loss

Nostalgia and risk in Ludwigshafen

Peter Phillimore and Patricia Bell

This article takes cultural understandings of industrial risk in a center of the global chemical industry as an opening that, perhaps unexpectedly, highlights nostalgia for a particular period in (West) Germany's postwar history. Based on fieldwork in Ludwigshafen, we reflect on memories among an older generation of residents that evoke the severity of industrial pollution from the city's vast chemical industry during the 1950s and 1960s. Although the pollution of that era is hardly mourned, it was portrayed as emblematic of a culturally defining era, an era valorized as one of enormous achievement in a more straightforward time. We draw on Tim Ingold's concept of “taskscapes” and his emphasis on skill and Tim Edensor's discussion of “excessive spaces” and “multiple absences” to explore the selectivity of the nostalgia of Ludwigshafen's older residents, in which the celebration of the rebuilding of the postwar chemical industry, and its dominant company BASF, simultaneously obscured problematic memories associated with the city's chemical industry in wartime.