Project. December 2011 marked the wrap-up of international research project SPHERE, financed under the European Union’s 7 Framework Programme. Sociologists representing several research centres had studied changes in culture and social identity in old industrial regions undergoing reconversion in various countries throughout Europe: Poland, France (Corbeil-Essones, Evry), Spain (Elda, Alcoy), Germany (Nuremberg), Great Britain (Barnsley, Dearne Valley – South Yorkshire), and Turkey (Zonguldak – a mining city on Black Sea coast).
Polish team composed of sociologists from the Department of Contemporary Culture Studies at the University of Silesia’s Institute of Sociology had analysed transformations of local communities and cultural landscapes in Silesia. Research had been conducted in two cities: Ruda Śląska (Kaufhaus district) and Będzin (Koszelew and Ksawera districts). The choice of these locations was not incidental – they are typical working-class districts, characteristic of many Silesian towns and cities, where until recently, coal mines or steel plants were the area’s main employers, giving work to thousands of people. It is such districts that are most affected by the negative consequences of economic restructuring processes taking place in the region.
Objective. The primary objective of the SPHERE project was to study the impact of restructuring processes on transformations of individual and group identity of residents of former working-class districts. The project was multidimensional. The first goal was to look for similar patterns regarding the transformation of post-industrial regions. Secondly, the project was intended to study people’s reactions to these changes. Researchers also investigated transformations in material space, and how former coal mine or manufacturing plant facilities are brought back into use thanks to various revitalization programmes.
Research carried out under the project consisted in more than just describing changes taking place in the selected locations. It was meant to show what course of action can be taken in places which lost their primary functions as a result of various processes. Whereas revitalization should generally start at the grass roots level, sociologists are supposed to suggest certain solutions to local communities and authorities, including solutions ‘borrowed’ from other research teams.
Cooperation. The project brought together researchers from six countries: Turkey (Middle East Technical University, Ankara, project coordinator), Great Britain (London Metropolitan University), France, Germany (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt und Berufsforschung, Nuremberg), Spain (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), and Poland (University of Silesia). The University of Silesia team was led by Prof. Kazimiera Wódz.