Drawing on in-depth ethnographic and archaeological research undertaken in Scotland and the USA, Capital Ruins examines how people live and engage with the underused and abandoned sites left over from the speculative property boom of the early 2000s.

Regeneration projects, and construction booms in cities and towns across Europe and the Americas, were fuelled by speculative property bubbles from the early to mid 2000s.

Today, thousands of development sites associated with those projects remain underused or abandoned, surrounded by landscapes characterised by decaying materials, or they are being recuperated for purposes for which they weren’t originally intended.

Such sites have been the subject of much debate amongst planners, politicians and communities across the world. They have also been a source of media fascination, receiving heavy coverage in online news publications and blogging sites over the last several years.

Material embodiments of economic collapse

Drawing on in-depth ethnographic and archaeological research undertaken at two sites in Edinburgh (Scotland) and Detroit (USA), Capital Ruins examines how people live and engage with these sites today.

It explores their affective impacts, how people experience them as material embodiments of economic collapse, their relationships to public and private interests, and how they are being appropriated at a time when cultural and global economic futures remain uncertain.

The project also highlights how archaeological and ethnographic approaches can be used to illuminate the spheres of meaning in which these material forms are entangled, as well as how they are being represented and appropriated within current political and sociocultural discourses, and the ways in which emerging ‘commoning’ practices are featuring in the practices surrounding the sites.

Outputs and engagement

The research is led by Dr Angela McClanahan-Simmons in the School of Art, and involves Dr Penny Travlou (School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture) and Dr John Harries (School of Health in Social Science) as Co-investigators.

To date, outputs based on the research include the article ‘Archaeologies of Collapse: New Conceptions of Ruination in Northern Britain’, in the peer reviewed journal Visual Culture in Britain 15(2), and ‘Detroit MLS 2020’, which featured in The Happy Hypocrite, Issue 9, edited by Hannah Sawtell.

Angela McClanahan-Simmons’ book, Capital Ruins: An Anthropology of Post-Crash Urban Regeneration Sites, will be published by Ashgate in 2018.

The research has a significant public dimension, both in terms of providing a critical understanding of regeneration policy and development processes and their social and cultural impacts, as well as for community groups whose aims are to build fruitful dialogue between public and private interests via outreach events and workshops.

Dr Angela McClanahan-Simmons is Director of Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). She teaches on our Contemporary Art Theory - MA programme and coordinates Atelier: Creative Arts and the Social Sciences Network with Professor Neil Mulholland and Dr Richard Baxstrom. She is a member of the Material/Technê/Materialisms research cluster in the School of Art. 


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