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The vast body of work by Bruce Springsteen offers a gripping picture of the decline of the industrial American city. Economic geographer Robert Kloosterman analyses how Springsteen's work illustrates this decline.

There are dozens of academic studies on the transformation of American cities. According to Kloosterman, however, you can also listen to Springsteen's work, in which true to life characters grapple with the loss of the industrial American city. In the meantime, Springsteen's work is also the subject of extensive academic study. ‘With sales exceeding 65 million audio recordings in the United States and 120 million worldwide, his songs are interesting research material’, says Kloosterman.

 Bruce Springsteen as socio-geographic artist

Kloosterman is keen to add a geographic perspective to the academic research on Springsteen. How does Springsteen describe cities and urbanity and what changes occur with respect to these themes in his lyrics? In Springsteen's career, cities have often been the backdrop and also regularly serve as the main subject of his songs. ‘You could even say that that he is the most undeniably socio-geographic of the great songwriters in pop music’, states Kloosterman.

My Hometown Album cover

The geography of the thing

‘In order to be able to write these songs, he conducted field research in effect: he had to, as he puts it, explore “the geography of the thing” in order to get to know the world of the main character and to understand their choices’, Kloosterman writes.

Using Springsteen's lyrics, Kloosterman illustrates how, over the years, attention has shifted from the city as a place to go out, meet girls and escape from conventional everyday life, to the city – and its residents – as victims of de-industrialization.

Row houses in Camden New Jersey

Bruce Springsteen makes the decline tangible

Kloosterman concludes that during the 30 years between the release of ‘My Hometown’ in 1984 and ‘Death to My Hometown’ in 2012, the situation in many American cities has deteriorated further and the rise of right-wing populism cannot be viewed separately from this. Bruce Springsteen makes this decline tangible for many Americans.

Debate on music and social geography

A debate on the topic of music and social geography with among others Robert Kloosterman and Giselinde Kuipers will be held in Amsterdam at the SPUI25 venue on 21 May.

About Robert Kloosterman

Robert Kloosterman is a professor of Economic Geography at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on social, economic and cultural change processes in urban economies. He is the lead partner of the Horizon 2020 project Creative Industries Cultural Economy Production Network (CICERONE).

prof. dr. R.C. (Robert) Kloosterman

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

GPIO : Geographies of Globalizations

Article in Dutch (‘My Hometown’, Bruce Springsteen, chronicler of the American city, Robert Kloosterman in Agora: 2019-1, pp 16-19)