Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Persistence
Secondary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Social movement activists and artists have deliberately linked symbolic politics to material conditions in their efforts to establish inclusive public histories and urban spaces to challenge the widening inequality wrought by the neoliberal era. From the decades-long struggle to revise public space in the city of New Orleans that resulted in the removal of four segregation-era monuments celebrating white supremacy, to domestic workers’ and immigrants’ actions protesting labor conditions and forced deportations, similar actions are afoot, or have already occurred, throughout the United States. These events speak to longstanding themes in anthropological inquiry: monuments and memorialization; necropolitics and the political lives of dead bodies; space-time alterations; the reproduction of inequality. They also invite scholars to reflect on the value of academic knowledge to timely, flourishing justice-making campaigns in our communities, universities, and societies, and to consider related phenomena, such as the black and white buttons pinned to student backpacks proclaiming “RESIST,” and the social workers and grantmakers counseling vulnerable communities to identify and market their “resilience,” in the context of the "nonprofit industrial complex" (Rodríguez 2009). This panel brings together scholars working on various forms of public protest and social movement mobilizations in the urban United States to discuss peoples’ efforts to adapt public spaces as they seek to collectively organize for social justice. We examine refugee gardening projects in Chicago, art and political aesthetics in New Orleans, Black American radio, taxi drivers and the “gig” economy in the Pacific Northwest, immigrant women care workers in New York City, and U.S.-based Deportation Defense Campaigns (DDCs).
Through our presentations and with our discussant, anthropologist and geographer Julian Brash, we aim to cultivate a “public anthropology that intervenes at the level of the heart as well as the head” (Morris 2015) and speak to the following questions: What are the varieties of ways in which “public” is envisioned, and what versions of public space are prioritized in movement-building and actions? How do understandings of public space itself change with and adapt to collective action? Do the racialized and gendered histories of public squares and streets make them less relevant sites of action? More relevant? What are the embodied and sensory elements of such spatialized actions, and how do these inform theories of identification and the social production of space? During what some have called a new regime of “antisocial security” (Maskovsky 2017) that promotes increased citizen-policing in the vein of “see something, say something,” how are social movements adapting to new modes of surveillance in public space, and toward what ends? In what ways do “the politics of the workplace and the politics of the living space” (Collins 2012) enter into people’s efforts to adapt public space and adapt the social policy environs to support community wellbeing?
Our work grapples with pressing problems of hierarchies of citizenship statuses and discriminatory urban development and labor policies. Our panel will contribute scholarship that outlines these structuring conditions while pondering the political possibilities and theoretical innovations introduced in our diverse ethnographic settings.