studying the city (Annette Koh)

Aug 14

Come experience “De-Processing SPAM” next Tuesday August 19th at the Decolonizing Our Diets monthly dinner at ROOTs Cafe (inside Kokua Kalihi Valley’s clinic on School Street). Dinner, which will include homemade SPAM, is available for a donation of $10. All proceeds go to support the garden at Ho’oulu ‘Aina. Students from Farrington High School will also be performing their poetry
Space is limited and this event will fill up fast so RSVP is required:

Come experience “De-Processing SPAM” next Tuesday August 19th at the Decolonizing Our Diets monthly dinner at ROOTs Cafe (inside Kokua Kalihi Valley’s clinic on School Street). Dinner, which will include homemade SPAM, is available for a donation of $10. All proceeds go to support the garden at Ho’oulu ‘Aina. Students from Farrington High School will also be performing their poetry

Space is limited and this event will fill up fast so RSVP is required:

Rap’s primary thematic concerns: identity and location. Over most of its brief history (rap video production began in earnest in the mid-to-late 1980s), rap video themes have repeatedly converged around the depiction of the local neighborhood and the local posse, crew, or support system. Nothing is more central to rap’s music video narratives than situating the rapper in his or her milieu and among one’s crew or posse. Unlike heavy metal videos, for example, which often use dramatic live concert footage and the concert stage as the core location, rap music videos are set on buses, subways, in abandoned buildings, and almost always in black urban inner-city locations. This usually involved ample shots of favorite street corners, intersections, playgrounds, parking lots, school yards, roofs, and childhood friends. When I asked seasoned music video director Kevin Bray what comprised the three most important themes in rap video, his immediate response was, “Posse, posse, and posse… They’ll say, ‘I want my shit to be in my hood. Yeah, we got this dope old parking lot where I used to hang out when I was a kid.’” The hood is not a generic designation; videos featuring South Central Los Angeles rappers such as Ice Cube, Ice-T, and NWA very often capture the regional specificity of spatial, ethnic, temperate, and psychological facets of black marginality in Los Angeles, whereas Naughty by Nature’s videos feature the ghetto specificity of East Orange, New Jersey.

Rappers’ emphasis on posses and neighborhoods has brought the ghetto back into the public consciousness. It satisfies poor young black people’s profound need to have their territories acknowledged, recognized, and celebrated. These are the street corners and neighborhoods that usually serve as lurid backdrops for street crimes on the nightly news. Few local people are given an opportunity to speak, and their points of view are always contained by expert testimony. In rap videos, young mostly male residents speak for themselves and for the community, they speak when and how they wish about subjects of their choosing. These local turf scenes are not isolated voices; they are voices for a variety of social margins that are in dialogue with one another. As Bray points out, “If you have an artists from Detroit, the reason they want to shoot at least one video on their home turf is to make a connection with, say, an East Coast New York rapper. It’s the dialogue. it’s the dialogue between them about where they’re from.”

However, the return of the ghetto as a central black popular narrative has also fulfilled national fantasies about the violence and danger that purportedly consume the poorest and most economically fragile communities of color. Some conservative critics such as George Will have affirmed the “reality” of some popular cultural ghetto narratives and used this praise as a springboard to call for more police presence and military invasionlike policies.

” —

Tricia Rose. (1994) Black Noise: Rap Music And Black Culture In Contemporary America (p 10-11)

I had started reading Black Noise to help me think about how street culture has been converted into capital, both cultural and economic. But in the wake of Mike Brown’s death by cop, I can’t help but think about the clamorous importance of asserting “I belong here. This is my home” even when the authorities treat you like you are trespassers at best. 

Aug 13

If you build it…


[Aerial comparison of neighborhood before and after stadium construction]

The story of Atlanta’s Summerhill and Peoplestown neighborhoods is a cautionary tale for the residents of cities indulging in Field of Dreams type thinking.

The government built Fulton County stadium in 1965 to bring the Milwaukee Braves baseball team to Atlanta and in the process carved up large chunks of the Summerhill and Peoplestown neighborhoods, displacing thousands of people. After the team moved in, the stadium blighted the adjacent territory by encouraging land owners to turn their lots into makeshift parking lots. There were plenty of lots: out of a total of 1,200 residential lots, more than 700 were vacant in 1991. (Alexander Von Hoffman, House by house, block by block: the rebirth of America’s urban neighborhoods, p 177)

With Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics, a new wave of development hit the neighborhoods, which lay between the old downtown and the new development in the west of Atlanta. Community protests that the new Olympic Stadium and the arena parking lots would “devour” even more of their neighborhood’s streets and homes led to the negotiation of a percentage of parking revenue being funneled to local community development. “The Braves benefited even more directly, as the Centennial Olympic Stadium was quickly converted into Turner Field after the games endedWith what some have estimated as at least $1.7 billion in private investments, the Olympics were seen as a launching pad for the Atlanta economy” (CityLab). 


[“This aerial postcard photo was taken during the brief time that both Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field both existed.  Shortly after the 1996 Olympics, AFCS was torn down to make way for Turner Field parking lots.”]

A 2013 Atlanta Magazine feature article titled “The Other 284 Days” began “The Braves will host eighty-one regular-season home games in 2013. This is what the neighborhood is like the rest of the year.”

The ballpark doesn’t make life easy for anybody who lives here. It’s not just the traffic and the rowdy fans who urinate in the streets and leave behind mounds of trash. All the hardtops and highways create a heat island; in the summer it’s 12 degrees hotter near the stadium than in Atlanta’s suburbs. The parking lots cause massive water runoff; Peoplestown floods constantly. Braves fans complain about game-day traffic, but those idling cars contribute to real problems for people who live off Hank Aaron Drive; Fulton County’s Health District 6, which includes the stadium area, has the highest death rate from asthma, more than five times higher than Fulton’s lowest rate. (emphases added)

Every time I see a city promise its residents that a new stadium will be an economic booster shot, it feels like central highway urban renewal all over again. Don’t worry, we’ll just hack our way through your neighborhood for your own good. 

To add insult to injury, the Atlanta Braves announced at the end of last year that they would relocate the team to the suburbs.

Aug 12


touch sanitation

[Photo from Mierle Ukeles’ Touch Sanitation]

In the late 1970s, Mierle Laderman Ukeles started as an unfunded artist in residence in the New York City Department of Sanitation and launched her performance project “Touch Sanitation”:

On July 24, 1979, I started shaking hands with the first of all New York City’s 8,500 sanitation men and officers, ‘sanmen’, the housekeepers of the whole City, workers in the largest of maintenance systems …

As an artist, I tried to burn an image into the public eye, by shaking, shaking, shaking hands, that this is a human system that keeps New York City alive, that when you throw something out, there’s no ‘out’. Rather there’s a human being who has to lift it, haul it, get injured because of it (highest injury rate of any US occupation), dispose of it, 20,000 tons every day. Our garbage, not theirs. (Ukeles in Hilary Robinson, ed. (2001) Feminism – Art – Theory) as cited in Malcolm Miles, Urban Avant-Gardes

[Description from the Brooklyn Museum’s Center for Feminist Art]

“I’m not here to watch you, to study you, to analyze you, to judge you. I’m here to be with you: all the shifts, all the seasons, to walk out the whole City with you.” I face each worker, shake hands, and say: “Thank you for keeping NYC alive.” / Performance Duration: 11 months, at least 1 to 2 8-hour/per day work shifts. With 8,500 sanitation workers. 


Aug 11

A pseudo-event, then, is a happening that possesses the following characteristics:

(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.

(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported. Times relations in it are commonly fictitious or factitious; the announcement is given out in advance “for future release” and written as if the event had occurred in the past. The question, “Is it real?” is less important than, “Is it newsworthy?”

(3) Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity. Concerning a pseudo-event the question, “What does it mean?” has a new dimension. While the news interest in a train wreck is in what happened and in the real consequences, the interest in a [pseudo-event] is always, in a sense, in whether it really happened and in what might have been the motives. Without some of this ambiguity a pseudo-event cannot be very interesting.

(4) Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hotel’s thirtieth-anniversary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one.

” —

Daniel Joseph Boorstin. The image: a guide to pseudo-events


Aug 10

Further Reading (for Black Life, Annotated) -

In the wake of the killing of Mike Brown, the question of who is framing the media discussion of young black men is of even more deadly urgency. What’s wrong with ethnography and Ivy League schools using black communities as fodder for sociological research? Go read “Black Life, Annotated" and then come back for further reading. Yes, Alice Goffman is getting extra scrutiny because her book has been heaped with oodles of praise.

On the Run raises no alarms for most readers precisely because it is sociology as usual as it is done in “urban” communities. The New York Times interview tells us that her thesis “advised by the noted ethnographer Elijah Anderson, won her a book contract from the University of Chicago probably the first based on undergraduate research the publisher has ever signed.” (A book contract for an undergraduate thesis!) Alex Kotlowitz in an otherwise admiring review does raise important questions about Goffman’s “über-version of immersion journalism.” Among them he writes: “Goffman at times makes rather sweeping statements or offers up the occasional anecdote, mostly relating to law enforcement, without an indication of the source.” This work raises profound ethical questions. And by ethical questions, I mean questions of power. “I am interested in ethics,” says Frank Wilderson, “which is to say that I am interested in explaining relations of power.”


To Supplement Dr. Christina Sharpe’s essay, Black Life, Annotated, TNI asked Sharpe to create a syllabus for further reading on the subject and she graciously obliged, with help from Mariame Kaba and Dr. Tamara Nopper.

Introduction to The Prison Industrial Complex

I recommend everything on the blog Prison Culture “How the PIC Structures Our World…”

The Black Youth Project

Young People Continue To Talk About the Cops

Louder Than A Bomb 2014: Chicago Youth Have Their Say 

Nicholas K. Peart, “Why Is the N.Y.P.D. After Me?

C Angel Torres and Naima Paz, Young Women’s Empowerment Project’s Bad Encounter Line zine

Rose Brewer and Nancy Heitzeg, The Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex

Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues

I operate as a man-machine interface – that is, as a technological form of natural life – because I must necessarily navigate through technological forms of social life…

Because my forms of social life are so normally and chronically at-a-distance, I cannot navigate these distances, I cannot achieve sociality apart from my machine interface.

” — Scott Lash, Critique of Information (2002) as cited in Scott McQuire’s excellent The Media City: Media, Architecture and Urban Space

Aug 09


Aug 08

“In order to be recognized as a potential recipient of (subject to) the goodies that come from a pluralist state one must first constitute oneself as a legitimate community. But in so doing, one inscribes oneself into the machinery that turns the raw material of community into subjects of the nation-state and capital. That machinery is the bureaucratic and capitalist apparatus that community must inhabit in the United States; to participate in a community in the United States is to participate in a group with certain standardized features, such as businesses (bars, bookstores, restaurants and foodshops, small-scale manufacturing) and often more importantly, civil voluntary organizations (churches, schools, arts organizations, lobbying groups, employees associations) that are frequently organized as governmentally regulated and state-sanctioned not-for- profit corporations. If the group does not operate in this way, then it is a “gang” or an “underground network”; it is not given the status of a “community.” The practical as well as rhetorical deployment of community makes one group equivalent to another and produces equivalent subjects, even when there are drastic power differences between them (white ethnic groups versus African Americans) and discrepant logics organizing the various collectivities (gays and lesbians versus Christians)” —

Miranda Joseph. Against the Romance of Community. University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Page 28.

I’m still reading more on communities (discursively seductive, shaped both by the state and the market) and letting it all simmer in my head before I tackle the revision of my literature review for my dissertation proposal.