30 November 2017
Time: 6:30 - 7:30pm
Venue: Drapers' Lecture Theatre, Mile End campus, London E1 4NS
Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City
Speaker: Professor Don Mitchell, Professor of Cultural Geography, Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University, Sweden
Chair: Professor Alison Blunt, Head of School, School of Geography, QMUL
Riots, revolts, uprisings, and revolutions have been a near-constant and a decisive force in shaping New York City’s landscape. From the revolt of the Munsee Indians in the 1640s to Black Lives Matter in the present, political and social tumult has – to a far larger degree than is usually appreciated – determined flows of investment, neighborhood restructurings, and everyday life of the metropolis.
Drawing on research begun by Neil Smith and his students in a seminar on the Geography of Revolution and now nearing publication, I will show how one of the determinants of the morphology and meaning of the urban landscape is revolt and riot, uprising and revolution – anarchists exploding bombs, gardeners claiming empty lots and holding them militantly, the inchoate rage of looters, the occupation of buildings, massive marches, violence by police and protesters. There is at play in the making of the landscape, I will contend, a constant dialectic of spatial form and social revolt, and it is important to understand this dialectic if we want to understand the making of cities as well as the possibilities for social justice in them. Or, as the Harlem Renaissance writer Allain Locke suggested, the 1935 Harlem riot – and by extension other moments of upheaval – was “a revealing flash of lightning.” Revolting New York – both the book and my remarks in this talk – tells the story of the city as it has been not only revealed by such lightning flashes, but also and especially how it has been remade by the lightning strikes of revolt. In doing so, I think, it makes palpable just how power is built into the landscape – and why.
Through both descriptions of revolt large and small as well as historical-geographical analysis (and lots of images), this talk will not only show the remaking of New York’s landscape, but also why it is vital to understand such remaking within the totality of long-term historical change.
Don Mitchell is Professor of Cultural Geography in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University and Distinguished Professor of Geography Emeritus at Syracuse University, and has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, the University of Pennsylvania, City University of New York, and the University of Oslo. His work focuses on historical and contemporary struggles over urban public space (especially as they relate to homelessness, political protest, law, and policing), the relationship between labor and the geographical landscape (especially as it relates to migrant farmworkers in California), and the geographical of culture (especially as it is rooted in historical-materialist and political-economic processes).
Along with the late Neil Smith, he is the General Editor of the forthcoming Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Rebellion, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City (University of Georgia Press, 2018). Mitchell is the author of five books, including They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (2012) and The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space (2003) and is currently at work on a book called Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital. He is also the author of more than a hundred journal articles, book chapters, and essays and has been a recipient of MacArthur, Guggenheim, and Fulbright Fellowships and the Anders Retzius Medal in Gold from the Swedish Society of Anthropology and Geography.