Race and Urban Space in Contemporary American Culture
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000)

Although less than a third of all Americans live in cities today, urbanism is widely perceived as defining the condition of American society as a whole and is the symbolic locus of current ideological debates and moral panics about problems of crime, drugs, homelessness, immigration and demographic change. This book offers a timely critical analysis of representations of ethno-racial identity formation in the American city. It examines literary, film and photographic representations which reflect the emergent patterns of socio-economic restructuring, cultural pluralism and globalisation which are changing the spatial, cultural and political form of the contemporary American city. It draws critical attention to the public discourses of urban decline in the United States which have articulated the problems of 'the cities' as being the problems of racial and ethnic minorities.

This book examines the relationships between identity and urban space in selected American literary and visual texts of the 1980s and 1990s. It analyses the meanings of race and ethnicity encoded in the texts with particular attention to socio-spatial processes of identity formation. Conceptually, 'urban space' is a key organising theme which connects the subject areas around which the chapters are structured: white paranoia about urban decline; imagined urban communities of the past; urban crime and justice; the racialised underclass; and globalisation and new ethnicities. The book shows how representations of urban space define contemporary issues of identity, rights, community and citizenship.

The book draws on, and critically interrogates, contemporary theories and issues of urbanism which have emerged from the interdisciplinary connections of urban studies, cultural geography and critical theory. The production and representation of urban space is a central theoretical concern in which space is treated as a social construct which shapes our cognitive maps of the city.

The book combines literary and visual analysis to provide a wide-ranging study of representations of contemporary urbanism.

  • Introduction: The Miasma of Urbanisation

  • Chapter 1: White Noise: Paranoid Spatiality and Urban Decline

  • Chapter 2: Once Upon a Time in America: Cities of Memory

  • Chapter 3: Spatial Justice: Urban Crime and Genre

  • Chapter 4: Between Pathology and Redemption: The Urban Underclass

  • Conclusion: Citizens and Strangers

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Last updated 1st December 2000