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Pornotopologies: the racial economies of North St. Louis County, Missouri

Authors: Jodi Rios*, UC Berkeley
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: urban space, race, racialization, development, local governance
Session Type: Paper
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Drawing on Hortense Spillers’ theorization of pornotroping, urban space can be viewed through the lens of the pornotopology; defined as a set of relationships that depend on the illegibility of black suffering to separate, confine, and exploit people in and through space. Past and current development dynamics in suburban St. Louis County indeed rely on the illegibility of black suffering and discourses of blackness-as-risk to extract value from people and space.

Recently, small discursive shifts have occurred in St. Louis County in the wake of Ferguson resistance—through which multiple forms of violence against black residents became legible. These shifts create openings for alternative definitions and metrics of 'development' to emerge. Important questions also arise regarding if and how such changes actually interrupt structures designed to exploit racialized people and space, or if new equally oppressive structures appear using the language of development. The 2019 controversy around the most recent effort to reunite St. Louis City with St. Louis County starkly illustrates the subjectivity of terms like better, smart, sustainable, and decline.

Using extensive qualitative and quantitative data, this paper considers the racial economies of St. Louis County in the age of austerity. Of particular interest is the role municipal governance plays in creating and policing racialized spatial imaginaries and locally specific discursive regimes that drive cycles of decline and development. Importantly, this paper also foregrounds emergent practices with the potential to transform pornotopologies across Rust Belt cities and beyond.

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