The Enduring Political Effects of “Flash Mobs”

Authors: Jeff Maskovsky*, The Graduate Center CUNY
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: temporality, politics, insurgency, race
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 8:40 AM / 9:55 AM
Room: Tower Court B, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper focuses on the political effects of black teen “flash mobs,” which occurred frequently in Philadelphia and in other US metropolitan areas in the period between 2009 and 2018. In contrast to both popular and political discourses that treat spontaneous black youth gatherings as antisocial criminal conduct or as apolitical, I argue that they are a form of black urban insurgency. Drawing on ethnographic evidence collected during fieldwork in Philadelphia from 2010 to 2018, I explore the ways that these ephemeral crowd actions work to contest elite plans for the use of the urban core, unsettle urban securitization schemes, and reclaim urban public space for those who have been labeled as “undesirable,” “pathological,” or a “threat” to the urban future. “Flash mobs” thus compel us to view fleeting and ephemeral crowd action as a durable political form that contests the spatialized instantiation of antiblack racism and violence.

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