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

Authors: Jodi Rios*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: urban space, race, racialization, development, local governance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 19
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Drawing on Hortense Spillers’ theorization of pornotroping, this paper theorizes metropolitan space as a pornotopology—defined as a set of spatial relationships that depend on the illegibility of black suffering. Past and current development in suburban St. Louis County indeed relies on the illegibility of black suffering and the conflation of blackness with risk. This area also reveals the nuanced ways that discourses and spatial imaginaries of race, decline, and re/development coalesce to produce disparate life experiences and expectancies in metropolitan areas across North America and beyond.

In the six years since Ferguson resistance revealed multiple forms of violence against black residents of North St. Louis County, openings for new definitions and metrics of locally scaled change have emerged. It is important to ask, however, if and how such ‘development’ actually interrupts structures designed to exploit racialized people and space (racial capitalism) or if new equally oppressive structures are appearing in their place, albeit with slightly different vocabularies. The 2019 controversy around the most recent effort to reunite St. Louis City with St. Louis County starkly illustrated how terms like better, smart, sustainable, and decline continue to be defined by subjectivities historically rooted in white supremacy.

Using qualitative and quantitative data, this paper specifically considers the role of municipal governance in creating and policing racialized spatial imaginaries and locally specific discursive regimes that define and drive cycles of decline and development. Importantly, this paper also foregrounds blackness as a practice of freedom, which holds the potential to redefine spatial practice.

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