Decolonizing Suburban Research

Authors: Rob Shields*, University of Alberta
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Careers and Professional Development
Keywords: suburbia, teaching, decolonization, post-colonial, spatialization, Indigenous, North American Indigenous geographies
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


North American Suburbs have been treated as sites of a collective amnesia concerning previous patterns of occupation and occupants. As ‘greenfield sites’ they often either lack history or local history is shallow, rarely extending back before the agricultural tenants of the last century. A number of critics have pointed out that Indigeneity, migrancy and ethnicity have received less attention in urban and suburban research than they should have (e.g. Dasgupta and Gururani 2018; Keil 2013; Roy 2011). The viewpoint of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States have often been excluded from official histories of place and place-making. This paper considers the challenges of researching and teaching past occupation that has often been erased along with removal of the flora and fauna and, commonly, even the topsoil. Recent literature on the ‘decolonization’ of urban and suburban research draws on Postcolonial critique and theories of Settler Colonial Society to open a new vantage point on suburbia. North American suburbs were not and are not greenfield sites after all. They are intersectional sites of a ‘colonial matrix’ or logic that combines capitalism, colonialism, nationalism and modernity. This background provides the basis for new methods that are being developed to study suburbs. The tensions of these forces emerge in the more conspicuous disfunctionality of suburbia—its consumerism, commuting times, energy expense and even household divisions of labour inside those tract houses.

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