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Feeling the pulse of the city: racial liberalism and the political geographies of tension in postwar Detroit

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Recent work in urban and political geography has explored how affective life is becoming intertwined with security apparatuses. This paper situates this interest within a longer history by exploring how affect–specifically “tension”–emerged as an object of political concern and intervention in US cities during the postwar era. Focusing on Detroit, we trace how northern liberals responded to an escalation in racial unrest by developing programs that sought to detect and locate a change in the city’s atmospheric charge. They also created various measures to try and combat a rise in tension or aggression before it led to violence. However, while these efforts were framed in terms of collective security, we argue that they actually reproduced racialized differences across the city. They also helped to construct material and ideological support at the local-level for the national backlash against racial liberalism marked by the election of Nixon in the late-1960s.
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Keywords: Detroit; Political geography; affective governance; liberalism; race and racism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.

Publication date: October 21, 2018

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