Crisis, Dispossession, and Activism to Reclaim Detroit

In Vasiliki Solomou-Papanikolaou Golfo Maggini (ed.), Philosophy and Crisis: Responding to the Challenges to Ways of Life in the Contemporary World, Volume One. Washington, DC, USA: pp. 121-129 (2017)
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The paper discusses the concept of "crisis" in the context of the city of Detroit's bankruptcy under the rule of the Governor-appointed Emergency Manager. In their recent book, Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou discuss the concept of dispossession in all its complexity, in the context of enforced austerity measures in Europe and a global Occupy movement. The concept of “dispossession” clarifies how we actually depend on others in a sustained social world, that in fact the self is social. I will use their reflections as a springboard for analysis of the imposition of an emergency manager on the City of Detroit and the subsequent bankruptcy hearings for the city, which along with the mortgage and foreclosure crisis and now recent water shut-offs have resulted in dispossessing the poorest of the poor from their modest possessions. However Detroit is also the scene of a robust response, as people take to the streets in acts of solidarity to demand their city back. As Athena and Butler caution, activists should not fall into reinforcing the disastrous concept of personhood reinforced by possession. There are other ways of engaging with each other politically to forge a common cause that escape the negative aspects of “possession.” The project of getting people together at the grassroots, knowing each other, finding strength in leaning on each other, finding confidence to challenge the status quo that is tearing communities apart – that is the activism that is ongoing in Detroit.



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Gail Presbey
University of Detroit Mercy

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