January 21, 2006 – Reflections on Katrina: Place, Persistence, & the Lives of Cities

Saturday, January 21 / Oakes 105 / 10AM – 5:30PM

Conference Schedule

Phil Steinberg UC Santa Cruz

10:15-11:15 AM
Rob Shields, Univ. of Alberta
Urban Calamities, Place and Trauma: Katrina

11:30 AM-1:15 PM SESSION 1
Voices from New Orleans

Craig Colten, Louisiana State University
Poverty & Plenty: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina

Jordan Flaherty, SEIU, New Orleans
Race, Relief & Reconstruction: Community Organizing and the Destruction & Reconstruction of New Orleans

1:15-2:15 PM Lunch 
Lewis Watts, UC Santa Cruz
Lunchtime Photographic Exhibit: Ghosts in New Orleans

2:15-3:45 PM SESSION 2
Race, Class, and Conflict in the Southern City

Clyde Woods, UC Santa Barbara
Katrina & the Crisis of Neo-Plantation Politics

Paul Ortiz, UC Santa Cruz
The New Battle for New Orleans

4-5:30 PM SESSION 3
The Ethics of Remembrance, Restoration, & Reform

Elizabeth V. Spelman, Smith College
Repair & the Scaffold of Memory

Karen Till, University of Minnesota
Urban Awakenings: Matter, Hauntings, Returns


Globalization theorists have long recognized the importance of cities: as nodes that channel commodities, capital, labor, and information into global flows; as central points where migrants interact to generate new global cultures; as icons whose images as unique places generate an influx of tourists; and as arenas of place-based everyday life that can form the basis for resistance to globalization. Each city’s unique culture, and its residents’ sense of place, emerge from relations between the city’s position in a world of flows, its existence as an arena of everyday life, and a built environment that reflects and reproduces the other two elements.

Pre-Katrina New Orleans exemplified all of these traits. The second largest port in the world in the total value of its waterborne commerce, New Orleans was famed for its distinctive culture and architecture that blended elements of African-American, Anglo-American, French, Cajun, Spanish, and Caribbean society, which in turn was marketed to the world through a tourism industry that annually generated $4.9 billion. New Orleans was also almost as well known for the gritty culture of its everyday life that was radically disconnected from the city’s tourist front, even as it reproduced the culture that was represented to out-of-town visitors.

Since Katrina, few of these characteristics remain intact. The ongoing debates about the city’s future have revealed differing opinions about the responsibility of local and national institutions to preserve the city’s architecture, rebuild its communities, honor its memory, rectify its structural inequalities, care for its displaced citizens, redevelop its economic sector, and ensure that the tragedy is not repeated. At the root of these differing opinions are different ideas about just what a city is. 

The forced restructuring of the relationship between New Orleans and the world of global flows raises questions about the nature of cities and their persistence in a changed world:

• How can a place persist as a place if its connection with the outside world is primarily through imagery and memory?
• What becomes of a place-based culture when a place is rapidly depopulated and its residents scatter? If the restoration and renewal of a city results in a manufactured packaging of culture, how different would that be from what has been occurring anyway with the commodification and global marketing of local cultures and places?
• To the extent that the built environment survives in a depopulated city, can landscape alone sustain local culture and a local sense of place?
• Given that individual and collective senses of place and experiences of displacement are embedded with differences based on race, gender, age, physical ability, class, and duration of residence, how will these differences be renegotiated through the reconstruction process?
• What does the experience of New Orleans’ destruction tell us about how, in the aftermath of tragedy, places can be simultaneously resurrected, remembered, and reformed?


Craig Colten is Carl O. Sauer Professor of Geography at Louisiana State University. He researches environmental historical geography, focusing most recently on New Orleans. He is the editor of Transforming New Orleans and Its Environs: Centuries of Change (Pittsburgh, 2001) and author of An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (LSU, 2004).

Jordan Flaherty is an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New Orleans and an editor of Left Turn magazine, where he has published several articles on race, power, and corruption in the response to Hurricane Katrina and in New Orleans’ post-Katrina reconstruction.

Paul Ortiz is Associate Professor of Community Studies at UC Santa Cruz. He researches social movements, race and ethnicity, and labor history in the southern United States. He is the author of Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 (California, 2005) and the co-editor of Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South (New Press, 2001).

Rob Shields is Henry Marshal Tory Professor of Sociology and Art & Design at the University of Alberta. His research focuses on the cultural construction of public spaces in virtual and urban environments. His books include Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity (Routledge, 1991) and The Virtual (Routledge, 2003). He is the founder and editor of the journal Space & Culture.

Elizabeth V. Spelman is Barbara Richmond Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Women & Gender Studies at Smith College. Her recent research explores analogies and “disanalogies” between repair of the material world and repair of relations among its inhabitants. Her publications include Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Beacon, 1988); Fruits of Sorrow: Framing Our Attention to Suffering (Beacon, 1997); and Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World (Beacon, 2002).

Karen Till is Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota. She researches the cultural politics of memorialization and how practices of remembering reflect and reproduce conflicts over the meaning of place and nation, focusing on post-war Berlin and, most recently, postapartheid Cape Town. She is the co-editor of Textures of Place: Rethinking Humanist Geographies (Minnesota, 2001) and author of The New Berlin: Memory, Politics, Place(Minnesota, 2005).

Lewis Watts is Assistant Professor of Art at UC Santa Cruz. His photography focuses on African-American communities and the ways in which people consciously and unconsciously personalize their living spaces, institutions, and places of business, leaving traces of experience in the landscape. He is the co-author of Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era (Chronicle, 2005).

Clyde Woods is Assistant Professor of Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara. His research links the southern African-American “blues epistemology” of resistance with the political economy of underdevelopment and racialization. He is the author of Development Arrested: Race, Power, and the Blues in the Mississippi Delta (Verso, 1998).

This conference is the second of three quarterly events produced by the Center for Cultural Studies in its Other Globalizations project, funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation.