European-born academic says, 'the identity of Detroit is up for grabs.'
Published: March 4, 2014
MT: A few months ago, you and I were involved in a pretty spirited discussion about Detroit, and I was impressed with your point that “the identity of Detroit is up for grabs.”
Stone-Richards: Thank you for reminding me of that. A lot of my work in critical theory is fundamentally about conflict. When we register this in Detroit, what I hear is that all of us have a certain narrative or a certain image of the city in which we live. And it’s relatively rare that we live through a change in our city that is truly fundamental. If you were alive at, say, the time of the Wall Street crash in 1929, you would have had a comparable experience. It’s that high on the Richter scale. What I think we’re going through in Detroit is one of those moments where the narrative and identity of Detroit is fundamentally changing. And, for the time being, a good number of people perceive this as something negative, and that’s where we come back to the language of displacement.
But clearly, just about every Detroiter can talk about the role of the motorcar industry, the role of the creation of the middle class, Detroit’s role in creating it in America — these are parts of Detroit’s genes, right? It’s part of the mythology of Detroit. But that has not been the case for the last 30 years, and it’s not going to be the case again, so what will it be? And what many people, I think, are seeing is a Detroit, the narrative of which is going to be about, say, Dan Gilbert. He just happens to be a symbol, and if Quicken Loans is going to be the narrative of Detroit, I think, for many people, that means the identity of Detroit is undergoing a kind of crisis. And it’s part of a process that’s going to go on for the next 10 years or so, defining the identity of the new Detroit.
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