Current and ongoing research projects

Routes of Race, Resistance, and the Geographies of Belonging in Oakland, California

This project focuses on a recalibration of urban space by looking to the ways urban inhabitants not only navigate, but also imagine politics beyond the rules of urbanization. I am particularly interested in identifying both the symbolic and material practices through which Black Oaklanders attempt to reclaim the Black city. In the face of increasing change resulting from gentrification and other economic policies that have instituted the rapid displacement of communities of color, this project seeks to understand the roots of Black political resistance that laid a foundation for the current affective economy organized to reclaim space through socio-spatial public cultures, youth politics, and the aesthetics of Black life in Oakland. 

Oakland, like many other cities with large, but dwindling Black populations, has experienced a continuing legacy of destructive urban policies leveraged by federal, state, and local governments that forcefully evict economically disadvantaged communities, treating them as disposable, impoverished urban dwellers. The mobility of Black residents in Oakland, either by choice or force, resembles distinct patterns of re-segregation. Policy is what has driven the cyclical destruction of Black spaces, relying on the state to solve the problems they created. I’m ultimately asking, what does it mean for Black people to have the same experience over and over again? In other words, what does it mean for Black people to live through constant cycles of movement, containment, dispossession, and erasure? How can we imagine various forms of displacement and emplacement alongside the mechanisms (policies) that attempt to keep Black people in place? How can we recast what’s already been done in a new light?

This project is asking us to view from a different perspective, a different lens, in order to consider what work is already being accomplished by the people who have been most affected. Routes of Race details the critical histories, conflicts, and struggles over how to us the city, who belongs to the city, and most importantly, who makes the city.

Race and the Spatial Aesthetics of Gentrification 
This project considers how the dual processes of racialization and aestheticization in a postindustrial, cultural, and economic climate undergird the rapid gentrification in global cities. The relationship between aesthetics and urban processes has become increasingly recognized in geography and urban studies research. However, gentrification is still frequently seen as a primarily economic impact of a growing economy, which avoids questions of how difference plays in the devaluation and disposability of certain populations and the privileging of others.  The project, in advancing the mutual constitution of gentrification and aesthetics, considers not only the ways that aesthetics are tied to rapid urbanization, accelerated through gentrification, but also the complex strategies enacted by marginalized populations to resist the processes of urban displacement and dispossession.

Brandi T. Summers, Ph.D.
cover images by Bethanie Hines
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