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Friday, April 10 • 9:50am - 10:30am
PS16.0 Focus On Detroit: Films Representing and Explaining Detroit’s Crisis to the World

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Narratives about Detroit are incredibly abundant. There are about 20 feature documentaries about Detroit that have been released in the last five years, along with many television reports and internet based video installations. These representations attempt to tell Detroit’s stories from many points of view. Here I review eight recent films to understand the points of view presented and how these films shape the narrative about Detroit’s crisis and possible strategies for revitalization. Recent scholarship has attempted to change the Detroit crisis plotline, notably Thomas Sugrue’s recent correction that Detroit’s crisis didn’t start with the Detroit uprising of 1967, but rather, was a reaction to a crisis that began in the late 1940s. This research required urban researchers to recalibrate “the origins of the urban crisis.” Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy and iconic visual representations of urban crisis have grabbed the world’s attention. This paper reviews both urban theories and film methods to explore how Detroit hi(stories) are represented. I review how consensus and or dissonance between academic historical and social science explorations and cinematic representations of Detroit’s decline and revitalization may matter in creating a more robust understanding of the complex problem of urban crisis. Here I include content analysis of eight films on Detroit, along with content analysis of major newspaper accounts of Detroit’s crisis – including its bankruptcy case – as well as blogs and other individual efforts to tell this story. I also compare this survey of recent films to recent surveys of books about Detroit and photography about Detroit. This paper contributes to our understanding of urban narratives and their effects on urban research and policy.

avatar for Louise Jezierski

Louise Jezierski

Michigan State University
I have been a professor at Michigan State since 1997.My MA and PhD are in Sociology from UC Berkeley, and my BA is from Boston University in Sociology and Geography.

Friday April 10, 2015 9:50am - 10:30am
Biscayne Ballroom (2nd floor)