Reconfiguring the Local: Global Networks and Metropolitan Boundaries

AHA Session 237
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Erie Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Adam Green, University of Chicago
Elaine Lewinnek, California State University, Fullerton

Session Abstract

A considerable and growing body of historical literature addresses the relationship between urban center and suburban periphery in the development of metropolitan and regional identities, political landscapes, and economic inequalities. Scholars such as Robert O. Self, Matthew D. Lassiter, and Becky Nicolaides have illuminated the ways in which an emerging city/suburb division reshaped metropolitan and national politics and the logic of public obligations and private rights in the postwar United States. Nevertheless, key questions remain. For instance, historians have not yet full explored the role of corporate capital in shaping metropolitan economies, especially at scales beyond the strictly "local." In addition, while race is a core element in most metropolitan histories, all but a few scholars have approached the subject from within a binary, white-black framework, denying the metropolitan agency of members of other racialized communities. Finally, our conventional conceptual models of "urban" and "suburban" - and the socioeconomic, cultural, and political boundaries between them - require enhanced empirical investigation and a richer theorization.

The papers in this session respond to these lacunae in the scholarship by exploring how international flows of corporate capital, transnational migration, and other global networks impact the micro scale of local communities connected through (or divided by) systems of metropolitan governance, funding, and infrastructure. Hillary Jenks's paper, "The Second Little Tokyo: Suburb Building and Transnational Capital in Gardena, California," examines how Japanese American officials in this Los Angeles suburb engaged in typical booster efforts at attracting investment and subsidizing property taxes from the 1960s through the 1980s by pursuing the rather atypical strategy of exploiting transnational networks of Japanese capital.  Andrew Highsmith's paper, "Beyond Corporate Abandonment: General Motors and the Metropolitan Politics of Growth in Flint, Michigan" analyzes the postwar capital migrations of General Motors within the Flint, Michigan region and how they complicate widespread notions of corporate abandonment given GM’s vision of Flint's suburbs as part of a broader metropolitan whole.  Michan Connor's paper, "Metropolitan Border War: Place, Scale, and Boundary Politics in the San Fernando Valley," exposes the inadequacy of "urban" and "suburban" as categories of historical analysis through an examination of boundary politics in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, a place that is both and neither.  Chair Adam Green and Commentator Elaine Liwinnek, both scholars who have written extensively on questions of race and urban history, will contextualize these papers in the metropolitan historical literature and survey the questions they raise.

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