Affective Enclosures: Administration and Alienation in America’s Next Great City

This project seeks to understand the emotional economies of urban redevelopment in the postwar North American city, with a focus on Tampa, Florida. Based on fieldwork with public officials, municipal bureaucrats, grassroots activists, and private real estate developers, the project shows how the affective aspects of municipal administration constitute a site of significant social struggle that impacts what gets built where, how the built environment is governed, and how the costs and benefits of urban redevelopment are distributed. It will pay particular attention to the ways in which Tampa’s long history of trade, migration, empire, and violence – spanning several centuries and four distinct imperial regimes – continues to exert a considerable influence on social and political relations within the city. Focusing on the mundane sites, situations, and struggles of urban politics, from city council meetings to municipal code-making to public finance, the project argues that this imperial influence is especially powerful, if largely uninterrogated, in how affect is experienced and managed in these settings.

Tampa offers a valuable vantage point from which to understand the conjunction of history, planning, and emotion in the twenty-first century urban governance. Like the Floridian peninsular and Greater Caribbean more broadly, Tampa Bay has served for many centuries as a critical node in a transimperial network that brought Spanish, British, Anglo-American, Native American, and African-descended communities into important moments of collaboration and conflict with one another. Today, collaborations and conflicts continue to play out in the context of the city’s large-scale redevelopment, which builds on longstanding efforts by urban elites to position Tampa as America’s “next great city”. Such transformations reflect broader trends since the 1970s in transnational urban redevelopment, with considerable consequences for the spatial organization, everyday governance, and political life of the postwar city. They also influenced in this case by the region’s history of empire and imperialism. Understanding how the emotional legacies of the city’s imperial past continue to structure present-day social inequalities is critical for working towards a more just and equitable organization of urban space and urban life in the future.

The project seeks to make two key contributes to the Department’s research profile, and to anthropological debates more broadly. The first is to highlight the importance of affect and emotion to projects of contemporary governance. The second is to locate the politics of urban affects within the longue durée of imperial city-building within North America. To capture these dynamics, the project tracks the production of “affective enclosures” – powerful yet oftentimes implicit norms around the proper or appropriate parameters of emotional life – which work to constrain the ability of certain populations to participate meaningfully in the machinery of municipal decision-making, despite or even because of formal efforts made by the municipal state to engage its citizens. While powerful, however, affective enclosures are not set in stone: affect, emotion, and embodiment more broadly can also provide an active if unstable medium through which Tampa’s residents work together in their attempts to not only redistribute the benefits of urban redevelopment but also transform the logics through which it is enacted. By attending at once to the repressive and the emancipatory potentials of administrative affects, the project will formulate an analysis that takes seriously the effervescence of everyday emotional encounters and the enduring patterns of social and political life, while also revealing how each works powerfully through the other. I will continue working on the resulting monograph as a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Department ‘Anthropology of Politics and Governance’ from February 2022.

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