Response Paper - Oh My

so ambitious - will post prof comments and rewrite later:

The Effects of Deindustrialization on US Concepts of Citizenship


For nearly two centuries, the concept of citizenship in the United States was strongly linked to that of property ownership and manufacturing/labor.  There was a strong correlation between the foundations of the American frontier and Beauregard’s concept of “American Exceptionalism” (Beauregard, p. 8) – a “do-it-yourself” creed that indicated one’s current value was solely derived from [his] hard work.  The shift from manufacturing goods to services in the United States shifted the role of man from producer to consumer, thus lessening his “political” visibility (and value) in the new political economy.  This shift produced a new concept of citizenship in the United States, which lessened the power of labor unions, strengthened that of business interests, further commodified labor and land, and increased the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  As such, citizenship in the United States became less democratic in the post-industrial United States, and firmly rooted in the capitalist framework of the neoliberal political economy.  In short, citizenship shifted from human capital to financial capital in the post-industrial United States. 

It is important to note that citizenship in this country has not always been wholly democratic and entirely linked to human capital.  Indeed, entire groups of Americans were used for their human capital while simultaneously denied citizenship.  But it was through these groups that citizenship was re-calibrated, incorporating both property and human capital, to create the concept of “American Exceptionalism” Beauregard uses to characterize the citizenship of the postwar United States.    

The Shift from Blue Collar to White Collar

One of the most significant effects of deindustrialization in the United States is the new division of labor that emerged.  As capital roamed to find cheaper inputs in the southern, western, and suburban areas of the United States, as well as the developing nations around the globe, the formerly industrial northeastern and Midwestern US transformed into service providers.  Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) industries moved into the spaces that manufacturing firms used to occupy.  This new division of labor produced a new employee and a new citizen.  No longer was the laborer, so closely affiliated with his union and his community, tied to both his workplace and his home.  The new economy and the new employee produced a new mobility and a new affiliation: to maximizing his total commodification in both the labor and real estate markets.  There was little loyalty to an employer in this new economy as mobile capital provided little loyalty to the employee.  There was little loyalty to the community in this new economy as mobile capital provided the impetus to subsidize suburban sprawl and facilitate relocation. 

With diminishing ties to community and place, the employees of the new economy shifted the dynamics of the political process.  Gone were the days where electoral coalitions and labor unions equated political power in the governing coalition.  Political visibility in the post-industrial United States was associated with financial contributions, as the importance of television advertising grew in the 1950s and 1960s.  Expenditures for political campaigns grew exponentially as the importance of television advertising increased, and the political value of manpower diminished relative to that of the dollar.  Thus, even in areas where union membership was strong and still necessary to secure electoral success, the makeup of the governing coalition shifted from blue-collar to white-collar labor.  The weakening tenability of blue-collar labor and political legitimacy (citizenship) in the post-industrial United States fostered a negative connotation with organized labor.  A major draw of the unions was the protection and legitimacy it afforded its members with employers and politicians, respectively.  This diminished power in the new economy dissuaded union membership and further cemented the concepts of citizenship and financial capital.             

Land Use, Citizenship, and Property Rights

Venkatesh equates property ownership with “Thomas Jefferson’s cradle of democracy” (Venkatesh, 13), a sentiment that is repeated in virtually all of the founding documents of the United States.  The commodification of land, the ability to exercise control over land use and planning, and the ways in which this control contribute to concepts of citizenship were dramatically altered in the post-industrial United States.  Following the Second World War, the United States faced a severe housing shortage that forced a rapid shift in the landscape of urban areas.  What ensued was the virtual destruction of cities at the benefit of suburbs, creating an era of anti-urbanism rhetoric that has only recently disappeared from the mainstream media (Beauregard, 2003).   Thus, the effects of deindustrialization on concepts of citizenship in regards to land use had its greatest effects on those residing in urban areas, namely African-Americans and ethnic Whites.

The Urban Renewal program, a series of Federal policies beginning with the Housing Act of 1949, provided Federal money for local authorities to essentially replenish their depleted property tax bases.  Inadvertently, the program triggered the switch that privileged exchange value over use value in the conceptual underpinnings of property rights in the post-industrial United States.  Urban renewal, with a simple swipe of a bulldozer, literally demolished the accrued capital of African-Americans and ethnic Whites in urban areas across the nation.  The program erased any economic sovereignty these groups had in the new economy. As mentioned earlier, the economic restructuring had already diminished the political power of their human capital, and now urban renewal policies ensured their financial capital was worthless as well.

The clearance of slums during urban renewal led to the construction of housing projects in the late 1950s through the 1960s.  Within these structures, the concepts of land use and citizenship intersect in very unique ways.  The purpose of the housing project was to act as a stepping-stone to property ownership – that is, an intermediary to citizenship for its residents.  And yet, those in control of how land was used in relation to these projects (housing authorities, city councils) controlled this ascendency into citizenship for these residents.  Housing projects were frequently sited in marginalized areas, surrounded by poverty, or near physical barricades to more affluent areas.  Access to public goods and services, such as parks, sanitation pickup, adequate education facilities, and free medical clinics were inadequate relative to the populations they needed to serve.  The ability to access basic public goods and services is a characteristic of citizenship, and the construction of public housing in underserved areas contributed to the diminishing ideals of citizenship for these residents (who, by the 1960s, were increasingly African-American, female-headed households).  It is no surprise, therefore, that public housing residents turned inward, and began forming their own support networks and informal economies outside of the formalized political economy in an act of both resilience and survival to their decreasing legitimacy as citizens (Venkatesh, 30).  For African-Americans, deindustrialization shifted citizenship from assimilation (acceptance) into a larger (White) community, to recognition (economic independence) as their own community.  There was no clearer expression of this shift than the rash of civil disturbances across urban areas in the late 1960s.  African-Americans were committed to reclaiming the use value of property rights in connection to their citizenship.   

The story was a bit different for ethnic Whites, who were also subject to the policies of urban renewal.  While not subject to the physical effects of slum clearance and housing projects, the tightening housing market from these policies created new demands in neighborhoods that were formerly segregated.  Urban renewal policies also ushered in a series of open housing acts, which rendered the restrictive covenants property deeds illegal.  The ability of ethnic Whites to residentially segregate themselves from African-Americans was known as spatial assimilation.  Spatial assimilation embedded itself in citizenship by allowing ethnic Whites to claim citizenship by claiming “whiteness” – and open housing threatened both.  Deindustrialization created a flight of capital from the urban core to the suburbs, and more mobile whites left the working-class behind.  As mentioned earlier, this left this group with diminished political power, and open housing policies were seen as a threat to economic power (Hirsh, 1993).  Thus, these groups engaged in protectionist actions to assert their citizenship, ranging from harassment of African-Americans in their communities to destruction of property.  The destruction of property and the refusal to sell to African-Americans indicated that ethnic whites reconceptionalized their citizenship to align with the reigning ideal of property rights: privileging exchange-value over that of use-value.  In spite of being marginalized in the new political economy, they struggled to reclaim their whiteness and their citizenship as the status quo.                          

Growing Inequality and the Struggle Continues    

As the financialization of cities continues in the present-day, concepts of citizenship continue to evolve in the United States.  What began as a small schism in the 1950s between the rich and poor has widened into a chasm in the 2000s.  The most recent manifestation of decreasing citizenship has emerged in the Occupy Together movement across the United States, as the “99%” have banded together to visually assert their political legitimacy against the economic stronghold of the “1%”.  The Occupy Together movement attempts to reclaim citizenship by reclaiming public space, through which recent financialization, has become increasingly beholden to the interests of the private sector (corporations – the 1%).  As corporations take over an increasing role in the political economy (from acting as major contributors to political campaigns to funders of affordable housing [Godeinik, 2011]), the legitimacy of individuals as citizens has come into question in recent years.  Although the Occupy Together movement is currently leaderless/faceless (ironically, like a corporation), one would hope that this movement would draw attention to the decreasing legitimacy of individuals as citizens in the United States, and spark dialog that will reconceptualize citizenship in favor of human capital, not financial.                  


Beauregard, Robert. 2003. Voices of Decline: The Postwar Fate of US Cities. New York: Routledge.

Beauregard, Robert. 2006. When America Became Suburban . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Godelnik, Raz.  “Google Investing in Low-Income Housing – Good Cause, Bad CSR?”.  Triple Pundit.  7 October 2011. 

Hirsch, Arnold. 1998 (1993). Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Venkatesh, Sudhir Alladi. 2000. American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 

  1. drakewrites posted this