Research Project No. 2- “Hey Arnold! vs. the Growth Machine: A Cultural Content Analysis of Cartoons and Urbanism”

Media gives us a large wealth of cultural materials to analyze and evaluate the norms, values, and much more of societies at a given time. In this essay, I take a look at the way cartoon programs that aired in the 1990s reflect contemporary attitudes regarding the topics of urbanism, suburbanization, and empowerment. While I was not expecting to find much regarding topics relating to the Community Power course, it turns out that cartoon shows like  Captain Planet and the Planeteers and even Hey Arnold! speak volumes to the popular discourse surrounding these topics. These cartoons offer a a glance at a cultural microcosm that reveal how embedded ideals of environmentalism and multiculturalism become in the media of the late twentieth century. Check out the full reading, linked below:


Critical Synthesis: On the Academic Framing of Riots (by Michael B from Section 2)

In the analysis of urban riots throughout U.S. history, there are a couple common questions that academics raise regarding this caustic subject. First, there is the question of why riots happen; why do certain groups riot, and why are their motivations for rioting different from others? Second, do riots accomplish anything for the rioters involved, and by extension, is rioting a useful form of protest? This question is particular cause for disagreement among scholars as well as for activists and people in general. In the readings we have read for class, including Bert Useem’s piece and Janet Abu-Lughod’s book, the authors work carefully toward answering this question and addressing the existing literature on “non-routine” collective action.

Useem begins this discussion by reviewing current sociological framework on the subject of rioting by focusing on two main bodies of theory: the theories of breakdown and resource mobilization. The former, Useem explains, posits that collective action, specifically in the form of rebellion and rioting, occurs in direct reaction to the failures and corrosions of so-called mechanisms of social control. That is, when a group wishes to riot, and there are no perceived reasons not to, then it will riot. Resource mobilization theorists, by contrast, believe that it is the mechanisms of group political work, a sort of guerilla lobbying process, that motivates riots.

The point of where these different theories clash is the existing body of evidence (existing data on historical riots) and whether it supports breakdown theory or resource mobilization theory. The purpose of RM theory is, as Useem points out, a theoretical amendment to accommodate and explain riots whose occurrences were either not predicted or explained by breakdown theory. In order to determine whether or not these theories withstand practical application, I will look at Abu-Lughod’s analysis of historical riots that are primarily caused by either black or white communities in urban settings.

Abu-Lughod looks in-depth at the bloody riots that occur in Chicago, Harlem and Los Angeles from the mid-nineteenth to the end of the twentieth century. In each of these she backgrounds the riots historically with the socio-economic and ethnic tensions that accumulate within given neighborhoods before particular riots break out. The anecdotes vary historically but more importantly, as the author frames it, geographically. In the example of Chicago, the history of Illinois situates this city as more historically sympathetic to southern attitudes toward blacks; because of this, Chicago makes harsher black laws which make the city less friendly toward African Americans than its other northern counterparts.

New York, in contrast, appears to segregate blacks less than what is apparent in Chicago’s south-side wards, and arguably offers less austere racial laws than Chicago as well. However, as becomes plain in Abu-Lughod’s analysis, these conditions are not preventative against riots. Although while riots do occur in both Chicago and Harlem throughout these periods of history, the contexts of these riots do vary geographically. For example, while Chicago riots embody a constant battle against white and black residents, featuring riots incited by each, Harlem riots tend to be provoked by conflicts between police and black residents.

In each of these cases, we also see that explanations from breakdown or resource mobilization theory have varying significances. The problems of predictability and intentionality become the key determinants here to whether or not these theories hold up; as we see in the case of Harlem, riots are provoked by what seems more directly to be discontent with authorities of power (i.e. the police force). In examples Useem cites as being pro-resource mobilization theory, riots in Europe appear to contradict the patterns apparent in the violent black-police relations in Harlem.

This dissonance between historical examples of riots echo the point that Useem and Abu-Lughod are reinforcing in each of these readings. That is, the point being that tidy explanations of the causes of riots cannot be universal, insofar as causes of riots are not universal. Variance in time and space in Abu-Lughod’s examples, of Chicago and Harlem specifically, show that while there are trends in how riots occur, they do not set in stone the parameters by which riots are started.

For Useem, this dissonance means reevaluating the theories we use to look at riots. Instead of arguing about breakdown theory and resource mobilization theory as they are traditionally discussed, he suggests new and more particularist frameworks toward why breakdown happens, via social capital, routine-disorder, and clash of civilizations breakdown theories. Each of these familiarizes different ways in which riots occur, while consolidating the RM theory debate on intentionality and objectives of rioting.

And while Abu-Lughod does not explicitly debate these issues, she provides a wealth of evidence in favor of this particularizing of the nature of riots. With each of these accounts, she shows that whether or not intentionality or social capital are explicit motivators for non-routine collectivization is heavily dependent upon the factors going into the riots themselves. Some patterns in particular cities show that riots can be goal-oriented and aimed toward expressing discontent, while others introduce entirely contradicting models. The lesson here is that rather than trying to reframe discussions of riots to make these models fit existing frameworks, we should strive to follow where empirical data takes us in developing explanations for complex issues like riots and protests.

Symbolics and Politics of Rhetoric in the Urban Civic Arena- a Critical Synthesis (by Michael B. from Section 2)

When discourse becomes heated in the civic arena, studies of urban politics often focus on the factions involved in the conflict. That is, academic discussion on local power structures scrutinize heavily upon the whats, whos and whys of these issues; what are community organizations and city officials trying to accomplish, who are the so-called “key players,” and why do decisions get made the way they do? An important how, however, that gets underwrote in these processes, is how organizations produce and propagate rhetoric in civic discourse. This question is of central focus in both Hickey’s and Martin’s works on fighting pornography shops in Minneapolis and pushing forward supposedly anti-crime agendas in Atlanta; in each of these articles, this question is central to the authors’ arguments on how community organizations and urban political institutions construct effective arguments against the issues they confront.

The groups at work in Hickey’s article include local feminist organization at both the formal and informal level as well as city officials, other CBOs and the owners and supporters of adult bookstores themselves. This issue begins with the proliferation of adult novelty and print shops that open their doors throughout Minneapolis starting in a period of urban decline in the 1960s that climaxes in the 1980s as neighborhood associations begin to organize themselves in opposition to these stores.

While the grievances these communities have to air against these shops are easily argued as reasonable, they reach a pitfall in the process of removing them in that there is nothing explicitly illegal about what the shops do, and that to remove them is an infringement of free speech. As this obstacle comes into view for the community organizations seeking to remove the shops, these groups turn to the political power of rhetoric in shaping the discourse of pornography shops in Minneapolis.

They accomplish this, Hickey observes, through a variety of techniques; first, these groups begin discussing the NIMBY component of this issue; while stressing that these bookstores necessarily have a write to exist, these organizers are adamant that such stores do not belong in their backyard, or more literally, across their street. The danger these stores impose becomes integral to the argument of this anti-pornography movement, and is further involved in the rhetoric of Dworkin and MacKinnon’s feminist arguments against pornography. By referring to pornography as “‘central in creating and maintaining the civil inequality of the sexes,’” these two involve strong feminist ideologies in their critiques of the shops.

In this case the strategic use of rhetoric in producing an ideology led to the overwhelming support for removal of the adult bookstores in these neighborhoods- demonstrating the power of rhetoric in framing civic discourse. In Martin’s example, community activists employ rhetorical devices in a similar manner, but for different purposes; in this article Martin demonstrates how residents in gentrifying communities in Atlanta produce ideologies in order to further their agendas.

Specifically, Martin argues, these rhetorical techniques are used to obscure the structurally classist and racist upshots of gentrification in these neighborhoods by underlining the need of these communities to consider the quality of the upbringing of children in these communities. These residents carefully craft an argument for the renewal of local schools, green spaces and other community assets by underlining the importance of these resources to the children of the community; in doing this, these residents form a discourse where urban renewal is necessary for the cultivation of the local youth, but only in a perspective that favors goals new residents have and detracts from the wants and needs of longtime residents.

The difference shown in Martin’s research versus Hickey’s is that of the purpose and the ends to which these rhetorical ends meet; for feminist activists in Minneapolis rhetoric becomes a means of shifting a discourse into more radical and powerful terms in order to make streets friendlier for women and even children. While Hickey notes that part of this rhetorical strategy is to delineate from the fact that removing adult bookstores in Minneapolis is disruptive for the gay community, such productions of ideology are regarded in a positive light.

In Martin’s article, by contrast, the devalorizing potential of rhetoric is seen more explicitly for its negative potential. When a young white professional class enters a predominately black community and begins to raise families in it, these new residents frame the discourse at hand with rhetorical pleas to think of the children. In both articles, we see how effectively activists and CBOs can mold perceptions of urban political discourse, and in each we can better see the positive and negative impacts such productions of ideology can have on the decision-making processes in cities.

Research Paper No. 1: On Environmental Reform and Urban Regimes (by Michael B.)


Historically, environmental reforms have always been an important part of promoting social equity in urban spaces; in this paper, I will explore different examples of how cities in the United States have produced reforms and the decision-making process behind them. Particularly, I will look at the power relations between communities and the political regimes that dictate the flow of infrastructural reforms that improve the urban environment. Further, I will address the questions and issues that these phenomena raise: for example, what is it about sustainable development as a kind of reform that induces gentrification in certain urban settings?; what must community organizations do to create holistic environmental reforms without disenfranchising longtime residents?; and why is Jane Addams such a boss? By looking at different examples of environmental reform movements throughout U.S. history and the impacts of each, I hope to answer this question as well as others.


socgw.eresearchpaper research paper here!


Kramer v. Ferman- a Critical Synthesis

In urban politics there are apparent winners and losers when it comes to how policy is debated and produced; in these past few readings for class, the authors have applied a variety of theoretical framework through which we can understand how and why power is exercised in the city. Through the analysis of the 1980s’ “war on graffiti” in New York City, Kramer demonstrates how a “growth machine” theory can account for the production of moral panic to deal with street art and its perceived threat to local business. By contrast, Ferman, in her historical research of politics in both Chicago and Pittsburgh, constructs a counter-narrative to the growth machine by analyzing how political regimes produce a specific civic arena for each city. In this thus named “regime theory,” Ferman challenges the prevailing framework of the political machine that Kramer and many of his scholarly peers support. In support of Ferman, I will analyze each author’s approach and show how regime theory, as a more particularizing framework for city politics, offers a more holistic and applicable method of understanding community power.

Ferman begins with an account of each of these cities by looking at the historical demographics and racial compositions of both Chicago and Pittsburgh. Further, she observes how city politics start out relative to each city during the early to mid-twentieth century; from there, she underlines how factions form and progress over time. What becomes glaringly obvious from this cross-analysis is that city politics are shaped by the unique historical changes in power and urban demographics.

For example, politics of race were shown to have a much larger impact on how political regimes existed in Chicago than in Pittsburgh. This is due largely to the disparity in black and latino populations between the two; while Chicago’s minority populations explode during the mid-twentieth century, Pittsburgh, a smaller city, maintains a larger amount of racial homogeneity. The upshot of this is a focus on schisms between blacks and white ethnics in Chicago politics whereas Pittsburgh’s regimes experience a less racialized political arena. Beyond demographics, Ferman shows how the historical growth of regimes affects the overall continuity of these factions.

Meanwhile, Kramer’s analysis invokes the growth machine theory Ferman’s book strives to debunk. In essence, his argument is that although street art flourished in New York City in the mid to late-twentieth century, a crackdown from public officials led to a thorough cleansing of graffiti in the 1980s. The reason for this crackdown, Kramer suggests, was the production of moral panic via anti-graffiti rhetoric and privatism by business elites in the area whose interests were put at risk by street art.

Growth machine theory posits that decisions like the one to eliminate street art from the infrastructure of New York City come from coalitions of business elites and their various allies to maintain quotas of economic growth within the city. By that same token, these coalitions would dictate the interests of other cities, significantly including even Pittsburgh and Chicago, as well. However, as Ferman has underlined in her study, this is simply not the case in either city. The political interests apparent in each city from Ferman’s research cannot be boiled down to economic progress; rather they expand into an eclectic of racial, socioeconomic, and sectional interests where urban political regimes are a product of historical factions delegating between these discursive matters.

By returning to Kramer’s example with this in mind, the explanation of the growth machine’s impact on the public’s opinion of graffiti becomes not only less empirically valid but also less helpful academically. Both of these faults is a result of the now apparent narrowness of his research: in focusing on how economic elites influenced and reshaped the public discourse on graffiti by inciting a narrative of moral panic, growth machine theory limits how we look at this example of how elites exert power in urban settings; by turning to Ferman’s approach, analysis could yield more insight beyond the way economics shape the results of the “war on graffiti.”

Indeed economics are only one component of the overall makeup of urban politics; while growth machine theorists would posit that it is by far the most important in driving decision-making processes in urban politics. However, this approach still takes for granted these varied phenomena that compose the regimes by which policy is made in the first place. Cities can produce economic growth in a plethora of ways, and so it is the manner in which regimes accommodate growth that matters; what ethnic groups are marginalized, which ones are protected in the decision-making process? Why are certain development strategies chosen over others in the first place? In order to answer these questions for the growth machine, this theory must move past itself and analyze the political regimes that exist within the machine in the first place.