Precarious Perspectives: Examining the Production, Experience and Contestation of Precarity Through the Lens of Long Island City, NY.

Below is the Dissertation Topic Proposal submitted to my doctoral program, a necessary step in progressing to candidacy that occurs in advance of the dissertation proposal. The aim is to give a clear sense of how I am focusing and approaching the inquiry that will be my dissertation research. This builds on the theoretical framework developed i my 2nd doctoral exam, the statement of which has been published here.

I am also happy to announce my committee members, who include Michelle Fine and Tarry Hum, chaired by Susan Saegert.

Topic Proposal:

In recent decades, precarity has become an increasingly popular topic of discussion and research among scholars and policymakers alike. In the United States, precarity is largely discussed in relation to shifts in the political economy beginning in the 1970s that have contributed to the transition from welfare capitalism to neoliberal capitalism. However, in line with the growing feminist critique of this perspective of precarity, this view is narrow, limiting precarity to how economic and labor market trends in the last 40 years have created growing precarity for workers, which simultaneously 1) constrains our understanding of the human experience of precarity (as workers – not whole people – who are being acted on by larger processes – rather than a process of contestation), 2) negates the longer historical genealogies of persisting precarity, and 3) curbs the types of ‘solutions’ we devise to confront or assuage precarity in the contemporary moment. Embedded in this critique, and my interest in further elaborating the phenomenon of precarity, is the lack of, and need for, attention to how precarity maps onto the intersections of race, gender and class. Moreover, the literature on precarity has been largely place-less – lacking an understanding of how precarity is geographically and geneaologically disparate. This dissertation aims to expand, historicize, and place our inquiry into precarity by examining the production and experience of precarity through the lens of communities in Long Island City, Queens. Moreover, this dissertation takes as a starting point, the notion that precarity is a contested, relational process, and that those experiencing precarity are simultaneously addressing the manifestations of precarity in their lives in creative and unique ways – through remaking relations and ways of being and forming or strengthening social and political alliances through building community. These agentive responses to precarity are as critical – if not more – to our understanding of how precarity is produced and experienced.

This dissertation aims to cultivate an understanding of the production and experience of precarity from a feminist and feminist ethnographic perspective that attends to the relations of power and intersections of race/gender/class that inform how precarity manifests in the everyday lives of differently situated actors. This approach will highlight the ways in which precarity is produced and experienced, and the underlying contestation that informs these processes. Through my role as a community member of Long Island City who among others things attends and participates in Community Board meetings and the DCP LIC Core Study meetings[1], and as a member of the Steering Committee of the Justice For All Coalition[2] I will apply the method of participatory observation. This will help me identify the main factions in the neighborhood, overlaps and conflicts between the different factions and identify groups and individuals to pursue for further and more in-depth investigation. Already, it has become apparent that there are multiple groups cropping up in relation to the perceived increased pressure by DCP (i.e. LIC Coalition, Queens Anti-Gentrification Project), each of which have varying aims, roles and relations with other groups that seem to be tied to class and race, and geographic and historical realities. These deeper investigations will take the form of qualitative interviews and focus groups, which will provide further clarity on the varying concerns among different members of the Long Island City Community. These interviews and focus groups will also help elicit the process of politicization that so often accompanies – or is an outgrowth of – precarization.

 

In addition to examining the perspectives of community members, I think its important to assess how the city, its agencies (i.e. DCP, NYCEDC), other organizations in the neighborhood (i.e. LIC Partnership) and the media are contributing to how LIC is being positioned in the larger discursive imaginary and to hold this in tension with the ways precarity is experienced by community members of LIC. I will approach this through document and website review (for example, DCP has written statements on their perspective on LIC; NYCEDC has similar statements about particular projects in the neighborhood they support) and a media analysis (likely partitioning news coverage between local queens-based, NYC, and national news sources). Given that these constructions of LIC may contribute to the precarity experienced by LIC community members, it is important that these views be held in tension with the voices of LIC residents. For example, it is noteworthy that the majority of images and discussions of Long Island City make no mention of Queensbridge or Ravenswood Houses, and the working class communities of color they house, in relation to developing and developments in LIC. I am also interested in looking back at how this is similar or dissimilar to 2001, when the neighborhood underwent another major rezoning.

Lastly, I will (and have begun to) pull and examine census data from the 1970’s to today (both in a flattened and spatialized way through the use of mapping software) to get a grander sense of the texture of the neighborhood. In addition to examining the 1970’s through today, it seems critical to consider 2001 an important timestamp for the neighborhood given the rezoning that took place that year. Specifically, I will examine demographic, job market, and housing characteristics.

[1] LIC is currently the subject of a discussion about rezoning a central area in the neighborhood by the Department of City Planning. DCP has been holding ‘listening & learning’ sessions this month, with the aims of proposing a plan for the rezoning later this year.

[2] J4AC is a growing local organization of community members fighting for truly affordable housing, equal access to good jobs, community-based planning and public land for public use

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