socio-spatial segregatio

For this assignment, you will research a case of socio-spatial segregation in a particular city and prepare a case study report. Please read all instructions in word document.

– Chosen city: Johannesburg, South Africa

· Research your chosen city to look for answers to the questions below. You should find at least 4-5 sources relevant to your chosen city in addition to course materials provided. 

Approx. two single-spaced pages/1,000 words in length excluding references or graphs/tables etc.

Slumdog Cities: Rethinking
Subaltern Urbanism


Abstractijur_1051 223..238

This article is an intervention in the epistemologies and methodologies of urban studies.
It seeks to understand and transform the ways in which the cities of the global South are
studied and represented in urban research, and to some extent in popular discourse. As
such, the article is primarily concerned with a formation of ideas — ‘subaltern
urbanism’ — which undertakes the theorization of the megacity and its subaltern spaces
and subaltern classes. Of these, the ubiquitous ‘slum’ is the most prominent. Writing
against apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the slum, subaltern urbanism provides
accounts of the slum as a terrain of habitation, livelihood, self-organization and politics.
This is a vital and even radical challenge to dominant narratives of the megacity.
However, this article is concerned with the limits of and alternatives to subaltern
urbanism. It thus highlights emergent analytical strategies, utilizing theoretical
categories that transcend the familiar metonyms of underdevelopment such as the
megacity, the slum, mass politics and the habitus of the dispossessed. Instead, four
categories are discussed — peripheries, urban informality, zones of exception and gray
spaces. Informed by the urbanism of the global South, these categories break with
ontological and topological understandings of subaltern subjects and subaltern spaces.

‘Across a filthy, rubbish-filled creek we enter the slum’s
heaving residential area, treading carefully to ensure we do
not step in human sewage. Live wires hang from wobbly
walls; we crouch through corridor-like passages between
houses made from reclaimed rubble as the sky disappears
above our heads. Behind flimsy doorway curtains we spy
babies sleeping on dirty mattresses in tiny single room
homes, mothers busy washing, cooking and cleaning.

The few hours I spend touring Mumbai’s teeming
Dharavi slum are uncomfortable and upsetting, teetering
on voyeuristic. They are also among the most uplifting of
my life.

Instead of a neighbourhood characterised by misery,
I find a bustling and enterprising place, packed with small-
scale industries defying their circumstances to flourish
amidst the squalor. Rather than pity, I am inspired by man’s
alchemic ability to thrive when the chips are down.’

Crerar (2010)

An earlier version of this article was presented as the IJURR lecture at the 2009 meeting of the
Association of American Geographers. I wish to thank IJURR, and especially Roger Keil, for the
invitation. Gautam Bhan provided valuable research assistance for this project. The IJURR reviewers
helped clarify the concept of subaltern urbanism and the purpose of this article.

Volume 35.2 March 2011 223–38 International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

© 2011 The Author. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research © 2011 Joint Editors and Blackwell
Publishing Ltd. Published by Blackwell Publishing. 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main St,
Malden, MA 02148, USA

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‘Postcolonial studies, unwittingly commemorating a lost
object, can become an alibi unless it is placed within a
general frame.’

Spivak (1999: 1)

In the urban imagination of the new millennium, the ‘megacity’has become shorthand for
the human condition of the global South. Cities of enormous size, they are delineated
through what Jennifer Robinson (2002: 531) has called ‘developmentalism’. Their
herculean problems of underdevelopment — poverty, environmental toxicity, disease —
are the grounds for numerous diagnostic and reformist interventions. The megacity can
therefore be understood as the ‘constitutive outside’ of contemporary urban studies,
existing in a relationship of difference with the dominant norm of the ‘global city’— urban
nodes that are seen to be command and control points of the world economy. Following
Chantal Mouffe (2000: 12), who in turn relies on Jacques Derrida, the ‘constitutive
outside’ is not a dialectical opposite but rather a condition of emergence, an outside that by
being inside creates ‘radical undecidability’. The megacity thus renders the very category
of global city impossible, revealing the limits, porosities and fragilities of all global
centers. Is there a megacity future for every global city? What global city can function
without relational dependence on seemingly distant economies of fossil fuels and cheap
labor? In this sense, the megacity marks the limits of archival and ethnographic
recognition. In this sense, the megacity is the ‘subaltern’ of urban studies. It cannot be
represented in the archives of knowledge and it cannot therefore be the subject of history.

This article is an intervention in the epistemologies and methodologies of urban
studies. In it, I seek to understand and transform the ways in which the cities of the global
South are studied and represented in urban research, and to some extent in popular
discourse. As such, the article is primarily concerned with a formation of ideas —
‘subaltern urbanism’ — which undertakes the theorization of the megacity and its
subaltern spaces and subaltern classes. Of these, the ubiquitous ‘slum’ is the most
prominent. Writing against apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the slum, subaltern
urbanism provides accounts of the slum as a terrain of habitation, livelihood and politics.
This is a vital and even radical challenge to dominant narratives of the megacity.
Subaltern urbanism then is an important paradigm, for it seeks to confer recognition on
spaces of poverty and forms of popular agency that often remain invisible and neglected
in the archives and annals of urban theory.

However, in this article I undertake a study of the limits of such itineraries of
recognition by rethinking subaltern urbanism. Drawing on postcolonial theory, I shift the
meaning of ‘subaltern’ from the study of spaces of poverty and forms of popular agency
to an interrogation of epistemological categories. Following the work of Spivak (1999),
the subaltern can be understood as marking the limits of archival and ethnographic
recognition; it is that which forces an analysis of dominant epistemologies and
methodologies. Meant to be more than epistemological disruption, the article highlights
emergent analytical strategies of research. In particular, four categories are discussed —
peripheries, urban informality, zones of exception and gray spaces. Informed by the
urbanism of the global South, these categories break with ontological and topological
understandings of subaltern subjects and subaltern spaces.

The metonymic slum
The megacity is a metonym for underdevelopment, Third Worldism, the global South. As
a metonym, the megacity conjures up an abject but uplifting human condition, one that
lives in filth and sewage but is animated by the ‘alchemic ability’ (Crerar, 2010) to
survive and thrive. And it is the slum, the Third World slum, that constitutes the iconic
geography of this urban and human condition. It is the ‘recognizable frame’ through
which the cities of the global South are perceived and understood, their difference
mapped and located (Nuttall and Mbembe, 2005: 193). Much more is at stake here than

224 Ananya Roy

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Gilbert’s (2007: 701) fear of the use of a ‘an old, never euphemistic . . . dangerous
stereotype’. If we are to pay attention to what postcolonial critic Gayatri Chakravorty
Spivak (1985: 262) has identified as the ‘worlding of what is now called the Third
World’, then it is necessary to confront how the megacity is worlded through the icon of
the slum. In other words, the slum has become the most common itinerary through which
the Third World city (i.e. the megacity) is recognized.

I do not use the term ‘itinerary’ casually. Today, the Third World slum is an itinerary,
a ‘touristic transit’ (Freire-Medeiros, 2009). The most obvious example of this is the
slum tour, available in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, the Soweto township of
Johannesburg, the kampungs of Jakarta and the Dharavi slum of Mumbai. One such slum
itinerary appears epigraphically as the introduction to this article. In it, The Times
journalist Simon Crerar (2010) introduces his readership to the ‘harsh existence of
Mumbai’s poor’ but also to ‘spirit and enterprise’, where the ‘pace of work’ amidst
‘buzzing flies’ is ‘breathtaking’. From plastic recyclers to the makers of poppadams,
Crerar charts his itinerary of a humming and thriving slum. It is in keeping with the ethos
of Reality Tours, the ‘ethical tourism’ agency whose guides lead tours of Dharavi. Reality
Tours (n.d.) presents Dharavi, ‘Asia’s biggest ‘slum’, as a ‘a place of poverty and
hardship but also a place of enterprise, humour and non-stop activity’. Proud to be
featured in travel guides ranging from Frommer’s to Lonely Planet, Reality Tours (ibid.)
makes the claim that ‘Dharavi is the heart of small scale industries in Mumbai’ with an
‘annual turnover of approximately US $665 million’. Tour profits are directed towards a
nonprofit organization that operates a school for slum children, and slum tourists are
discouraged from wielding cameras and photographing slum reality.

Crerar’s recent ‘slum and sightseeing tour’ references two dramatic worldings of
Mumbai: the ‘terrorist’ attacks of November 2008 with its killing sites of luxury hotels
and urban cafes, and the blockbuster film Slumdog Millionaire. Indeed, Crerar’s (2010)
narrative begins with what is already a well-worn cliché: ‘I’ve wanted to visit Mumbai
since Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire swept to Oscar glory. The film is set in
Dharavi , the dusty creek-bed where one million souls live in an area the size of London’s
Hyde Park, surrounded on all sides by Asia’s most expensive real estate’. In Slumdog
Millionaire, the various slums of Mumbai are combined into a singular composition that
has come to be interpreted as Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum. This too is a metonym —
Dharavi: Slum.

Slumdog Millionaire is a worlding of the megacity, and of the metonymic megacity
Mumbai. The film, with its story of a young slum-dweller and his dreams and aspiration,
has been the focus of protests in India for both its apocalyptic portrayal of the ‘slum’ as
poverty pornography — we are not ‘dogs’ the slum dwellers of India have bellowed —
and its romanticization of a way out of the slum — Salman Rushdie has thus dismissed
the film as impossibly unreal (Flood, 2009). Crerar (2010) notes that his guide on the
Dharavi tour expressed annoyance at the derogatory use of the term ‘dog’: ‘People were
angry with the way they were represented’.

Slumdog Millionaire can be read as poverty pornography. It can also be read as a
metonym, a way of designating the megacity that is Mumbai. The film depicts the violent
nightmare that is Mumbai: the riots of 1992–3 when Hindu nationalist mobs burned
Muslims alive in the alleys of Mumbai’s slums; the broken dreams of the migrants who
flock to the city but become yet another body in the vast circuits of consumption and
capital. Which came first: the fictional and cinematic Mumbai or the real Mumbai of
‘reality’ slum and sightseeing tours? After all, Suketu Mehta’s book Maximum City
(2004), which itself redraws the line between fiction and ethnography, is an uncanny
shadow history of the real Mumbai. Slumdog Millionaire then is only one of the many
fictional technologies through which cities like Mumbai are constituted. The film depicts
what can be understood as dhandha — entrepreneurial practice akin to street-level
hustling. Everyone is out to make a deal — the entrepreneurs of misery who maim
children so that they can beg on the sidewalks of Mumbai; the entrepreneurs of space
who replace the slums of Dharavi with sky-high condominiums; and the entrepreneurs of

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dreams who devise game shows as a world of fantasy for the rich and poor. Slumdog
Millionaire itself has come to be implicated in a new round of dhandha — from the
‘explosion of slum tourism’ (Crerar, 2010) to the putting up ‘for sale’ of Rubina Ali (one
of the film’s child actors) by her father. It is this equivalence of cinema and the
megacity/slum that Nandy (1999) and Mehta (2008) highlight in different ways. In the
wake of the Mumbai killings, Mehta (ibid.) wrote: ‘Just as cinema is a mass dream of
the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia’. Nandy (1999: 2–3)
argues that popular cinema in India is the ‘slum’s eye view’, with the slum as an entity
that ‘territorializes the transition from the village to the city . . . from the popular-as-the-
folk to the popular-as-the massified’. Here, categories of equivalence such as ‘popular’
or ‘mass’ connect cinema, slum, megacity and postcolonial nation. It can be argued that
this equivalence is the condition of subalternity.

The reception of Slumdog Millionaire in India was marked by protests. Pukar, a
Mumbai-based ‘experimental initiative’ founded by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai and
concerned with ‘urbanization and globalization’, presented a native refusal of the film’s
violent narrative of slum dhandha. In particular, Pukar took objection to the word ‘slum’
and sought to reposition Dharavi as a zone of economic enterprise. Here is an excerpt
from a Pukar opinion-piece published in The New York Times shortly after the release of
Slumdog Millionaire:

Dharavi is probably the most active and lively part of an incredibly industrious city. People
have learned to respond in creative ways to the indifference of the state . . . Dharavi is all about
such resourcefulness. Over 60 years ago, it started off as a small village in the marshlands and
grew, with no government support, to become a million-dollar economic miracle providing
food to Mumbai and exporting crafts and manufactured goods to places as far away as Sweden.
No master plan, urban design, zoning ordinance, construction law or expert knowledge can
claim any stake in the prosperity of Dharavi . . . Dharavi is an economic success story that the
world must pay attention to during these times of global depression. Understanding such a
place solely by the generic term ‘slum’ ignores its complexity and dynamism (Echanove and
Srivastava, 2009).

Pukar’s native refusal of Slumdog Millionaire is an example of what I term ‘subaltern
urbanism’. Writing against apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the megacity, it seeks
to resurrect the subaltern space of the slum as that of a vibrant and entrepreneurial
urbanism. In doing so, it confers recognition on urban subalterns, and perhaps even on
the megacity itself as subaltern subject. I am interested in this itinerary of recognition and
how it shapes the emergence of what Rao (2006: 227) has described as the ‘slum as
theory’ — that ‘passage from slum as population and terrain’ to the slum as a ‘new
territorial principle of order’. Indeed, the metonymic slum is central to the formation that
I am designating as ‘subaltern urbanism’.

Subaltern urbanism
It is a hallmark of postcolonial theory that the Gramscian concept of ‘subaltern’ was
taken up by modern Indian historiography, specifically by the group known as the
Subaltern Studies Collective (Sarkar, 1984; Spivak, 2005). In this appropriation of
Gramsci’s ‘Southern Question’, the idea of the subaltern was used to call into question
the elitism of historiography (Guha, 1988). ‘Emphasizing the fundamental relationships
of power, of domination and subordination’ (Sarkar, 1984: 273), the term came to mean
a ‘space of difference’ (Spivak, 2005: 476). Most famously, in Ranajit Guha’s (1988: 44)
formulation, the subaltern was the ‘demographic difference between the total Indian
population and all those . . . described as the “elite” ’. Thus, subalternity came to be seen
as the condition of the people, those who did not and could not belong to the elite classes,
a ‘general attribute of subordination’ (ibid.: 35). As Spivak (2005: 476) notes, in such
usage, the term ‘subaltern’ was closely associated with the idea of the popular. Subaltern

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politics is thus popular politics and popular culture. Further, in the work of the Subaltern
Studies Collective, the agency of change came to be located in this sphere of
subaltern politics. In this sense, subalternity became more than the ‘general
attribute of subordination’; it also became a theory of agency, that of the ‘politics of
the people’ (Guha, 1988: 40). More recently, Partha Chatterjee (2004) has advanced the
concept of ‘political society’, a ‘popular politics’ that he distinguishes from ‘civil
society’ or the politics of rights-bearing, enfranchised bourgeois citizens. Political
society, for Chatterjee (ibid.: 40), involves claims to habitation and livelihood by ‘groups
of population whose very livelihood or habitation involve violation of the law’.

I am interested in this shift: from the subaltern marking the limits of archival
recognition to the subaltern as an agent of change. As the subaltern is granted a distinct
political identity, so this figure comes to be associated with distinct territories. One such
territory is the slum. It is also in this way that the idea of the subaltern has entered
the realm of urban studies, leading to the emergence of a formation that I call
subaltern urbanism. Two themes are prominent in subaltern urbanism: economies of
entrepreneurialism and political agency.

Let us return for a moment to Pukar’s native refusal of Slumdog Millionaire. Pukar’s
claim that Dharavi is an entrepreneurial economy is well borne out by the work of
various scholars. Nijman (2010: 13) for example argues that the urban slum is more than
a warehousing of surplus labor; it is also a space of ‘home-based entrepreneurship’. It is
this economy of entrepreneurialism that is on display in the ‘reality tours’ of Dharavi.
This too has a metonymic character, for the slum’s entrepreneurialism stands in for a
more widespread entrepreneurial spirit — perhaps that of the megacity, perhaps that even
of the postcolonial nation. Thus, leading Indian journalist Barkha Dutt (2009) writes that
Slumdog Millionaire is a ‘masterpiece’ of a movie because it depicts the ‘the energy,
entrepreneurship and imagination of the slum kids’. She likens this to ‘the jugadu spirit
that is so typical of India’.

Jugadu . . . was originally the word for a marvellous invention — a hybrid automotive that
welds the body of a jeep with the engine of a water pump and looks like a tractor. Today it has
come to be our shorthand for spunkiness — a we-will-get-the-job done attitude no matter how
bad the odds are (ibid.).

In similar fashion, global architect, Rem Koolhaas interprets the urbanism of Lagos as a
‘culture of make-do’(Enwezor, 2003: 116). In his encounter with Lagos, part of Harvard’s
‘Project on the City’, Koolhaas is taken with the inventiveness of its residents as they
survive the travails of the megacity. He sees such experimental responses as generating
‘ingenious, critical alternative systems’, a type of ‘self-organization’ creating ‘intense
emancipatory zones’(Godlewski, 2010: 8–9). It is not surprising then that Koolhaas draws
the following conclusion: ‘Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching
up with Lagos’. In this way, the seemingly ‘alien and distant’ megacity becomes the
platform for a ‘neo-organicist’ analysis of urbanism (Gandy, 2005; Godlewski, 2010). As
Gandy (2006) has noted, such imaginations turn on the premise of ‘ontological
difference’, the African megacity situated outside the currents of world history. There is a
lot that can be said about the personage of the star architect and the project of the Third
World megacity. But what concerns me here is the emphasis on self-organizing economies
of entrepreneurialism, and how this leads us to a theory of subaltern urbanism.

Koolhaas, delirious with the power of his own gaze, is easy to dismiss. But subaltern
urbanism far exceeds footloose architects looking for new projects of exploration.
Koolhaas’ ideas are best paired with those of influential global policy guru, Hernando de
Soto (2000), whose libertarian optimism presents the Third World slum as a ‘people’s
economy’ populated by ‘heroic entrepreneurs’. Here the slum economy is interpreted as
a grassroots uprising against state bureaucracy, a revolution from below. For de Soto such
economies are rich in assets, albeit in the defective form of dead capital. The ‘mystery of

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capital’ is how such dormant and defective assets can be transformed into liquid capital,
thereby unleashing new frontiers of capital accumulation.

There is a striking resemblance between such arguments of economic libertarianism
and the utopian schemes of the Left. For example, in a sketch of ‘post-capitalism’,
geographers Gibson-Graham (2008: 613) celebrate the ‘exciting proliferation of
. . . projects of economic autonomy and experimentation’. Making a case for the
performing of ‘new economic worlds’, for an ‘ontology of economic difference’,
Gibson-Graham showcase ‘community economies’ and urge us as researchers to make
them more real, credible and viable.

Equally important as a theme in subaltern urbanism is the question of political agency.
In his widely circulating apocalyptic account of a ‘planet of slums’, Mike Davis (2004:
28) expresses anxiety about the political agency of slum dwellers, asking: ‘To what
extent does an informal proletariat possess that most potent of Marxist talismans:
“historical agency”?’. Davis argues that ‘uprooted rural migrants and informal workers
have been largely dispossessed of fungible labour-power, or reduced to domestic service
in the houses of the rich’ and that thus ‘they have little access to the culture of collective
labour or large-scale class struggle’. Against such accounts, subaltern urbanism
recuperates the figure of the slum dweller as a subject of history.

Take for example the work of Asef Bayat (2000: 533), who argues that, in Third World
cities, a ‘marginalized and deinstitutionalized subaltern’ crafts a street politics best
understood as ‘the quiet encroachment of the ordinary’. There is almost a Wirthian
quality to Bayat’s analysis, for it is the territory of the restructured Third World city that
produces this quiet encroachment. More recently, Bayat (2007) has rejected the
arguments that link the rise of militant Islamism to the ‘urban ecology of overcrowded
slums in the large cities’. The slum, Bayat argues, may not be characterized by radical
religiosity but it does engender a distinctive type of political agency: ‘informal life’. For
Bayat (2007: 579), ‘informal life’, typified by ‘flexibility, pragmatism, negotiation, as
well as constant struggle for survival and self-development’ is the ‘habitus of the
dispossessed’. This idea — of a slum habitus — is a key feature of subaltern urbanism.

In a highly sophisticated account, Solomon Benjamin (2008) delineates the differences
between three different political arenas: a policy arena penetrated by real estate lobbies
and finance capital; a civil society arena that seeks to restrict political activity to those
deemed to be ‘legitimate citizens’; and an arena of ‘occupancy urbanism’ through which
the urban poor assert territorial claims, practice vote-bank politics and penetrate the lower,
‘porous’ reaches of state bureaucracy. Benjamin’s analysis is by no means Wirthian.
Indeed, his political-economy account of multiple land-tenure regimes firmly grounds the
slum in the circuits of finance and real estate capitalism. But in a manner similar to the
Subaltern Studies Collective’s conceptualization of popular politics, he grants the poor a
distinctive form of political agency: occupancy urbanism. Such urbanism for Benjamin
(ibid.: 719, 725) is necessarily ‘subversive’, appropriating ‘real estate surpluses’ and
possessing a ‘political consciousness that refuses to be disciplined by NGOs and well-
meaning progressive activists’. In this, Benjamin’s analysis bears close resemblance to
Chatterjee’s (2004) conceptualization of ‘political society’ as a space of politics formed
out of the governmental administration of populations but escaping such forms of

I am highly sympathetic to the cause of subaltern urbanism. I see it as an important
correction to the silences of urban historiography and theory, the ‘sanctioned ignorance’
— to borrow a phrase from Spivak (1999: 164) — that has repeatedly ignored the
urbanism that is the life and livelihood of much of the world’s humanity. Even Koolhaas’
encounter with Lagos, as Godlewski (2010: 17) notes, can be seen as a sign of the
‘growing sense that architectural theory should address global practice rather than
singular monuments in the Western world’. And it would be naïve to fault subaltern
urbanism for the various appropriations of slum entrepreneurialism that today make up
an increasingly busy traffic of slum tours, blockbuster films, entrepreneurial NGOs, and
globally circulating architects and policy consultants.

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In fact, the urgency of such recognition is all around us. Working on the US–Mexico
border and tracking the mobile mutations of this militarized urbanism, architect Teddy
Cruz (2007: 75) searches for ‘alternative urbanisms of transgression’. In border
neighborhoods, he finds ‘a migrant, small scale activism’, what he designates as the
‘informal’. These urbanisms, he argues, inhabit space ‘beyond the property line in the
form of non-conforming spatial and entrepreneurial practices’. Here is an effort to
imagine a ‘new brand of bottom-up social and economic justice’ amidst the brutal
subalternity imposed by the global border. How can such a project be denied sympathy?

Working within, rather than against, subaltern urbanism, I hope to pose some critical
questions about this project of recognition and its key analytical themes. In doing so, I
draw upon Spivak’s critique of itineraries of the ‘subaltern’. Writing against those versions
of subaltern studies that seek to identify the subaltern as the subordinate classes, as the
‘demographic difference’, Spivak (1999: 191) casts doubt on ‘conscientious ethnography’
that hopes to study and represent the interests of the subaltern. This ‘produced
“transparency” ’, she rightly notes, itself ‘marks the place of “interest” ’ (ibid.: 265).
Spivak’s work thus challenges us to study how the subaltern is constituted as an object of
representation and knowledge — in lieu of the conscientious ethnography that claims to
speak for the authentic subaltern. Further, Spivak calls into question the slippage between
‘subaltern’and ‘popular’ that can be found in the work of the Subaltern Studies Collective
and in many renderings of subaltern political agency. In particular, Spivak (2005: 480)
draws attention to the metonymic character of such frameworks of subalternity:

Agency presumes collectivity, which is where a group acts by synecdoche: the part that seems
to agree is taken to stand for the whole . . . A performative contradiction connects the
metonymy and the synecdoche into agential identity.

With such critiques in mind, I present three challenges directed at the formation that is
subaltern urbanism. The first is concerned with the economy of entrepreneurialism, the
second with political agency, and the third with archival and ethnographic recognition.

Itineraries of recognition
Let me return for a moment to the utopian call for post-capitalist worlds by critical
scholars like Gibson-Graham. In keeping with the broader formation that is subaltern
urbanism, this call pivots on an ontological vision of the people’s economy. Gibson-
Graham list a set of community economies marked by the register of difference: squatter,
slum dweller, landless, informal credit. But it can be argued, as I have in my recent work
(Roy, 2010), that these people’s economies are also the active frontiers of contemporary
capitalism, the greenfield sites where new forms of accumulation are forged and
expanded — in the interstices of the slum, in the circuits of microfinance. It is not
surprising that post-capitalist yearnings bear such close resemblance to the frontier
ambitions of economic libertarians like Hernando de Soto. De Soto sees in the ecology
of the slum a world of dead capital waiting to be turned liquid. He is an important
interlocutor in a composition of ideas and practices that I have termed ‘poverty
capital’ — the conversion of poverty into capital, the mining of ‘the fortune at the bottom
of the pyramid’ (Prahalad, 2004). The slum, in its territorial density, represents a crucial
space for bottom-billion capitalism, one where poor populations can be easily rendered
visible for global capital. It is thus that Dharavi, that subaltern site celebrated in the
native refusal of Slumdog Millionaire, is much more than a self-organizing economy of
the people. It is also increasingly visible to global capital as an urban ‘asset’ (Tutton,
2009), the ‘only vast tract of land left that can be made available for fresh construction
activities’ at the heart of Mumbai (Singh, 2007). Mukesh Mehta, the architect who is
leading the controversial Dharavi redevelopment plan, argues that this could be India’s
‘Canary Wharf’ (Tutton, 2009). At the frontiers of redevelopment, the spaces of poverty
celebrated by subaltern urbanism are transformed into what I have termed ‘neoliberal
populism’ (Roy, 2010), a thorough commodification of community economies.

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Similar issues are at stake in the conceptualization of subaltern political agency. While
Benjamin does not suggest that the terrain of occupancy urbanism is immune from
political machinations, he nevertheless presents it as the subversive politics of the poor,
autonomous of developmentalism, state action and real estate capital. But in the work of
Weinstein (2008: 22), land development is also the domain of ‘development mafias’ —
‘local criminal syndicates, often with global connections’. Such mafias operate in
tandem with real estate capital, the state and the police. This too is an occupancy
urbanism — of the powerful — and it exists in complex interpenetration with the
vote-bank politics and territorial claim-making of urban subalterns.

To understand the turn in subaltern studies to the theme of political agency, it is
necessary to pay attention to the broader enterprise of postcolonial theory. In an effort to
erode the imperialism of knowledge, postcolonial theorists, especially those trained in the
dependista tradition, have sought to end ‘epistemic dependency’(Mignolo, 2002: 85). For
Mignolo (ibid.: 90), this means confronting ‘colonial difference’, that which marks the
limits of ‘theorizing and thinking’, that which made the world ‘unthinkable beyond
European (and later, North Atlantic) epistemology’. As an example of ‘liberating reason’,
Mignolo turns to Dussel’s (2000: 473) idea of ‘transmodernity’, where ‘modernity and its
denied alterity, its victims, would mutually fulfill each other in a creative process’.

Subaltern urbanism, with its emphasis on the subaltern as political agent, is a
recuperation of modernity’s supplement, the colonized Other. Particularly important
here is Gidwani’s (2006) conceptualization of ‘subaltern cosmopolitanisms’. Writing
against a cosmopolitanism that postures ‘its provincial and prejudiced European origins
in the name of the “universal” ’, Gidwani (ibid.: 16, 18) draws attention to ‘the
connections that are possible between the different disenfranchised’. Similarly
McFarlane (2007) documents the worldliness of slum politics in Mumbai, designating
these imaginaries and practices as ‘slum cosmopolitanism’. Such interventions lie at the
very heart of postcolonial theory: they disrupt, trouble and thereby decolonize ideas of
modernity and cosmopolitanism. And in doing so, they grant political/postcolonial
agency to the subaltern, although as Jeffrey and McFarlane (2008: 420) note, ‘subaltern
cosmopolitanism is often contradictory and limited in its political effects’.

But what is this postcolonial agency? I am taken with the worldliness of the subaltern,
with the unbounding of the global slum, with the new solidarities and horizontalities made
possible by such transmodern exchanges. But I am also taken with how the ‘colonial
wound’ (Mignolo, 2005: 95) is the occasion for a host of postcolonial centerings, for
violent practices of domination and hegemony. In this transmodernity, postcolonial
experiments inaugurated by emergent nation-states and their megacities generate and
stage global value. Such experiments cannot be read as a reversal of colonial power;
instead they demonstrate the brutal energy of the postcolony. In some of our recent work,
Aihwa Ong and I have sought to analyze how such experimental urbanisms are producing
an interconnected and interreferencedAsia, a complex circuitry and hierarchy of expertise,
investment and development crisscrossing Mumbai, Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai, Manila
and Jakarta (Roy and Ong, 2011). These postcolonial experiments transform the ‘colonial
wound’ into the ideology of an ascendant ‘Asian century’, of a history to be dominated by
the economic powerhouses of a territory imagined as Asia.

It seems to me that in order to tackle the question of subaltern political agency, it is
necessary — as Spivak (2005) has noted — to make a distinction between agency and
identity. If the subaltern is inscribed as the popular, then it is possible to ascribe an
identity to the people’s politics. But if we are to return to Guha’s original sense of the
subaltern as ‘demographic difference’, then this space of subordination cannot be
represented by a coherent identity. At best, subaltern politics can be seen as a
heterogeneous, contradictory and performative realm of political struggle. It is this
performativity that Spivak (ibid.: 482) seeks to capture through a return to the idea of
metonymy: ‘The point is to have access to the situation, the metonym, through a
self-synecdoche that can be withdrawn when necessary rather than confused with

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Here the recent work of Craig Jeffrey (2009) on jugaar is instructive. While subaltern
urbanism tends to see jugaar/jugadu as the inherent make-do spirit of bricolage that
characterizes the slum, Jeffrey presents jugaar as a political entrepreneurship that is
strategically performed by various social classes. Studying how student fixers operate
within an ‘informal economy of state practices’, Jeffrey (ibid.: 205–6) shows how young
men belonging to a rural middle-class engaged in ‘shrewd improvisation’ to tackle a
future of unemployment and economic uncertainty. Jeffrey’s analysis is important for
two reasons. First, it shows how a seemingly subaltern strategy such as jugaar can be
taken up by various social classes and deployed in quite differentiated ways (in this case,
middle-class students could collude with state officials). Second, Jeffrey highlights the
‘moral ambivalence’ associated with jugaar and how such ambivalence was negotiated
through cultural inventions, all of which required drawing upon the social basis of class
power. It turns out then that as with the case of occupancy urbanism or street politics,
jugaar is not the ‘habitus of the dispossessed’ but instead a flexible strategy wielded
differentially by different social classes in the context of urban inequality.

What then is the subaltern? Where then is the subaltern? In her critique of subaltern
studies, Spivak (2005: 476) argues that ‘subalternity is a position without identity’. She
continues: ‘Subalternity is where social lines of mobility, being elsewhere, do not permit
the formation of a recognisable basis of action’. In this sense, the subaltern is neither
habitus nor territory, neither politically subversive nor culturally pragmatic. Against
ontological and topological readings of the subaltern, and building on Spivak’s critique,
I argue that the subaltern marks the limits of archival and ethnographic recognition. Such
an idea returns us to Guha’s (1988) initial interest in challenging the ‘elitism of
historiography’ or Chakrabarty’s (1988: 179) mandate to study the ‘conditions for
knowledge of working-class conditions’, with special attention to the ‘silences’ of ‘ruling
class documents’. But while Guha, Chakrabarty and other members of the Subaltern
Studies Collective seek to recover the history of subaltern classes, Spivak rejects such an
itinerary of recognition. In her work, the subaltern marks the silences of our archives and
annals. It is this conceptualization of the subaltern that I believe is most useful to urban
studies, for it calls into question the conditions for knowledge through which ‘slumdog
cities’ are placed in the world.

Beyond recognition
In my earlier work, I have argued that the study of the twenty-first-century metropolis
requires new geographies of theory (Roy, 2009). Subaltern urbanism is indeed one such
approach. It is a vital and even radical challenge to apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of
the megacity. However, subaltern urbanism tends to remain bound to the study of spaces
of poverty, of essential forms of popular agency, of the habitus of the dispossessed, of the
entrepreneurialism of self-organizing economies. I am interested in a set of theoretical
projects that disrupt subaltern urbanism and thus break with ontological and topological
understandings of subalternity. In the broadest sense I am interested in the following
question: how can we understand the inevitable heterogeneity of Southern urbanism, that
which cannot be contained within the familiar metonymic categories of megacity or slum,
and that which cannot be worlded through the ‘colonial wound’? With this in mind, I
foreground four emergent concepts: periphery, urban informality, zones of exception and
gray spaces. Each concept has a distinctive genealogy and therefore cannot be seen as new
or novel. For example, the idea of periphery can be traced to Latin American dependista
frameworks of world systems and their geographic polarizations. Similarly, the notion of
the informal sector was first put forward in the context of EastAfrican economies, and then
traveled to explain forms of deproletarianization and deregulation in many other parts of
the world. My claim is not that these concepts are new and therefore worthy of attention.
Rather I am interested in how scholars, working in a variety of urban contexts, are using
such concepts to chart new itineraries of research and analysis.

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In a recent treatise on city life, AbdouMaliq Simone (2010) makes the case for the
importance of the periphery in urban life. Simone’s concept of the periphery is
multivalent. By it, he means cities that have been ‘at the periphery of urban analysis’ and
whose urbanism has thereby been ignored (ibid.: 14). By periphery, he also means a
‘space in-between . . . never really brought fully under the auspices of the logic and
development trajectories that characterize a center’ (ibid.: 40). It is the ‘entanglement’ of
periphery and ‘possibility’ that most interests Simone (ibid.: 33). On the one hand, the
periphery — not unlike the slum — is a space produced through the interventions of
humanitarianism, urban restructuring, capital flows, policing and control. But on the
other hand, the periphery is a ‘potentially generative space — a source of innovation and
adaptation . . . potentially destabilizing of the center’ (ibid.: 40).

Is the periphery also a place? Simone (ibid.: 41), following Jacquier, rejects
topological meanings of the periphery and instead uses the term to refer to a ‘range of
fractures, discontinuities, or “hinges” disseminated over urban territories’. But he also
identifies the ‘interstitial zone between urban and rural’ as one of several significant
peripheries (ibid.: 45). Similarly, Holston and Caldeira (2008: 18), seeking an alternative
to the vocabulary of slums, present the autoconstructed peripheries of Brazilian cities as
spaces of the invention of citizenship: ‘Sites of metropolitan innovation’, they argue,
‘often emerge at the very sites of metropolitan degradation’. Here the periphery signifies
a relationship of interdependence in an apparatus of domination but it also refers to a
specific topographical location: the peripheral neighborhoods of the urban poor. Similar
ideas can be found in the work of the Los Angeles School of geography, which is
concerned with how, in the postmodern metropolis, the hinterlands or periphery now
organize evacuated city-cores (Dear and Dahmann, 2008: 269).

The periphery, even in its topological use, is an important conceptual device to decenter
urban analysis. But perhaps most significant is the claim that the periphery is both a space
in the making and a form of making theory (Caldeira, 2009). Simone (2010: 14), for
example, argues that cities at the periphery of urban analysis must be repositioned as an
‘invented latitude’, a ‘swath of urban life running roughly from Dakar to Jakarta’ that has
‘something to do with each other’ and that skirts ‘the usual obligatory reference to cities
of “the North” ’. Here then is an itinerary of recognition that is dramatically different from
that of the dominant map of global and world cities. Here then is a cartography of
transmodernity. But is the periphery as theory a departure from the slum as theory?

I am convinced that the promise of the concept of periphery lies in its ability to
transcend territorial location, to demonstrate various foreclosures that complicate political
agency and to call into question the conditions for knowledge. Simone (ibid.: 62, 28), for
example, highlights how the periphery is also a ‘platform’for ‘anticipatory urban politics’,
one where ‘peripheral status’ can be used as an advantage. However, this is not a habitus
of the dispossessed. Indeed, Simone (ibid.: 99) insists that the ‘politics of anticipation is
not just a form of resistance or simply a politics from below’since ‘these very anticipations
can also be used by more powerful actors and forces’. Caldeira (2008) goes further,
arguing that poor young men of the periphery use cultural tactics such as rap to produce a
‘powerful social critique’. But they also ‘establish a non-bridgeable and non-negotiable
distance between rich and poor, white and black, the centre and the periphery, and
articulate a position of enclosure’. It is the analysis of such paradoxical forms of social
agency that troubles, disrupts and expands the realm of subaltern urbanism.

Urban informality

Subaltern urbanism functions through slum ontologies. Such ontological readings of the
megacity and its urbanisms have repeatedly invoked the idea of the informal. Bayat
(2007) asserts that informal life is the habitus of the dispossessed. Cruz (2007) sees
informal habitation at the global border as an urbanism that transgresses across the

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‘property line’. For Hernando de Soto (2000), the informal represents the grassroots
rebellion of the poor against state bureaucracy; it is a sign of heroic entrepreneurship.
Mike Davis (2004: 24) states that ‘informal survivalism’ is ‘the new primary mode of
livelihood in a majority of Third World cities’. He thereby evokes an older usage of the
term ‘informal’, that of Keith Hart (1973: 61, 68), who identified a ‘world of economic
activities outside the organised labor force’ carried out by an ‘urban sub-proletariat’. In
all such frameworks, the informal remains synonymous with poverty and even
marginality. It remains the territory and habitus of subaltern urbanism.

Against these various interpretations, in my work I have argued that informality must
be understood as an idiom of urbanization, a logic through which differential spatial
value is produced and managed (Roy and AlSayyad, 2004). Urban informality then is not
restricted to the bounded space of the slum or deproletarianized/entrepreneurial labor;
instead, it is a mode of the production of space that connects the seemingly separated
geographies of slum and suburb. The splintering of urbanism does not take place at the
fissure between formality and informality but rather, in fractal fashion, within the
informalized production of space. Informal urbanization is as much the purview of
wealthy urbanites as it is of slum dwellers. These forms of urban informality — from
Delhi’s farmhouses to Kolkata’s new towns to Mumbai’s shopping malls — are no more
legal than the metonymic slum. But they are expressions of class power and can therefore
command infrastructure, services and legitimacy. Most importantly, they come to be
designated as ‘formal’ by the state while other forms of informality remain criminalized.
For example, Weinstein (2008: 23) shows how various shopping centers in Mumbai had
been ‘built illegally . . . by the city’s largest and most notorious mafia organization, on
land belonging to the state government’s public works department’. Or, in the case of
Delhi, Ghertner (2008: 66) notes that a vast proportion of city land-use violates some
planning or building law, such that much of the construction in the city can be viewed as
‘unauthorized’. He poses the vital question of how and why the law has come to
designate slums as ‘nuisance’ and the residents of slums as a ‘secondary category of
citizens’, while legitimizing illegal and informal ‘developments that have the “world-
class” look’. Also in Delhi, Gidwani (2006: 12) characterizes the proliferation of illegal
farmhouses as the ‘urban conquest of outer Delhi’, a process of ‘unauthorized
construction’ that involves ‘cordoning off the few remaining agricultural tracts’.

The valorization of elite informalities and the criminalization of subaltern
informalities produce an uneven urban geography of spatial value. This in turn fuels
frontiers of urban development and expansion. Informalized spaces are reclaimed
through urban renewal, while formalized spaces accrue value through state-authorized
legitimacy. As a concept, urban informality therefore cannot be understood in ontological
or topological terms. Instead, it is a heuristic device that uncovers the ever-shifting urban
relationship between the legal and illegal, legitimate and illegitimate, authorized and
unauthorized. This relationship is both arbitrary and fickle and yet is the site of
considerable state power and violence. Urban informality thus makes possible an
understanding of how the slum is produced through the governmental administration of
population (Chatterjee, 2004), as well as how the bourgeois city and its edifices of
prosperity are produced through the practices of the state. In this sense, urban informality
is a heuristic device that serves to deconstruct the very basis of state legitimacy and its
various instruments: maps, surveys, property, zoning and, most importantly, the law.

Zones of exception

The concept of urban informality denotes a shift from slum ontologies to an analysis of
sovereign power and its various spatialized negotiations. It also denotes a shift from the
territorial imagination of cores and peripheries to the fractal geometries of metropolitan
habitation. For a theory of such spatialities, it is necessary to turn to the work of Aihwa
Ong. While other theorists have explained the territorial logic of neoliberalism as one of
revanchist frontiers (Smith, 1996), spatial dispossession (Harvey, 2005) or the rescaling

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of ‘state spaces’ (Brenner, 2004), Ong (2006: 7) studies ‘market-driven strategies of
spatial fragmentation’. She thus traces patterns of ‘non-contiguous, differently
administered spaces of graduated or variegated sovereignty’, or zones of exception. From
special economic zones to special administrative regions, these zones both fragment and
extend the space of the nation state. Such zoning practices have been particularly visible
in China, where liberalization has coincided with ‘zone fever’ — the formation of
numerous types of zones encompassing economic and technological development zones,
high-technology development zones or science parks, bonded zones or free-trade zones,
border-region economic-cooperative zones, and state tourist-vacation zones (Cartier,
2001: 455). George Lin (2010) thus reports that the thousands of Chinese zones together
cover a territory that exceeds the country’s total urban built-up area. Indeed, one may
ask: in a territory where zones of exception proliferate, what then is the city?

Ong’s work on zones of exception is a crucial counterpoint to subaltern urbanism.
Instead of slum entrepreneurialism, she is concerned with what may be understood as the
entrepreneurial state. Ong (1999: 215–7) thus argues: ‘I maintain that the nation-state —
with its supposed monopoly over sovereignty — remains a key institution in structuring
spatial order’. Such order is produced and managed through ‘a system of graduated
zones’. What is crucial about such zones of exception is the ‘differential deployment of
state power’: that ‘populations in different zones are variously subjected to political
control and to social regulation by state and non-state agencies’. Zones of ‘superior
privileges’ (ibid.: 219) coexist and contrast with zones of cheap-labor regimes;
transnational zones of investment coexist and contrast with transnational zones of
refugee administration; zones of neoliberal rule coexist and contrast with zones that are
exceptions to neoliberalism.

In Ong’s theorization, zones of exception are arrangements of sovereign power and
biopower. She is particularly attentive to the ‘technologies of subjectivity’ and
‘technologies of subjection’ (Ong, 2006: 6) that characterize these systems of zones. Here
her work has important connections to the theme of exception present in the work of
Giorgio Agamben. For Agamben, the space of exception is a state of emergency produced
through the sovereign’s suspension of the juridical order. It is as Derek Gregory (2010b:
154) has noted a ‘legal–lethal space’. But it is also, as Judith Butler (2004: 98, 67) points
out, a state of ‘desubjectivation’, a space where ‘certain subjects undergo a suspension of
their ontological status as subjects when states of emergency are invoked’.

But states of exception cannot be seen to stand outside the spaces of metropolitan
habitation. Rather they indicate a specific ‘legal–lethal’ logic of rule that is ever present
in the seemingly ordinary spaces of the city. Of the various spatial technologies of
exception, Derek Gregory (2010a: 84) notes:

The very language of ‘extraordinary rendition’, ‘ghost prisoners’, and ‘black sites’ implies
something out of the ordinary, spectral, a twilight zone: a serial space of the exception. But this
performative spacing works through the law to annul the law; it is not a ‘state’ of exception that
can be counterpoised to a rule-governed world of ‘normal’ politics and power.

Writing against Agamben, Ong (2006: 22, 23) thus notes that it is not enough to trace the
‘logic of exception’ that is ‘invoked against the politically excluded’ and that is measured
in relation to a ‘universal norm of humanity’. In the multiple and differentiated zones of
exception that she documents, rule unfolds through freedom, rights-talk, virtue,
nationalism and many other ‘visions of the good life’.

Gray spaces

In his analysis of the global war prison, Gregory (2010a: 57) interprets such spaces of
exception additionally as ‘a potential space of political modernity’. It is a ‘profoundly
colonial apparatus of power’ that gives ‘form and force’ to such spaces. But, he notes, the
‘metropolitan preoccupations of Foucault and Agamben more or less erase’ this colonial
present. The global war prison as a metonym for colonial violence thus marks the limits

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of archival and ethnographic recognition. It is also the poignant counterpoint to that other
space of political modernity — the popular politics of the subaltern vaunted by
Chatterjee (2004).

Gregory’s mandate to take up the study of colonialism and its war cultures leads us to
the concept of ‘gray spaces’ put forward by OrenYiftachel. Writing in the context of what
he designates as ‘urban colonialism’, Yiftachel (2009a: 88) describes ‘gray spaces’ as
‘those positioned between the “whiteness” of legality/approval/safety, and the
“blackness” of eviction/destruction/death’. He notes that these spaces are tolerated and
managed but only ‘while being encaged within discourses of “contamination”,
“criminality” and “public danger” to the desired “order of things” ’ (ibid.: 89). There are
important connections between ‘gray space’ and other concepts that I have presented
earlier in this article. ‘Gray spacing’ makes evident the flexibility of sovereign power that
is at the heart of Ong’s analysis of zones of exception. For Yiftachel (2009b: 247), such
‘gray spacing’ takes place at the ‘periphery of peripheries’, for example the
impoverishment of indigenous Bedouins by an ethnocratic Israeli state. At these
colonized margins, Yiftachel (2008: 366) argues, ‘bare life’ must be understood ‘as daily
routine, not as exception’. And finally, Yiftachel (2009a: 92)is particularly interested, as
I am, in analyzing the manner in which state power formalizes and criminalizes different
spatial configurations:

The understanding of gray space as stretching over the entire spectrum, from powerful
developers to landless and homeless ‘invaders’, helps us conceptualize two associated dynamics
we may term here ‘whitening’and ‘blackening’. The former alludes to the tendency of the system
to ‘launder’ gray spaces created ‘from above’ by powerful or favorable interests. The latter
denotes the process of ‘solving’ the problem of marginalized gray space by destruction,
expulsion or elimination. The state’s violent power is put into action, turning gray into black.

Yiftachel’s concept of gray spaces both extends and challenges the idea of ‘colonial
difference’ and thus the epistemic and political location of subalternity. In settings of
colonial difference, can the archives and annals yield the voice of the subaltern? Or is
such a voice and existence constantly blackened, constantly erased?

Vanishing points
The elitism of historiography, which sparked the work of the Subaltern Studies
Collective, also lurks within the project that is urban studies. Bunnell and Maringanti
(2010) have recently designated this tendency as ‘metrocentricity’. Subaltern urbanism is
an important intervention in such conditions for knowledge. It calls into question the
‘sanctioned ignorance’ that attends metrocentricity. Subaltern urbanism is also a politics
of recognition, one that seeks to make visible what McFarlane (2008: 341) has called
‘urban shadows’, ‘spaces at the edge of urban theory’. This is the slum as theory; this is
the periphery as theory.

But in this article I have also called for a disruption of the ontological and topological
readings of subalternity, those that celebrate the habitus of ‘slumdog cities’ and assign
unique political agency to the mass of urban subalterns. For this I have turned to
four emergent concepts — peripheries, urban informality, zones of exception, and gray
spaces — that together present the possibility of a different valence of Southern theory.
Each of these concepts is, in Mouffe’s (2000: 12) sense, a ‘constitutive outside’, an
outside that by being inside introduces a ‘radical undecidability’ to the analysis of
urbanism. Each then is — to borrow a term from both Mouffe (1993) and Gregory
(2010a) — a ‘vanishing point’. For Mouffe (1993: 85), a ‘vanishing point’ is ‘something
to which we must constantly refer, but that which can never be reached’. This perhaps is
the most productive aspect of the analytic concept of subaltern. With this in mind, the
four emergent concepts presented here can be read as vanishing points at the limits of
itineraries of recognition.

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subalterne et à ses alternatives. Il met donc en avant des stratégies analytiques
nouvelles, avec des catégories théoriques qui transcendent les métonymes habituels du
sous-développement comme mégacité, taudis, politique de masse et habitus des
défavorisés. Quatre catégories sont présentées à la place: périphéries, informalité
urbaine, zones d’exception et espaces gris. Reposant sur l’urbanisme des pays du Sud,
elles dérogent aux conceptions ontologiques et topologiques des sujets subalternes et des
espaces subalternes.

238 Ananya Roy

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Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect


journal homepage: www.elsevier .com/locate /geoforum

(Re-)Conceptualizing water inequality in Delhi, India through a feminist
political ecology framework

Yaffa Truelove
Department of Geography, Cambridge University, Downing Site, Cambridge CB2 2EN, UK

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Feminist political ecology
Urban India
Environmental politics

0016-7185/$ – see front matter � 2011 Elsevier Ltd. A

E-mail address:

This article demonstrates how a feminist political ecology (FPE) framework can be utilized to expand
scholarly conceptualizations of water inequality in Delhi, India. I argue that FPE is well positioned to com-
plement and deepen urban political ecology work through attending to everyday practices and micropol-
itics within communities. Specifically, I examine the embodied consequences of sanitation and ‘water
compensation’ practices and how patterns of criminality are tied to the experience of water inequality.
An FPE framework helps illuminate water inequalities forged on the body and within particular urban
spaces, such as households, communities, streets, open spaces and places of work. Applying FPE
approaches to the study of urban water is particularly useful in analyzing inequalities associated with
processes of social differentiation and their consequences for everyday life and rights in the city. An
examination of the ways in which water practices are productive of particular urban subjectivities and
spaces complicates approaches that find differences in distribution and access to be the primary lens
for viewing how water is tied to power and inequality.

� 2011 Elsevier Ltd. A

ll rights reserved.

1 Identity and subjectivity, while often used interchangeably in literature, stem

1. Introduction

On any given day in Delhi, India, residents across the city de-
pend on a variety of informal, and often illegal, techniques and
practices to access water and sanitation. Although Delhi reports
relatively high levels of water running through its piped infrastruc-
ture, the water supply is characterized by such unreliability that
even some of Delhi’s more elite neighborhoods average only
0–2 h of running water per day (Zerah, 2000; Sagane, 2000). For
example, official data estimate that the municipal water supply
provides 250 l per person per day, yet a combination of unequal
distribution, ‘‘missing or wasted water,’’ and chronic unreliability
leave many households’ water and sewerage requirements unmet
(DJB, 2007; Delhi HDR, 2006; Zerah, 2000; Kandra et al., 2004).

Research on Delhi’s water elucidates the broad range of every-
day ‘‘compensation’’ practices that residents utilize to access water
and sanitation facilities, including staying back from work to ac-
cess water, walking miles in search of sanitation, and procuring
water from illegal and informal sources (Zerah, 1998, 2000; Haider,
2000). The meanings and consequences of such practices challenge
scholars to grapple more fully with the complex ways that social

ll rights reserved.

power, identity and subject formation1 are tied to the regulation
of water resources. Water is closely linked with gender, class, and
religious identities and is embroiled in competing understandings
of the urban environment and the state (Batra, 2004; Coles and
Wallace, 2005; Bapat and Agarwal, 2003). As such, the meanings
and consequences of water practices vary considerably, shaping
power, rights and citizenship in the city (Swyngedouw, 1999,
2004). While urban political ecological (UPE) analyses have given
attention to the socio-environmental processes that produce water
inequality in the city, such studies have been more inclined towards
analyzing the production of class and distributional dimensions of
inequality on a city-wide scale rather than illuminating how multi-
ple social differences are (re)produced in and through everyday
water practices (Swyngedouw, 1995, 2004; Bakker, 2000, 2003;
Gandy, 2008; Kaika, 2003).

This article contends that a feminist political ecology (FPE)
framework is particularly useful for analyzing everyday dimen-
sions of resource inequality through directing attention to the

from two theoretical strands. Subjectivity comes from a Foucauldian approach to
power that gives less attention to human agency, but rather attends to the discursive
rendering of subjects. Studies of identity are more inclined to acknowledge how
human agency interacts with a variety of other (discursive and structural) forces in
shaping identities (Silvey, 2004, pp. 498–499). In this article, I analyze how discourses
and practices shape subjectivities, but also attend to the agency of urban dwellers in
creatively navigating their lives and identities.

2 Baud et al. (2008) reveal that poverty in Delhi may be highest in areas that are not
slums. My focus on slum women is not intended to suggest that they constitute the
most impoverished group.

144 Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152

ways daily practices are produced by, and productive of, gender,
class and other social power relations. In particular, through
examining the embodied consequences of water and sanitation
practices, I will argue that an FPE framework enables a re-
conceptualization of water inequality to more fully include
inequalities associated with processes of social and spatial differ-
entiation and their consequences for daily life in the city. Feminist
approaches to political ecology are particularly useful for under-
standing the production of, and inter-connections between, scales
of analysis, specifically revealing how everyday practice is tied to
the construction of scales such as the body, household, and city
at large. An understanding of the ways in which gendered and cul-
tural water practices are productive of particular social differences
disrupts a framework in which distributional differences and
‘‘access and control’’ become the only means for understanding
how water practices are tied to power and inequality.

Understanding the ‘everydayness’ of water is particularly
important and timely given recent global efforts to create a unified
discourse of how to solve global ‘water problems’ (Goldman, 2005,
2007). For example, Goldman (2007) demonstrates the ways that
international discourses on water are converging to serve the nar-
row interests of international water companies, primarily support-
ing privatization as the key mechanism for providing ‘water for all.’
Internationalized discursive formations on privatization serve to
promote a nearly uniform set of proposed solutions for addressing
highly diverse water problems that range from irrigation water
shortages in India to inadequate water flows in townships in
Johannesburg, South Africa. Goldman reports an alarming lack of
debate and difference within forums such as the World Commis-
sion on Water and the World Water Council, illuminating how a
limited set of global actors and interests dominate international
water doctrine and policy, and are congruently able to wield a
powerful influence on both the state and even local water-related
NGOs (Goldman, 2007). The silencing of a diverse range of ideas,
opinions, and actors within international water forums ultimately
sidelines the complex ways that place specific dynamics and daily
lived practices shape drastically different waterscapes. By attend-
ing to embodied experiences, this research seeks to further under-
stand how urban water regulation is experienced within the
unique context of Delhi’s urban geography.

The article stems from qualitative fieldwork conducted in Delhi,
India between January and August of 2008. Everyday water prac-
tices are predominately carried out by girls and women (Agarwal,
1992; Bapat and Agarwal, 2003; Haider, 2000), and this group also
faces a unique set of obstacles with regard to sanitation. I worked
with women whose socio-economic class gave them little financial
recourse to invest in purchasing water or water-related technolo-
gies, conducting 40 interviews with women either living in slums,
or former slum-dwellers who have moved to a resettlement col-
ony. Three focus groups (one from each colony studied) and partic-
ipant observation included men in order to gain data across gender
groups. The research specifically took place in two slum settle-
ments in South Delhi and one recently developed resettlement col-
ony on the periphery of Delhi. The two slum settlements are
classified as illegal within government discourse, housing short
and long term slum-dwellers who have no legal rights or owner-
ship over their homes. The resettlement colony consisted of legal
housing lots established for some of the families who lost their
homes in recent slum demolitions. However, many families in
the resettlement colony were unable to access legal deeds to a
house, becoming homeless squatters on land far outside of Delhi’s
urban center.

Lastly, while the experiences of slum and resettlement colony
residents differ, the inclusion of a resettlement colony in the re-
search helps to further capture the range of experiences and prac-
tices that women engage in to supplement water insufficiencies

across Delhi’s diverse land space.2 The two slum colonies in South
Delhi were made up of Hindu families, spanning multiple caste
groups; participants from the resettlement colony included both
Hindu and Muslims, although the connection between water and
religion in Delhi requires further ongoing research. Data from each
colony illustrates the ways that the conceptual scope of water
inequality can be broadened and deepened by attending to the ways
that practices are tied to space, identity, and local politics that serve
to produce gender, class and other social differences.

2. Gaps and intersections between UPE and FPE

By focusing on the politics of water, and critiquing purely tech-
nocratic approaches, urban political ecology (UPE) scholarship of-
fers a critical framework for dissecting how water is connected
to social power in the city. Through employing the concept of
‘socionature,’ or the idea that environments (in this case urban)
are both socially and ecologically produced, urban political ecolo-
gists focus on the ways that resources such as water are shaped
by social relations of power, not just ‘‘natural’’ or ‘‘scientific/tech-
nological’’ factors (Heynen et al., 2006; Gandy, 2002). Gandy states:

Water is a multiple entity: it possesses its own biophysical laws
and properties, but in its interaction with human societies it is
simultaneously shaped by political, cultural, and scientific fac-
tors (2002, p. 22).

It is through dissecting the links between control and access to
water and social relations of power that scholars demonstrate the
ways that urban waterscapes are never socially, nor ecologically,
neutral (Swyngedouw et al., 2002, p. 125).

For example, recent UPE research seeks to tease apart the his-
torical social power geometries that shape urban water flows,
and thus who benefits, and who is disadvantaged, from particular
water regulation mechanisms (Bakker, 2003; Kaika, 2003;
Swyngedouw, 1995, 2004). By placing class and water distribution
differences in the center of analyses, this scholarship is particularly
useful in illuminating the production of uneven waterscapes,
including the production of inequalities in water access, control
and pricing for urban residents. For example, Swyngedouw’s work
on Guayaquil, Ecuador illuminates the exclusions inherent in the
organization of Guayaquil’s public water that work to continually
marginalize and disempower the urban poor, primarily migrants
(Swyngedouw, 1995, 2004). While he notes general ecological lim-
itations on the availability of fresh water resources in the region,
Swyngedouw finds the aggregate water supply in the city to be
nonetheless sufficient for providing high per capita water levels.
Tracing the politics that have shaped city decisions concerning
the infrastructure of the piped water supply, Swyngedouw uses a
Marxist-informed analysis to reveal the mechanisms that locate
privileged middle and upper class homes with subsidized, low-cost
city water, while the poor remain disconnected and continually
dependent on expensive privately vended water supplies. The
state’s discursive deployment of a ‘productivist logic’ authorizes
priority to be placed on water production and transmission over
problems associated with maintenance, organizational reform,
and water treatment.

In terms of conceptualizing water inequality, critical urban
political ecology examinations of water have largely focused on
detailing how social power relations serve to produce class and
community-wide distributional inequities within the regulation
of water in cities. However, by conceiving the politics of control

Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152 145

as primarily nested in city-wide structures of water governance,
urban political ecologists devote less time to everyday practices
and the micropolitics of control that are forged between residents
as they respond to inadequacies in the public water supply. Hence,
urban political ecology studies focusing on unequal ‘‘access and
control’’ may inadvertently sideline additional dimensions, scales
and spaces of water-related inequality. These include investiga-
tions of how informal everyday water activities forge subjectivities
and additional dimensions of inequality, such as unequal bodily
experiences, access to rights and critical life opportunities within
(and through) specific urban spaces. This article seeks to detail
some of the ways that FPE is well situated to address current gaps
and silences in the UPE literature, asserting that the two over-
lapping frameworks provide a deepening of how both literatures
conceptualize and analyze urban water inequality.

Specifically, an FPE framework shares a UPE focus on water
inequalities that extend beyond differences in water quantities
and quality to show how water is connected to social power. How-
ever, an FPE approach provides a more focused attention on con-
structions of social difference and micropolitics within the scale
and spaces of the everyday, an area of analysis often under-
explored within UPE. In particular, FPE approaches help illuminate
inequalities forged on the body and within particular urban spaces
(such as households, communities, streets, open spaces and places
of work) that UPE has been slow to account for, demonstrating how
gender and other social differences operate (and are re-produced)
within communities and class groups themselves. Such an ap-
proach is well positioned to deepen UPE work that focuses on class
and city-wide inequalities by more specifically tackling the multi-
ple meanings and micropolitics of daily water and sanitation prac-
tices. For example, an FPE framework supports analyses of who
accesses water and sanitation, the practices by which access is
achieved, and the physical, social and spatial meanings of the mul-
tiple water activities of everyday life. As FPE has had a predomi-
nately rural focus (occasionally including cities in the global
North), the rich literature within UPE on the socionature of water
in cities provides a strong foundation for FPE analyses to branch
into cities in the urban South.

3. FPE Contributions to conceptualizations of urban water

Rocheleau et al. (1996, p. 4), in their initial volume Feminist
Political Ecology, state: ‘‘[FPE] seeks to understand and interpret lo-
cal experience in the context of global processes of environmental
and economic change.’’ By drawing from a rich tradition of feminist
analyses of informal practices and the economies and micropolitics
of everyday life (for example, Cameron and Gibson-Graham, 2003;
Nagar et al., 2002; Mohanty, 2003), this work examines how lived
experiences and practices are productive of, and produced through,
gendered ideologies, structural power relations, and processes of
both local and global change. For example, Nagar et al. (2002) call
for increasing research into the ‘‘informal’’ spaces and practices of
globalization, including household relations and the feminization
of spaces and labor within communities in order to reveal how
gender and women’s lives are shaped by larger economic forces.
Similarly, Mohanty (2003) argues that the ‘‘micropolitics of con-
text, subjectivity, and struggle’’ provide critical insights into the
operation and consequences of global economic and political sys-
tems. Such analyses allow us to link ‘‘everyday life and local gen-
dered contexts and ideologies to the larger, transnational
political and economic structures and ideologies of capitalism’’
(Mohanty, 2003, p. 225).

One way in which FPE studies examine everyday environmental
practices in the context the production of inequality and difference

is by focusing on shifting regimes of gendered access and control
over resources at the local scale of households and communities.
For example, Mehta’s work (1996) on the Garhwal Himalaya region
in India analyzes changes in rural women’s agricultural practices in
order to understand the ways that land reforms have diminished
women’s control over and access to agricultural resources, and
consequently re-shaped the meaning and lived experience of gen-
der and space in local communities. While men and women used
to work together on agricultural plots, Mehta (1996) demonstrates
how men’s increasing roles in cash economies serve to further seg-
regate and de-value women’s ‘‘private’’ work on agricultural plots
as non-monetary and lacking social prestige. Mehta notes:

‘‘While men’s spaces are expanding (if not literally, then in
terms of the importance associated with them), women’s are
shrinking without enabling them access to new arenas of pres-
tige’’ (1996, p. 193).

Recent feminist contributions to the study of water and sanita-
tion specifically analyze the importance of everyday practices in
shaping gender ideologies and processes of social differentiation,
illuminating the complex ramifications of water and sanitation
governance strategies (O’Reilly, 2010; Sultana, 2009; Harris,
2009; Laurie, 2005). Work in South Asia particularly illustrates
the complex ways that gender is experienced, contested and re-
enforced within households and communities through differing
lived experiences of water and sanitation regulation (O’Reilly,
2010; Sultana, 2009; Meinzen-Dick and Zwarteveen, 1998;
Zwarteveen and Meinzen-Dick, 2001). For example, O’Reilly
(2010) details the ways that a German-funded sanitation project
in rural Rajasthan re-shaped gendered practices, consequently pro-
ducing new gendered ideologies and unequal gender spaces for
women and men. While the project was intended to alleviate
gender inequalities by including women and focusing on their
empowerment, O’Reilly finds that the installation of latrines within
homes re-configured gender inequalities, at times with the unin-
tended consequence of confining women’s mobility. She states,

‘‘Having a latrine at home did not eradicate gendered, social
conventions about women’s modesty. Latrines did not enable
women to move about freely or relieve themselves uncon-
cernedly. Instead, women’s need for privacy from men was
reconfigured around having a latrine at home’’ (O’Reilly, 2010,
p. 53).

Similarly, Sultana’s examination of the materialities of the body
within her work on arsenic and the water supply in Bangladesh
illuminates the ways that socio-spatial subjectivities are re-
produced in water management that reinforce existing inequities
(Sultana, 2009, p. 427). By demonstrating the ways that water
experiences are inherently bodily and physical, she finds that the
embodied practices of navigating arsenic and accessing household
water produce particular gender subjectivities. For example,
Sultana details the ways notions of femininity are reinforced and/
or challenged as a result of the spatialized nature of tubewell con-
tamination. Women’s entry into formerly masculinized spaces to
procure safer water reconfigures notions of femininity, while
women’s avoidance of such spaces requires them to access water
with greater contamination, yielding physical and symbolic
ramifications. Sultana highlights the need for further research on
everyday bodily practices of water, stating:

‘‘Paying attention to embodied subjectivities demonstrates the
ways that embodiment and spatial relations both enable and
constrain certain relations to water’’ (Sultana 2009, p. 439).

Such studies demonstrate the ways that everyday practices
relating to resources and technology contribute to social

146 Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152

differentiation and new gender configurations of power. This work
supports the recent call within a special issue on gender and water
within Gender, Place and Culture for increased work on ‘‘the multi-
faceted ways that experiences, discourses and policies are gen-
dered, and how gender is created through processes of access,
use and control of water resources’’ (O’Reilly et al., 2009, p. 381).

Feminist approaches that give attention to embodied experi-
ences and the micropolitics of resource use and management are
particularly relevant for broadening and deepening scholarly ap-
proaches to water inequality. By examining the meanings and spa-
tialities of everyday practices, particularly in reproducing patterns
of social difference and exclusion, FPE scholarship gives analytical
attention to the myriad and diverse water practices that residents
employ unequally within communities. If practices are conceptual-
ized as anything a person does that has ‘‘intentional or uninten-
tional political implications’’ (Ortner, 1984, p. 393), then
analyzing unequal water access practices and their consequences
begins to open a whole world of activities that are marked by a pol-
itics of difference and inequality. Consequences of the practices of
access may range from the effects of unequal labor and missed
work to gain water and illnesses associated with contaminated
water sources, to the gendering of particular bodies and spaces
that become associated with specific water roles (Zerah, 2000;
Mehta, 1996). Only when analyses target inequalities that result
from differing everyday practices does it become apparent that in-
creased quantities of water and lower pricing may nonetheless do
little to improve either water justice or the equitable distribution
of benefits across communities (Truelove, 2006; Coles and Wallace,
2005). Such analyses are thus needed to further illuminate the
ways that some actors are both dominant and subordinate within
the relationships that shape access, an area within urban political
ecology work that requires much further scholarly attention (Ribot
and Peluso, 2003, p. 159).

In particular, the practice of accessing is often achieved via one’s
positions and relationships within households and communities,
instead of from one’s interaction directly with a local water source.
Thus, residents depend on a variety of relationships, spaces, net-
works, water-related understandings, and local political arrange-
ments to find and use water, demonstrating the need to dissect
not only intra-community dynamics but also intra-household dif-
ferences. Everything from one’s age and gender identity to one’s
position in networks of social capital shape the means by which
water is actually personally procured, the household distribution
of such water, and the meaning of particular water-related interac-
tions—which in turn are productive of subjectivities. An FPE ap-
proach targets the social relations surrounding who accesses and
how access is achieved, including direct versus indirect access
within communities. If such micropolitics are by-passed by schol-
ars and practitioners, the poor become lumped together as the
recipients of uneven urban rights and governance, rather than ac-
tors who may experience differing levels of empowerment or dis-
empowerment as they negotiate daily spaces and networks for
gaining and controlling their own personal water (Ribot and
Peluso, 2003). An analytical focus on practices thus helps to illumi-
nate the ways in which additional subjectivities intersect with, and
complicate class positions in day to day life.

As FPE work has predominately focused on rural locations
(Schroeder, 1996, 1997; Rocheleau et al., 1996; Carney, 2004), with
most scholarship on the urban taking place in Northern cities, com-
bining the insights of FPE and UPE can provide a useful contribu-
tion to much needed research on the lived experience of resource
inequality in cities across the global South. Such research can
examine micropolitics within and between communities produce
particular urban socio-environments (Swyngedouw, 2004;
Swyngedouw et al., 2002; Heynen et al., 2006), and further theori-
zations on the relationship between bodies and cities (for example,

see Grosz, 1998) to explore how ‘‘the city is made and made over
into the simulacrum of the body—and the body, in its turn, is trans-
formed, ‘‘citified,’’ urbanized as a distinctive metropolitan body’’
(Grosz, 1998, p. 42). This exciting cross-fertilization can further
work on how the body and the city are in part produced through
the regulation of resources such as water and are connected to pat-
terns of social inclusion and exclusion and rights to urban

4. Delhi’s urban poor: in the nexus of the planned and
unplanned city

Before turning to an analysis of daily practice, it is important to
situate residents’ diverse water experiences within broader pro-
cesses of historical change and development in the city. In partic-
ular, this section details the ways that Delhi’s urbanization since
independence has both relied on, and consistently marginalized,
economically disadvantaged residents in contradictory ways—
helping to situate contemporary experiences of everyday rights
to resources in the city. From the first decade of its independence,
the state declared Delhi to be threatened by ‘‘haphazard and un-
planned growth’’ (quoted in Sajha Manch, 1999, p. 3), and launched
the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1957 with the mandate
of overseeing city planning in an orderly fashion (Sajha Manch,
1999, p. 3). Faced with managing residents’ many diverse uses of
city space, including Shahjehanabad’s mixed land use, the DDA
authored and attempted to enact Delhi’s First Master Plan, calling
for a hygienic and properly ordered city (Baviskar, 2003, p. 91).
Ironically, the planning of such a city and subsequent construction
and state rationalization of city space, relied upon large popula-
tions of working class laborers, whom the city had no plans for
housing or incorporating. Thus Baviskar notes, ‘‘The building of
planned Delhi was mirrored in the simultaneous mushrooming
of the unplanned Delhi’’ (Baviskar, 2003, p. 91). The unplanned
Delhi consisted of migrants and poor workers (and their spaces
of home and livelihood) whom the city desperately needed for its
development initiatives, but who could only find residences
through building shanty towns and residing in slums within the
city as well as its periphery—the very structures and specter the
city planners wished to eradicate. Thus, the unplanned city was a
necessary, if contradictory, component of Delhi’s planning and
development (Baviskar, 2003, p. 91; Dupont et al., 2000; Dupont,
2007). With every renewal of the state’s efforts to create infrastruc-
ture, thousands of migrants entered the city to work as laborers on
its many development initiatives and often struggled to carve out
livelihoods after the termination of temporary employment.

While clearly marginal within the state’s vision of its new or-
derly city, residents residing in slums nonetheless began to secure
their housing and livelihoods through both bribes and the inter-
vention of local politicians, who needed to secure the votes of this
burgeoning population. As this population began to grow to mil-
lions, Chatterjee notes the rise of vast informal structures to
accommodate the needs of the ‘‘unplanned city’’ within urban cen-
ters across India roughly beginning in the 1970s, stating:

One might say that this was perhaps the most remarkable
development in the governance of Indian cities in the 1970s
and 1980s—the emergence of an entire substructure of parale-
gal arrangements, created or at least recognized by governmen-
tal authorities, for the integration of low-wage laboring and
service populations into the public life of the city (2004, p. 137).

Entire economies and the development of growth and employ-
ment for these populations grew out of informal practices and the
mixed land use of slums (Solomon, 2004). The degree to which the
urban poor were actually extended secure rights is certainly

Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152 147

contentious, but the state nonetheless was forced during particular
development projects to at least ‘‘tolerate’’ and even extend ameni-
ties to the urban poor and growing slums in order to facilitate the
building of its planned architecture. For example, the city under-
went rapid construction in the 1970s to erect building facilities
for the 1982 Asian Games to be held in Delhi. This urban project
required negotiations and accommodations (albeit temporary) for
the housing and employment of an estimated one million laborers
(Baviskar 2003, p. 92).

However, with economic liberalization projects in the mid-
1980s, and the more recent mobilization to turn Delhi into a global
center, both the state and middle-class have articulated over-
lapping critiques of prior ‘‘welfarist’’ policies. While Delhi’s concur-
rent Master Plans (specifically the plan for 2001, and the Draft Plan
for 2021) continue to articulate the goals of creating a modern,
rationalized city space, neoliberal discourse is now dominating
the logic of how to enact further development, justifying the demo-
lition of squatter settlements for the sake of cleaning the city’s
spaces and creating a more aesthetic ideal (Ghertner, 2010; Dupont
et al., 2000). This has resulted in efforts to de-industrialize the city
and a city-wide call for limiting (working class) employment gen-
eration in order to make room for global circuits of finance and ser-
vices. The criminalization of the poor, which I discuss in greater
detail below with regard to water and gender, provides substanti-
ation for changing notions of rights and citizenship in the city,
mirroring what Mitchell calls, in reference to New York City, the
‘‘re-establishment of exclusionary citizenship as just and good’’
(Mitchell, 2003, p. 183). Here, quality of life and urban citizenship
are proclaimed as distinct rights of the middle and upper classes, at
the expense (and even erasure) of the ‘‘quality of life’’ of the urban
poor, who are often criminalized in the process of re-making Delhi
(Truelove and Mawdsley, 2011).

5. Introduction to Delhi’s unequal waterscape

The urban poor, now constituting roughly one third of Delhi’s
population of 15 million, have particularly vulnerable water access,
but residents across social groups face regular problems in procur-
ing water. The water supply is marked by such dramatic unreliabil-
ity that the majority of residents engage in informal, and
supplemental, water sources and practices (Zerah, 2000; Tovey,
2002). Unreliability of the public water supply is categorized by
the intermittent hours that water runs, insufficient and irregular
pressure of water when it is running, sudden breakdowns in infra-
structure such that water may cease to flow for days or weeks at a
time, and problems with contamination (Zerah, 2000, p. 53; Sajha
Manch, 1999). In fact, it is estimated that the inadequacies of pub-
lic water provisions are so extreme that residents spend around Rs.
3 billion ($60 million) each year to counter unreliability – twice the
municipality’s total expenditure on its water supply (Zerah, 1998,

Millions of Delhi’s poor lack official connections, and even
rights, to public water supplies (Delhi HDR, 2006), and this popu-
lation is sporadically serviced by DJB tanker water deliveries. Res-
idents living in unauthorized colonies3 (where private land has
been exchanged without government sanction) and slum settle-
ments have no legal access to the piped water supply. Those who
have been (often forcefully) re-located from slums to legal resettle-
ment colonies often cannot access Delhi’s central piped water infra-
structure because such colonies reside far away on Delhi’s periphery.
Although such resettlement colonies now provide a legal means to
water, the water provided by the state via tubewells is often

3 Unauthorized colonies house residents from diverse income groups, including
poor households as well as members of the middle class.

insufficient, erratic, and highly contaminated—as it is untreated
ground water. Occupants thus often complain that accessing ‘‘ille-
gal’’ water and sanitation in slums, though far from perfect, was in
reality a large step up from the legal provisions provided by the state
in some of Delhi’s recent resettlement colonies.

In addition, all residents face problems associated with poor
water quality (Zerah, 2000). While more extreme examples of this
can be seen in the 1988 cholera outbreak, affecting over 30,000 res-
idents, diarrhea and other water-related illnesses remain a regular
problem, especially in those homes where water treatment is not
employed as a strategy (Voluntary Health Association Delhi,
1994). There remains wide debate about the sources of water con-
tamination among state officials, scientists, activists and residents,
with competing claims ranging from the contamination of most
ground water to the city’s failure to provide healthful piped water
(Zerah, 2000; Batra, 2004; DJB, 2007).

Residents across Delhi resort to a wide variety of measures and
compensation tactics to procure daily water, from locating open
taps and water tankers to illegal connections, urban ponds and
the use of handpumps (Batra, 2004). As the price for piped water
remains highly subsidized by the state, the costs to the poor,
who must frequently seek water from non-state sources, remain
disproportionately high (Batra, 2004; Delhi HDR, 2006). Since the
responsibility to gain and manage household water often fall to
women and girls, the consequences and dangers associated with
accessing both water and sanitation differ significantly across so-
cial groups and contribute to processes of stratification and social
differentiation, as I will discuss in fuller detail below. Because res-
idents employ a diverse range of practices and tactics as they inter-
act with city water, or the lack thereof, the scope for inequality as it
relates to everyday practice is quite broad and requires inquiries
into many avenues of everyday living.

6. Embodying everyday water practices across three study sites

Women within the three communities studied depict their so-
cial positions and access to rights—both within households and
communities—as being tied to the ramifications they face in com-
pensating for Delhi’s ‘‘unreliable’’ water supply. As one woman
from a slum summarized,

‘‘Only women go to fetch water. Our husbands always think
about their work and job, but they never think about collecting
water. They of course need water, but they do not have the
headache of collecting water. They do not want to know which
types of problems are being faced by ladies in fetching water.’’

While women and girls certainly face differing sets of life con-
ditions, some finding wider networks (including neighbors and
employers) to depend upon for procuring and managing household
water, women across locations consistently describe the risks, haz-
ards, and shame that circumscribe daily practices. Women’s bodies
encounter differing degrees of gendered hardships, physical labor,
and public shame that are shaped by their situated position within
families, communities, and class groups in the city. Women’s sub-
jectivities and experience of difference are like-wise impacted by
their creative navigation of bodily practices and their life’s circum-
stances (Nightingale, 2011).

Bodily experiences, including the wear and tear of water labor,
water-related health problems, the physical experience of crimi-
nalization for illegal practices and the disciplining required for
water-related health issues (including diarrhea and menstruation
for example), are intimately tied to the experience of urban space
and rights. Such embodied experiences serve to re-enforce gen-
dered and classed social differences, materially shaping and con-
straining physical hardships and life opportunities while

148 Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152

discursively producing social differences and particular groups of
women as excluded from rights and spaces in the city. Thus, social
status and the meanings of gender, class and at times criminality
become mapped onto the body through the physicality of access-
ing water and sanitation, as well as the social and emotional con-
sequences and ramifications of the practices of access itself. Here,
the material practices, conditions and encounters of the body are
firmly tied to the symbolic experience of difference (Nightingale,

For example, girls and young women often experience a con-
stricting and re-patterning of movement and spatial mobility in
the city due to problems accessing water that leads to a simulta-
neous re-shaping of life opportunities. Due to the infrequency of
tanker water deliveries, girls are often kept out of school to stay
home and help with either procuring tanker water or watching
the youngest children while older women leave on water outings.
This further jeopardizes these women’s available hours for paid
employment, as well as time for other domestic responsibilities.
The curtailment of opportunities (from income to education) due
to water and sanitation activities reinforces a further level of phys-
ical insecurity and emotional violence, as some women become
locked in a feedback cycle that brings them into distinct spaces
and networks in order to access water and sanitation.

One example of the gendered spatiality of water access can be
seen in women’s efforts to access water within their work spaces.
Similar to Mehta’s (1996) work on the ways that gendered re-
source practices lead to a devaluation of women’s work spaces
and access to social prestige in rural India, women often experi-
ence deleterious effects as water practices spill over into work
spaces. Women describe the ways that daily water problems fur-
ther the physical and psychological hazards they faced as part-time
domestic workers in middle-class homes. Here, women turn to
their employers to gain extra buckets of water (due to the failure
or inadequacy of tanker deliveries), sometimes two to three times
per week, stating that this type of water dependence gives employ-
ers an extra advantage to withhold pay and/or make increasing de-
mands on their time and labor. One woman states:

‘‘In order to take water regularly from our workplace, we have
to give them [our employers] more time than normal. Also,
we have to always make them happy to get water; it always
takes a lot of energy.’’

The loss of a degree of control over their labor and negotiating
power, coupled with the physical and emotional stress of some-
times working extra hours for less pay, indicates how the space
of the work place takes on new gendered meanings and con-
straints. Water access practices contribute to the devaluation of
women’s labor and rights within spaces of work, placing increased
constraints on women’s leverage and rights relating to their
employment. However, women who creatively cultivate a reliance
on employers for water often experience greater water and finan-
cial security at times when tankers fail to come. Such women find a
way to continue to maintain some level of income and save time
from scouting for alternate water sources.

The hazards, risks and shame involved in entering dangerous
spaces for both sanitation and water activities also take on embod-
ied consequences that serve to re-produce the experience and
meaning of over-lapping gender and class subjectivities in the city.
For example, due to a lack of local toilet facilities in one of the
slums, women rise at 4:45 am, and begin a half hour early morning
walk to find a relatively uninhabited forest area to urinate and def-
ecate in. Joining the women on their walk one morning, I was told
that the particular location of ‘‘jungle’’ had been chosen, despite
being quite distant from the slum settlement, because of safety
concerns and the fear of attack in locations that were closer to

home. Specifically, women recount stories of harassment, abduc-
tion, and rape, while traveling to closer (but less protected) sanita-
tion points. Having no access to toilets in their own slum cluster,
they resort to traveling together each morning in large groups for
an approximate one hour return journey. One woman describes,

‘‘We can never go to the latrine [jungle] alone, even in the day,
or in any time, because there is always a fear of outsiders, truck
drivers and some other bad people in the area. We are always
worried about these bad people. That is why we never go

Because stomach illnesses are quite common (one woman esti-
mated that most adults in the slum get diarrhea once a month),
these women must discipline their bodies around a lack of accessi-
ble and private sanitation, or face public shame, humiliation and
embarrassment. At night, women cannot risk the long journey to
the jungle, even in groups, and thus have no place in which to have
privacy. One woman recounts:

‘‘It is extremely bad, particularly at night, when someone has a
stomach problem. We do not have other option except going
outside; it is a very pathetic situation at night, particularly for

Similarly, in the resettlement colony, sanitation practices cou-
pled with the search for adequate water to wash clothes leads wo-
men into increasingly dangerous spaces, inflicting gendered and
classed forms of both physical and emotional violence. The install-
ment of several tubewells across the colony provides an erratic, of-
ten contaminated, and unequal waterscape for tens of thousands of
residents. While women now have access to a legal water source,
local tubewell water only surfaces twice a day, requires standing
in a long line and is often faecally-contaminated. Sanitation facili-
ties are both costly and far away from many homes, requiring wo-
men to seek out additional water and sanitation sources to meet
daily household needs. To supplement the inadequate water and
sanitation facilities, women face increasing bodily threats and vio-
lence, as well as public shaming. As women rely on open fields
nearby for sanitation, and often travel to a dangerous canal area
to find water for washing, their bodies are caught in the nexus of
local cultural relations (which ascribe a sense of shame to the vis-
ibility of women’s sanitation practices) as well as local political
tensions, which are making women’s ventures into nearby fields
and canal areas more dangerous. These women are often harassed
by men living in and nearby the colony, abused, sometimes raped,
and face increasingly high levels of shame and fear as they try to
conduct their daily activities amidst the threat of violence. Here,
the move from slum housing to a legalized resettlement colony
has in fact leveraged an additional gendered and classed set of haz-
ards to women’s bodies. While accessing water in their previous
slums presented a daily challenge, women now describe the ten-
sion, hazards, and time involved in water activities as exponen-
tially worse even as the state has formalized their housing and
water rights. Thus, the ‘footprint’ that water/sanitation activities
take on economically disadvantaged women’s bodies in the reset-
tlement colony vastly increases even as the availability of a legally
sanctioned water source appears to suggest an improvement in
water access.

In its most extreme physical form, women’s journey to the near-
by canal poses such severe dangers that women come to feel they
are risking their lives, just to wash clothes and gain water access to
compensate for the inadequate tubewell supply. Here, women who
have few alternatives find themselves with little other choice than
to use the local canal for water. One local woman recounts:

[The canal] is very deep. Many people have died while they
fetch water from this canal because of the heavy weight of

Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152 149

the water bucket and steep slope of the canal. Many people fall
into the water and die, also because the flow of the water is very
high so it is very difficult to get out of water. There is no way to
survive once you have fallen inside the canal, unfortunately. In
the last month, three people have died in this canal.

The accumulation of these experiences contributes to women’s
sense that their bodies and lives have been ‘de-valued’ within par-
ticular spaces of the city.

7. Criminality and Informal and extra-legal water practices

Due to the irregularity and insufficiency of DJB tanker water
deliveries in South Delhi, on which women depend as the primary
household water source, women from slums depict a variety of
‘‘illegal’’ and/or ‘‘informal’’ methods for accessing water. As such,
they face particular embodied forms of criminality and risk that
re-produce their gender and class positions. Tankers, while sched-
uled to arrive daily, often fail to come for days on end. When they
do arrive, both unpredictable timings and insufficient quantities
leave women to resort to a variety of other water sources on a
nearly daily basis, often requiring women to compensate through
practices that bend and break laws.

Women describe informal water arrangements as taking place
between slum-dwellers themselves, as well as between slum-
dwellers, the middle-class, and state officials and tanker drivers,
revealing a variety of gendered and classed micropolitical net-
works. For example, slum women describe their dependence on a
local henchman, who stands over a tubewell and extracts fees, to
supplement insufficient DJB tanker water deliveries. The tubewell
in question had been installed several years previously by a local
government official, but fell out of use and repair once the official
left the area. Now, women face increasing charges from the local
strongman who has taken over the previously public well. One wo-
man recounts:

‘‘This is the main water problem of this area. This local person
who put his motor on the tubewell is a very bad person and
does not allow us to take water. In fact, this bad man made so
much money, at least 8000 rupees. This is very bad person.
And we always give him 50 rupees every few days, but again
just after another few days he collects money from us. He is
always taking money from us in the name of providing water
from his motor.’’

The politics of accessing this water places a severe burden on lo-
cal women who cannot easily travel to another water source, but
who face bullying and escalating monetary demands every time
they attempt to procure the water. Such local social relations illu-
minate another dimension of water inequality noted in studies
such as Bapat and Agarwal’s (2003) examination of women in
Bombay and Pune, which found that, ‘‘anyone can take charge of
water and collect money’’ (Bapat and Agarwal, 2003, p. 74).
Women also report arranging regular informal payments to other
slum households in exchange for water tools (such as the tube
households use to extract water from tankers, bicycles to transport
heavy water containers, and buckets of water itself).

In addition, slum women frequently give small sums of money
to tanker-drivers to try to ‘‘persuade’’ them to make more regular
deliveries, and often attempt to ‘‘illegally’’ tap into nearby water
pipes and tankers intended for middle-class neighborhoods, to ac-
cess a bucket or two of water. Such activities bring women into
more high-risk spaces as they fear being caught in the act by local
home owners, guards, or police. Women often report being har-
assed and ‘‘shooed’’ away from water sources intended for the mid-
dle-class. Economically disadvantaged women thus face abuse,
violence, and a re-enforcement of exclusive spatial boundaries in

the city that ultimately serve to de-value their rights as citizens.
In particular, such residents who take extra-legal water face a re-
articulation of the boundary between the ‘‘legal’’ rights of citizens
who have a right to the city’s piped water supply, and the ‘‘crimi-
nal’’ or illegal status of slum-dwellers who are excluded from the
rights and spaces of Delhi’s more elite groups. For example, such
social and spatial division was remapped when one woman at-
tempted to catch a bucket of water from a leaking tanker meant
for a middle-class colony, and was abused in public. Afterwards,
the woman said that only the ‘‘royal’’ people of the colony have a
right to water. Through such exchanges, women’s ‘‘rights to water’’
become tied to the spatial delineation of class in the city, furthering
the experience of social exclusion.

As slum women’s domestic water roles place them dispropor-
tionately in positions in which they must break or bend laws and
rules in order to secure water, their activities are also increasingly
targeted as ‘‘criminal’’ within recent state discourse on regulating
Delhi’s water. Despite most residents employing extra-legal meth-
ods to boost their water access, recent state discourse is directing
visibility on the water practices of the urban poor, particularly in
light of state calls to redress Delhi’s ‘‘missing’’ or unaccounted for
water. While data differ on the quantity of this missing water, esti-
mates indicate that as much as 50% of Delhi’s water is unaccounted
for in official meter readings, and thus ‘‘wasted.’’ The factors con-
tributing to unaccounted for water are of course multiple and com-
plex, as residents of all castes and classes practice a range of
unsanctioned water access activities, including middle-class illegal
connections and piping. In addition, meters are often inaccurate or
broken down, pipes often break and have leaks, and some poorer
neighborhoods have access to non-metered running taps (Zerah,
2000; Shiva, 2004; Delhi HDR, 2006). However, as the state asserts
that wasted and stolen water is robbing the city of a sustainable
water supply, new campaigns are calling attention to the ‘‘crimi-
nal’’ practices of the urban poor, particularly the water accessing
practices that women most commonly carry out, as strongly con-
tributing to the city’s water loss.

Specifically, the state defines water stealers as those who have
illegal connections to the water supply, primarily due to the
illegality of their presence on land (see Sivam, 2003). While this in-
cludes residents from unauthorized colonies (some of whom are
much wealthier than slum dwellers), the state’s discourse targets
the vast number of slum settlements that have no legal rights to
tap into Delhi’s piped infrastructure (Truelove and Mawdsley,
2011). In particular, as water policy highlights the illegality of
water activities commonly carried out by slum women, the conse-
quences of discourses on water criminality hold strong gender and
class implications. For example, the former CEO of the DJB, P.K. Tri-
pathy blamed ‘entire colonies’ as being the primary culprits of
water theft. The Delhi Development Authority states:

‘‘About half of the water that is treated and distributed at public
expense is non-revenue water. This is due to unrecorded usage
or illegal taps and water connections. Reducing water losses is
cheaper than augmenting water capacity for such losses’’
(DDA, 2005, p. 105).

Thus, the logic goes that if illegal water taps and connections
were curtailed, then the city’s need to augment its water supply
could also be curbed, and greater efficiency achieved. While such
logic both highlights and criminalizes those slum communities
that tap into illegal connections, it remains highly contradictory gi-
ven the state’s own data that the poor consume the very least
amount of water in Delhi—often below water minimums suggested
for basic survival (Government of India, 2001; Gleick, 1996). In
addition, because of their often marginal water status, economi-
cally disadvantaged residents (particularly women) are usually

150 Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152

more concerned with recycling and conserving the limited water
supplies they manage (Batra, 2004; Voluntary Health Organization,
1994; Bapat and Agarwal, 2003)—a fact that actually turns the
state’s discourse of conservation, and those bodies that threaten
it, on its head.

Nevertheless, the targeted criminalization of the poor has
strong legal and material impacts that are increasingly backed by
the threat of state violence (although in practice it is unclear
how often such penalties are incurred). While the most recent
Five-year Plan states, ‘‘Severe penalties should be levied on those
found responsible for leakage and wastage of water’’ (Government
of India Planning Commission, 2002, p. 640), Delhi’s 2021 Draft
Master Plan employs the most vindictive language yet, stating:

Wastage and theft of water will have to be curbed mercilessly.
Suitable amendments are necessary in the Delhi Water Board
Act to provide for stringent measures for enforcing curbs on
theft/wastage of water (DDA, 2005, p. 143, my italics).

The state’s plan to escalate the consequences levied on every-
day activities of the poor for water ‘thefts’ is particularly alarming
given the DJB’s already severe policies that impose heavy penalties
on those who are found to have illegal connections. Not only does
the DJB currently have the authority to disconnect all unauthorized
connections that it locates, but it also concurrently fines residents
who have such connections a penalty of 3 years worth of (esti-
mated) retroactive water charges as well as an additional Rs.
3000—a sum that may be equivalent to 1–2 months’ worth of
wages for Delhi’s poorest (Delhi Jal Board, 2007).

The state’s focus on water thefts thus brings particular visibility
to water practices of the poor as criminal (Truelove and Mawdsley,
2011). Criminality serves to justify the chronically low levels of
water working class households consume, and reinforces patterns
in which tanker drivers, DJB officials, and the legal system itself by-
pass the needs and services or Delhi’s poor, as they are increasingly
viewed as ‘nuisances’ who drain resources in the city (Ghertner,
2010; Truelove and Mawdsley, 2011). However, as women pre-
dominately carry out the particular informal practices that bend
and break state laws and rules, the gendering of water practices
places poor women in a particularly unique and often vulnerable
position in relation to the law and the rights of legal citizens. The
gendered forms of violence and risk that accompany access and
sanitation practices are accompanied by further risks of state disci-
plining that escalate the danger and consequences of water-related
activities. As women face a series of increasing threats—from the
embodied and psychological impacts of breaking laws to the phys-
ical dangers associated with accessing extra-legal water sources,
many experience compounded forms of classed and gender-based
exclusion from the rights of a ‘legal’ citizen. How women navigate
illegal practices and networks, and whether gender norms can also
provide particular strategic advantages with regard to navigating
law-breaking, is the subject of much-needed further research.

8. Conclusion

Through utilizing the theoretical insights of a feminist political
ecology approach that is attentive to everyday politics and lived
experiences of water, I have aimed to demonstrate some of the
ways that conceptualizations of water inequality can be deepened
to incorporate differences that arise from daily water practices and
their consequences in urban India. In particular, this article brings
attention to a diverse host of daily practices in spaces such as
households, communities, and places of work in order to argue
for further examination of how water policies and improvement
strategies contribute to wider patterns of urban and social differ-
entiation. Specifically, I examined how gender and class formations

and patterns of risk, criminality and social exclusion are tied to—
and re-produced through—daily water practices. An analysis of
wide-ranging and complex water-related experiences helps to
demonstrate that a sole focus on access, control, and distributional
differences is insufficient for capturing the scope of inequalities re-
lated to water in the city. FPE approaches to urban water help to
illuminate how and why social inequality continues to be tied to
water even when water quantities and access points are improved.

For example, the findings of this research suggest that the
embodied consequences of water and sanitation practices on eco-
nomically disadvantaged women can actually increase and become
much worse even as water sources are legalized and ‘‘improved,’’
as seen in the resettlement colony studied. FPE thus helps to con-
tribute and deepen work on water inequality within UPE by reveal-
ing a whole host of inequalities and social and spatial differences
that are produced around shifting regimes of resource practice
and access. An FPE framework demonstrates that analyses of
improvement need to be attentive to the ways that policies and
interventions are experienced materially and symbolically, as well
as contested, in everyday life. Such inquiries can be used to further
the work of scholars and practitioners to help produce greater so-
cial and resource-related equality with regard to the urban water

A discussion of the micropolitics of everyday water practices
bears particular relevance for more nuanced analyses and under-
standings of the state and larger macropolitical forces at work
(Mohanty, 2003; Nagar et al., 2002). By looking at experiences of
the everyday as a source of counter-narratives to the state’s repre-
sentation of water in Delhi—which reports average per capita
water levels double those of many European cities—we can better
understand how stated water policies and governance shifts are
actually experienced and navigated in everyday lives in sometimes
unexpected, and often contradictory, ways. As articulated by Nagar
et al. (2002, p. 261), analyses of daily and often informal practices
help to illuminate ‘‘how informal economies of production and car-
ing subsidize and constitute global capitalism,’’ and the ways that
gender is often ‘‘central to the operation of this subsidy.’’ The gen-
dering and classing of practices for procuring household water, and
the consequent production of gendered spaces and patterns of
mobility, reveal the many ways that particular bodies bear the
brunt of subsidizing, and compensating for, state water governance
strategies. Thus, Nagar et al. state:

As neoliberal states withdraw from the provision of social ser-
vices, this work is most often assumed by women in the femi-
nized spheres of household and community (Nagar et al.,
2002, p. 261).

As scholars such as Zerah (2000) enumerate this subsidization,
estimating that Delhi residents spend Rs. 3 million a year compen-
sating for city failures in the water supply, more work is needed on
understanding the nuanced dimensions of how particular identi-
ties, bodies, and spaces are forged through everyday practices that
emerge to supplement city inadequacies. The state’s reliance on
gendered and classed practices to subsidize its supply and delivery
of water and sanitation reveals the need for scholarly work to more
carefully connect gender ideologies of household resource man-
agement to the ways that cities such as Delhi are regulating its
water resources, as well as its citizens.

In addition, an analytical focus on daily life extends to examina-
tions of how informal and illegal practices shape, and are produc-
tive of, social differentiation through the connection of such
practices to differing experiences of the state and the law. Because
illegal practices are so widespread (Davis, 2004), they offer a key
practice by which residents encounter and come to understand
and construct particular attributes of the power and reach of the

Y. Truelove / Geoforum 42 (2011) 143–152 151

state and the law (Gupta 1995, 2005; Secor, 2007). Gupta (1995)
and Li (1999) both emphasize that ‘‘there is a gap between the state
idea and the reality of more or less contradictory programs, initia-
tives and statements that people encounter directly’’ (Li, 1999,
p. 315). Examining how daily extra-legal practices to access water
shape residents’ experiences of the state and the law in socially dif-
ferentiated ways provides a critical lens through which to examine
how residents experience widely varying degrees of inclusion and
exclusion to rights and resources in Delhi. For example, working
class women’s experiences of illegality and criminality, particularly
their engagement with extra-legal water networks and the bribing
of DJB officials for water, have profound implications for how expe-
riences of the state perpetuate or (re-)construct gender and class
subjectivities. Future feminist political ecology research can thus
be of utility for investigating how water-related bodily experiences
are connected to unequal material conditions and wider discourses
of social differentiation and exclusion in contemporary cities.
Through further understanding the multiple embodied conse-
quences of water and sanitation access, this work can also support
policy makers and practitioners in being more attentive to solutions
that go beyond water itself to include how water is tied to work,
space, health, identity, power and rights in the city.


I would like to thank Emma Mawdsley, Rachel Silvey, and Emily
Yeh for their insightful feedback and engagement with this article
during various stages of its conception and evolution, as well as
Jeetesh Rai for his research and translation assistance in Delhi. I
am also very grateful for the support and insightful comments
from graduate students at the Department of Geography, Univer-
sity of Cambridge, as well as Nathan Truelove’s encouragement
and helpful feedback throughout the writing process. I am in-
debted to the University of Colorado for providing funding for
the research through the Benjamin Brown International Fellow-
ship. Lastly, I extend my gratitude to the three anonymous review-
ers of this paper for their helpful and incisive feedback in
strengthening this work.


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  • (Re-)Conceptualizing water inequality in Delhi, India through a feminist political ecology framework
  • Introduction

    Gaps and intersections between UPE and FPE

    FPE Contributions to conceptualizations of urban water inequality

    Delhi’s urban poor: in the nexus of the planned and unplanned city

    Introduction to Delhi’s unequal waterscape

    Embodying everyday water practices across three study sites

    Criminality and Informal and extra-legal water practices




Stanford Law Review

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of
Author(s): Kimberle Crenshaw
Source: Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299
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Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality,
Identity Politics, and Violence Against

Women of Color

Kimberle Crenshaw*


Over the last two decades, women have organized against the almost
routine violence that shapes their lives.1 Drawing from the strength of
shared experience, women have recognized that the political demands of mil-
lions speak more powerfully than the pleas of a few isolated voices. This
politicization in turn has transformed the way we understand violence
against women. For example, battering and rape, once seen as private (fam-
ily matters) and aberrational (errant sexual aggression), are now largely rec-
ognized as part of a broad-scale system of domination that affects women as
a class.2 This process of recognizing as social and systemic what was for-

* ? 1993 by Kimberle Crenshaw. Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles.
B.A. Cornell University, 1981; J.D. Harvard Law School, 1984; LL.M. University of Wisconsin,

I am indebted to a great many people who have pushed this project along. For their kind assist-
ance in facilitating my field research for this article, I wish to thank Maria Blanco, Margaret Cam-
brick, Joan Creer, Estelle Cheung, Nilda Rimonte and Fred Smith. I benefitted from the comments
of Taunya Banks, Mark Barenberg, Darcy Calkins, Adrienne Davis, Gina Dent, Brent Edwards,
Paul Gewirtz, Lani Guinier, Neil Gotanda, Joel Handler, Duncan Kennedy, Henry Monaghan, Eliz-
abeth Schneider and Kendall Thomas. A very special thanks goes to Gary Peller and Richard Yar-
borough. Jayne Lee, Paula Puryear, Yancy Garrido, Eugenia Gifford and Leti Volpp provided
valuable research assistance. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Academic Senate of
UCLA, Center for Afro-American Studies at UCLA, the Reed Foundation and Columbia Law
School. Earlier versions of this article were presented to the Critical Race Theory Workshop and the
Yale Legal Theory Workshop.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Denise Carty-Bennia and Mary Joe Frug.
1. Feminist academics and activists have played a central role in forwarding an ideological and

institutional challenge to the practices that condone and perpetuate violence against women. See

GLES OF THE BATTERED WOMEN’S MOVEMENT (1982) (arguing that battering is a means of main-
taining women’s subordinate position); S. BROWNMILLER, supra note 1 (arguing that rape is a


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merly perceived as isolated and individual has also characterized the identity
politics of African Americans, other people of color, and gays and lesbians,
among others. For all these groups, identity-based politics has been a source
of strength, community, and intellectual development.

The embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with domi-
nant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity catego-
ries are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias
or domination-that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social
power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According
to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such cate-
gories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist
and racial liberation movements, for example is the view that the social
power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can
instead be the source of social empowerment and reconstruction.

The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend differ-
ence, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite-that it frequently con-
flates or ignores intragroup differences. In the context of violence against
women, this elision of difference in identity politics is problematic, funda-
mentally because the violence that many women experience is often shaped
by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. Moreover,
ignoring difference within groups contributes to tension among groups, an-
other problem of identity politics that bears on efforts to politicize violence
against women. Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and an-
tiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently
proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on
mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in
the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices.
And so, when the practices expound identity as woman or person of color as
an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a
location that resists telling.

My objective in this article is to advance the telling of that location by
exploring the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of
color.3 Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to con-

patriarchal practice that subordinates women to men); Elizabeth Schneider, The Violence of Privacy,
23 CONN. L. REV. 973, 974 (1991) (discussing how “concepts of privacy permit, encourage and
reinforce violence against women”); Susan Estrich, Rape, 95 YALE L.J. 1087 (1986) (analyzing rape
law as one illustration of sexism in criminal law); see also CATHARINE A. MACKINNON, SEXUAL
that sexual harassment should be redefined as sexual discrimination actionable under Title VII,
rather than viewed as misplaced sexuality in the workplace).

3. This article arises out of and is inspired by two emerging scholarly discourses. The first is
critical race theory. For a cross-section of what is now a substantial body of literature, see PATRICIA
J. WILLIAMS, THE ALCHEMY OF RACE AND RIGHTS (1991); Robin D. Barnes, Race Consciousness:
The Thematic Content of Racial Distinctiveness in Critical Race Scholarship, 103 HARV. L. REV.
1864 (1990); John 0. Calmore, Critical Race Theory, Archie Shepp, and Fire Music. Securing an
Authentic Intellectual Life in a Multicultural World, 65 S. CAL. L. REV. 2129 (1992); Anthony E.
Cook, Beyond Critical Legal Studies: The Reconstructive Theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, 103
HARV. L. REV. 985 (1990); Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Race, Reform and Retrenchment: Trans-
formation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law, 101 HARV. L. REV. 1331 (1988); Richard

1242 [Vol. 43:1241

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sider intersectional identities such as women of color.4 Focusing on two
dimensions of male violence against women-battering and rape-I consider
how the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of inter-
secting patterns of racism and sexism,5 and how these experiences tend not

Delgado, When a Story is Just a Story: Does Voice Really Matter?, 76 VA. L. REV. 95 (1990); Neil
Gotanda, A Critique of “Our Constitution is Colorblind,” 44 STAN. L. REV. 1 (1991) Mari J. Mat-
suda, Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story, 87 MICH. L. REV. 2320
(1989); Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious
Racism, 39 STAN. L. REV. 317 (1987); Gerald Torres, Critical Race Theory: The Decline of the
Universalist Ideal and the Hope of Plural Justice-Some Observations and Questions of an Emerging
Phenomenon, 75 MINN. L. REV. 993 (1991). For a useful overview of critical race theory, see
Calmore, supra, at 2160-2168.

A second, less formally linked body of legal scholarship investigates the connections between
race and gender. See, e.g., Regina Austin, Sapphire Bound!, 1989 WIS. L. REV. 539; Crenshaw,
supra; Angela P. Harris, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, 42 STAN. L. REV. 581
(1990); Marlee Kline, Race, Racism and Feminist Legal Theory, 12 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 115
(1989); Dorothy E. Roberts, Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality
and the Right of Privacy, 104 HARV. L. REV. 1419 (1991); Cathy Scarborough, Conceptualizing
Black Women’s Employment Experiences, 98 YALE L.J. 1457 (1989) (student author); Peggie R.
Smith, Separate Identities: Black Women, Work and Title VII, 14 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 21 (1991);
Judy Scales-Trent, Black Women and the Constitution: Finding Our Place, Asserting Our Rights, 24
HARV. C.R-C.L. L. REV. 9 (1989); Judith A. Winston, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Title VII, Section
1981, and the Intersection of Race and Gendet ‘n the Civil Rights Act of 1990, 79 CAL. L. REV. 775
(1991). This work in turn has been informed oy a broader literature examining the interactions of
race and gender in other contexts. See, e.g., PATRICIA HILL COLLINS, BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT:
NIST THOUGHT (1988); Frances Beale, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, in THE BLACK
WOMAN 90 (Toni Cade ed. 1970); Kink-Kok Cheung, The Woman Warrior versus The Chinaman
Pacific: Must a Chinese American Critic Choose between Feminism and Heroism?, in CONFLICTS IN
FEMINISM 234 (Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller eds. 1990); Deborah H. King, Multiple Jeop-
ardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology, 14 SIGNS 42 (1988); Diane
K. Lewis, A Response to Inequality: Black Women, Racism and Sexism, 3 SIGNS 339 (1977);
Deborah E. McDowell, New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism, in THE NEW FEMINIST CRITI-
CISM: ESSAYS ON WOMEN, LITERATURE AND THEORY 186 (Elaine Showalter ed. 1985); Valerie
Smith, Black Feminist Theory and the Representation of the “Other” in CHANGING OUR OWN

4. Although the objective of this article is to describe the intersectional location of women of
color and their marginalization within dominant resistance discourses, I do not mean to imply that
the disempowerment of women of color is singularly or even primarily caused by feminist and an-
tiracist theorists or activists. Indeed, I hope to dispell any such simplistic interpretations by captur-
ing, at least in part, the way that prevailing structures of domination shape various discourses of
resistance. As I have noted elsewhere, “People can only demand change in ways that reflect the
logic of the institutions they are challenging. Demands for change that do not reflect . . . dominant
ideology . . . will probably be ineffective.” Crenshaw, supra note 3, at 1367. Although there are
significant political and conceptual obstacles to moving against structures of domination with an
intersectional sensibility, my point is that the effort to do so should be a central theoretical and
political objective of both antiracism and feminism.

5. Although this article deals with violent assault perpetrated by men against women, women
are also subject to violent assault by women. Violence among lesbians is a hidden but significant
problem. One expert reported that in a study of 90 lesbian couples, roughly 46% of lesbians have
been physically abused by their partners. Jane Garcia, The Cost of Escaping Domestic Violence: Fear
of Treatment in a Largely Homophobic Society May Keep Lesbian Abuse Victims from Calling for
Help, L.A. Times, May 6, 1991, at 2; see also NAMING THE VIOLENCE: SPEAKING OUT ABOUT
LESIBIAN BATTERING (Kerry Lobel ed. 1986); Ruthann Robson, Lavender Bruises. Intralesbian Vio-
lence, Law and Lesbian Legal Theory, 20 GOLDEN GATE U.L. REV. 567 (1990). There are clear
parallels between violence against women in the lesbian community and violence against women in

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to be represented within the discourses of either feminism or antiracism. Be-
cause of their intersectional identity as both women and of color within dis-
courses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, women of color are
marginalized within both.

In an earlier article, I used the concept of intersectionality to denote the
various ways in which race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimen-
sions of Black6 women’s employment experiences.7 My objective there was
to illustrate that many of the experiences Black women face are not sub-
sumed within the traditional boundaries of race or gender discrimination as
these boundaries are currently understood, and that the intersection of ra-
cism and sexism factors into Black women’s lives in ways that cannot be
captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of those exper-
iences separately. I build on those observations here by exploring the vari-
ous ways in which race and gender intersect in shaping structural, political,
and representational aspects of violence against women of color.8

I should say at the outset that intersectionality is not being offered here
as some new, totalizing theory of identity. Nor do I mean to suggest that
violence against women of color can be explained only through the specific
frameworks of race and gender considered here.9 Indeed, factors I address

communities of color. Lesbian violence is often shrouded in secrecy for similar reasons that have
suppressed the exposure of heterosexual violence in communities of color-fear of embarassing other
members of the community, which is already stereotyped as deviant, and fear of being ostracized
from the community. Despite these similarities, there are nonetheless distinctions between male
abuse of women and female abuse of women that in the context of patriarchy, racism and
homophobia, warrants more focused analysis than is possible here.

6. I use “Black” and “African American” interchangeably throughout this article. I capitalize
“Black” because “Blacks, like Asians, Latinos, and other ‘minorities,’ constitute a specific cultural
group and, as such, require denotation as a proper noun.” Crenshaw, supra note 3, at 1332 n.2
(citing Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agendafor Theory, 7
SIGNS 515, 516 (1982)). By the same token, I do not capitalize “white,” which is not a proper noun,
since whites do not constitute a specific cultural group. For the same reason I do not capitalize
“women of color.”

7. Kimberle Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, 1989 U. CHI.
LEGAL F. 139.

8. I explicitly adopt a Black feminist stance in this survey of violence against women of color.
I do this cognizant of several tensions that such a position entails. The most significant one stems
from the criticism that while feminism purports to speakfor women of color through its invocation
of the term “woman,” the feminist perspective excludes women of color because it is based upon the
experiences and interests of a certain subset of women. On the other hand, when white feminists
attempt to include other women, they often add our experiences into an otherwise unaltered frame-
work. It is important to name the perspective from which one constructs her analysis; and for me,
that is as a Black feminist. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that the materials that I
incorporate in my analysis are drawn heavily from research on Black women. On the other hand, I
see my own work as part of a broader collective effort among feminists of color to expand feminism
to include analyses of race and other factors such as class, sexuality, and age. I have attempted
therefore to offer my sense of the tentative connections between my analysis of the intersectional
experiences of Black women and the intersectional experiences of other women of color. I stress that
this analysis is not intended to include falsely nor to exclude unnecessarily other women of color.

9. I consider intersectionality a provisional concept linking contemporary politics with
postmodern theory. In mapping the intersections of race and gender, the concept does engage domi-
nant assumptions that race and gender are essentially separate categories. By tracing the categories
to their intersections, I hope to suggest a methodology that will ultimately disrupt the tendencies to
see race and gender as exclusive or separable. While the primary intersections that I explore here are


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only in part or not at all, such as class or sexuality, are often as critical in
shaping the experiences of women of color. My focus on the intersections of
race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of
identity when considering how the social world is constructed.’0

I have divided the issues presented in this article into three categories. In
Part I, I discuss structural intersectionality, the ways in which the location
of women of color at the intersection of race and gender makes our actual
experience of domestic violence, rape, and remedial reform qualitatively dif-
ferent than that of white women. I shift the focus in Part II to political
intersectionality, where I analyze how both feminist and antiracist politics
have, paradoxically, often helped to marginalize the issue of violence against
women of color. Then in Part III, I discuss representational intersectional-
ity, by which I mean the cultural construction of women of color. I consider
how controversies over the representation of women of color in popular cul-
ture can also elide the particular location of women of color, and thus be-
come yet another source of intersectional disempowerment. Finally, I
address the implications of the intersectional approach within the broader
scope of contemporary identity politics.


A. Structural Intersectionality and Battering
I observed the dynamics of structural intersectionality during a brief field

study of battered women’s shelters located in minority communities in Los
Angeles.” In most cases, the physical assault that leads women to these
shelters is merely the most immediate manifestation of the subordination
they experience. Many women who seek protection are unemployed or un-
deremployed, and a good number of them are poor. Shelters serving these
women cannot afford to address only the violence inflicted by the batterer;
they must also confront the other multilayered and routinized forms of dom-
ination that often converge in these women’s lives, hindering their ability to
create alternatives to the abusive relationships that brought them to shelters
in the first place. Many women of color, for example, are burdened by pov-
erty, child care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills.’2 These burdens,

between race and gender, the concept can and should be expanded by factoring in issues such as
class, sexual orientation, age, and color.

10. Professor Mari Matsuda calls this inquiry “asking the other question.” Mari J. Matsuda,
Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory Out of Coalition, 43 STAN. L. REV. 1183 (1991).
For example, we should look at an issue or condition traditionally regarded as a gender issue and
ask, “Where’s the racism in this?”

11. During my research in Los Angeles, California, I visited Jenessee Battered Women’s Shel-
ter, the only shelter in the Western states primarily serving Black women, and Everywoman’s Shel-
ter, which primarily serves Asian women. I also visited Estelle Chueng at the Asian Pacific Law
Foundation, and I spoke with a representative of La Casa, a shelter in the predominantly Latino
community of East L.A.

12. One researcher has noted, in reference to a survey taken of battered women’s shelters, that
“many Caucasian women were probably excluded from the sample, since they are more likely to
have available resources that enable them to avoid going to a shelter. Many shelters admit only
women with few or no resources or alternatives.” MILDRED DALEY PAGELOW, WOMAN-BAT-

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largely the consequence of gender and class oppression, are then com-
pounded by the racially discriminatory employment and housing practices
women of color often face,13 as well as by the disproportionately high unem-
ployment among people of color that makes battered women of color less
able to depend on the support of friends and relatives for temporary
shelter. 14

Where systems of race, gender, and class domination converge, as they
do in the experiences of battered women of color, intervention strategies
based solely on the experiences of women who do not share the same class or
race backgrounds will be of limited help to women who because of race and
class face different obstacles.15 Such was the case in 1990 when Congress
amended the marriage fraud provisions of the Immigration and Nationality
Act to protect immigrant women who were battered or exposed to extreme
cruelty by the United States citizens or permanent residents these women

TERING: VICTIMS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 97 (1981). On the other hand, many middle- and up-
per-class women are financially dependent upon their husbands and thus experience a diminution in
their standard of living when they leave their husbands.

13. Together they make securing even the most basic necessities beyond the reach of many.
Indeed one shelter provider reported that nearly 85 percent of her clients returned to the battering
relationships, largely because of difficulties in finding employment and housing. African Americans
are more segregated than any other racial group, and this segregation exists across class lines. Re-
cent studies in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs show that 64% of Blacks trying to rent apartments
in white neighborhoods encountered discrimination. Tracy Thompson, Study Finds ‘Persistent’ Ra-
cial Bias in Area’s Rental Housing, Wash. Post, Jan. 31, 1991, at D1. Had these studies factored
gender and family status into the equation, the statistics might have been worse.

14. More specifically, African Americans suffer from high unemployment rates, low incomes,
and high poverty rates. According to Dr. David Swinton, Dean of the School of Business at Jackson
State University in Mississippi, African Americans “receive three-fifths as much income per person
as whites and are three times as likely to have annual incomes below the Federally defined poverty
level of $12,675 for a family of four.” Urban League Urges Action, N.Y. Times, Jan. 9, 1991, at A14.
In fact, recent statistics indicate that racial economic inequality is “higher as we begin the 1990s
than at any other time in the last 20 years.” David Swinton, The Economic Status of African Ameri-
cans: “Permanent” Poverty and Inequality, in THE STATE OF BLACK AMERICA 1991, at 25 (1991).

The economic situation of minority women is, expectedly, worse than that of their male coun-
terparts. Black women, who earn a median of $7,875 a year, make considerably less than Black men,
who earn a median income of $12,609 a year, and white women, who earn a median income of
$9,812 a year. Id. at 32 (Table 3). Additionally, the percentage of Black female-headed families
living in poverty (46.5%) is almost twice that of white female-headed families (25.4%). Id. at 43
(Table 8). Latino households also earn considerably less than white households. In 1988, the me-
dian income of Latino households was $20,359 and for white households, $28,340-a difference of
almost $8,000. HISPANIC AMERICANS: A STATISTICAL SOURCEBOOK 149 (1991). Analyzing by
origin, in 1988, Puerto Rican households were the worst off, with 34.1% earning below $10,000 a
year and a median income for all Puerto Rican households of $15,447 per year. Id. at 155. 1989
statistics for Latino men and women show that women earned an average of $7,000 less than men.
Id. at 169.

15. See text accompanying notes 61-66 (discussing shelter’s refusal to house a Spanish-speak-
ing woman in crisis even though her son could interpret for her because it would contribute to her
disempowerment). Racial differences marked an interesting contrast between Jenesee’s policies and
those of other shelters situated outside the Black community. Unlike some other shelters in Los
Angeles, Jenessee welcomed the assistance of men. According to the Director, the shelter’s policy
was premised on a belief that given African American’s need to maintain healthy relations to pursue
a common struggle against racism, anti-violence programs within the African American community
cannot afford to be antagonistic to men. For a discussion of the different needs of Black women who
are battered, see Beth Richie, Battered Black Women: A Challenge for the Black Community, BLACK
SCHOLAR, Mar./Apr. 1985, at 40.


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immigrated to the United States to marry. Under the marriage fraud provi-
sions of the Act, a person who immigrated to the United States to marry a
United States citizen or permanent resident had to remain “properly” mar-
ried for two years before even applying for permanent resident status,16 at
which time applications for the immigrant’s permanent status were required
of both spouses.17 Predictably, under these circumstances, many immigrant
women were reluctant to leave even the most abusive of partners for fear of
being deported.18 When faced with the choice between protection from their
batterers and protection against deportation, many immigrant women chose
the latter.19 Reports of the tragic consequences of this double subordination
put pressure on Congress to include in the Immigration Act of 1990 a provi-
sion amending the marriage fraud rules to allow for an explicit waiver for
hardship caused by domestic violence.20 Yet many immigrant women, par-

16. 8 U.S.C. ? 1186a (1988). The Marriage Fraud Amendments provide that an alien spouse
“shall be considered, at the time of obtaining the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent
residence, to have obtained such status on a conditional basis subject to the provisions of this sec-
tion.” ? 1186a(a)(1). An alien spouse with permanent resident status under this conditional basis
may have her status terminated if the Attorney General finds that the marriage was “improper,”
? 1186a(b)(l), or if she fails to file a petition or fails to appear at the personal interview.
? 1186a(c)(2)(A).

17. The Marriage Fraud Amendments provided that for the conditional resident status to be
removed, “the alien spouse and the petitioning spouse (if not deceased) jointly must submit to the
Attorney General . . . a petition which requests the removal of such conditional basis and which
states, under penalty of perjury, the facts and information.” ? 1186a(b)(l)(A) (emphasis added).
The Amendments provided for a waiver, at the Attorney General’s discretion, if the alien spouse was
able to demonstrate that deportation would result in extreme hardship, or that the qualifying mar-
riage was terminated for good cause. ? 1186a(c)(4). However, the terms of this hardship waiver
have not adequately protected battered spouses. For example, the requirement that the marriage be
terminated for good cause may be difficult to satisfy in states with no-fault divorces. Eileen P. Lyn-
sky, Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986: Till Congress Do Us Part, 41 U. MIAMI L.
REV. 1087, 1095 n.47 (1987) (student author) (citing Jerome B. Ingber & R. Leo Prischet, The
Marriage Fraud Amendments, in THE NEW SIMPSON-RODINO IMMIGRATION LAW OF 1986, at 564-
65 (Stanley Mailman ed. 1986)).

18. Immigration activists have pointed out that “[t]he 1986 Immigration Reform Act and the
Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment have combined to give the spouse applying for permanent
residence a powerful tool to control his partner.” Jorge Banales, Abuse Among Immigrants; As Their
Numbers Grow So Does the Need for Services, Wash. Post, Oct. 16, 1990, at E5. Dean Ito Taylor,
executive director of Nihonmachi Legal Outreach in San Francisco, explained that the Marriage
Fraud Amendments “bound these immigrant women to their abusers.” Deanna Hodgin, ‘Mail-
Order’ Brides Marry Pain to Get Green Cards, Wash. Times, Apr. 16, 1991, at El. In one egregious
instance described by Beckie Masaki, executive director of the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Fran-
cisco, the closer the Chinese bride came to getting her permanent residency in the United States, the
more harshly her Asian-American husband beat her. Her husband, kicking her in the neck and face,
warned her that she needed him, and if she did not do as he told her, he would call immigration
officials. Id.

19. As Alice Fernandez, head of the Victim Services Agency at the Bronx Criminal Court,
explained, “‘Women are being held hostage by their landlords, their boyfriends, their bosses, their
husbands…. The message is: If you tell anybody what I’m doing to you, they are going to ship
your ass back home. And for these women, there is nothing more terrible than that …. Sometimes
their response is: I would rather be dead in this country than go back home.'” Vivienne Walt,
Immigrant Abuse: Nowhere to Hide; Women Fear Deportation, Experts Say, Newsday, Dec. 2, 1990,
at 8.

20. Immigration Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978. The Act, introduced by
Representative Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), provides that a battered spouse who has conditional per-
manent resident status can be granted a waiver for failure to meet the requirements if she can show
that “the marriage was entered into in good faith and that after the marriage the alien spouse was

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ticularly immigrant women of color, have remained vulnerable to battering
because they are unable to meet the conditions established for a waiver. The
evidence required to support a waiver “can include, but is not limited to,
reports and affidavits from police, medical personnel, psychologists, school
officials, and social service agencies.”21 For many immigrant women, lim-
ited access to these resources can make it difficult for them to obtain the
evidence needed for a waiver. And cultural barriers often further discourage
immigrant women from reporting or escaping battering situations. Tina
Shum, a family counselor at a social service agency, points out that “[t]his
law sounds so easy to apply, but there are cultural complications in the
Asian community that make even these requirements difficult…. Just to
find the opportunity and courage to call us is an accomplishment for
many.”22 The typical immigrant spouse, she suggests, may live “[i]n an ex-
tended family where several generations live together, there may be no pri-
vacy on the telephone, no opportunity to leave the house and no
understanding of public phones.”23 As a consequence, many immigrant wo-
men are wholly dependent on their husbands as their link to the world
outside their homes.24

Immigrant women are also vulnerable to spousal violence because so
many of them depend on their husbands for information regarding their
legal status.25 Many women who are now permanent residents continue to
suffer abuse under threats of deportation by their husbands. Even if the
threats are unfounded, women who have no independent access to informa-
tion will still be intimidated by such threats.26 And even though the domes-

battered by or was subjected to extreme mental cruelty by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident
spouse.” H.R. REP. No. 723(I), 101st Cong., 2d Sess. 78 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N.
6710, 6758; see also 8 C.F.R. ? 216.5(3) (1992) (regulations for application for waiver based on claim
of having been battered or subjected to extreme mental cruelty).

21. H.R. REP. No. 723(I), supra note 20, at 79, reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 6710, 6759.
22. Hodgin, supra note 18.
23. Id.
24. One survey conducted of battered women “hypothesized that if a person is a member of a

discriminated minority group, the fewer the opportunities for socioeconomic status above the pov-
erty level and the weaker the English language skills, the greater the disadvantage.” M. PAGELOW,
supra note 12, at 96. The 70 minority women in the study “had a double disadvantage in this society
that serves to tie them more strongly to their spouses.” Id.

25. A citizen or permanent resident spouse can exercise power over an alien spouse by threat-
ening not to file a petition for permanent residency. If he fails to file a petition for permanent
residency, the alien spouse continues to be undocumented and is considered to be in the country
illegally. These constraints often restrict an alien spouse from leaving. Dean Ito Taylor tells the
story of “one client who has been hospitalized-she’s had him arrested for beating her-but she
keeps coming back to him because he promises he will file for her …. He holds that green card over
her head.” Hodgin, supra note 18. Other stories of domestic abuse abound. Maria, a 50-year-old
Dominican woman, explains that ” ‘One time I had eight stitches in my head and a gash on the other
side of my head, and he broke my ribs …. He would bash my head against the wall while we had
sex. He kept threatening to kill me if I told the doctor what happened.’ ” Maria had a “powerful
reason for staying with Juan through years of abuse: a ticket to permanent residence in the United
States.” Walt, supra note 19.

26. One reporter explained that “Third-world women must deal with additional fears, how-
ever. In many cases, they are afraid of authority, government institutions and their abusers’ threat
of being turned over to immigration officials to be deported.” Banales, supra note 18.


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tic violence waiver focuses on immigrant women whose husbands are United
States citizens or permanent residents, there are countless women married to
undocumented workers (or who are themselves undocumented) who suffer
in silence for fear that the security of their entire families will be jeopardized
should they seek help or otherwise call attention to themselves.27

Language barriers present another structural problem that often limits
opportunities of non-English-speaking women to take advantage of existing
support services.28 Such barriers not only limit access to information about
shelters, but also limit access to the security shelters provide. Some shelters
turn non-English-speaking women away for lack of bilingual personnel and

These examples illustrate how patterns of subordination intersect in wo-
men’s experience of domestic violence. Intersectional subordination need
not be intentionally produced; in fact, it is frequently the consequence of the
imposition of one burden that interacts with preexisting vulnerabilities to
create yet another dimension of disempowerment. In the case of the mar-
riage fraud provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the imposi-
tion of a policy specifically designed to burden one class-immigrant spouses
seeking permanent resident status-exacerbated the disempowerment of
those already subordinated by other structures of domination. By failing to
take into account the vulnerability of immigrant spouses to domestic vio-

27. Incidents of sexual abuse of undocumented women abound. Marta Rivera, director of the
Hostos College Center for Women’s and Immigrant’s Rights, tells of how a 19-year-old Dominican
woman had “arrived shaken . . . after her boss raped her in the women’s restroom at work.” The
woman told Rivera that “70 to 80 percent of the workers [in a Brooklyn garment factory] were
undocumented, and they all accepted sex as part of the job …. She said a 13-year-old girl had been
raped there a short while before her, and the family sent her back to the Dominican Republic.”
Walt, supra note 19. In another example, a “Latin American woman, whose husband’s latest attack
left her with two broken fingers, a swollen face and bruises on her neck and chest, refused to report
the beating to police.” She returned to her home after a short stay in a shelter. She did not leave the
abusive situation because she was “an undocumented, illiterate laborer whose children, passport and
money are tightly controlled by her husband.” Although she was informed of her rights, she was not
able to hurdle the structural obstacles in her path. Banales, supra note 18.

28. For example, in a region with a large number of Third-World immigrants, “the first hurdle
these [battered women’s shelters] must overcome is the language barrier.” Banales, supra note 18.

There can be little question that women unable to communicate in English are severely
handicapped in seeking independence. Some women thus excluded were even further dis-
advantaged because they were not U.S. citizens and some were in this country illegally.
For a few of these, the only assistance shelter staff could render was to help reunite them
with their families of origin.

M. PAGELOW, supra note 12, at 96-97. Non-English speaking women are often excluded even from
studies of battered women because of their language and other difficulties. A researcher qualified the
statistics of one survey by pointing out that “an unknown number of minority group women were
excluded from this survey sample because of language difficulties.” Id. at 96. To combat this lack of
appropriate services for women of color at many shelters, special programs have been created specifi-
cally for women from particular communities. A few examples of such programs include the Victim
Intervention Project in East Harlem for Latina women, Jenesee Shelter for African American wo-
men in Los Angeles, Apna Gar in Chicago for South Asian women, and, for Asian women generally,
the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, the New York Asian Women’s Center, and the Center
for the Pacific Asian Family in Los Angeles. Programs with hotlines include Sakhi for South Asian
Women in New York, and Manavi in Jersey City, also for South Asian women, as well as programs
for Korean women in Philadelphia and Chicago.

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lence, Congress positioned these women to absorb the simultaneous impact
of its anti-immigration policy and their spouses’ abuse.

The enactment of the domestic violence waiver of the marriage fraud
provisions similarly illustrates how modest attempts to respond to certain
problems can be ineffective when the intersectional location of women of
color is not considered in fashioning the remedy. Cultural identity and class
affect the likelihood that a battered spouse could take advantage of the
waiver. Although the waiver is formally available to all women, the terms of
the waiver make it inaccessible to some. Immigrant women who are so-
cially, culturally, or economically privileged are more likely to be able to
marshall the resources needed to satisfy the waiver requirements. Those im-
migrant women least able to take advantage of the waiver-women who are
socially or economically the most marginal-are the ones most likely to be
women of color.

B. Structural Intersectionality and Rape

Women of color are differently situated in the economic, social, and
political worlds. When reform efforts undertaken on behalf of women ne-
glect this fact, women of color are less likely to have their needs met than
women who are racially privileged. For example, counselors who provide
rape crisis services to women of color report that a significant proportion of
the resources allocated to them must be spent handling problems other than
rape itself. Meeting these needs often places these counselors at odds with
their funding agencies, which allocate funds according to standards of need
that are largely white and middle-class.30 These uniform standards of need
ignore the fact that different needs often demand different priorities in terms
of resource allocation, and consequently, these standards hinder the ability
of counselors to address the needs of nonwhite and poor women.31 A case in
point: women of color occupy positions both physically and culturally
marginalized within dominant society, and so information must be targeted
directly to them in order to reach them.32 Accordingly, rape crisis centers

30. For example, the Rosa Parks Shelter and the Compton Rape Crisis Hotline, two shelters
that serve the African-American community, are in constant conflict with funding sources over the
ratio of dollars and hours to women served. Interview with Joan Greer, Executive Director of Rosa
Parks Shelter, in Los Angeles, California (April 1990).

31. One worker explained:
For example, a woman may come in or call in for various reasons. She has no place to go,
she has no job, she has no support, she has no money, she has no food, she’s been beaten,
and after you finish meeting all those needs, or try to meet all those needs, then she may
say, by the way, during all this, I was being raped. So that makes our community different
than other communities. A person wants their basic needs first. It’s a lot easier to discuss
things when you are full.

Nancy Anne Matthews, Stopping Rape or Managing its Consequences? State Intervention and Fem-
inist Resistance in the Los Angeles Anti-Rape Movement, 1972-1987, at 287 (1989) (Ph.D disserta-
tion, University of California, Los Angeles) (chronicling the history of the rape crisis movement, and
highlighting the different histories and dilemmas of rape crisis hotlines run by white feminists and
those situated in the minority communities).

Typically, more time must be spent with a survivor who has fewer personal resources.

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must earmark more resources for basic information dissemination in com-
munities of color than in white ones.

Increased costs are but one consequence of serving people who cannot be
reached by mainstream channels of information. As noted earlier, counsel-
ors in minority communities report spending hours locating resources and
contacts to meet the housing and other immediate needs of women who have
been assualted. Yet this work is only considered “information and referral”
by funding agencies and as such, is typically underfunded, notwithstanding
the magnitude of need for these services in minority communities.33 The
problem is compounded by expectations that rape crisis centers will use a
significant portion of resources allocated to them on counselors to accom-
pany victims to court,34 even though women of color are less likely to have
their cases pursued in the criminal justice system.35 The resources expected
to be set aside for court services are misdirected in these communities.

The fact that minority women suffer from the effects of multiple subordi-
nation, coupled with institutional expectations based on inappropriate
nonintersectional contexts, shapes and ultimately limits the opportunities for
meaningful intervention on their behalf. Recognizing the failure to consider
intersectional dynamics may go far toward explaining the high levels of fail-
ure, frustration, and burn-out experienced by counselors who attempt to
meet the needs of minority women victims.


The concept of political intersectionality highlights the fact that women

These survivors tend to be ethnic minority women. Often, a non-assimilated ethnic minor-
ity survivor requires translating and interpreting, transportation, overnight shelter for her-
self and possibly children, and counseling to significant others in addition to the usual
counseling and advocacy services. So, if a rape crisis center serves a predominantly ethnic
minority population, the “average” number of hours of service provided to each survivor is
much higher than for a center that serves a predominantly white population.

Id. at 275 (quoting position paper of the Southern California Rape Hotline Alliance).
33. Id. at 287-88.
34. The Director of Rosa Parks reported that she often runs into trouble with her funding

sources over the Center’s lower than average number of counselors accompanying victims to court.
Interview with Joan Greer, supra note 30.

Even though current statistics indicate that Black women are more likely to be victimized
than white women, Black women are less likely to report their rapes, less likely to have
their cases come to trial, less likely to have their trials result in convictions, and, most
disturbing, less likely to seek counseling and other support services.

RORS AND RAPE: A STUDY IN PSYCHOLOGY AND LAW 141 (1980) (data obtained from 1,056 citi-
zens serving as jurors in simulated legal rape cases generally showed that “the assailant of the black
woman was given a more lenient sentence than the white woman’s assailant”). According to Fern
Ferguson, an Illinois sex abuse worker, speaking at a Women of Color Institute conference in Knox-
ville, Tennessee, 10% of rapes involving white victims end in conviction, compared with 4.2% for
rapes involving non-white victims (and 2.3% for the less-inclusive group of Black rape victims).
UPI, July 30, 1985. Ferguson argues that myths about women of color being promiscuous and
wanting to be raped encourage the criminal justice system and medical professionals as well to treat
women of color differently than they treat white women after a rape has occurred. Id.

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of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently
pursue conflicting political agendas. The need to split one’s political energies
between two sometimes opposing groups is a dimension of intersectional dis-
empowerment that men of color and white women seldom confront. Indeed,
their specific raced and gendered experiences, although intersectional, often
define as well as confine the interests of the entire group. For example, ra-
cism as experienced by people of color who are of a particular gender-
male-tends to determine the parameters of antiracist strategies, just as sex-
ism as experienced by women who are of a particular race-white-tends to
ground the women’s movement. The problem is not simply that both dis-
courses fail women of color by not acknowledging the “additional” issue of
race or of patriarchy but that the discourses are often inadequate even to the
discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism. Be-
cause women of color experience racism in ways not always the same as
those experienced by men of color and sexism in ways not always parallel to
experiences of white women, antiracism and feminism are limited, even on
their own terms.

Among the most troubling political consequences of the failure of an-
tiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gen-
der is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interest of “people of
color” and “women,” respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the
validity of the other. The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that
the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the
subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate
patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordina-
tion of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political
dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial
of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and precludes the develop-
ment of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.

A. The Politicization of Domestic Violence

That the political interests of women of color are obscured and some-
times jeopardized by political strategies that ignore or suppress intersectional
issues is illustrated by my experiences in gathering information for this arti-
cle. I attempted to review Los Angeles Police Department statistics reflect-
ing the rate of domestic violence interventions by precinct because such
statistics can provide a rough picture of arrests by racial group, given the
degree of racial segregation in Los Angeles.36 L.A.P.D., however, would not
release the statistics. A representative explained that one reason the statis-
tics were not released was that domestic violence activists both within and

36. Most crime statistics are classified by sex or race but none are classified by sex and race.
Because we know that most rape victims are women, the racial breakdown reveals, at best, rape rates
for Black women. Yet, even given this head start, rates for other non-white women are difficult to
collect. While there are some statistics for Latinas, statistics for Asian and Native American women
are virtually non-existent. Cf G. Chezia Carraway, Violence Against Women of Color, 43 STAN. L.
REV. 1301 (1993).

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outside the Department feared that statistics reflecting the extent of domes-
tic violence in minority communities might be selectively interpreted and
publicized so as to undermine long-term efforts to force the Department to
address domestic violence as a serious problem. I was told that activists
were worried that the statistics might permit opponents to dismiss domestic
violence as a minoirty problem and, therefore, not deserving of aggressive

The informant also claimed that representatives from various minority
communities opposed the release of these statistics. They were concerned,
apparently, that the data would unfairly represent Black and Brown commu-
nities as unusually violent, potentially reinforcing stereotypes that might be
used in attempts to justify oppressive police tactics and other discriminatory
practices. These misgivings are based on the familiar and not unfounded
premise that certain minority groups-especially Black men-have already
been stereotyped as uncontrollably violent. Some worry that attempts to
make domestic violence an object of political action may only serve to con-
firm such stereotypes and undermine efforts to combat negative beliefs about
the Black community.

This account sharply illustrates how women of color can be erased by the
strategic silences of antiracism and feminism. The political priorities of both
were defined in ways that suppressed information that could have facilitated
attempts to confront the problem of domestic violence in communities of

1. Domestic violence and antiracist politics.

Within communities of color, efforts to stem the politicization of domes-
tic violence are often grounded in attempts to maintain the integrity of the
community. The articulation of this perspective takes different forms. Some
critics allege that feminism has no place within communities of color, that
the issues are internally divisive, and that they represent the migration of
white women’s concerns into a context in which they are not only irrelevant
but also harmful. At its most extreme, this rhetoric denies that gender vio-
lence is a problem in the community and characterizes any effort to politi-
cize gender subordination as itself a community problem. This is the
position taken by Shahrazad Ali in her controversial book, The Blackman’s
Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman.37 In this stridently antifeminist
tract, Ali draws a positive correlation between domestic violence and the


(1989). Ali’s book sold quite well for an independently published title, an accomplishment no doubt
due in part to her appearances on the Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, and Sally Jesse Raphael televi-
sion talk shows. For public and press reaction, see Dorothy Gilliam, Sick, Distorted Thinking,
Wash. Post, Oct. 11, 1990, at D3; Lena Williams, Black Woman’s Book Starts a Predictable Storm,
N.Y. Times, Oct. 2, 1990, at C11; see also PEARL CLEAGUE, MAD AT MILES: A BLACK WOMAN’S

GUIDE TO TRUTH (1990). The title clearly styled after Ali’s, Mad at Miles responds not only to
issues raised by Ali’s book, but also to Miles Davis’s admission in his autobiography, Miles: The
Autobiography (1989), that he had physically abused, among other women, his former wife, actress
Cicely Tyson.

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liberation of African Americans. Ali blames the deteriorating conditions
within the Black community on the insubordination of Black women and on
the failure of Black men to control them.38 Ali goes so far as to advise Black
men to physically chastise Black women when they are “disrespectful.”39
While she cautions that Black men must use moderation in disciplining
“their” women, she argues that Black men must sometimes resort to physi-
cal force to reestablish the authority over Black women that racism has

Ali’s premise is that patriarchy is beneficial for the Black community,41
and that it must be strengthened through coercive means if necessary.42 Yet

38. Shahrazad Ali suggests that the “[Blackwoman] certainly does not believe that her dis-
repect for the Blackman is destructive, nor that her opposition to him has deteriorated the Black
nation.” S. ALI, supra note 37, at viii. Blaming the problems of the community on the failure of the
Black woman to accept her “real definition,” Ali explains that “[n]o nation can rise when the natural
order of the behavior of the male and the female have been altered against their wishes by force. No
species can survive if the female of the genus disturbs the balance of her nature by acting other than
herself.” Id. at 76.

39. Ali advises the Blackman to hit the Blackwoman in the mouth, “[b]ecause it is from that
hole, in the lower part of her face, that all her rebellion culminates into words. Her unbridled tongue
is a main reason she cannot get along with the Blackman. She often needs a reminder.” Id. at 169.
Ali warns that “if [the Blackwoman] ignores the authority and superiority of the Blackman, there is
a penalty. When she crosses this line and becomes viciously insulting it is time for the Blackman to
soundly slap her in the mouth.” Id.

40. Ali explains that, “[r]egretfully some Blackwomen want to be physically controlled by the
Blackman.” Id. at 174. “The Blackwoman, deep inside her heart,” Ali reveals, “wants to surrender
but she wants to be coerced.” Id. at 72. “[The Blackwoman] wants [the Blackman] to stand up and
defend himself even if it means he has to knock her out of the way to do so. This is necessary
whenever the Blackwoman steps out of the protection of womanly behavior and enters the danger-
ous domain of masculine challenge.” Id. at 174.

41. Ali points out that “[t]he Blackman being number 1 and the Blackwoman being number 2
is another absolute law of nature. The Blackman was created first, he has seniority. And the
Blackwoman was created 2nd. He is first. She is second. The Blackman is the beginning and all
others come from him. Everyone on earth knows this except the Blackwoman.” Id. at 67.

42. In this regard, Ali’s arguments bear much in common with those of neoconservatives who
attribute many of the social ills plaguing Black America to the breakdown of patriarchal family
values. See, e.g., William Raspberry, If We Are to Rescue American Families, We Have to Save the
Boys, Chicago Trib., July 19, 1989, at C15; George F. Will, Voting Rights Won’t Fix It, Wash. Post,
Jan. 23, 1986, at A23; George F. Will, “White Racism” Doesn’t Make Blacks Mere Victims of Fate,
Milwaukee J., Feb. 21, 1986, at 9. Ali’s argument shares remarkable similarities to the controversial
“Moynihan Report” on the Black family, so called because its principal author was now-Senator
Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.). In the infamous chapter entitled “The Tangle of Pathology,” Moy-
nihan argued that

the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so
out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as
a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great
many Negro women as well.

controversy developed over the book, although few commentators challenged the patriarchy embed-
ded in the analysis. Bill Moyers, then a young minister and speechwriter for President Johnson,
firmly believed that the criticism directed at Moynihan was unfair. Some 20 years later, Moyers
resurrected the Moynihan thesis in a special television program, The Vanishing Family: Crisis in
Black America (CBS television broadcast, Jan. 25, 1986). The show first aired in January 1986 and
featured several African-American men and women who had become parents but were unwilling to
marry. Arthur Unger, Hardhitting Special About Black Families, Christian Sci. Mon., Jan. 23, 1986,


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the violence that accompanies this will to control is devastating, not only for
the Black women who are victimized, but also for the entire Black commu-
nity.43 The recourse to violence to resolve conflicts establishes a dangerous
pattern for children raised in such environments and contributes to many
other pressing problems.44 It has been estimated that nearly forty percent of
all homeless women and children have fled violence in the home,45 and an
estimated sixty-three percent of young men between the ages of eleven and
twenty who are imprisoned for homicide have killed their mothers’ batter-
ers.46 And yet, while gang violence, homicide, and other forms of Black-on-
Black crime have increasingly been discussed within African-American poli-
tics, patriarchal ideas about gender and power preclude the recognition of
domestic violence as yet another compelling incidence of Black-on-Black

Efforts such as Ali’s to justify violence against women in the name of
Black liberation are indeed extreme.47 The more common problem is that

at 23. Many saw the Moyers show as a vindication of Moynihan. President Reagan took the oppor-
tunity to introduce an initiative to revamp the welfare system a week after the program aired.
Michael Barone, Poor Children and Politics, Wash. Post, Feb. 10, 1986, at Al. Said one official, “Bill
Moyers has made it safe for people to talk about this issue, the disintegrating black family struc-
ture.” Robert Pear, President Reported Ready to Propose Overhaul of Social Welfare System, N.Y.
Times, Feb. 1, 1986, at A12. Critics of the Moynihan/Moyers thesis have argued that it scapegoats
the Black family generally and Black women in particular. For a series of responses, see Scapegoat-
ing the Black Family, NATION, July 24, 1989 (special issue, edited by Jewell Handy Gresham and
Margaret B. Wilkerson, with contributions from Margaret Burnham, Constance Clayton, Dorothy
Height, Faye Wattleton, and Marian Wright Edelman). For an analysis of the media’s endorsement
of the Moynihan/Moyers thesis, see CARL GINSBURG, RACE AND MEDIA: THE ENDURING LIFE OF

43. Domestic violence relates directly to issues that even those who subscribe to Ali’s position
must also be concerned about. The socioeconomic condition of Black males has been one such
central concern. Recent statistics estimate that 25% of Black males in their twenties are involved in
the criminal justice systems. See David G. Savage, Young Black Males in Jail or in Court Control
Study Says, L.A. Times, Feb. 27, 1990, at Al; Newsday, Feb. 27, 1990, at 15; Study Shows Racial
Imbalance in Penal System, N.Y. Times, Feb. 27, 1990, at A 18. One would think that the linkages
between violence in the home and the violence on the streets would alone persuade those like Ali to
conclude that the African-American community cannot afford domestic violence and the patriarchal
values that support it.

44. A pressing problem is the way domestic violence reproduces itself in subsequent genera-
tions. It is estimated that boys who witness violence against women are ten times more likely to
batter female partners as adults. Women and Violence: Hearings Before the Senate Comm. on the
Judiciary on Legislation to Reduce the Growing Problem of Violent Crime Against Women, 101st
Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 2, at 89 (1991) [hereinafter Hearings on Violent Crime Against Women] (testi-
mony of Charlotte Fedders). Other associated problems for boys who witness violence against wo-
men include higher rates of suicide, violent assault, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug use. Id., pt.
2, at 131 (statement of Sarah M. Buel, Assistant District Attorney, Massachusetts, and Supervisor,
Harvard Law School Battered Women’s Advocacy Project).

45. Id. at 142 (statement of Susan Kelly-Dreiss) (discussing several studies in Pennsylvania
linking homelessness to domestic violence).

46. Id. at 143 (statement of Susan Kelly-Dreiss).
47. Another historical example includes Eldridge Cleaver, who argued that he raped white

women as an assault upon the white community. Cleaver “practiced” on Black women first. EL-
DRIDGE CLEAVER, SOUL ON ICE 14-15 (1968). Despite the appearance of misogyny in both works,
each professes to worship Black women as “queens” of the Black community. This “queenly subser-
vience” parallels closely the image of the “woman on a pedestal” against which white feminists have
railed. Because Black women have been denied pedestal status within dominant society, the image
of the African queen has some appeal to many African-American women. Although it is not a

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the political or cultural interests of the community are interpreted in a way
that precludes full public recognition of the problem of domestic violence.
While it would be misleading to suggest that white Americans have come to
terms with the degree of violence in their own homes, it is nonetheless the
case that race adds yet another dimension to why the problem of domestic
violence is suppressed within nonwhite communities. People of color often
must weigh their interests in avoiding issues that might reinforce distorted
public perceptions against the need to acknowledge and address intracom-
munity problems. Yet the cost of suppression is seldom recognized in part
because the failure to discuss the issue shapes perceptions of how serious the
problem is in the first place.

The controversy over Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple can be un-
derstood as an intracommunity debate about the political costs of exposing
gender violence within the Black community.48 Some critics chastised
Walker for portraying Black men as violent brutes.49 One critic lambasted
Walker’s portrayal of Celie, the emotionally and physically abused protago-
nist who finally triumphs in the end. Walker, the critic contended, had cre-
ated in Celie a Black woman whom she couldn’t imagine existing in any
Black community she knew or could conceive of.50

The claim that Celie was somehow an unauthentic character might be
read as a consequence of silencing discussion of intracommunity violence.
Celie may be unlike any Black woman we know because the real terror ex-
perienced daily by minority women is routinely concealed in a misguided
(though perhaps understandable) attempt to forestall racial stereotyping. Of
course, it is true that representations of Black violence-whether statistical
or fictional-are often written into a larger script that consistently portrays
Black and other minority communities as pathologically violent. The prob-
lem, however, is not so much the portrayal of violence itself as it is the ab-
sence of other narratives and images portraying a fuller range of Black
experience. Suppression of some of these issues in the name of antiracism
imposes real costs. Where information about violence in minority communi-

feminist position, there are significant ways in which the promulgation of the image directly counters
the intersectional effects of racism and sexism that have denied African-American women a perch in
the “gilded cage.”

48. ALICE WALKER, THE COLOR PURPLE (1982). The most severe criticism of Walker devel-
oped after the book was filmed as a movie. Donald Bogle, a film historian, argued that part of the
criticism of the movie stemmed from the one-dimensional portrayal of Mister, the abusive man. See
Jacqueline Trescott, Passions Over Purple; Anger and Unease Over Film’s Depiction of Black Men,
Wash. Post, Feb. 5, 1986, at C1. Bogle argues that in the novel, Walker linked Mister’s abusive
conduct to his oppression in the white world-since Mister “can’t be himself, he has to assert himself
with the black woman.” The movie failed to make any connection between Mister’s abusive treat-
ment of Black women and racism, and thereby presented Mister only as an “insensitive, callous
man.” Id.

49. See, e.g., Gerald Early, Her Picture in the Papers: Remembering Some Black Women, AN-
TAEUS, Spring 1988, at 9; Daryl Pinckney, Black Victims, Black Villains, N.Y. REVIEW OF BOOKS,
Jan. 29, 1987, at 17; Trescott, supra note 48.

50. Trudier Harris, On the Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence, 18 BLACK AM. LIT. F. 155,
155 (1984).

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ties is not available, domestic violence is unlikely to be addressed as a serious

The political imperatives of a narrowly focused antiracist strategy sup-
port other practices that isolate women of color. For example, activists who
have attempted to provide support services to Asian- and African-American
women report intense resistance from those communities.51 At other times,
cultural and social factors contribute to suppression. Nilda Rimonte, direc-
tor of Everywoman’s Shelter in Los Angeles, points out that in the Asian
community, saving the honor of the family from shame is a priority.52 Un-
fortunately, this priority tends to be interpreted as obliging women not to
scream rather than obliging men not to hit.

Race and culture contribute to the suppression of domestic violence in
other ways as well. Women of color are often reluctant to call the police, a
hesitancy likely due to a general unwillingness among people of color to
subject their private lives to the scrutiny and control of a police force that is
frequently hostile. There is also a more generalized community ethic against
public intervention, the product of a desire to create a private world free
from the diverse assaults on the public lives of racially subordinated people.
The home is not simply a man’s castle in the patriarchal sense, but may also
function as a safe haven from the indignities of life in a racist society. How-
ever, but for this “safe haven” in many cases, women of color victimized by
violence might otherwise seek help.

There is also a general tendency within antiracist discourse to regard the
problem of violence against women of color as just another manifestation of
racism. In this sense, the relevance of gender domination within the com-
munity is reconfigured as a consequence of discrimination against men. Of

51. The source of the resistance reveals an interesting difference between the Asian-American
and African-American communities. In the African-American community, the resistance is usually
grounded in efforts to avoid confirming negative stereotypes of African-Americans as violent; the
concern of members in some Asian-American communities is to avoid tarnishing the model minority
myth. Interview with Nilda Rimonte, Director of the Everywoman Shelter, in Los Angeles, Califor-
nia (April 19, 1991).

52. Nilda Rimonte, A Question of Culture: Cultural Approval of Violence Against Women in
the Pacific-Asian Community and the Cultural Defense, 43 STAN. L. REV. 1311 (1991); see also Nilda
Rimonte, Domestic Violence Against Pacific Asians, in MAKING WAVES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF WRIT-
INGS BY AND ABOUT ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN 327, 328 (Asian Women United of California ed.
1989) (“Traditionally Pacific Asians conceal and deny problems that threaten group pride and may
bring on shame. Because of the strong emphasis on obligations to the family, a Pacific Asian woman
will often remain silent rather than admit to a problem that might disgrace her family.”). Addition-
ally, the possibility of ending the marriage may inhibit an immigrant woman from seeking help.
Tina Shum, a family counselor, explains that a “‘divorce is a shame on the whole family…. The
Asian woman who divorces feels tremendous guilt.'” Of course, one could, in an attempt to be
sensitive to cultural difference, stereotype a culture or defer to it in ways that abandon women to
abuse. When-or, more importantly, how-to take culture into account when addressing the needs
of women of color is a complicated issue. Testimony as to the particularities of Asian “culture” has
increasingly been used in trials to determine the culpability of both Asian immigrant women and
men who are charged with crimes of interpersonal violence. A position on the use of the “cultural
defense” in these instances depends on how “culture” is being defined as well as on whether and to
what extent the “cultural defense” has been used differently for Asian men and Asian women. See
Leti Volpp, (Mis)Identifying Culture: Asian Women and the “Cultural Defense,” (unpublished man-
uscript) (on file with the Stanford Law Review).

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course, it is probably true that racism contributes to the cycle of violence,
given the stress that men of color experience in dominant society. It is there-
fore more than reasonable to explore the links between racism and domestic
violence. But the chain of violence is more complex and extends beyond this
single link. Racism is linked to patriarchy to the extent that racism denies
men of color the power and privilege that dominant men enjoy. When vio-
lence is understood as an acting-out of being denied male power in other
spheres, it seems counterproductive to embrace constructs that implicitly
link the solution to domestic violence to the acquisition of greater male
power. The more promising political imperative is to challenge the legiti-
macy of such power expectations by exposing their dysfunctional and
debilitating effect on families and communities of color. Moreover, while
understanding links between racism and domestic violence is an important
component of any effective intervention strategy, it is also clear that women
of color need not await the ultimate triumph over racism before they can
expect to live violence-free lives.

2. Race and the domestic violence lobby.
Not only do race-based priorities function to obscure the problem of vio-

lence suffered by women of color; feminist concerns often suppress minority
experiences as well. Strategies for increasing awareness of domestic violence
within the white community tend to begin by citing the commonly shared
assumption that battering is a minority problem. The strategy then focuses
on demolishing this strawman, stressing that spousal abuse also occurs in the
white community. Countless first-person stories begin with a statement like,
“I was not supposed to be a battered wife.” That battering occurs in families
of all races and all classes seems to be an ever-present theme of anti-abuse
campaigns.53 First-person anecdotes and studies, for example, consistently
assert that battering cuts across racial, ethnic, economic, educational, and
religious lines.54 Such disclaimers seem relevant only in the presence of an

53. See, e.g., Hearings on Violent Crime Against Women, supra note 44, pt. 1, at 101 (testimony
of Roni Young, Director of Domestic Violence Unit, Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore
City, Baltimore, Maryland) (“The victims do not fit a mold by any means.”); Id. pt. 2, at 89 (testi-
mony of Charlotte Fedders) (“Domestic violence occurs in all economic, cultural, racial, and reli-
gious groups. There is not a typical woman to be abused.”); Id. pt. 2 at 139 (statement of Susan
Kelly-Dreiss, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence) (“Victims
come from a wide spectrum of life experiences and backgrounds. Women can be beaten in any
neighborhood and in any town.”).

How SOCIETY RESPONDS 101-02 (1989) (“Battered women come from all types of economic, cul-
tural, religious, and racial backgrounds…. They are women like you. Like me. Like those whom
HIND CLOSED DOORS: VIOLENCE IN THE AMERICAN FAMILY 31 (1980) (“Wife-beating is found in
every class, at every income level.”); Natalie Loder Clark, Crime Begins At Home: Let’s Stop Punish-
ing Victims and Perpetuating Violence, 28 WM. & MARY L. REV. 263, 282 n.74 (1987) (“The prob-
lem of domestic violence cuts across all social lines and affects ‘families regardless of their economic
class, race, national origin, or educational background.’ Commentators have indicated that domestic
violence is prevalent among upper middle-class families.”) (citations omitted); Kathleen Waits, The
Criminal Justice System’s Response to Battering. Understanding the Problem, Forging the Solutions,
60 WASH. L. REV. 267, 276 (1985) (“It is important to emphasize that wife abuse is prevalent

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initial, widely held belief that domestic violence occurs primarily in minority
or poor families. Indeed some authorities explicitly renounce the “stere-
otypical myths” about battered women.55 A few commentators have even
transformed the message that battering is not exclusively a problem of the
poor or minority communities into a claim that it equally affects all races
and classes.56 Yet these comments seem less concerned with exploring do-
mestic abuse within “stereotyped” communities than with removing the ster-
eotype as an obstacle to exposing battering within white middle- and upper-
class communities.57

Efforts to politicize the issue of violence against women challenge beliefs
that violence occurs only in homes of “others.” While it is unlikely that
advocates and others who adopt this rhetorical strategy intend to exclude or
ignore the needs of poor and colored women, the underlying premise of this
seemingly univeralistic appeal is to keep the sensibilities of dominant social

throughout our society. Recently collected data merely confirm what people working with victims
have long known: battering occurs in all social and economic groups.”) (citations omitted); Liza G.
Lerman, Mediation of Wife Abuse Cases: The adverse Impact of Informal Dispute Resolution on
Women, 7 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 57, 63 (1984) (“Battering occurs in all racial, economic, and reli-
gious groups, in rural, urban, and suburban settings.”) (citation omitted); Steven M. Cook, Domestic
Abuse Legislation in Illinois and Other States: A Survey and Suggestions for Reform, 1983 U. ILL. L.
REV. 261, 262 (1983) (student author) (“Although domestic violence is difficult to measure, several
studies suggest that spouse abuse is an extensive problem, one which strikes families regardless of
their economic class, race, national origin, or educational background.”) (citations omitted).

55. For example, Susan Kelly-Dreiss states:
The public holds many myths about battered women-they are poor, they are women of
color, they are uneducated, they are on welfare, they deserve to be beaten and they even
like it. However, contrary to common misperceptions, domestic violence is not confined to
any one socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, racial or age group.

Hearings on Violent Crime Against Women, supra note 44, pt. 2, at 139 (testimony of Susan Kelly-
Dreiss, Executive Director, Pa. Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Kathleen Waits offers a pos-
sible explanation for this misperception:

It is true that battered women who are also poor are more likely to come to the attention of
governmental officials than are their middle- and upper-class counterparts. However, this
phenomenon is caused more by the lack of alternative resources and the intrusiveness of
the welfare state than by any significantly higher incidence of violence among lower-class

Waits, supra note 54, at 276-77 (citations omitted).
56. However, no reliable statistics support such a claim. In fact, some statistics suggest that

there is a greater frequency of violence among the working classes and the poor. See M. STRAUS, R.
GELLES, & S. STEINMETZ, supra note 54, at 31. Yet these statistics are also unreliable because, to
follow Waits’s observation, violence in middle- and upper-class homes remains hidden from the view
of statisticians and governmental officials alike. See note 55 supra. I would suggest that assertions
that the problem is the same across race and class are driven less by actual knowledge about the
prevalence of domestic violence in different communities than by advocates’ recognition that the
image of domestic violence as an issue involving primarily the poor and minorities complicates ef-
forts to mobilize against it.

57. On January 14, 1991, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) introduced Senate Bill 15, the Vio-
lence Against Women Act of 1991, comprehensive legislation addressing violent crime confronting
women. S. 15, 102d Cong., 1st Sess. (1991). The bill consists of several measures designed to create
safe streets, safe homes, and safe campuses for women. More specifically, Title III of the bill creates
a civil rights remedy for crimes of violence motivated by the victim’s gender. Id. ? 301. Among the
findings supporting the bill were “(1) crimes motivated by the victim’s gender constitute bias crimes
in violation of the victim’s right to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender” and “(2) cur-
rent law [does not provide a civil rights remedy] for gender crimes committed on the street or in the
home.” S. REP. No. 197, 102d Cong., 1st Sess. 27 (1991).

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groups focused on the experiences of those groups. Indeed, as subtly sug-
gested by the opening comments of Senator David Boren (D-Okla.) in sup-
port of the Violence Against Women Act of 1991, the displacement of the
“other” as the presumed victim of domestic violence works primarily as a
political appeal to rally white elites. Boren said,

Violent crimes against women are not limited to the streets of the inner
cities, but also occur in homes in the urban and rural areas across the

Violence against women affects not only those who are actually beaten
and brutalized, but indirectly affects all women. Today, our wives, mothers,
daughters, sisters, and colleagues are held captive by fear generated from
these violent crimes-held captive not for what they do or who they are, but
solely because of gender.58

Rather than focusing on and illuminating how violence is disregarded when
the home is “othered,” the strategy implicit in Senator Boren’s remarks
functions instead to politicize the problem only in the dominant community.
This strategy permits white women victims to come into focus, but does little
to disrupt the patterns of neglect that permitted the problem to continue as
long as it was imagined to be a minority problem. The experience of vio-
lence by minority women is ignored, except to the extent it gains white sup-
port for domestic violence programs in the white community.

Senator Boren and his colleagues no doubt believe that they have pro-
vided legislation and resources that will address the problems of all women
victimized by domestic violence. Yet despite their universalizing rhetoric of
“all” women, they were able to empathize with female victims of domestic
violence only by looking past the plight of “other” women and by recogniz-
ing the familiar faces of their own. The strength of the appeal to “protect
our women” must be its race and class specificity. After all, it has always
been someone’s wife, mother, sister, or daughter that has been abused, even
when the violence was stereotypically Black or Brown, and poor. The point
here is not that the Violence Against Women Act is particularistic on its
own terms, but that unless the Senators and other policymakers ask why
violence remained insignificant as long as it was understood as a minority
problem, it is unlikely that women of color will share equally in the distribu-
tion of resources and concern. It is even more unlikely, however, that those
in power will be forced to confront this issue. As long as attempts to politi-
cize domestic violence focus on convincing whites that this is not a “minor-
ity” problem but their problem, any authentic and sensitive attention to the

58. 137 Cong. Rec. S611 (daily ed. Jan. 14, 1991) (statement of Sen. Boren). Senator William
Cohen (D-Me.) followed with a similar statement, noting that rapes and domestic assaults

are not limited to the streets of our inner cities or to those few highly publicized cases that
we read about in the newspapers or see on the evening news. Women throughout the
country, in our Nation’s urban areas and rural communities, are being beaten and brutal-
ized in the streets and in their homes. It is our mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, friends,
neighbors, and coworkers who are being victimized; and in many cases, they are being
victimized by family members, friends, and acquaintances.

Id. (statement of Sen. Cohen).

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experiences of Black and other minority women probably will continue to be
regarded as jeopardizing the movement.

While Senator Boren’s statement reflects a self-consciously political pres-
entation of domestic violence, an episode of the CBS news program 48
Hours59 shows how similar patterns of othering nonwhite women are appar-
ent in journalistic accounts of domestic violence as well. The program
presented seven women who were victims of abuse. Six were interviewed at
some length along with their family members, friends, supporters, and even
detractors. The viewer got to know something about each of these women.
These victims were humanized. Yet the seventh woman, the only nonwhite
one, never came into focus. She was literally unrecognizable throughout the
segment, first introduced by photographs showing her face badly beaten and
later shown with her face electronically altered in the videotape of a hearing
at which she was forced to testify. Other images associated with this woman
included shots of a bloodstained room and blood-soaked pillows. Her boy-
friend was pictured handcuffed while the camera zoomed in for a close-up of
his bloodied sneakers. Of all the presentations in the episode, hers was the
most graphic and impersonal. The overall point of the segment “featuring”
this woman was that battering might not escalate into homicide if battered
women would only cooperate with prosecutors. In focusing on its own
agenda and failing to explore why this woman refused to cooperate, the pro-
gram diminished this woman, communicating, however subtly, that she was
responsible for her own victimization.

Unlike the other women, all of whom, again, were white, this Black wo-
man had no name, no family, no context. The viewer sees her only as vic-
timized and uncooperative. She cries when shown pictures. She pleads not
to be forced to view the bloodstained room and her disfigured face. The
program does not help the viewer to understand her predicament. The pos-
sible reasons she did not want to testify-fear, love, or possibly both-are
never suggested.60 Most unfortunately, she, unlike the other six, is given no
epilogue. While the fates of the other women are revealed at the end of the
episode, we discover nothing about the Black woman. She, like the “others”
she represents, is simply left to herself and soon forgotten.

I offer this description to suggest that “other” women are silenced as
much by being relegated to the margin of experience as by total exclusion.
Tokenistic, objectifying, voyeuristic inclusion is at least as disempowering as
complete exclusion. The effort to politicize violence against women will do
little to address Black and other minority women if their images are retained
simply to magnify the problem rather than to humanize their experiences.
Similarly, the antiracist agenda will not be advanced significantly by forcibly
suppressing the reality of battering in minority communities. As the 48
Hours episode makes clear, the images and stereotypes we fear are readily

59. 48 Hours: Till Death Do Us Part (CBS television broadcast, Feb. 6, 1991).
60. See Christine A. Littleton, Women’s Experience and the Problem of Transition: Perspectives

on Male Battering of Women, 1989 U. CHI. LEGAL F. 23.

July 1991] 1261

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available and are frequently deployed in ways that do not generate sensitive
understanding of the nature of domestic violence in minority communities.

3. Race and domestic violence support services.

Women working in the field of domestic violence have sometimes repro-
duced the subordination and marginalization of women of color by adopting
policies, priorities, or strategies of empowerment that either elide or wholly
disregard the particular intersectional needs of women of color. While gen-
der, race, and class intersect to create the particular context in which women
of color experience violence, certain choices made by “allies” can reproduce
intersectional subordination within the very resistance strategies designed to
respond to the problem.

This problem is starkly illustrated by the inaccessibility of domestic vio-
lence support services to many non-English-speaking women. In a letter
written to the deputy commissioner of the New York State Department of
Social Services, Diana Campos, Director of Human Services for Programas
de Ocupaciones y Desarrollo Econ6mico Real, Inc. (PODER), detailed the
case of a Latina in crisis who was repeatedly denied accomodation at a shel-
ter because she could not prove that she was English-proficient. The woman
had fled her home with her teenaged son, believing her husband’s threats to
kill them both. She called the domestic violence hotline administered by
PODER seeking shelter for herself and her son. Because most shelters
would not accommodate the woman with her son, they were forced to live
on the streets for two days. The hotline counselor was finally able to find an
agency that would take both the mother and the son, but when the counselor
told the intake coordinator at the shelter that the woman spoke limited Eng-
lish, the coordinator told her that they could not take anyone who was not
English-proficient. When the woman in crisis called back and was told of
the shelter’s “rule,” she replied that she could understand English if spoken
to her slowly. As Campos explains, Mildred, the hotline counselor, told
Wendy, the intake coordinator

that the woman said that she could communicate a little in English. Wendy
told Mildred that they could not provide services to this woman because
they have house rules that the woman must agree to follow. Mildred asked
her, “What if the woman agrees to follow your rules? Will you still not take
her?” Wendy responded that all of the women at the shelter are required to
attend [a] support group and they would not be able to have her in the group
if she could not communicate. Mildred mentioned the severity of this wo-
man’s case. She told Wendy that the woman had been wandering the streets
at night while her husband is home, and she had been mugged twice. She
also reiterated the fact that this woman was in danger of being killed by
either her husband or a mugger. Mildred expressed that the woman’s safety
was a priority at this point, and that once in a safe place, receiving counsel-
ing in a support group could be dealt with.61

61. Letter of Diana M. Campos, Director of Human Services, PODER, to Joseph Semidei,

1262 [Vol. 43:1241

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The intake coordinator restated the shelter’s policy of taking only Eng-
lish-speaking women, and stated further that the woman would have to call
the shelter herself for screening. If the woman could communicate with
them in English, she might be accepted. When the woman called the
PODER hotline later that day, she was in such a state of fear that the hotline
counselor who had been working with her had difficulty understanding her
in Spanish.62 Campos directly intervened at this point, calling the executive
director of the shelter. A counselor called back from the shelter. As Cam-
pos reports,

Marie [the counselor] told me that they did not want to take the woman in
the shelter because they felt that the woman would feel isolated. I explained
that the son agreed to translate for his mother during the intake process.
Furthermore, that we would assist them in locating a Spanish-speaking bat-
tered women’s advocate to assist in counseling her. Marie stated that utiliz-
ing the son was not an acceptable means of communication for them, since it
further victimized the victim. In addition, she stated that they had similar
experiences with women who were non-English-speaking, and that the wo-
men eventually just left because they were not able to communicate with
anyone. I expressed my extreme concern for her safety and reiterated that
we would assist them in providing her with the necessary services until we
could get her placed someplace where they had bilingual staff.63

After several more calls, the shelter finally agreed to take the woman.
The woman called once more during the negotiation; however, after a plan
was in place, the woman never called back. Said Campos, “After so many
calls, we are now left to wonder if she is alive and well, and if she will ever
have enough faith in our ability to help her to call us again the next time she
is in crisis.”64

Despite this woman’s desperate need, she was unable to receive the pro-
tection afforded English-speaking women, due to the shelter’s rigid commit-
ment to exclusionary policies. Perhaps even more troubling than the
shelter’s lack of bilingual resources was its refusal to allow a friend or rela-
tive to translate for the woman. This story illustrates the absurdity of a
feminist approach that would make the ability to attend a support group
without a translator a more significant consideration in the distribution of
resources than the risk of physical harm on the street. The point is not that
the shelter’s image of empowerment is empty, but rather that it was imposed
without regard to the disempowering consequences for women who didn’t
match the kind of client the shelter’s administrators imagined. And thus
they failed to accomplish the basic priority of the shelter movement-to get
the woman out of danger.

Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Social Services (Mar. 26, 1992) [hereinafter
PODER Letter].

62. The woman had been slipping back into her home during the day when her husband was at
work. She remained in a heightened state of anxiety because he was returning shortly and she would
be forced to go back out into the streets for yet another night.

63. PODER Letter, supra note 61 (emphasis added).
64. Id.

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Here the woman in crisis was made to bear the burden of the shelter’s
refusal to anticipate and provide for the needs of non-English-speaking wo-
men. Said Campos, “It is unfair to impose more stress on victims by placing
them in the position of having to demonstrate their proficiency in English in
order to receive services that are readily available to other battered wo-
men.”65 The problem is not easily dismissed as one of well-intentioned igno-
rance. The specific issue of monolingualism and the monistic view of
women’s experience that set the stage for this tragedy were not new issues in
New York. Indeed, several women of color reported that they had repeat-
edly struggled with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Vio-
lence over language exclusion and other practices that marginalized the
interests of women of color.66 Yet despite repeated lobbying, the Coalition
did not act to incorporate the specific needs of nonwhite women into its
central organizing vision.

Some critics have linked the Coalition’s failure to address these issues to
the narrow vision of coalition that animated its interaction with women of
color in the first place. The very location of the Coalition’s headquarters in
Woodstock, New York-an area where few people of color live-seemed to
guarantee that women of color would play a limited role in formulating pol-
icy. Moreover, efforts to include women of color came, it seems, as some-
thing of an afterthought. Many were invited to participate only after the
Coalition was awarded a grant by the state to recruit women of color. How-
ever, as one “recruit” said, “they were not really prepared to deal with us or
our issues. They thought that they could simply incorporate us into their
organization without rethinking any of their beliefs or priorities and that we
would be happy.”67 Even the most formal gestures of inclusion were not to
be taken for granted. On one occasion when several women of color at-
tended a meeting to discuss a special task force on women of color, the
group debated all day over including the issue on the agenda.68

The relationship between the white women and the women of color on
the Board was a rocky one from beginning to end. Other conflicts developed
over differing definitions of feminism. For example, the Board decided to
hire a Latina staffperson to manage outreach programs to the Latino com-
munity, but the white members of the hiring committee rejected candidates
favored by Latina committee members who did not have recognized feminist

65. Id.
66. Roundtable Discussion on Racism and the Domestic Violence Movement (April 2, 1992)

(transcript on file with the Stanford Law Review). The participants in the discussion-Diana Cam-
pos, Director, Bilingual Outreach Project of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Vio-
lence; Elsa A. Rios, Project Director, Victim Intervention Project (a community-based project in
East Harlem, New York, serving battered women); and Haydee Rosario, a social worker with the
East Harlem Council for Human Services and a Victim Intervention Project volunteer-recounted
conflicts relating to race and culture during their association with the New York State Coalition
Against Domestic Violence, a state oversight group that distributed resources to battered women’s
shelters throughout the state and generally set policy priorities for the shelters that were part of the

67. Id.
68. Id.

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credentials. As Campos pointed out, by measuring Latinas against their
own biographies, the white members of the Board failed to recognize the
different circumstances under which feminist consciousness develops and
manifests itself within minority communities. Many of the women who in-
terviewed for the position were established activists and leaders within their
own community, a fact in itself suggesting that these women were probably
familiar with the specific gender dynamics in their communities and were
accordingly better qualified to handle outreach than other candidates with
more conventional feminist credentials.69

The Coalition ended a few months later when the women of color walked
out.70 Many of these women returned to community-based organizations,
preferring to struggle over women’s issues within their communities rather
than struggle over race and class issues with white middle-class women. Yet
as illustrated by the case of the Latina who could find no shelter, the domi-
nance of a particular perspective and set of priorities within the shelter com-
munity continues to marginalize the needs of women of color.

The struggle over which differences matter and which do not is neither
an abstract nor an insignificant debate among women. Indeed, these con-
flicts are about more than difference as such; they raise critical issues of
power. The problem is not simply that women who dominate the antivi-
olence movement are different from women of color but that they frequently
have power to determine, either through material or rhetorical resources,
whether the intersectional differences of women of color will be incorporated
at all into the basic formulation of policy. Thus, the struggle over incorpo-
rating these differences is not a petty or superficial conflict about who gets to
sit at the head of the table. In the context of violence, it is sometimes a
deadly serious matter of who will survive-and who will not.71

B. Political Intersectionalities in Rape

In the previous sections, I have used intersectionality to describe or
frame various relationships between race and gender. I have used intersec-
tionality as a way to articulate the interaction of racism and patriarchy gen-
erally. I have also used intersectionality to describe the location of women
of color both within overlapping systems of subordination and at the mar-
gins of feminism and antiracism. When race and gender factors are ex-
amined in the context of rape, intersectionality can be used to map the ways
in which racism and patriarchy have shaped conceptualizations of rape, to
describe the unique vulnerability of women of color to these converging sys-

69. Id.
70. Ironically, the specific dispute that led to the walk-out concerned the housing of the Span-

ish-language domestic violence hotline. The hotline was initially housed at the Coalition’s headquar-
ters, but languished after a succession of coordinators left the organization. Latinas on the Coalition
board argued that the hotline should be housed at one of the community service agencies, while the
board insisted on maintaining control of it. The hotline is now housed at PODER. Id.

71. Said Campos, “It would be a shame that in New York state a battered woman’s life or
death were dependent upon her English language skills.” PODER Letter, supra note 61.

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tems of domination, and to track the marginalization of women of color
within antiracist and antirape discourses.72

1. Racism and sexism in dominant conceptualizations of rape.

Generations of critics and activists have criticized dominant conceptual-
izations of rape as racist and sexist. These efforts have been important in
revealing the way in which representations of rape both reflect and
reproduce race and gender hierarchies in American society.73 Black women,
as both women and people of color, are situated within both groups, each of
which has benefitted from challenges to sexism and racism, respectively, and
yet the particular dynamics of gender and race relating to the rape of Black
women have received scant attention. Although antiracist and antisexist as-
saults on rape have been politically useful to Black women, at some level, the
monofocal antiracist and feminist critiques have also produced a political
discourse that disserves Black women.

Historically, the dominant conceptualization of rape as quintessentially
Black offender/white victim has left Black men subject to legal and extrale-
gal violence. The use of rape to legitimize efforts to control and discipline
the Black community is well established, and the casting of all Black men as
potential threats to the sanctity of white womanhood was a familiar con-
struct that antiracists confronted and attempted to dispel over a century ago.

Feminists have attacked other dominant, essentially patriarchal, concep-
tions of rape, particularly as represented through law. The early emphasis of
rape law on the property-like aspect of women’s chastity resulted in less so-
licitude for rape victims whose chastity had been in some way devalued.
Some of the most insidious assumptions were written into the law, including
the early common-law notion that a woman alleging rape must be able to
show that she resisted to the utmost in order to prove that she was raped,
rather than seduced. Women themselves were put on trial, as judge and jury
scrutinized their lives to determine whether they were innocent victims or
women who essentially got what they were asking for. Legal rules thus func-
tioned to legitimize a good woman/bad woman dichotomy in which women
who lead sexually autonomous lives were usually least likely to be vindicated
if they were raped.

72. The discussion in following section focuses rather narrowly on the dynamics of a Black/
white sexual hierarchy. I specify African Americans in part because given the centrality of sexuality
as a site of racial domination of African Americans, any generalizations that might be drawn from
this history seem least applicable to other racial groups. To be sure, the specific dynamics of racial
oppression experienced by other racial groups are likely to have a sexual componant as well. Indeed,
the repertoire of racist imagery that is commonly associated with different racial groups each contain
a sexual stereotype as well. These images probably influence the way that rapes involving other
minority groups are perceived both internally and in society-at-large, but they are likely to function
in different ways.

73. For example, the use of rape to legitimize efforts to control and discipline the Black com-
munity is well established in historical literature on rape and race. See JOYCE E. WILLIAMS &
the threat of rape, is an important tool of social control in a complex system of racial-sexual

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Today, long after the most egregious discriminatory laws have been erad-
icated, constructions of rape in popular discourse and in criminal law con-
tinue to manifest vestiges of these racist and sexist themes. As Valerie Smith
notes, “a variety of cultural narratives that historically have linked sexual
violence with racial oppression continue to determine the nature of public
response to [interracial rapes].”74 Smith reviews the well-publicized case of
a jogger who was raped in New York’s Central Park75 to expose how the
public discourse on the assault “made the story of sexual victimization insep-
arable from the rhetoric of racism.”76 Smith contends that in dehumanizing
the rapists as “savages,” “wolves,” and “beasts,” the press “shaped the dis-
course around the event in ways that inflamed pervasive fears about black
men.”77 Given the chilling parallels between the media representations of
the Central Park rape and the sensationalized coverage of similar allegations
that in the past frequently culminated in lynchings, one could hardly be sur-
prised when Donald Trump took out a full page ad in four New York news-
papers demanding that New York “Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring
Back Our Police.”78

Other media spectacles suggest that traditional gender-based stereotypes
that are oppressive to women continue to figure in the popular construction
of rape. In Florida, for example, a controversy was sparked by a jury’s ac-
quittal of a man accused of a brutal rape because, in the jurors’ view, the
woman’s attire suggested that she was asking for sex.79 Even the press cov-

74. Valerie Smith, Split Affinities: The Case of Interracial Rape, in CONFLICTS IN FEMINISM
271, 274 (Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller eds. 1990).

75. On April 18, 1989, a young white woman, jogging through New York’s Central Park, was
raped, severely beaten, and left unconscious in an attack by as many as 12 Black youths. Craig
Wolff, Youths Rape and Beat Central Park Jogger, N.Y. Times, Apr. 21, 1989, at B1.

76. Smith, supra note 74, at 276-78.
77. Smith cites the use of animal images to characterize the accused Black rapists, including

descriptions such as: “‘a wolfpack of more than a dozen young teenagers’ and ‘[t]here was a full
moon Wednesday night. A suitable backdrop for the howling of wolves. A vicious pack ran ram-
pant through Central Park…. This was bestial brutality.’ ” An editorial in the New York Times
was entitled “The Jogger and the Wolf Pack.” Id. at 277 (citations omitted).

Evidence of the ongoing link between rape and racism in American culture is by no means
unique to media coverage of the Central Park jogger case. In December 1990, the George Washing-
ton University student newspaper, The Hatchet, printed a story in which a white student alleged that
she had been raped at knifepoint by two Black men on or near the campus. The story caused
considerable racial tension. Shortly after the report appeared, the woman’s attorney informed the
campus police that his client had fabricated the attack. After the hoax was uncovered, the woman
said that she hoped the story “would highlight the problems of safety for women.” Felicity Banger,
False Rape Report Upsetting Campus, N.Y. Times, Dec. 12, 1990, at A2; see also Les Payne, A Rape
Hoax Stirs Up Hate, Newsday, Dec. 16, 1990, at 6.

78. William C. Troft, Deadly Donald, UPI, Apr. 30 1989. Donald Trump explained that he
spent $85,000 to take out these ads because “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They
should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” Trump
Calls for Death to Muggers, L.A. Times, May 1, 1989, at A2. But cf. Leaders Fear ‘Lynch’ Hysteria
in Response to Trump Ads, UPI, May 6, 1989 (community leaders feared that Trump’s ads would fan
“the flames of racial polarization and hatred”); Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Cost of Full-Page Ad Could
Help Fight Causes of Urban Violence, N.Y. Times, May 15, 1989, at A18 (“Mr. Trump’s proposal
could well lead to further violence.”).

79. Ian Ball, Rape Victim to Blame, Says Jury, Daily Telegraph, Oct. 6, 1989, at 3. Two
months after the acquittal, the same man pled guilty to raping a Georgia woman to whom he said,

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erage of William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial involved a considerable degree
of speculation regarding the sexual history of his accuser.80

The racism and sexism written into the social construction of rape are
merely contemporary manifestations of rape narratives emanating from a
historical period when race and sex hierarchies were more explicitly policed.
Yet another is the devaluation of Black women and the marginalization of
their sexual victimizations. This was dramatically shown in the special at-
tention given to the rape of the Central Park jogger during a week in which
twenty-eight other cases of first-degree rape or attempted rape were reported
in New York.81 Many of these rapes were as horrific as the rape in Central
Park, yet all were virtually ignored by the media. Some were gang rapes,82
and in a case that prosecutors described as was “one of the most brutal in
recent years,” a woman was raped, sodomized and thrown fifty feet off the
top of a four-story building in Brooklyn. Witnesses testified that the victim
“screamed as she plunged down the air shaft…. She suffered fractures of
both ankles and legs, her pelvis was shattered and she suffered extensive
internal injuries.”83 This rape survivor, like most of the other forgotten vic-
tims that week, was a woman of color.

In short, during the period when the Central Park jogger dominated the
headlines, many equally horrifying rapes occurred. None, however, elicited
the public expressions of horror and outrage that attended the Central Park
rape.84 To account for these different responses, Professor Smith suggests a

“It’s your fault. You’re wearing a skirt.” Roger Simon, Rape: Clothing is Not the Criminal, L.A.
Times, Feb. 18, 1990, at E2.

80. See Barbara Kantrowitz, Naming Names, NEWSWEEK, Apr. 29, 1991, at 26 (discussing
the tone of several newspaper investigations into the character of the woman who alleged that she
was raped by William Kennedy Smith). There were other dubious assumptions animating the cover-
age. One article described Smith as an “unlikely candidate for the rapist’s role.” Boy’s Night Out in
Palm Beach, TIME, Apr. 22, 1991, at 82. But see Hillary Rustin, Letters: The Kennedy Problem,
TIME, May 20, 1991, at 7 (criticizing authors for perpetuating stereotypical images of the who is or is
not a “likely” rapist). Smith was eventually acquitted.

81. The New York Times pointed out that “[n]early all the rapes reported during that April
week were of black or Hispanic women. Most went unnoticed by the public.” Don Terry, In Week
of an Infamous Rape, 28 Other Victims Suffer, N.Y. Times, May 29, 1989, at B25. Nearly all of the
rapes occurred between attackers and victims of the same race: “Among the victims were 17 blacks,
7 Hispanic women, 3 whites, and 2 Asians.” Id.

82. In Glen Ridge, an affluent New Jersey suburb, five white middle-class teenagers allegedly
gang-raped a retarded white woman with a broom handle and a miniature baseball bat. See Robert
Hanley, Sexual Assault Splits a New Jersey Town, N.Y. Times, May 26, 1989, at Bl; Derrick Z.
Jackson, The Seeds of Violence, Boston Globe, June 2, 1989, at 23; Bill Turque, Gang Rape in the
Suburbs, NEWSWEEK, June 5, 1989, at 26.

83. Robert D. McFadden, 2 Men Get 6 to 18 Years for Rape in Brooklyn, N.Y. Times, Oct. 2,
1990, at B2. The woman “lay, half naked, moaning and crying for help until a neighbor heard her”
in the air shaft. Community Rallies to Support Victim of Brutal Brooklyn Rape, N.Y. Daily News,
June 26, 1989, at 6. The victim “suffered such extensive injuries that she had to learn to walk
again …. She faces years of psychological counseling .. .” McFadden, supra.

84. This differential response was epitomized by public reaction to the rape-murder of a young
Black woman in Boston on October 31, 1990. Kimberly Rae Harbour, raped and stabbed more than
100 times by eight members of a local gang, was an unwed mother, an occasional prostitute, and a
drug-user. The Central Park victim was a white, upper-class professional. The Black woman was
raped and murdered intraracially. The white woman was raped and left for dead interracially. The
Central Park rape became a national rallying cause against random (read Black male) violence; the


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sexual hierarchy in operation that holds certain female bodies in higher re-
gard than others.85 Statistics from prosecution of rape cases suggest that
this hierarchy is at least one significant, albeit often overlooked factor in
evaluating attitudes toward rape.86 A study of rape dispositions in Dallas,
for example, showed that the average prison term for a man convicted of
raping a Black woman was two years,87 as compared to five years for the
rape of a Latina and ten years for the rape of an Anglo woman.88 A related
issue is the fact that African-American victims of rape are the least likely to
be believed.89 The Dallas study and others like it also point to a more subtle
problem: neither the antirape nor the antiracist political agenda has focused
on the Black rape victim. This inattention stems from the way the problem
of rape is conceptualized within antiracist and antirape reform discourses.
Although the rhetoric of both agendas formally includes Black women, ra-
cism is generally not problematized in feminism, and sexism, not problema-
tized in antiracist discourses. Consequently, the plight of Black women is
relegated to a secondary importance: The primary beneficiaries of policies
supported by feminists and others concerned about rape tend to be white
women; the primary beneficiaries of the Black community’s concern over
racism and rape, Black men. Ultimately, the reformist and rhetorical strate-
gies that have grown out of antiracist and feminist rape reform movements
have been ineffective in politicizing the treatment of Black women.

2. Race and the antirape lobby.

Feminist critiques of rape have focused on the way rape law has reflected

rape of Kimberly Rae Harbour was written into a local script highlighted by the Boston Police
Department’s siege upon Black men in pursuit of the “fictional” Carol Stuart murderer. See John
Ellement, 8 Teen-agers Charged in Rape, Killing of Dorchester Woman, Boston Globe, Nov. 20,
1990, at 1; James S. Kunen, Homicide No. 119, PEOPLE, Jan. 14, 1991, at 42. For a comparison of
the Stuart and Harbour murders, see Christopher B. Daly, Scant Attention Paid Victim as Homicides
Reach Record in Boston, Wash. Post, Dec. 5, 1990, at A3.

85. Smith points out that “[t]he relative invisibility of black women victims of rape also reflects
the differential value of women’s bodies in capitalist societies. To the extent that rape is constructed
as a crime against the property of privileged white men, crimes against less valuable women-wo-
men of color, working-class women, and lesbians, for example-mean less or mean differently than
those against white women from the middle and upper classes.” Smith, supra note 74, at 275-76.

86. “Cases involving black offenders and black victims were treated the least seriously.” GARY

(1989). LaFree also notes, however, that “the race composition of the victim-offender dyad” was not
the only predictor of case dispositions. Id. at 219-20.

87. Race Tilts the Scales of Justice. Study: Dallas Punishes Attacks on Whites More Harshly,
Dallas Times Herald, Aug. 19, 1990, at Al. A study of 1988 cases in Dallas County’s criminal
justice system concluded that rapists whose victims were white were punished more severely than
those whose victims were Black or Hispanic. The Dallas Times Herald, which had commissioned
the study, reported that “[t]he punishment almost doubled when the attacker and victim were of
different races. Except for such interracial crime, sentencing disparities were much less pronounced
….” Id.

88. Id. Two criminal law experts, Iowa law professor David Baldus and Carnegie-Mellon Uni-
versity professor Alfred Blumstein “said that the racial inequities might be even worse than the
figures suggest.” Id.

89. See G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 219-20 (quoting jurors who doubted the credibility of
Black rape survivors); see also H. FEILD & L. BIENEN, supra note 35, at 117-18.

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dominant rules and expectations that tightly regulate the sexuality of wo-
men. In the context of the rape trial, the formal definition of rape as well as
the evidentiary rules applicable in a rape trial discriminate against women by
measuring the rape victim against a narrow norm of acceptable sexual con-
duct for women. Deviation from that norm tends to turn women into illegit-
imate rape victims, leading to rejection of their claims.

Historically, legal rules dictated, for example, that rape victims had to
have resisted their assailants in order for their claims to be accepted. Any
abatement of struggle was interpreted as the woman’s consent to the inter-
course under the logic that a real rape victim would protect her honor virtu-
ally to the death. While utmost resistance is not formally required anymore,
rape law continues to weigh the credibility of women against narrow norma-
tive standards of female behavior. A woman’s sexual history, for example, is
frequently explored by defense attorneys as a way of suggesting that a wo-
man who consented to sex on other occasions was likely to have consented in
the case at issue. Past sexual conduct as well as the specific circumstances
leading up to the rape are often used to distinguish the moral character of
the legitimate rape victim from women who are regarded as morally debased
or in some other way responsible for their own victimization.

This type of feminist critique of rape law has informed many of the fun-
damental reform measures enacted in antirape legislation, including in-
creased penalties for convicted rapists90 and changes in evidentiary rules to
preclude attacks on the woman’s moral character.91 These reforms limit the
tactics attorneys might use to tarnish the image of the rape victim, but they
operate within preexisting social constructs that distinguish victims from
nonvictims on the basis of their sexual character. And so these reforms,
while beneficial, do not challenge the background cultural narratives that
undermine the credibility of Black women.

Because Black women face subordination based on both race and gender,
reforms of rape law and judicial procedures that are premised on narrow
conceptions of gender subordination may not address the devaluation of
Black women. Much of the problem results from the way certain gender
expectations for women intersect with certain sexualized notions of race, no-

90. For example, Title I of the Violence Against Women Act creates federal penalties for sex
crimes. See 137 CONG. REC. S597, S599-600 (daily ed. Jan. 14, 1991). Specifically, section 111 of
the Act authorizes the Sentencing Commission to promulgate guidelines to provide that any person
who commits a violation after a prior conviction can be punished by a term of imprisonment or fines
up to twice of what is otherwise provided in the guidelines. S. 15, supra note 57, at 8. Additionally
section 112 of the Act authorizes the Sentencing Commission to amend its sentencing guidelines to
provide that a defendant convicted of rape or aggravated rape, “shall be assigned a base offense …
that is at least 4 levels greater than the base offense level applicable to such offenses.” Id. at 5.

91. Title I of the Act also creates new evidentiary rules for the introduction of sexual history in
criminal and civil cases. Id. Sections 151 and 152 amend Fed. R. Evid. 412 by prohibiting “reputa-
tion or opinion evidence of the past sexual behavior of an alleged victim” from being admitted, and
limiting other evidence of past sexual behavior. Id. at 39-44. Similarly, section 153 amends the rape
shield law. Id. at 44-45. States have also either enacted or attempted to enact rape shield law
reforms of their own. See Harriet R. Galvin, Shielding Rape Victims in the State and Federal Courts:
A Proposalfor the Second Decade, 70 MINN. L. REV. 763 (1986); Barbara Fromm, Sexual Battery:
Mixed-Signal Legislation Reveals Need for Further Reform, 18 FLA. ST. U. L. REV. 579 (1991).

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tions that are deeply entrenched in American culture. Sexualized images of
African Americans go all the way back to Europeans’ first engagement with
Africans. Blacks have long been portrayed as more sexual, more earthy,
more gratification-oriented. These sexualized images of race intersect with
norms of women’s sexuality, norms that are used to distinguish good women
from bad, the madonnas from the whores. Thus Black women are essen-
tially prepackaged as bad women within cultural narratives about good wo-
men who can be raped and bad women who cannot. The discrediting of
Black women’s claims is the consequence of a complex intersection of a
gendered sexual system, one that constructs rules appropriate for good and
bad women, and a race code that provides images defining the allegedly es-
sential nature of Black women. If these sexual images form even part of the
cultural imagery of Black women, then the very representation of a Black
female body at least suggests certain narratives that may make Black wo-
men’s rape either less believable or less important. These narratives may
explain why rapes of Black women are less likely to result in convictions and
long prison terms than rapes of white women.92

Rape law reform measures that do not in some way engage and challenge
the narratives that are read onto Black women’s bodies are unlikely to affect
the way cultural beliefs oppress Black women in rape trials. While the de-
gree to which legal reform can directly challenge cultural beliefs that shape
rape trials is limited,93 the very effort to mobilize political resources toward
addressing the sexual oppression of Black women can be an important first
step in drawing greater attention to the problem. One obstacle to such an
effort has been the failure of most antirape activists to analyze specifically
the consequences of racism in the context of rape. In the absence of a direct
attempt to address the racial dimensions of rape, Black women are simply
presumed to be represented in and benefitted by prevailing feminist critiques.

3. Antiracism and rape.

Antiracist critiques of rape law focus on how the law operates primarily
to condemn rapes of white women by Black men.94 While the heightened

92. See note 35 supra.
93. One can imagine certain trial-based interventions that might assist prosecutors in strug-

gling with these beliefs. For example, one might consider expanding the scope of voir dire to ex-
amine jurors’ attitudes toward Black rape victims. Moreover, as more is learned about Black
women’s response to rape, this information may be deemed relevant in evaluating Black women’s
testimony and thus warrant introduction through expert testimony. In this regard, it is worth noting
that the battered women’s syndrome and the rape trauma syndrome are both forms of expert testi-
mony that frequently function in the context of a trial to counter stereotypes and other dominant
narratives that might otherwise produce a negative outcome for the woman “on trial.” These inter-
ventions, probably unimaginable a short while ago, grew out of efforts to study and somehow quan-
tify women’s experience. Similar interventions that address the particular dimensions of the
experiences of women of color may well be possible. This knowledge may grow out of efforts to map
how women of color have fared under standard interventions. For an example of an intersectional
critique of the battered women’s syndrome, see Sharon A. Allard, Rethinking Battered Woman Syn-
drome. A Black Feminist Perspective, 1 U.C.L.A. WOMEN’S L.J. 191 (1991) (student author).

94. See Smith, supra note 74 (discussing media sensationalization of the Central Park jogger
case as consistent with historical patterns of focusing almost exclusively on Black male/white female

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concern with protecting white women against Black men has been primarily
criticized as a form of discrimination against Black men,95 it just as surely
reflects devaluation of Black women.96 This disregard for Black women re-
sults from an exclusive focus on the consequences of the problem for Black
men.97 Of course, rape accusations historically have provided a justification
for white terrorism against the Black community, generating a legitimating
power of such strength that it created a veil virtually impenetrable to appeals
based on either humanity or fact.98 Ironically, while the fear of the Black
rapist was exploited to legitimate the practice of lynching, rape was not even
alleged in most cases.99 The well-developed fear of Black sexuality served
primarily to increase white tolerance for racial terrorism as a prophylactic
measure to keep Blacks under control.’?? Within the African-American
community, cases involving race-based accusations against Black men have
stood as hallmarks of racial injustice. The prosecution of the Scottsboro
boys10l and the Emmett Till’02 tragedy, for example, triggered African-

dyads.); see also Terry, supra note 81 (discussing the 28 other rapes that occurred during the same
week, but that were not given the same media coverage). Although rape is largely an intraracial
crime, this explanation for the disparate coverage given to nonwhite victims is doubtful, however,
given the findings of at least one study that 48% of those surveyed believed that most rapes involved
a Black offender and a white victim. See H. FEILD & L. BIENEN, supra note 35, at 80. Ironically,
Feild and Bienen include in their book-length study of rape two photographs distributed to the
subjects in their study depicting the alleged victim as white and the alleged assailant as Black. Given
the authors’ acknowledgment that rape was overwhelmingly intraracial, the appearance of these
photos was particularly striking, especially because they were the only photos included in the entire

95. See, e.g., G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 237-39.
96. For a similar argument that race-of-victim discrimination in the administration of the

death penalty actually represents the devalued status of Black victims rather than discrimination
against Black offenders, see Randall L. Kennedy, McCleskey v. Kemp: Race, Capital Punishment,
and the Supreme Court, 101 HARV. L. REV. 1388 (1988).

97. The statistic that 89% of all men executed for rape in this country were Black is a familiar
one. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 364 (1972) (Marshall, J., concurring). Unfortunately, the
dominant analysis of racial discrimination in rape prosecutions generally does not discuss whether
any of the rape victims in these cases were Black. See Jennifer Wriggins, Rape, Racism, and the Law,
6 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 103, 113 (1983) (student author).

98. Race was frequently sufficient to fill in facts that were unknown or unknowable. As late as
1953, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a jury could take race into account in determining
whether a Black man was guilty of “an attempt to commit an assault with an attempt to rape.” See
McQuirter v. State, 63 So. 2d. 388, 390 (Ala. 1953). According to the “victim’s” testimony, the man
stared at her and mumbled something unintelligible as they passed. Id. at 389.

99. Ida Wells, an early Black feminist, investigated every lynching she could for about a dec-
ade. After researching 728 lynchings, she concluded that “[o]nly a third of the murdered Blacks
were even accused of rape, much less guilty of it.” PAULA GIDDINGS, WHEN AND WHERE I ENTER:

100. See Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Mind That Burns in Each Body”: Women, Rape, and
Racial Violence, in POWERS OF DESIRE: THE POLITICS OF SEXUALITY 328, 334 (Ann Snitow, Chris-
tine Stansell, & Sharon Thompson eds. 1983).

101. Nine Black youths were charged with the rape of two white women in a railroad freight
car near Scottsboro, Alabama. Their trials occurred in a heated atmosphere. Each trial was com-
pleted in a single day, and the defendants were all convicted and sentenced to death. See DAN T.
versed the defendants’ convictions and death sentences, holding that they were unconstitutionally
denied the right to counsel. Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 65 (1932). However, the defendants
were retried by an all-white jury after the Supreme Court reversed their convictions.

102. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago visiting his relatives near Money,


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American resistance to the rigid social codes of white supremacy.’03 To the
extent rape of Black women is thought to dramatize racism, it is usually cast
as an assault on Black manhood, demonstrating his inability to protect Black
women. The direct assault on Black womanhood is less frequently seen as
an assault on the Black community.104

The sexual politics that this limited reading of racism and rape engenders
continues to play out today, as illustrated by the Mike Tyson rape trial. The
use of antiracist rhetoric to mobilize support for Tyson represented an ongo-
ing practice of viewing with considerable suspicion rape accusations against
Black men and interpreting sexual racism through a male-centered frame.
The historical experience of Black men has so completely occupied the dom-
inant conceptions of racism and rape that there is little room to squeeze in
the experiences of Black women. Consequently, racial solidarity was contin-
ually raised as a rallying point on behalf of Tyson, but never on behalf of
Desiree Washington, Tyson’s Black accuser. Leaders ranging from Benja-
min Hooks to Louis Farrakhan expressed their support for Tyson,105 yet no
established Black leader voiced any concern for Washington. The fact that
Black men have often been falsely accused of raping white women underlies
the antiracist defense of Black men accused of rape even when the accuser
herself is a Black woman.

As a result of this continual emphasis on Black male sexuality as the core
issue in antiracist critiques of rape, Black women who raise claims of rape
against Black men are not only disregarded but also sometimes vilified
within the African-American community. One can only imagine the aliena-
tion experienced by a Black rape survivor such as Desiree Washington when
the accused rapist is embraced and defended as a victim of racism while she
is, at best, disregarded, and at worst, ostracized and ridiculed. In contrast,
Tyson was the beneficiary of the longstanding practice of using antiracist
rhetoric to deflect the injury suffered by Black women victimized by Black
men. Some defended the support given to Tyson on the ground that all Afri-

Mississippi. On a dare by local boys, he entered a store and spoke to a white woman. Several days
later, Emmett Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River. “The barbed wire holding the cotton-
gin fan around his neck had became snagged on a tangled river root.” After the corpse was discov-
ered, the white woman’s husband and his brother-in-law were charged with Emmett Till’s murder.
JUAN WILLIAMS, EYES ON THE PRIZE 39-43 (1987). For a historical account of the Emmett Till

103. Crenshaw, supra note 7, at 159 (discussing how the generation of Black activists who
created the Black Liberation Movement were contemporaries of Emmett Till).

Until quite recently, for example, when historians talked of rape in the slavery experience
they often bemoaned the damage this act did to the Black male’s sense of esteem and
respect. He was powerless to protect his woman from white rapists. Few scholars probed
the effect that rape, the threat of rape, and domestic violence had on the psychic develop-
ment of the female victims.

Darlene Clark Hine, Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West: Preliminary
Thoughts on the Culture of Dissemblance, in UNEQUAL SISTERS: A MULTI-CULTURAL READER IN
U.S. WOMEN’S HISTORY (Ellen Carol Dubois & Vicki L. Ruiz eds. 1990).

105. Michael Madden, No Offensive from Defense, Boston Globe, Feb. 1, 1992, at 33 (Hooks);
Farrakhan Backs Calls for Freeing Tyson, UPI, July 10, 1992.

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can Americans can readily imagine their sons, fathers, brothers, or uncles
being wrongly accused of rape. Yet daughters, mothers, sisters, and aunts
also deserve at least a similar concern, since statistics show that Black wo-
men are more likely to be raped than Black men are to be falsely accused of
it. Given the magnitude of Black women’s vulnerability to sexual violence,
it is not unreasonable to expect as much concern for Black women who are
raped as is expressed for the men who are accused of raping them.

Black leaders are not alone in their failure to empathize with or rally
around Black rape victims. Indeed, some Black women were among Tyson’s
staunchest supporters and Washington’s harshest critics.106 The media
widely noted the lack of sympathy Black women had for Washington; Bar-
bara Walters used the observation as a way of challenging Washington’s
credibility, going so far as to press Washington for a reaction.107 The most
troubling revelation was that many of the women who did not support
Washington also doubted Tyson’s story. These women did not sympathize
with Washington because they believed that Washington had no business in
Tyson’s hotel room at 2:00 a.m. A typical response was offered by one
young Black woman who stated, “She asked for it, she got it, it’s not fair to
cry rape.”108

Indeed, some of the women who expressed their disdain for Washington
acknowledged that they encountered the threat of sexual assault almost
daily.109 Yet it may be precisely this threat-along with the relative absence
of rhetorical strategies challenging the sexual subordination of Black wo-
men-that animated their harsh criticism. In this regard, Black women who
condemned Washington were quite like all other women who seek to dis-
tance themselves from rape victims as a way of denying their own vulnerabil-
ity. Prosecutors who handle sexual assault cases acknowledge that they
often exclude women as potential jurors because women tend to empathize
the least with the victim.110 To identify too closely with victimization may
reveal their own vulnerability.111 Consequently, women often look for evi-

106. See Megan Rosenfeld, After the Verdict, The Doubts: Black Women Show Little Sympathy
for Tyson’s Accuser, Wash. Post, Feb. 13, 1992, at D1; Allan Johnson, Tyson Rape Case Strikes a
Nerve Among Blacks, Chicago Trib., Mar. 29, 1992, at Cl; Suzanne P. Kelly, Black Women Wrestle
with Abuse Issue: Many Say Choosing Racial Over Gender Loyalty Is Too Great a Sacrifice, Star Trib.,
Feb. 18, 1992, at Al.

107. 20/20 (ABC television broadcast, Feb. 21, 1992).
108. Id.
109. According to a study by the Bureau of Justice, Black women are significantly more likely

to be raped than white women, and women in the 16-24 age group are 2 to 3 times more likely to be
victims of rape or attempted rape than women in any other age group. See Ronald J. Ostrow,
Typical Rape Victim Called Poor, Young, L.A. Times, Mar. 25, 1985, at 8.

110. See Peg Tyre, What Experts Say About Rape Jurors, Newsday, May 19, 1991, at 10 (re-
porting that “researchers had determined that jurors in criminal trials side with the complainant or
defendant whose ethnic, economic and religious background most closely resembles their own. The
exception to the rule … is the way women jurors judge victims of rape and sexual assault.”). Linda
Fairstein, a Manhattan prosecutor, states, “(T)oo often women tend to be very critical of the conduct
of other women, and they often are not good jurors in acquaintance-rape cases.” Margaret Carlson,
The Trials of Convicting Rapists, TIME, Oct. 14, 1991, at 11.

111. As sex crimes prosecutor Barbara Eganhauser notes, even young women with contempo-
rary lifestyles often reject a woman’s rape accusation out of fear. “To call another woman the victim

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dence that the victim brought the rape on herself, usually by breaking social
rules that are generally held applicable only to women. And when the rules
classify women as dumb, loose, or weak on the one hand, and smart, dis-
criminating, and strong on the other, it is not surprising that women who
cannot step outside the rules to critique them attempt to validate themselves
within them. The position of most Black women on this issue is particularly
problematic, first, because of the extent to which they are consistently re-
minded that they are the group most vulnerable to sexual victimization, and
second, because most Black women share the African-American commu-
nity’s general resistance to explicitly feminist analysis when it appears to run
up against long-standing narratives that construct Black men as the primary
victims of sexual racism.

C. Rape and Intersectionality in Social Science

The marginalization of Black women’s experiences within the antiracist
and feminist critiques of rape law are facilitated by social science studies that
fail to examine the ways in which racism and sexism converge. Gary
LaFree’s Rape and Criminal Justice: The Social Construction of Sexual As-
sault112 is a classic example. Through a study of rape prosecutions in Min-
neapolis, LaFree attempts to determine the validity of two prevailing claims
regarding rape prosecutions. The first claim is that Black defendants face
significant racial discrimination.113 The second is that rape laws serve to
regulate the sexual conduct of women by withholding from rape victims the
ability to invoke sexual assault law when they have engaged in nontradi-
tional behavior. 14 LaFree’s compelling study concludes that law constructs
rape in ways that continue to manifest both racial and gender domination.115
Although Black women are positioned as victims of both the racism and the
sexism that LaFree so persuasively details, his analysis is less illuminating
than might be expected because Black women fall through the cracks of his
dichotomized theoretical framework.

1. Racial domination and rape.
LaFree confirms the findings of earlier studies that show that race is a

significant determinant in the ultimate disposition of rape cases. He finds
that Black men accused of raping white women were treated most harshly,
while Black offenders accused of raping Black women were treated most
leniently.116 These effects held true even after controlling for other factors

of rape is to acknowledge the vulnerability in yourself. They go out at night, they date, they go to
bars, and walk alone. To deny it is to say at the trial that women are not victims.” Tyre, supra note

112. G. LAFREE, supra note 86.
113. Id. at 49-50.
114. Id. at 50-51.
115. Id. at 237-40.
116. LaFree concludes that recent studies finding no discriminatory effect were inconclusive

because they analyzed the effects of the defendant’s race independently of the race of victim. The
differential race effects in sentencing are often concealed by combining the harsher sentences given to

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such as injury to the victim and acquaintance between victim and assailant.

Compared to other defendants, blacks who were suspected of assaulting
white women received more serious charges, were more likely to have their
cases filed as felonies, were more likely to receive prison sentences if con-
victed, were more likely to be incarcerated in the state penitentiary (as op-
posed to a jail or minimum-security facility), and received longer sentences
on the average.117
LaFree’s conclusions that Black men are differentially punished depend-

ing on the race of the victim do not, however, contribute much to under-

standing the plight of Black rape victims. Part of the problem lies in the
author’s use of “sexual stratification” theory, which posits both that women
are differently valued according to their race and that there are certain
“rules of sexual access” governing who may have sexual contact with whom
in this sexually stratified market. 18 According to the theory, Black men are
discriminated against in that their forced “access” to white women is more
harshly penalized than their forced “access” to Black women. 19 LaFree’s
analysis focuses on the harsh regulation of access by Black men to white
women, but is silent about the relative subordination of Black women to

Black men accused of raping white women with the more lenient treatment of Black men accused of
raping Black women. Id. at 117, 140. Similar results were found in another study. See Anthony
Walsh, The Sexual Stratification Hypothesis and Sexual Assault in Light of the Changing Conceptions
of Race, 25 CRIMINOLOGY 153, 170 (1987) (“sentence severity mean for blacks who assaulted
whites, which was significantly in excess of mean for whites who assaulted whites, was masked by
the lenient sentence severity mean for blacks who assaulted blacks”).

117. G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 139-40.
118. Sexual stratification, according to LaFree, refers to the differential valuation of women

according to their race and to the creation of “rules of sexual access” governing who may have
contact with whom. Sexual stratification also dictates what the penalty will be for breaking these
rules: The rape of a white woman by a Black man is seen as a trespass on the valuable property
rights of white men and is punished most severely. Id. at 48-49.

The fundamental propositions of the sexual stratification thesis have been summarized as

(1) Women are viewed as the valued and scarce property of the men of their own race.
(2) White women, by virtue of membership in the dominant race, are more valuable

than black women.
(3) The sexual assault of a white by a black threatens both the white man’s “property

rights” and his dominant social position. This dual threat accounts for the strength of the
taboo attached to interracial sexual assault.

(4) A sexual assault by a male of any race upon members of the less valued black race
is perceived as nonthreatening to the status quo and therefore less serious.

(5) White men predominate as agents of social control. Therefore, they have the
power to sanction differentially according to the perceived threat to their favored social

Walsh, supra note 116, at 155.
119. I use the term “access” guardedly because it is an inapt euphemism for rape. On the

other hand, rape is conceptualized differently depending on whether certain race-specific rules of
sexual access are violated. Although violence is not explicitly written into the sexual stratification
theory, it does work itself into the rules, in that sexual intercourse that violates the racial access rules
is presumed to be coercive rather that voluntary. See, e.g., Sims v. Balkam, 136 S.E. 2d 766, 769
(Ga. 1964) (describing the rape of a white woman by a Black man as “a crime more horrible than
death”); Story v. State, 59 So. 480 (Ala. 1912) (“The consensus of public opinion, unrestricted to
either race, is that a white woman prostitute is yet, though lost of virtue, above the even greater
sacrifice of the voluntary submission of her person to the embraces of the other race.”); Wriggins,
supra note 97, at 125, 127.


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white women. The emphasis on differential access to women is consistent
with analytical perspectives that view racism primarily in terms of the ine-
quality between men. From this prevailing viewpoint, the problem of dis-
crimination is that white men can rape Black women with relative impunity
while Black men cannot do the same with white women.120 Black women
are considered victims of discrimination only to the extent that white men
can rape them without fear of significant punishment. Rather than being
viewed as victims of discrimination in their own right, they become merely
the means by which discrimination against Black men can be recognized.
The inevitable result of this orientation is that efforts to fight discrimination
tend to ignore the particularly vulnerable position of Black women, who
must both confront racial bias and challenge their status as instruments,
rather than beneficiaries, of the civil rights struggle.

Where racial discrimination is framed by LaFree primarily in terms of a
contest between Black and white men over women, the racism experienced
by Black women will only be seen in terms of white male access to them.
When rape of Black women by white men is eliminated as a factor in the
analysis, whether for statistical or other reasons, racial discrimination
against Black women no longer matters, since LaFree’s analysis involves
comparing the “access” of white and Black men to white women.’21 Yet
Black women are not discriminated against simply because white men can
rape them with little sanction and be punished less than Black men who rape
white women, or because white men who rape them are not punished the
same as white men who rape white women. Black women are also discrimi-
nated against because intraracial rape of white women is treated more seri-
ously than intraracial rape of Black women. But the differential protection
that Black and white women receive against intraracial rape is not seen as
racist because intraracial rape does not involve a contest between Black and
white men. In other words, the way the criminal justice system treats rapes
of Black women by Black men and rapes of white women by white men is
not seen as raising issues of racism because Black and white men are not
involved with each other’s women.

In sum, Black women who are raped are racially discriminated against
because their rapists, whether Black or white, are less likely to be charged
with rape, and when charged and convicted, are less likely to receive signifi-
cant jail time than the rapists of white women. And while sexual stratifica-
tion theory does posit that women are stratified sexually by race, most
applications of the theory focus on the inequality of male agents of rape
rather than on the inequality of rape victims, thus marginalizing the racist

120. This traditional approach places Black women in a position of denying their own victimi-
zation, requiring Black women to argue that it is racist to punish Black men more harshly for raping
white women than for raping Black women. However, in the wake of the Mike Tyson trial, it seems
that many Black women are prepared to do just that. See notes 106-109 supra and accompanying

121. In fact, critics and commentators often use the term “interracial rape” when they are
actually talking only about Black male/white female rape.

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treatment of Black women by consistently portraying racism in terms of the
relative power of Black and white men.

In order to understand and treat the victimization of Black women as a
consequence of racism and sexism, it is necessary to shift the analysis away
from the differential access of men and more toward the differential protec-
tion of women. Throughout his analysis, LaFree fails to do so. His sexual
stratification thesis-in particular, its focus on the comparative power of
male agents of rape-illustrates how the marginalization of Black women in
antiracist politics is replicated in social science research. Indeed, the thesis
leaves unproblematized the racist subordination of less valuable objects
(Black women) to more valuable objects (white women), and it perpetuates
the sexist treatment of women as property extensions of “their” men.

2. Rape and gender subordination.

Although LaFree does attempt to address gender-related concerns of wo-
men in his discussion of rape and the social control of women, his theory of
sexual stratification fails to focus sufficiently on the effects of stratification on
women.122 LaFree quite explicitly uses a framework that treats race and
gender as separate categories, giving no indication that he understands that
Black women may fall in between or within both. The problem with
LaFree’s analysis lies not in its individual observations, which can be in-
sightful and accurate, but in his failure to connect them and develop a
broader, deeper perspective. His two-track framework makes for a narrow
interpretation of the data because it leaves untouched the possibility that
these two tracks may intersect. And it is those who reside at the intersection
of gender and race discrimination-Black women-that suffer from this fun-
damental oversight.

LaFree attempts to test the feminist hypothesis that “the application of
law to nonconformist women in rape cases may serve to control the behavior
of all women.”123 This inquiry is important, he explains, because “if women
who violate traditional sex roles and are raped are unable to obtain justice
through the legal system, then the law may be interpreted as an institutional
arrangement for reinforcing women’s gender-role conformity.”’24 He finds
that “acquittals were more common and final sentences were shorter when
nontraditional victim behavior was alleged.”125 Thus LaFree concludes that
the victim’s moral character was more important than victim injury, and
was second only to the defendant’s character. Overall, 82.3 percent of the
traditional victim cases resulted in convictions and average sentences of

122. G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 148. LaFree’s transition between race and gender suggests
that the shift might not loosen the frame enough to permit discussion of the combined effects of race
and gender subordination on Black women. LaFree repeatedly separates race from gender, treating
them as wholly distinguishable issues. See, e.g., id. at 147.

123. Id.
124. Id. at 151. LaFree interprets nontraditional behavior to include drinking, drug use, extra-

marital sex, illegitimate children, and “having a reputation as a ‘partier,’ a ‘pleasure seeker’ or some-
one who stays out late at night.” Id. at 201.

125. Id. at 204.

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43.38 months.126 Only 50 percent of nontraditional victim cases led to con-
victions, with an average term of 27.83 months.127 The effects of traditional
and nontraditional behavior by Black women are difficult to determine from
the information given and must be inferred from LaFree’s passing com-
ments. For example, LaFree notes that Black victims were evenly divided
between traditional and nontraditional gender roles. This observation, to-

gether with the lower rate of conviction for men accused of raping Blacks,
suggests that gender role behavior was not as significant in determining case

disposition as it was in cases involving white victims. Indeed, LaFree explic-
itly notes that “the victim’s race was … an important predictor of jurors’
case evaluations.”128

Jurors were less likely to believe in a defendant’s guilt when the victim was
black. Our interviews with jurors suggested that part of the explanation for
this effect was that jurors … were influenced by stereotypes of black women
as more likely to consent to sex or as more sexually experienced and hence
less harmed by the assault. In a case involving the rape of a young black
girl, one juror argued for acquittal on the grounds that a girl her age from
‘that kind of neighborhood’ probably wasn’t a virgin anyway.129

126. Id.
127. Id.
128. Id. at 219 (emphasis added). While there is little direct evidence that prosecutors are

influenced by the race of the victim, it is not unreasonable to assume that since race is an important
predictor of conviction, prosecutors determined to maintain a high conviction rate might be less
likely to pursue a case involving a Black victim than a white one. This calculus is probably rein-
forced when juries fail to convict in strong cases involving Black victims. For example, the acquittal
of three white St. John’s University athletes for the gang rape of a Jamaican schoolmate was inter-
preted by many as racially influenced. Witnesses testified that the woman was incapacitated during
much of the ordeal, having ingested a mixture of alcohol given to her by a classmate who subse-
quently initiated the assault. The jurors insisted that race played no role in their decision to acquit.
“There was no race, we all agreed to it,” said one juror; “They were trying to make it racial but it
wasn’t,” said another. Jurors: ‘It Wasn’t Racial,’ Newsday, July 25, 1991, at 4. Yet it is possible that
race did influence on some level their belief that the woman consented to what by all accounts,
amounted to dehumanizing conduct. See, e.g., Carole Agus, Whatever Happened to ‘The Rules’
Newsday, July 28, 1991, at 11 (citing testimony that at least two of the assailants hit the victim in the
head with their penises). The jury nonetheless thought, in the words of its foreman, that the defend-
ants’ behavior was “obnoxious” but not criminal. See Sydney H. Schanberg, Those ‘Obnoxious’ St.
John’s Athletes, Newsday, July 30, 1991, at 79. One can imagine a different outcome had the races of
the parties only been reversed.

Representative Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) called the verdict “a rerun of what used to happen in
the South.” James Michael Brodie, The St. John’s Rape Acquittal: Old Wounds That Just Won’t Go
Away, BLACK ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUC., Aug. 15, 1991, at 18. Denise Snyder, executive director of
the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, commented:

It’s a historical precedent that white men can assault black women and get away with it.
Woe be to the black man who assaults white women. All the prejudices that existed a
hundred years ago are dormant and not so dormant, and they rear their ugly heads in
situations like this. Contrast this with the Central Park jogger who was an upper-class
white woman.

Judy Mann, New Age, Old Myths, Wash. Post, July 26, 1991, at C3 (quoting Snyder); see Kristin
Bumiller, Rape as a Legal Symbol: An Essay on Sexual Violence and Racism, 42 U. MIAMI L. REV.
75, 88 (“The cultural meaning of rape is rooted in a symbiosis of racism and sexism that has toler-
ated the acting out of male aggression against women and, in particular, black women.”).

129. Id. at 219-20 (citations omitted). Anecdotal evidence suggests that this attitude exists
among some who are responsible for processing rape cases. Fran Weinman, a student in my seminar
on race, gender, and the law, conducted a field study at the Rosa Parks Rape Crisis Center. During

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LaFree also notes that “[o]ther jurors were simply less willing to believe the
testimony of black complainants.”’30 One white juror is quoted as saying,
“Negroes have a way of not telling the truth. They’ve a knack for coloring
the story. So you know you can’t believe everything they say.”131

Despite explicit evidence that the race of the victim is significant in deter-
mining the disposition of rape cases, LaFree concludes that rape law func-
tions to penalize nontraditional behavior in women.132 LaFree fails to note
that racial identification may itself serve as a proxy for nontraditional behav-
ior. Rape law, that is, serves not only to penalize actual examples of non-
traditional behavior but also to diminish and devalue women who belong to
groups in which nontraditional behavior is perceived as common. For the
Black rape victim, the disposition of her case may often turn less on her
behavior than on her identity. LaFree misses the point that although white
and Black women have shared interests in resisting the madonna/whore di-
chotomy altogether, they nevertheless experience its oppressive power differ-
ently. Black women continue to be judged by who they are, not by what
they do.

3. Compounding the marginalizations of rape.
LaFree offers clear evidence that the race/sex hierarchy subordinates

Black women to white women, as well as to men-both Black and white.
However, the different effects of rape law on Black women are scarcely men-
tioned in LaFree’s conclusions. In a final section, LaFree treats the devalua-
tion of Black women as an aside-one without apparent ramifications for
rape law. He concludes: “The more severe treatment of black offenders who
rape white women (or, for that matter, the milder treatment of black offend-
ers who rape black women) is probably best explained in terms of racial dis-
crimination within a broader context of continuing social and physical
segregation between blacks and whites.”133 Implicit throughout LaFree’s

her study, she counseled and accompanied a 12-year-old Black rape survivor who became pregnant
as a result of the rape. The girl was afraid to tell her parents, who discovered the rape after she
became depressed and began to slip in school. Police were initially reluctant to interview the girl.
Only after the girl’s father threatened to take matters into his own hands did the police department
send an investigator to the girl’s house. The City prosecutor indicated that the case wasn’t a serious
one, and was reluctant to prosecute the defendant for statutory rape even though the girl was under-
age. The prosecutor reasoned, “After all, she looks 16.” After many frustrations, the girl’s family
ultimately decided not to pressure the prosecutor any further and the case was dropped. See Fran
Weinman, Racism and the Enforcement of Rape Law, 13-30 (1990) (unpublished manuscript) (on
file with the Stanford Law Review).

130. G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 220.
131. Id.
132. Id. at 226.
133. Id. at 239 (emphasis added). The lower conviction rates for those who rape Black women

may be analogous to the low conviction rates for acquaintance rape. The central issue in many rape
cases is proving that the victim did not consent. The basic presumption in the absence of explicit
evidence of lack of consent is that consent exists. Certain evidence is sufficient to disprove that
presumption, and the quantum of evidence necessary to prove nonconsent increases as the presump-
tions warranting an inference of consent increases. Some women-based on their character, identity,
or dress-are viewed as more likely to consent than other women. Perhaps it is the combination of
the sexual stereotypes about Black people along with the greater degree of familiarity presumed to

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study is the assumption that Blacks who are subjected to social control are
Black men. Moreover, the social control to which he refers is limited to
securing the boundaries between Black males and white females. His con-
clusion that race differentials are best understood within the context of social
segregation as well as his emphasis on the interracial implications of bound-
ary enforcement overlook the intraracial dynamics of race and gender subor-
dination. When Black men are leniently punished for raping Black women,
the problem is not “best explained” in terms of social segregation but in
terms of both the race- and gender-based devaluation of Black women. By
failing to examine the sexist roots of such lenient punishment, LaFree and
other writers sensitive to racism ironically repeat the mistakes of those who
ignore race as a factor in such cases. Both groups fail to consider directly
the situation of Black women.

Studies like LaFree’s do little to illuminate how the interaction of race,
class and nontraditional behavior affects the disposition of rape cases involv-
ing Black women. Such an oversight is especially troubling given evidence
that many cases involving Black women are dismissed outright.134 Over 20
percent of rape complaints were recently dismissed as “unfounded” by the
Oakland Police Department, which did not even interview many, if not
most, of the women involved.135 Not coincidentally, the vast majority of the
complainants were Black and poor; many of them were substance abusers or
prostitutes.136 Explaining their failure to pursue these complaints, the police
remarked that “those cases were hopelessly tainted by women who are tran-
sient, uncooperative, untruthful or not credible as witnesses in court.”137

exist between Black men and Black women that leads to the conceptualization of such rapes as
existing somewhere between acquaintance rape and stranger rape.

134. See, e.g., Candy J. Cooper, Nowhere to Turn for Rape Victims: High Proportion of Cases
Tossed Aside by Oakland Police, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 16, 1990, at Al [hereinafter Cooper, Nowhere
to Turn]. The most persuasive evidence that the images and beliefs that Oakland police officers hold
toward rape victims influence the disposition of their cases is represented in two follow-up stories.
See Candy J. Cooper, A Rape Victim Vindicated, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 17, 1990, at Al; Candy J.
Cooper, Victim of Rape, Victim of the System, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 17, 1990, at A10. These stories
contrasted the experiences of two Black women, both of whom had been raped by an acquaintance
after smoking crack. In the first case, although there was little physical evidence and the woman was
initially reluctant to testify, her rapist was prosecuted and ultimately convicted. In the second case,
the woman was severely beaten by her assailant. Despite ample physical evidence and corrobora-
tion, and a cooperative victim, her case was not pursued. The former case was handled by the
Berkeley, California, police department while the latter was handled by the Oakland police depart-
ment. Perhaps the different approaches producing these disparate results can best be captured by the
philosophies of the investigators. Officers in Berkeley “take every woman’s case so seriously that not
one [in 1989] was found to be false.” See Candy J. Cooper, Berkeley Unit Takes All Cases as Legiti-
mate, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 16, 1990, at A16. The same year, 24.4% of Oakland’s rape cases were
classified as “unfounded.” Cooper, Nowhere to Turn, supra.

135. Cooper, Nowhere to Turn, supra note 134, at A10.
136. Id. (“Police, prosecutors, victims and rape crisis workers agree that most of the dropped

cases were reported by women of color who smoked crack or were involved in other criminal, high-
risk behavior, such as prostitution.”).

137. Id. Advocates point out that because investigators work from a profile of the kind of case
likely to get a conviction, people left out of that profile are people of color, prostitutes, drug users
and people raped by acquaintances. This exclusion results in “a whole class of women . . . systemati-
cally being denied justice. Poor women suffer the most.” Id.

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The effort to politicize violence against women will do little to address
the experiences of Black and other nonwhite women until the ramifications
of racial stratification among women are acknowledged. At the same time,
the antiracist agenda will not be furthered by suppressing the reality of in-
traracial violence against women of color. The effect of both these marginal-
izations is that women of color have no ready means to link their experiences
with those of other women. This sense of isolation compounds efforts to
politicize sexual violence within communities of color and permits the
deadly silence surrounding these issues.

D. Implications

With respect to the rape of Black women, race and gender converge in
ways that are only vaguely understood. Unfortunately, the analytical
frameworks that have traditionally informed both antirape and antiracist
agendas tend to focus only on single issues. They are thus incapable of de-
veloping solutions to the compound marginalization of Black women vic-
tims, who, yet again, fall into the void between concerns about women’s
issues and concerns about racism. This dilemma is complicated by the role
that cultural images play in the treatment of Black women victims. That is,
the most critical aspects of these problems may revolve less around the polit-
ical agendas of separate race- and gender-sensitive groups, and more around
the social and cultural devaluation of women of color. The stories our cul-
ture tells about the experience of women of color present another chal-
lenge-and a further opportunity-to apply and evaluate the usefulness of
the intersectional critique.


With respect to the rape of Black women, race and gender converge so
that the concerns of minority women fall into the void between concerns
about women’s issues and concerns about racism. But when one discourse
fails to acknowledge the significance of the other, the power relations that
each attempts to challenge are strengthened. For example, when feminists
fail to acknowledge the role that race played in the public response to the
rape of the Central Park jogger, feminism contributes to the forces that pro-
duce disproportionate punishment for Black men who rape white women,
and when antiracists represent the case solely in terms of racial domination,
they belittle the fact that women particularly, and all people generally,
should be outraged by the gender violence the case represented.

Perhaps the devaluation of women of color implicit here is linked to how
women of color are represented in cultural imagery. Scholars in a wide
range of fields are increasingly coming to acknowledge the centrality of is-
sues of representation in the reproduction of racial and gender hierarchy in
the United States. Yet current debates over representation continually elide
the intersection of race and gender in the popular culture’s construction of
images of women of color. Accordingly, an analysis of what may be termed

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“representational intersectionality” would include both the ways in which
these images are produced through a confluence of prevalent narratives of
race and gender, as well as a recognition of how contemporary critiques of
racist and sexist representation marginalize women of color.

In this section I explore the problem of representational intersectional-
ity-in particular, how the production of images of women of color and the
contestations over those images tend to ignore the intersectional interests of
women of color-in the context of the controversy over 2 Live Crew, the
Black rap group that was the subject of an obscenity prosecution in Florida
in 1990. I oppose the obscenity prosecution of 2 Live Crew, but not for the
same reasons as those generally offered in support of 2 Live Crew, and not
without a sense of sharp internal division, of dissatisfaction with the idea
that the “real issue” is race or gender, inertly juxtaposed. An intersectional
analysis offers both an intellectual and political response to this dilemma.
Aiming to bring together the different aspects of an otherwise divided sensi-
bility, an intersectional analysis argues that racial and sexual subordination
are mutually reinforcing, that Black women are commonly marginalized by
a politics of race alone or gender alone, and that a political response to each
form of subordination must at the same time be a political response to both.

A. The 2 Live Crew Controversy
In June 1990, the members of 2 Live Crew were arrested and charged

under a Florida obscenity statute for their performance in an adults-only
club in Hollywood, Florida. The arrests came just two days after a federal
court judge ruled that the sexually explicit lyrics in 2 Live Crew’s album, As
Nasty As They Wanna Be, 38were obscene.’39 Although the members of 2
Live Crew were eventually acquitted of charges stemming from the live per-
formance, the federal court determination that Nasty is obscene still stands.
This obscenity judgment, along with the arrests and subsequent trial,
prompted an intense public controversy about rap music, a controversy that
merged with a broader debate about the representation of sex and violence in
popular music, about cultural diversity, and about the meaning of freedom
of expression.

Two positions dominated the debate over 2 Live Crew. Writing in News-
week, political columnist George Will staked out a case for the prosecu-

138. 2 LIVE CREW, As NASTY AS THEY WANNA BE (Luke Records 1989).
139. In June 1990, a federal judge ruled that 2 Live Crew’s lyrics referring to sodomy and

sexual intercourse were obscene. Skywalker Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 596 (S.D.
Fla. 1990). The court held that the recording appealed to the prurient interest, was patently offen-
sive as defined by state law, and taken as a whole, lacked serious literary, artistic or political value.
Id. at 591-96. However, the court also held that the sheriffs office had subjected the recording to
unconstitutional prior restraint and consequently granted 2 Live Crew permanent injunctive relief.
Id. at 596-604. Two days after the judge declared the recording obscene, 2 Live Crew members were
charged with giving an obscene performance at a club in Hollywood, Florida. Experts Defend Live
Crew Lyrics, UPI, Oct. 19, 1990. Deputy sheriffs also arrested Charles Freeman, a merchant who
was selling copies of the Nasty recording. See Gene Santoro, How 2 B Nasty, NATION, July 2, 1990,
at 4. The 11th Circuit reversed the conviction, Luke Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 960 F.2d 134 (11th
Cir. 1992).

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tion.’40 Will argued that Nasty was misogynistic filth and characterized 2
Live Crew’s performance as a profoundly repugnant “combination of ex-
treme infantilism and menace” that objectified Black women and repre-
sented them as suitable targets of sexual violence.141 The most prominent
defense of 2 Live Crew was advanced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard
professor and expert on African-American literature. In a New York Times
op-ed piece and in testimony at the criminal trial, Gates contended that 2
Live Crew’s members were important artists operating within and inven-
tively elaborating upon distinctively African-American forms of cultural ex-
pression.142 According to Gates, the characteristic exaggeration featured in
2 Live Crew’s lyrics served a political end: to explode popular racist stereo-
types in a comically extreme form.143 Where Will saw a misogynistic assault
on Black women by social degenerates, Gates found a form of “sexual
carnivalesque” with the promise to free us from the pathologies of racism. 144

Unlike Gates, there are many who do not simply “bust out laughing”
upon first hearing 2 Live Crew.’45 One does a disservice to the issue to
describe the images of women in Nasty as simply “sexually explicit.”’46 Lis-
tening to Nasty, we hear about “cunts” being “fucked” until backbones are
cracked, “asses” being “busted,” “dicks” rammed down throats, and semen

140. See George F. Will, America’s Slide into the Sewer, NEWSWEEK, July 30, 1990, at 64.
141. Id.
142. Henry Louis Gates, 2 Live Crew, Decoded, N.Y. Times, June 19, 1990, at A23. Professor

Gates, who testified on behalf of 2 Live Crew in the criminal proceeding stemming from their live
performance, pointed out that the members of 2 Live Crew were expressing themselves in coded
messages, and were engaging in parody. “For centuries, African-Americans have been forced to
develop coded ways of communicating to protect them from danger. Allegories and double mean-
ings, words redefined to mean their opposites . . . have enabled blacks to share messages only the
initiated understood.” Id. Similarly, parody is a component of “the street tradition called ‘signify-
ing’ or ‘playing the dozens,’ which has generally been risque, and where the best signifier or ‘rapper’
is the one who invents the most extravagant images, the biggest ‘lies,’ as the culture says.” Id.

143. Testifying during 2 Live Crew’s prosecution for obscenity, Gates argued that, “[o]ne of
the brilliant things about these four songs is they embrace that stereotype [of blacks having overly
large sexual organs and being hypersexed individuals]. They name it and they explode it. You can
have no reaction but to bust out laughing. The fact that they’re being sung by four virile young
black men is inescapable to the audience.” Laura Parker, Rap Lyrics Likened to Literature; Witness
in 2 Live Crew Trial Cites Art, Parody, Precedents, Wash. Post, Oct. 20, 1990, at D1.

144. Compare Gates, supra note 142 (labeling 2 Live Crew’s braggadocio as “sexual
carnivalesque”) with Will, supra note 140 (characterizing 2 Live Crew as “lower animals”).

145. See note 143 supra.
146. Although I have elected to print some of the actual language from Nasty, much of the

debate about this case has proceeded without any specific discussion of the lyrics. There are reasons
one might avoid repeating such sexually explicit material. Among the more compelling ones is the
concern that presenting lyrics outside of their fuller musical context hampers a complex understand-
ing and appreciation of the art form of rap itself. Doing so also essentializes one dimension of the art
work-its lyrics-to stand for the whole. Finally, focusing on the production of a single group may
contribute to the impression that that group-here, 2 Live Crew-fairly represents all rappers.

Recognizing these risks, I believe that it is nonetheless important to incorporate excerpts from
the Crew’s lyrics into this analysis. Not only are the lyrics legally relevant in any substantive discus-
sion of the obscenity prosecution, but also their inclusion here serves to reveal the depth of misogyny
many African-American women must grapple with in order to defend 2 Live Crew. This is particu-
larly true for African-American women who have been sexually abused by men in their lives. Of
course, it is also the case that many African-American women who are troubled by the sexual degra-
dation of Black women in some rap music can and do enjoy rap music generally.


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splattered across faces. Black women are “cunts,” “bitches,” and all-pur-
pose “hos.”147

This is no mere braggadocio. Those who are concerned about high rates
of gender violence in our communities must be troubled by the possible con-
nections between these images and the tolerance for violence against women.
Children and teenagers are listening to this music, and one cannot but be
concerned that the range of acceptable behavior is being broadened by the
constant propagation of misogynistic imagery. One must worry as well
about young Black women who, like young men, are learning that their
value lies between their legs. But the sexual value of women, unlike that of
men, is a depletable commodity; boys become men by expending theirs,
while girls become whores.

Nasty is misogynist, and an intersectional analysis of the case against 2
Live Crew should not depart from a full acknowledgement of that misogyny.
But such an analysis must also consider whether an exclusive focus on issues
of gender risks overlooking aspects of the prosecution of 2 Live Crew that
raise serious questions of racism.

B. The Obscenity Prosecution of 2 Live Crew

An initial problem with the obscenity prosecution of 2 Live Crew was its
apparent selectivity.148 Even the most superficial comparison between 2
Live Crew and other mass-marketed sexual representations suggests the like-
lihood that race played some role in distinguishing 2 Live Crew as the first
group ever to be prosecuted for obscenity in connection with a musical re-
cording, and one of a handful of recording artists to be prosecuted for a live
performance. Recent controversies about sexism, racism, and violence in
popular culture point to a vast range of expression that might have provided
targets for censorship, but was left untouched. Madonna has acted out mas-
turbation, portrayed the seduction of a priest, and insinuated group sex on
stage,149 but she has never been prosecuted for obscenity. While 2 Live
Crew was performing in Hollywood, Florida, Andrew Dice Clay’s record-
ings were being sold in stores and he was performing nationwide on HBO.

147. See generally 2 LIVE CREW, supra note 138; N.W.A., STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (Pri-
ority Records, Inc. 1988); N.W.A., N.W.A. & THE POSSE (Priority Records, Inc. 1989).

148. There is considerable support for the assertion that prosecution of 2 Live Crew and other
rap groups is a manifestation of selective repression of Black expression which is no more racist or
sexist than expression by non-Black groups. The most flagrant example is Geffen Records’ decision
not to distribute an album by the rap act, the Geto Boys. Geffen explained that “the extent to which
the Geto Boys album glamorizes and possibly endorses violence, racism, and misogyny compels us to
encourage Def American (the group’s label) to select a distributor with a greater affinity for this
musical expression.” Greg Ket, No Sale, Citing Explicit Lyrics, Distributor Backs Away From Geto
Boys Album, Chicago Trib., Sept. 13, 1990, ? 5, at 9. Geffen apparently has a greater affinity for the
likes of Andrew Dice Clay and Guns ‘N Roses, non-Black acts which have come under fire for racist
and sexist comments. Despite criticism of Guns ‘N Roses for lyrics which include “niggers” and
Clay’s “joke” about Native Americans (see note 150 infra), Geffen continued to distribute their
recordings. Id.

149. See Derrick Z. Jackson, Why Must Only Rappers Take the Rap?, Boston Globe, June 17,
1990, at A17.

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Well-known for his racist “humor,” Clay is also comparable to 2 Live Crew
in sexual explicitness and misogyny. In his show, for example, Clay offers,
“Eenie, meenie, minee, mo / Suck my [expletive] and swallow slow,” and
“Lose the bra, bitch.”’50 Moreover, graphic sexual images-many of them
violent-were widely available in Broward County where the performance
and trial took place. According to the testimony of a Broward County vice
detective, “nude dance shows and adult bookstores are scattered throughout
the county where 2 Live Crew performed.”’51 Given the availability of
other forms of sexually explicit “entertainment” in Broward County, Flor-
ida, one might wonder how 2 Live Crew could have been seen as uniquely
obscene by the lights of the “community standards” of the county.’52 After
all, patrons of certain Broward County clubs “can see women dancing with
at least their breasts exposed,” and bookstore patrons can “view and
purchase films and magazines that depict vaginal, oral and anal sex, homo-
sexual sex and group sex.”153 In arriving at its finding of obscenity, the
court placed little weight on the available range of films, magazines, and live
shows as evidence of the community’s sensibilities. Instead, the court appar-
ently accepted the sheriffs testimony that the decision to single out Nasty
was based on the number of complaints against 2 Live Crew “communicated
by telephone calls, anonymous messages, or letters to the police.” 54

Evidence of this popular outcry was never substantiated. But even if it

150. Id. at A20. Not only does Clay exhibit sexism comparable to, if not greater than, that of 2
Live Crew, he also intensifies the level of hatred by flaunting racism: ” ‘Indians, bright people, huh?
They’re still livin’ in [expletive] tepees. They deserved it. They’re dumb as [expletive].’ ” Id. (quot-
ing Clay).

One commentator asked, “What separates Andrew Dice Clay and 2 Live Crew? Answer: Foul-
mouthed Andrew Dice Clay is being chased by the producers of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Foul-
mouthed 2 Live Crew are being chased by the police.” Id. at A17. When Clay did appear on
Saturday Night Live, a controversy was sparked because cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest
Sinead O’Connor refused to appear. Jean Seligmann, Dicey Problem, NEWSWEEK, May 21, 1990, at

151. Jane Sutton, Untitled, 2 Live Crew, UPI, Oct. 18, 1990.
152. Prosecuting 2 Live Crew but not Clay might be justified by the argument that there is a

distinction between “obscenity,” defined as expressions of prurient interests, and “pornography” or
“racist speech,” defined as expressions of misogyny and race hatred, respectively. 2 Live Crew’s
prurient expressions could be prosecuted as constitutionally unprotected obscenity while Clay’s pro-
tected racist and misogynistic expressions could not. Such a distinction has been subjected to critical
analysis. See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Not A Moral Issue, 2 YALE L. & POL’Y REV. 321 (1984).
The distinction does not explain why other expressions which appeal more directly to “prurient
interests” are not prosecuted. Further, 2 Live Crew’s prurient appeal is produced, at least in part,
through the degradation of women. Accordingly, there can be no compelling distinction between
the appeal Clay makes and that of 2 Live Crew.

153. Sutton, supra note 151.
154. Skywalker Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 589 (S.D. Fla 1990). The court

rejected the defendants’ argument that “admission of other sexually explicit works” is entitled to
great weight in determining community standards and held that “this type of evidence does not even
have to be considered even if the comparable works have been found to be nonobscene.” Id. (citing
Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 82, 126-27 (1974)). Although the court gave “some weight” to
sexually explicit writings in books and magazines, Eddie Murphy’s audio tape of Raw, and Andrew
Dice Clay’s tape recording, it did not explain why these verbal messages “analogous to the format in
the Nasty recording” were not obscene as well. Id.


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were, the case for selectivity would remain.155 The history of social repres-
sion of Black male sexuality is long, often violent, and all too familiar.’56
Negative reactions to the sexual conduct of Black men have traditionally
had racist overtones, especially where that conduct threatens to “cross over”
into the mainstream community.157 So even if the decision to prosecute did
reflect a widespread community perception of the purely prurient character
of 2 Live Crew’s music, that perception itself might reflect an established
pattern of vigilante attitudes directed toward the sexual expression of Black
men.158 In short, the appeal to community standards does not undercut a

155. One report suggested that the complaint came from a lawyer, Jack Thompson. Thomp-
son has continued his campaign, expanding his net to include rap artists the Geto Boys and Too
Short. Sara Rimer, Obscenity or Art? Trial on Rap Lyrics Opens, N.Y. Times, Oct. 17, 1990, at Al.
Despite the appearance of selective enforcement, it is doubtful that any court would be persuaded
that the requisite racial motivation was proved. Even evidence of racial disparity in the heaviest of
criminal penalties-the death sentence-is insufficient to warrant relief absent specific evidence of
discrimination in the defendant’s case. See McClesky v. Kemp, 481 U. S. 279 (1987).

156. See notes 101-104 supra and accompanying text.
157. Some critics speculate that the prosecution of 2 Live Crew has less to do with obscenity

than with the traditional policing of Black males, especially as it relates to sexuality. Questioning
whether 2 Live Crew is more obscene than Andrew Dice Clay, Gates states, “Clearly, this rap group
is seen as more threatening than others that are just as sexually explicit. Can this be completely
unrelated to the specter of the young black male as a figure of sexual and social disruption, the very
stereotypes that 2 Live Crew seems determined to undermine?” Gates, supra note 142. Clarence
Page makes a similar point, speculating that “2 Live Crew has become the scapegoat for widespread
frustration shared by many blacks and whites over a broad range of social problems that seem to
have gotten out of control.” Clarence Page, Culture, Taste and Standard-Setting, Chicago Trib.,
Oct. 7, 1990, ? 4, at 3. Page implies, however, that this explanation is something more than or
different from racism. “Could it be (drumroll, please) racism? Or could it be fear?” Id. (emphasis
added). Page’s definition of racism apparently does not include the possibility that it is racist to
attach one’s societal fears and discomforts to a subordinated and highly stigmatized “other.” In
other words, scapegoating, at least in this country, has traditionally been, and still is, considered
racist, whatever the source of the fear.

158. Even in the current era, this vigilantism is sometimes tragically expressed. Yusef Haw-
kins became a victim of it in New York on August 23, 1989, when he was killed by a mob of white
men who believed themselves to be protecting “their” women from being taken by Black men. UPI,
May 18, 1990. Jesse Jackson called Hawkins’s slaying a “racially and sexually motivated lynching”
and compared it to the 1955 murder of black Mississippi youth Emmett Till, who was killed by men
who thought he whistled at a white woman. Id. Even those who denied the racial overtones of
Hawkins’s murder produced alternative explanations that were part of the same historical narrative.
Articles about the Hawkins incident focused on Gina Feliciano as the cause of the incident, attack-
ing her credibility. See, e.g., Lorrin Anderson, Cracks in the Mosaic, NAT’L REV., June 25, 1990, at
36. “Gina instigated the trouble …. Gina used drugs and apparently still does. She dropped out of
a rehabilitation program before testifying for the prosecution at trial” and was later picked up by the
police and “charged with possession of cocaine-15 vials of crack fell out of her purse, police said,
and she had a crack pipe in her bra.” Id. at 37. At trial, defense attorney Stephen Murphy claimed
that Feliciano “lied, . . . perjured herself …. She divides, polarizes eight million people …. It’s
despicable what she did, making this a racial incident.” Id. (quoting Murphy). But feminists at-
tacked the “scapegoating” of Feliciano, one stating, “Not only are women the victims of male vio-
lence, they’re blamed for it.” Alexis Jetter, Protesters Blast Scapegoat Tactics, Newsday, Apr. 3,
1990, at 29 (quoting Francoise Jacobsohn, president of the New York chapter of the National Or-
ganization for Women). According to Merle Hoffman, founder of the New York Pro-Choice Coali-
tion, “Gina’s personal life has nothing to do with the crime, . . . [b]ut rest assured, they’ll go into her
sexual history …. It’s all part of the ‘she made me do it’ idea.” Id. (quoting Hoffman). And New
York columnist Ilene Barth observed that

Gender . . . has a role in New York’s race war. Fingers were pointed in Bensonhurst
last week at a teenage girl . . . [who] never harmed anyone …. Word of her invitation
offended local studs, sprouting macho-freaks determined to own local turf and the young

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concern about racism; rather, it underscores that concern.
A second troubling dimension of the case brought against 2 Live Crew

was the court’s apparent disregard for the culturally rooted aspects of 2 Live
Crew’s music. Such disregard was essential to a finding of obscenity given
the third prong of the Miller test requiring that material judged obscene
must, taken as a whole, lack literary, artistic, or political value.159 2 Live
Crew argued that this criterion of the Miller test was not met in the case of
Nasty since the recording exemplified such African-American cultural
modes as “playing the dozens,” “call and response,” and “signifying.”160
The court denied each of the group’s claims of cultural specificity,
recharacterizing in more generic terms what 2 Live Crew contended was
distinctly African American. According to the court, “playing the dozens”
is “commonly seen in adolescents, especially boys, of all ages”; “boasting”
appears to be “part of the universal human condition”; and the cultural ori-
gins of “call and response”-featured in a song on Nasty about fellatio in
which competing groups chanted “less filling” and “tastes great”-were to
be found in a Miller beer commercial, not in African-American cultural tra-
dition.161 The possibility that the Miller beer commercial may have itself
evolved from an African-American cultural tradition was apparently lost on
the court.

In disregarding the arguments made on behalf of 2 Live Crew, the court
denied that the form and style of Nasty and, by implication, rap music in
general had any artistic merit. This disturbing dismissal of the cultural at-
tributes of rap and the effort to universalize African-American modes of ex-
pression are a form of colorblindness that presumes to level all significant
racial and ethnic differences in order to pass judgment on intergroup con-
flicts. The court’s analysis here also manifests a frequently encountered
strategy of cultural appropriation. African-American contributions that
have been accepted by the mainstream culture are eventually absorbed as

females in their ethnic group …. [W]omen have not made the headlines as part of ma-
rauding bands intent on racial assault. But they number among their victims.”

Ilene Barth, Let the Women of Bensonhurst Lead Us in a Prayer Vigil, Newsday, Sept. 3, 1989, at 10.
159. The Supreme Court articulated its standard for obscenity in Miller v. California, 413 U.S.

15 (1973), reh’g denied, 414 U.S. 881 (1973). The Court held that the basic guidelines for the trier of
fact were (a) “whether the ‘average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would
find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest”; (b) “whether the work depicts
or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state
law”; and (c) “whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scien-
tific value.” Id. at 24 (citations omitted).

160. See Gates, supra note 142.
161. Skywalker Records, Inc., v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 595 (S.D. Fla. 1990). The com-

mercial appropriation of rap is readily apparent in pop culture. Soft drink and fast food commercials
now feature rap even though the style is sometimes presented without its racial/cultural face. Danc-
ing McDonald’s french fries and the Pillsbury Doughboy have gotten into the rap act. The crossover
of rap is not the problem; instead, it is the tendency, represented in Skywalker, to reject the cultural
origins of language and practices which are disturbing. This is part of an overall pattern of cultural
appropriation that predates the rap controversy. Most starkly illustrated in music and dance, cul-
tural trailblazers like Little Richard and James Brown have been squeezed out of their place in
popular consciousness to make room for Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, and others. The meteoric rise
of white rapper Vanilla Ice is a contemporary example.

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simply “American” or found to be “universal.” Other modes associated
with African-American culture that resist absorption remain distinctive and
are either neglected or dismissed as “deviant.”

The court apparently rejected as well the possibility that even the most
misogynistic rap may have political value as a discourse of resistance. The
element of resistance found in some rap is in making people uncomfortable,
thereby challenging received habits of thought and action. Such challenges
are potentially political, as are more subversive attempts to contest tradi-
tional rules by becoming what is most feared.162 Against a historical back-
drop in which the Black male as social outlaw is a prominent theme,
“gangsta’ rap” might be taken as a rejection of a conciliatory stance aimed at
undermining fear through reassurance, in favor of a more subversive form of
opposition that attempts to challenge the rules precisely by becoming the
very social outlaw that society fears and attempts to proscribe. Rap repre-
sentations celebrating an aggressive Black male sexuality can be easily con-
strued as discomforting and oppositional. Not only does reading rap in this
way preclude a finding that Nasty lacks political value, it also defeats the
court’s assumption that the group’s intent was to appeal solely to prurient
interests. To be sure, these considerations carry greater force in the case of
other rap artists, such as N.W.A., Too Short, Ice Cube, and The Geto Boys,
all of whose standard fare includes depictions of violent assault, rape, rape-
murder, and mutilation.163 In fact, had these other groups been targeted
rather than the comparatively less offensive 2 Live Crew, they might have
successfully defeated prosecution. The graphic violence in their representa-
tions militate against a finding of obscenity by suggesting an intent not to
appeal to prurient interests but instead to more expressly political ones. So
long as violence is seen as distinct from sexuality, the prurient interest re-
quirement may provide a shield for the more violent rap artists. However,
even this somewhat formalistic dichotomy may provide little solace to such
rap artists given the historical linkages that have been made between Black

162. Gates argues that 2 Live Crew is undermining the “specter of the young black male as a
figure of sexual and social disruption.” Gates, supra note 142. Faced with “racist stereotypes about
black sexuality,” he explains, “you can do one of two things: you can disavow them or explode them
with exaggeration.” Id. 2 Live Crew, Gates suggests, has chosen to burst the myth by parodying
exaggerations of the “oversexed black female and male.” Id.

163. Other rap acts that have been singled out for their violent lyrics include Ice Cube, the
Geto Boys, and Too Short. See, e.g., ICE CUBE, KILL AT WILL (Gangsta Boogie Music (ASCAP)/
UJAMA Music, Inc. 1990); GETO BOYS, THE GETO BOYS (N-The-Water Music, Inc. (ASCAP)
1989); Too SHORT, SHORT DOG’S IN THE HOUSE (RCA Records 1990). Not all rap lyrics are
misogynist. Moreover, even misogynist acts also express a political world view. The differences
among rap groups and the artistic value of the medium is sometimes overlooked by mainstream
critics. See, e.g., Jerry Adler, The Rap Attitude, NEWSWEEK, Mar. 19, 1990, at 56, 57 (labeling rap
as a “bombastic, self-aggrandizing” by-product of the growing “Culture of Attitude”). Adler’s treat-
ment of rap set off a storm of responses. See, e.g., Patrick Goldstein, Pop Eye: Rappers Don’t Have
Time For Newsweek’s Attitude, L.A. Times, Mar. 25, 1990, at 90 (Magazine). Said Russell Simmons,
chairman of Def-Jam Records, rap’s most successful label, “Surely the moral outrage in [Adler’s]
piece would be better applied to contemporary American crises in health care, education, homeless-
ness …. Blaming the victims-in this case America’s black working class and underclass-is never
a very useful approach to problem-solving.” Id. (quoting Simmons).

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male sexuality and violence. Indeed, it has been the specter of violence that
surrounds images of Black male sexuality that presented 2 Live Crew as an
acceptable target of an obscenity prosecution in a field that included Andrew
Dice Clay and countless others.

The point here is not that the distinction between sex and violence
should be rigorously maintained in determining what is obscene or, more
specifically, that rap artists whose standard fare is more violent ought to be
protected. To the contrary, these more violent groups should be much more
troubling than 2 Live Crew. My point instead is to suggest that obscenity
prosecutions of rap artists do nothing to protect the interests of those most
directly implicated in rap-Black women. On the one hand, prevailing no-
tions of obscenity separate out sexuality from violence, which has the effect
of shielding the more violently misogynistic groups from prosecution; on the
other, historical linkages between images of Black male sexuality and vio-
lence permit the singling out of “lightweight” rappers for prosecution among
all other purveyors of explicit sexual imagery.

C. Addressing the Intersectionality

Although Black women’s interests were quite obviously irrelevant in the
2 Live Crew obscenity judgment, their images figured prominently in the
public case supporting the prosecution. George Will’s Newsweek essay pro-
vides a striking example of how Black women’s bodies were appropriated
and deployed in the broader attack against 2 Live Crew. Commenting on
“America’s Slide into the Sewers,” Will laments that

America today is capable of terrific intolerance about smoking, or toxic
waste that threatens trout. But only a deeply confused society is more con-
cerned about protecting lungs than minds, trout than black women. We
legislate against smoking in restaurants; singing “Me So Horny” is a consti-
tutional right. Secondary smoke is carcinogenic; celebration of torn vaginas
is “mere words.”164

Lest one be misled into thinking that Will has become an ally of Black
women, Will’s real concern is suggested by his repeated references to the
Central Park jogger assault. Will writes, “Her face was so disfigured a friend
took 15 minutes to identify her. ‘I recognized her ring.’ Do you recognize
the relevance of 2 Live Crew?”165 While the connection between the threat
of 2 Live Crew and the image of the Black male rapist was suggested subtly
in the public debate, it is blatant throughout Will’s discussion. Indeed, it
bids to be the central theme of the essay. “Fact: Some members of a partic-
ular age and societal cohort-the one making 2 Live Crew rich-stomped
and raped the jogger to the razor edge of death, for the fun of it.”166 Will
directly indicts 2 Live Crew in the Central Park jogger rape through a fic-
tional dialogue between himself and the defendants. Responding to one de-

164. See Will, supra note 140.
165. Id.
166. Id.

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fendant’s alleged confession that the rape was fun, Will asks, “Where can
you get the idea that sexual violence against women is fun? From a music
store, through Walkman earphones, from boom boxes blaring forth the rap
lyrics of 2 Live Crew.”167 Since the rapists were young Black males and
Nasty presents Black men celebrating sexual violence, 2 Live Crew was in
Central Park that night, providing the underlying accompaniment to a vi-
cious assault. Ironically, Will rejected precisely this kind of argument in the
context of racist speech on the ground that efforts to link racist speech to
racist violence presume that those who hear racist speech will mindlessly act
on what they hear.l68 Apparently, the certain “social cohort” that produces
and consumes racist speech is fundamentally different from the one that pro-
duces and consumes rap music.

Will invokes Black women-twice-as victims of this music. But if he
were really concerned with the threat of 2 Live Crew to Black women, why
does the Central Park jogger figure so prominently in his argument? Why
not the Black woman in Brooklyn who was gang-raped and then thrown
down an airshaft? In fact, Will fails even to mention Black victims of sexual
violence, which suggests that Black women simply function for Will as
stand-ins for white women. Will’s use of the Black female body to press the
case against 2 Live Crew recalls the strategy of the prosecutor in Richard
Wright’s novel Native Son. Bigger Thomas, Wright’s Black male protago-
nist, is on trial for killing Mary Dalton, a white woman. Because Bigger
burned her body, it cannot be established whether Bigger had sexually as-
saulted her, so the prosecutor brings in the body of Bessie, a Black woman
raped by Bigger and left to die, in order to establish that Bigger had raped
Mary Dalton.169

These considerations about selectivity, about the denial of cultural speci-
ficity, and about the manipulation of Black women’s bodies convince me that
race played a significant, if not determining, role in the shaping of the case
against 2 Live Crew. While using antisexist rhetoric to suggest a concern for
women, the attack on 2 Live Crew simultaneously endorses traditional read-
ings of Black male sexuality. The fact that the objects of these violent sexual
images are Black women becomes irrelevant in the representation of the
threat in terms of the Black rapist/white victim dyad. The Black male be-
comes the agent of sexual violence and the white community becomes his
potential victim. The subtext of the 2 Live Crew prosecution thus becomes a
re-reading of the sexualized racial politics of the past.

167. Id.
168. See George F. Will, On Campuses, Liberals Would Gag Free Speech, Newsday, Nov. 6,

1989, at 62.
169. RICHARD WRIGHT, NATIVE SON 305-08 (Perennial Library ed. 1989) (1940). Wright

Though he had killed a black girl and a white girl, he knew that it would be for the death of
the white girl that he would be punished. The black girl was merely “evidence.” And
under it all he knew that white people did not really care about Bessie’s being killed. White
people never searched for Negroes who killed other Negroes.

Id. at 306-07.

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While concerns about racism fuel my opposition to the obscenity prose-
cution of 2 Live Crew, the uncritical support for, and indeed celebration of,
2 Live Crew by other opponents of the prosecution is extremely troubling as
well. If the rhetoric of antisexism provided an occasion for racism, so, too,
the rhetoric of antiracism provided an occasion for defending the misogyny
of 2 Live Crew. That defense took two forms, one political, the other cul-
tural, both advanced prominently by Henry Louis Gates. Gates’s political
defense argues that 2 Live Crew advances the antiracist agenda by exagger-
ating stereotypes of Black male sexuality “to show how ridiculous [they]
are.”170 The defense contends that by highlighting to the extreme the sex-
ism, misogyny, and violence stereotypically associated with Black male sexu-
ality, 2 Live Crew represents a postmodern effort to “liberate” us from the
racism that perpetuates these stereotypes.171

Gates is right to contend that the reactions of Will and others confirm
that the racial stereotypes still exist, but even if 2 Live Crew intended to
explode these stereotypes, their strategy was misguided. Certainly, the
group wholly miscalculated the reaction of their white audience, as Will’s
polemic amply illustrates. Rather than exploding stereotypes, as Gates sug-
gests, 2 Live Crew, it seems most reasonable to argue, was simply (and un-
successfully) trying to be funny. After all, trading in sexual stereotypes has
long been a means to a cheap laugh, and Gates’s cultural defense of 2 Live
Crew recognizes as much in arguing the identification of the group with a
distinctly African-American cultural tradition of the “dozens” and other
forms of verbal boasting, raunchy jokes, and insinuations of sexual prowess,
all of which were meant to be laughed at and to gain for the speaker respect
for his word wizardry, and not to disrupt conventional myths of Black sexu-
ality.172 Gates’s cultural defense of 2 Live Crew, however, recalls similar
efforts on behalf of racist humor, which has sometimes been defended as
antiracist-an effort to poke fun at or to show the ridiculousness of racism.

170. Gates, supra note 142. Gates’s defense of 2 Live Crew portrayed the group as engaging in
postmodern guerrilla warfare against racist stereotypes of Black sexuality. Says Gates, “2 Live
Crew’s music exaggerates stereotypes of black men and women to show how ridiculous those por-
trayals are. One of the brilliant things about these songs is that they embrace the stereotypes ….
It’s ridiculous. That’s why we laugh about them. That is one of the things I noticed in the audi-
ence’s reaction. There is no undertone of violence. There’s laughter, there’s joy.” Id. Gates repeats
the celebratory theme elsewhere, linking 2 Live Crew to Eddie Murphy and other Black male per-
formers because

they’re saying all the things that we couldn’t say even in the 1960’s about our own excesses,
things we could only whisper in dark rooms. They’re saying we’re going to explode all
these sacred cows. It’s fascinating, and it’s upsetting everybody-not just white people but
black people. But it’s a liberating moment.

John Pareles, An Album is Judged Obscene; Rap: Slick, Violent, Nasty and, Maybe Hopeful, N. Y.
Times, June 17, 1990, at 1 (quoting Gates). For a cogent intersectional analysis of Eddie Murphy’s
popular appeal, see Herman Beavers, The Cool Pose: Intersectionality, Masculinity and Quiescence
in the Comedy and Films of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy (unpublished manuscript) (on file
with the Stanford Law Review).

171. Gates and others who defend 2 Live Crew as postmodern comic heroes tend to dismiss or
downplay the misogyny represented in their rap. Said Gates, “Their sexism is so flagrant, however,
that it almost cancels itself out in a hyperbolic war between the sexes.” Gates, supra note 142.

172. See note 142 supra.

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More simply, racist humor has often been excused as “just joking”-even
racially motivated assaults have been defended as simple pranks. Thus the
racism of an Andrew Dice Clay could be defended in either mode as an
attempt to explode racist stereotypes or as simple humor not meant to be
taken seriously. Implicit in these defenses is the assumption that racist rep-
resentations are injurious only if they are intended to injure, or to be taken
literally, or are devoid of some other nonracist objective. It is highly un-
likely that this rationale would be accepted by Blacks as a persuasive defense
of Andrew Dice Clay. Indeed, the Black community’s historical and ongo-
ing criticism of such humor suggests widespread rejection of these

The claim that a representation is meant simply as a joke may be true,
but the joke functions as humor within a specific social context in which it
frequently reinforces patterns of social power. Though racial humor may
sometimes be intended to ridicule racism, the close relationship between the
stereotypes and the prevailing images of marginalized people complicates
this strategy. And certainly, the humorist’s positioning vis-a-vis a targeted
group colors how the group interprets a potentially derisive stereotype or
gesture. Although one could argue that Black comedians have broader li-
cense to market stereotypically racist images, that argument has no force
here. 2 Live Crew cannot claim an in-group privilege to perpetuate misogy-
nist humor against Black women: the members of 2 Live Crew are not
Black women, and more importantly, they enjoy a power relationship over

Humor in which women are objectified as packages of bodily parts to
serve whatever male-bonding/male-competition needs men please subordi-
nates women in much the same way that racist humor subordinates African
Americans. Claims that incidences of such humor are just jokes and are not
meant to injure or to be taken literally do little to blunt their demeaning
quality-nor, for that matter, does the fact that the jokes are told within an
intragroup cultural tradition.

The notion that sexism can serve antiracist ends has proponents ranging
from Eldridge Cleaver173 to Shahrazad Ali,174 all of whom seem to expect
Black women to serve as vehicles for the achievement of a “liberation” that
functions to perpetuate their own subordination.175 Claims of cultural speci-
ficity similarly fail to justify toleration of misogyny.176 While the cultural

173. See note 47 supra.
174. See notes 37-42 supra and accompanying text.
175. Gates occasionally claims that both Black male and Black female images are exploded by

2 Live Crew. Even if Gates’s view holds true for Black male images, the strategy does not work-
and was not meant to work-for Black women. Black women are not the actors in 2 Live Crew’s
strategy; they are acted upon. To challenge the images of Black women, Black women themselves
would have to embrace them, not simply permit Black men to “act out” on them. The only Black
female rap groups that might conceivably claim such a strategy are Bytches With Problems and
Hoes With Attitudes. Yet, having listened to the music of these Black female rap groups, I am not
sure that exploding racist images is either their intent or effect. This is not to say, of course, that all
Black female rap is without its strategies of resistance. See note 179 infra.

176. It is interesting that whether those judging the 2 Live Crew case came out for or against,

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defense of 2 Live Crew has the virtue of recognizing merit in a form of music
common to the Black community, something George Will and the court that
convicted 2 Live Crew were all too glib in dismissing, it does not eliminate
the need to question both the sexism within the tradition it defends and the
objectives to which the tradition has been pressed. The fact that playing the
dozens, say, is rooted in the Black cultural tradition, or that themes repre-
sented by mythic folk heroes such as “Stackolee” are African American does
not settle the question of whether such practices oppress Black women.177
Whether these practices are a distinctive part of the African-American cul-
tural tradition is decidedly beside the point. The real question is how subor-
dinating aspects of these practices play out in the lives of people in the
community, people who share the benefits as well as the burdens of a com-
mon culture. With regard to 2 Live Crew, while it may be true that the
Black community has accepted the cultural forms that have evolved into
rap, that acceptance should not preclude discussion of whether the misogyny
within rap is itself acceptable.

With respect to Gates’s political and cultural defenses of 2 Live Crew,
then, little turns on whether the “word play” performed by the Crew is a
postmodern challenge to racist sexual mythology or simply an internal
group practice that crossed over into mainstream America. Both defenses
are problematic because they require Black women to accept misogyny and
its attendant disrespect and exploitation in the service of some broader group
objective, whether it be pursuing an antiracist political agenda or maintain-
ing the cultural integrity of the Black community. Neither objective obli-
gates Black women to tolerate such misogyny.

Likewise, the superficial efforts of the anti-2 Live Crew movement to link

all seemed to reject the notion that race has anything to do with their analysis. See Skywalker
Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 594-96 (S.D. Fla 1990) (rejecting defense contention
that 2 Live Crew’s Nasty had artistic value as Black cultural expression); see also Sara Rimer, Rap
Band Members Found Not Guilty in Obscenity Trial, N.Y. Times, Oct. 21, 1990, at A30 (“Jurors said
they did not agree with the defense’s assertion that the 2 Live Crew’s music had to be understood in
the context of black culture. They said they thought race had nothing to do with it.”). Clarence
Page also rejects the argument that 2 Live Crew’s NASTY must be valued as Black cultural expres-
sion: “I don’t think 2 Live Crew can be said to represent black culture any more than, say, Andrew
Dice Clay can be said to represent white culture. Rather, I think both represent a lack of culture.”
See Page, supra note 157.

177. Gay men are also targets of homophobic humor that might be defended as culturally
specific. Consider the homophobic humor of such comedians as Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and
Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier, the two actors who currently portray Black gay men on the
television show In Living Color. Critics have linked these homophobic representations of Black gay
men to patterns of subordination within the Black community. Black gay filmmaker Marlon Riggs
has argued that such caricatures discredit Black gay men’s claim to Black manhood, presenting them
as “game for play, to be used, joked about, put down, beaten, slapped, and bashed, not just by
illiterate homophobic thugs in the night, but by black American culture’s best and brightest.”
Marlon Riggs, Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a SNAP! Queen, in BROTHER TO BROTHER:
NEW WRITINGS BY BLACK GAY MEN 253, 254 (Essex Hemphill ed. 1991); see also Blair Fell,
Gayface/Blackface: Parallels of Oppression, NYQ, Apr. 5, 1992, at 32 (drawing parallels between
gayface and blackface and arguing that “gayfaced contemporary comedy . . . serves as a tool to
soothe the guilty consciences and perpetuate the injustices of gay-bashing America. After all, laugh-
ing at something barely human is easier than dealing with flying bullets, split skulls, dying bodies
and demands for civil rights.”).

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the prosecution of the Crew to the victimization of Black women had little to
do with Black women’s lives. Those who deployed Black women in the ser-
vice of condemning 2 Live Crew’s misogynist representations did not do so
in the interest of empowering Black women; rather, they had other interests
in mind, the pursuit of which was racially subordinating. The implication
here is not that Black feminists should stand in solidarity with the support-
ers of 2 Live Crew. The spirited defense of 2 Live Crew was no more about
defending the entire Black community than the prosecution was about de-
fending Black women. After all, Black women whose very assault is the
subject of the representation can hardly regard the right to be represented as
bitches and whores as essential to their interest. Instead, the defense primar-
ily functions to protect 2 Live Crew’s prerogative to be as misogynistic as
they want to be.178

Within the African-American political community, Black women will
have to make it clear that patriarchy is a critical issue that negatively affects
the lives not only of Black women, but of Black men as well. Doing so
would help reshape traditional practices so that evidence of racism would
not constitute sufficient justification for uncritical rallying around misogynis-
tic politics and patriarchal values. Although collective opposition to racist
practice has been and continues to be crucially important in protecting Black
interests, an empowered Black feminist sensibility would require that the
terms of unity no longer reflect priorities premised upon the continued
marginalization of Black women.

178. Although much of the sexism that is voiced in rap pervades the industry, Black female
rappers have gained a foothold and have undertaken various strategies of resistance. For some, their
very presence in rap challenges prevailing assumptions that rap is a Black male tradition. See Tricia
Rose, One Queen, One Tribe, One Destiny, VILLAGE VOICE ROCK & ROLL QUARTERLY, Spring
1990, at 10 (profiling Queen Latifah, widely regarded as one of the best female rappers). Although
Latifah has eschewed the head-on approach, her rap and videos are often women-centered, as exem-
plified by her single, “Ladies First.” QUEEN LATIFAH, ALL HAIL THE QUEEN (Tommy Boy 1989).
The “Ladies First” video featured other female rappers, “showing a depth of women’s solidarity
never seen before.” Rose, supra, at 16. Rappers like Yo-Yo, “hip-hop’s first self-proclaimed feminist
activist,” take a more confrontational line; for example, Yo-Yo duels directly with rapper Ice Cube
in “It’s a Man’s World.” Joan Morgan, Throw the ‘F’ Village Voice, June 11, 1991, at 75.

Some female rappers, such as Bytches With Problems, have attempted to subvert the categories
of bitches and whores by taking on the appellations and infusing them with power. As Joan Morgan

It’s common practice for oppressed peoples to neutralize terms of disparagement by adopt-
ing and redefining them. Lyndah McCaskill and Tanisha Michelle Morgan’s decision to
define bitch “as a strong woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone, male or female” and
to encourage women to “wear the title as a badge of honor and keep getting yours” does
not differ significantly from blacks opting to use the word nigger or gays embracing queer.

Id. However in the case of the Bytches, Joan Morgan ultimately found the attempt unsuccessful, in
part because the subversion operated merely as an exception for the few (“Lynda and Tanisha
Michelle are the only B-Y-T-C-H’s here; all the other women they speak about, including the men-
strual accident, the woman whose boyfriend Lyndah screws, and anyone else who doesn’t like their
style, are B-I-T-C-H’s in the very male sense of the word”) and because ultimately, their world view
serves to reinscribe male power. Said Morgan, “It’s a tired female rendition of age-old sexist, patri-
archal thinking: the power is in the pistol or the penis.” Id.

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This article has presented intersectionality as a way of framing the vari-
ous interactions of race and gender in the context of violence against women
of color. Yet intersectionality might be more broadly useful as a way of
mediating the tension between assertions of multiple identity and the ongo-
ing necessity of group politics. It is helpful in this regard to distinguish in-
tersectionality from the closely related perspective of antiessentialism, from
which women of color have critically engaged white feminism for the ab-
sence of women of color on the one hand, and for speaking for women of
color on the other. One rendition of this antiessentialist critique-that femi-
nism essentializes the category woman-owes a great deal to the
postmodernist idea that categories we consider natural or merely representa-
tional are actually socially constructed in a linguistic economy of differ-
ence.179 While the descriptive project of postmodernism of questioning the
ways in which meaning is socially constructed is generally sound, this cri-
tique sometimes misreads the meaning of social construction and distorts its
political relevance.

One version of antiessentialism, embodying what might be called the vul-
garized social construction thesis, is that since all categories are socially con-
structed, there is no such thing as, say, Blacks or women, and thus it makes
no sense to continue reproducing those categories by organizing around
them.180 Even the Supreme Court has gotten into this act. In Metro Broad-
casting, Inc. v. FCC, 81 the Court conservatives, in rhetoric that oozes vulgar
constructionist smugness, proclaimed that any set-aside designed to increase
the voices of minorities on the air waves was itself based on a racist assump-
tion that skin color is in some way connected to the likely content of one’s
broadcast. 182

But to say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is
not to say that that category has no significance in our world. On the con-
trary, a large and continuing project for subordinated people-and indeed,
one of the projects for which postmodern theories have been very helpful-is

179. I follow the practice of others in linking antiessentialism to postmodernism. See generally

180. I do not mean to imply that all theorists who have made antiessentialist critiques have
lasped into vulgar constructionism. Indeed, antiessentialists avoid making these troubling moves
and would no doubt be receptive to much of the critique set forth herein. I use the term vulgar
constructionism to distinguish between those antiessentialist critiques that leave room for identity
politics and those that do not.

181. 110 S. Ct. 2997 (1990).
The FCC’s choice to employ a racial criterion embodies the related notions that a particu-
lar and distinct viewpoint inheres in certain racial groups and that a particular applicant,
by virtue of race or ethnicity alone, is more valued than other applicants because the appli-
cant is “likely to provide [that] distinct perspective.” The policies directly equate race with
belief and behavior, for they establish race as a necessary and sufficient condition of secur-
ing the preference…. The policies impermissibly value individuals because they presume
that persons think in a manner associated with their race.

Id. at 3037 (O’Connor, J., joined by Rehnquist, C.J., and Scalia and Kennedy, J.J., dissenting) (inter-
nal citations omitted).

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thinking about the way power has clustered around certain categories and is
exercised against others. This project attempts to unveil the processes of
subordination and the various ways those processes are experienced by peo-
ple who are subordinated and people who are privileged by them. It is, then,
a project that presumes that categories have meaning and consequences.
And this project’s most pressing problem, in many if not most cases, is not
the existence of the categories, but rather the particular values attached to
them and the way those values foster and create social hierarchies.

This is not to deny that the process of categorization is itself an exercise
of power, but the story is much more complicated and nuanced than that.
First, the process of categorizing-or, in identity terms, naming-is not uni-
lateral. Subordinated people can and do participate, sometimes even sub-
verting the naming process in empowering ways. One need only think about
the historical subversion of the category “Black” or the current transforma-
tion of “queer” to understand that categorization is not a one-way street.
Clearly, there is unequal power, but there is nonetheless some degree of
agency that people can and do exert in the politics of naming. And it is
important to note that identity continues to be a site of resistance for mem-
bers of different subordinated groups. We all can recognize the distinction
between the claims “I am Black” and the claim “I am a person who happens
to be Black.” “I am Black” takes the socially imposed identity and empow-
ers it as an anchor of subjectivity. “I am Black” becomes not simply a state-
ment of resistance but also a positive discourse of self-identification,
intimately linked to celebratory statements like the Black nationalist “Black
is beautiful.” “I am a person who happens to be Black,” on the other hand,
achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, “I
am first a person”) and for a concommitant dismissal of the imposed cate-
gory (“Black”) as contingent, circumstantial, nondeterminant. There is
truth in both characterizations, of course, but they function quite differently
depending on the political context. At this point in history, a strong case
can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for disempowered
groups is to occupy and defend a politics of social location rather than to
vacate and destroy it.

Vulgar constructionism thus distorts the possibilities for meaningful
identity politics by conflating at least two separate but closely linked mani-
festations of power. One is the power exercised simply through the process
of categorization; the other, the power to cause that categorization to have
social and material consequences. While the former power facilitates the
latter, the political implications of challenging one over the other matter
greatly. We can look at debates over racial subordination throughout his-
tory and see that in each instance, there was a possibility of challenging
either the construction of identity or the system of subordination based on
that identity. Consider, for example, the segregation system in Plessy v. Fer-
guson.183 At issue were multiple dimensions of domination, including cate-

183. 163 U.S. 537 (1896).

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gorization, the sign of race, and the subordination of those so labeled. There
were at least two targets for Plessy to challenge: the construction of identity
(“What is a Black?”), and the system of subordination based on that identity
(“Can Blacks and whites sit together on a train?”). Plessy actually made
both arguments, one against the coherence of race as a category, the other
against the subordination of those deemed to be Black. In his attack on the
former, Plessy argued that the segregation statute’s application to him, given
his mixed race status, was inappropriate. The Court refused to see this as an
attack on the coherence of the race system and instead responded in a way
that simply reproduced the Black/white dichotomy that Plessy was chal-
lenging. As we know, Plessy’s challenge to the segregation system was not
successful either. In evaluating various resistance strategies today, it is use-
ful to ask which of Plessy’s challenges would have been best for him to have
won-the challenge against the coherence of the racial categorization system
or the challenge to the practice of segregation?

The same question can be posed for Brown v. Board of Education.184
Which of two possible arguments was politically more empowering-that
segregation was unconstitutional because the racial categorization system on
which it was based was incoherent, or that segregation was unconstitutional
because it was injurious to Black children and oppressive to their communi-
ties? While it might strike some as a difficult question, for the most part, the
dimension of racial domination that has been most vexing to African Ameri-
cans has not been the social categorization as such, but the myriad ways in
which those of us so defined have been systematically subordinated. With
particular regard to problems confronting women of color, when identity
politics fail us, as they frequently do, it is not primarily because those politics
take as natural certain categories that are socially constructed but rather
because the descriptive content of those categories and the narratives on
which they are based have privileged some experiences and excluded others.

Along these lines, consider the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy.
During the Senate hearings for the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the
Supreme Court, Anita Hill, in bringing allegations of sexual harassment
against Thomas, was rhetorically disempowered in part because she fell be-
tween the dominant interpretations of feminism and antiracism. Caught be-
tween the competing narrative tropes of rape (advanced by feminists) on the
one hand and lynching (advanced by Thomas and his antiracist supporters)
on the other, the race and gender dimensions of her position could not be
told. This dilemma could be described as the consequence of antiracism’s
essentializing Blackness and feminism’s essentializing womanhood. But rec-
ognizing as much does not take us far enough, for the problem is not simply
linguistic or philosophical in nature. It is specifically political: the narra-
tives of gender are based on the experience of white, middle-class women,
and the narratives of race are based on the experience of Black men. The
solution does not merely entail arguing for the multiplicity of identities or

184. 397 U.S. 483 (1954).

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challenging essentialism generally. Instead, in Hill’s case, for example, it
would have been necessary to assert those crucial aspects of her location that
were erased, even by many of her advocates-that is, to state what difference
her difference made.

If, as this analysis asserts, history and context determine the utility of
identity politics, how then do we understand identity politics today, espe-
cially in light of our recognition of multiple dimensions of identity? More
specifically, what does it mean to argue that gender identities have been ob-
scured in antiracist discourses, just as race identities have been obscured in
feminist discourses? Does that mean we cannot talk about identity? Or in-
stead, that any discourse about identity has to acknowledge how our identi-
ties are constructed through the intersection of multiple dimensions? A
beginning response to these questions requires that we first recognize that
the organized identity groups in which we find ourselves in are in fact coali-
tions, or at least potential coalitions waiting to be formed.

In the context of antiracism, recognizing the ways in which the intersec-
tional experiences of women of color are marginalized in prevailing concep-
tions of identity politics does not require that we give up attempts to
organize as communities of color. Rather, intersectionality provides a basis
for reconceptualizing race as a coalition between men and women of color.
For example, in the area of rape, intersectionality provides a way of explain-
ing why women of color have to abandon the general argument that the
interests of the community require the suppression of any confrontation
around intraracial rape. Intersectionality may provide the means for dealing
with other marginalizations as well. For example, race can also be a coali-
tion of straight and gay people of color, and thus serve as a basis for critique
of churches and other cultural institutions that reproduce heterosexism.

With identity thus reconceptualized, it may be easier to understand the
need for and to summon the courage to challenge groups that are after all, in
one sense, “home” to us, in the name of the parts of us that are not made at
home. This takes a great deal of energy and arouses intense anxiety. The
most one could expect is that we will dare to speak against internal exclu-
sions and marginalizations, that we might call attention to how the identity
of “the group” has been centered on the intersectional identities of a few.
Recognizing that identity politics takes place at the site where categories
intersect thus seems more fruitful than challenging the possibility of talking
about categories at all. Through an awareness of intersectionality, we can
better acknowledge and ground the differences among us and negotiate the
means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group

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Fortified Enclaves: The New
Urban Segregation

Teresa P. R. Caldeira

n the last few decades, the proliferation of fortified enclaves has created a new 1 model of spatial segregation and transformed the quality of public life in many
cities around the world. Fortified enclaves are privatized, enclosed, and monitored
spaces for residence, consumption, leisure, and work. The fear of violence is
one of their main justifications. They appeal to those who are abandoning the
traditional public sphere of the streets to the poor, the “marginal,” and the home-
less. In cities fragmented by fortified enclaves, it is difficult to maintain the
principles of openness and free circulation which have been among the most
significant organizing values of modern cities. As a consequence, the character
of public space and of citizens’ participation in public life changes.

In order to sustain these arguments, this article analyzes the case of Siio Paulo,
Brazil, and uses Los Angeles as a comparison. Siio Paulo is the largest metropoli-
tan region (it has more than sixteen million inhabitants) of a society with one of
the most inequitable distributions of wealth in the world.’ In Siio Paulo, social
inequality is obvious. As a consequence, processes of spatial segregation are also

This article is based on the analysis developed in my book City of Walls: Crime, Segregation,
and Citizenship in Sir0 Paulo (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming), copyright by
the Regents of the University of California. I thank the University of California Press for the permission
to use material from the book.

1. In Brazil in 1989, the proportion of income in the hands of the poorest 50 % of the population
was only 10.4%. At the same time, the richest 1% had 17.3% of the income. Data is from the
National Research by Domicile Sample (PNAD) undertaken by the Census Bureau. The distribution
of wealth has become more inequitable since the early 1980s (Lopes 1993; Rocha 1991).

Public Culture 1996, 8: 303-328
0 1996 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
0899-236319610802-0006$01 .OO


Public Culture

Published by Duke University Press

3 04
Public Culture

particularly visible, expressed without disguise or subtlety. Sometimes, to look
at an exaggerated form of a process is a way of throwing light onto some of its
characteristics which might otherwise go unnoticed. It is like looking at a carica-
ture. In fact, with its high walls and fences, armed guards, technologies of surveil-
lance, and contrasts of ostentatious wealth and extreme poverty, contemporary
Sio Paulo reveals with clarity a new pattern of segregation which is widespread
in cities throughout the world, although generally in less severe and explicit forms.

In what follows, I start by describing the changes in Siio Paulo’s pattern of
spatial segregation which have occurred in the last fifteen years. I show, then,
how the fortified enclaves became status symbols and instruments of social separa-
tion and suggest their similarities with other enclaves around the world. I examine
Los Angeles as an example to illustrate both the type of architectural design and
urban planning which the enclaves use and evaluate the effects of this design.
Finally, I discuss how the new public space and the social interactions generated
by the new pattern of urban segregation may relate to experiences of citizenship
and democracy.

Building Up Walls: Sao Paulo’s Recent Transformations

The forms producing segregation in city space are historically variable. From
the 1940s to the 1980s, a division between center and periphery organized the
space of Silo Paulo, where great distances separated different social groups; the
middle and upper classes lived in central and well-equipped neighborhoods and
the poor lived in the precarious hinterland.* In the last fifteen years, however,
a combination of processes, some of them similar to those affecting other cities,
deeply transformed the pattern of distribution of social groups and activities
throughout the city. Siio Paulo continues to be a highly segregated city, but the
way in which inequalities are inscribed into urban space has changed considerably.
In the 1990s, the physical distances separating rich and poor have decreased at
the same time that the mechanisms to keep them apart have become more obvious
and more complex.

The urban changes which occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in Sio Paulo, and
the new pattern of spatial segregation they generated, cannot be separated from
four different processes which became intertwined during this period. First, the
1980s and early 1990s were years of economic recession, with very high rates

2. For an analysis of the various patterns of urban segregation in S3o Paulo from the late nineteenth
century to the present, see Caldeira (n.d.a and n.d.b).

Public Culture

Published by Duke University Press

of inflation and increasing poverty. The 1980s are known in Brazil and in Latin
America as the “lost decade.” Contrary to the “miracle” years of the 1970s,
economic growth was very low, the gross national product dropped 5.5% during
the 1980s, unemployment rose, and inflation went up dramatically. For several
years after the mid-l980s, inflation was higher than 1 ,OOO% a year, and successive
economic plans to deal with it failed.3 After a decade of inflation, unemployment,
and recession, poverty has grown to alarming dimensions. Recent research shows
that the effects of the economic crisis were especially severe for the poor popula-
tion and aggravated the already iniquitous distribution of wealth in Brazil (Rocha
1991; Lopes 1993).4

This process of impoverishment has had serious consequences for the position
of the poor in urban space. The periphery of the city became unaffordable for
the poorest. Since the 1940s, the working classes had been building their own
houses in the periphery of the city in a process called “autoconstruction” (see
Caldeira 1984; Holston 1991). In this process, they bought cheap lots in distant
areas of the city without any infrastructure and services, and frequently involving
some illegality, and spent decades building their dream houses and improving
their neighborhoods. In this way, they both constructed their homes and expanded
the city. However, their generally successful efforts to improve the quality of
life in the periphery through the organization of social movements-which I
discuss below -occurred at a moment when the economic crisis denied upcoming
generations of workers the same possibility of becoming homeowners, even in
precarious and distant areas of town. Consequently, the poorest population had
to move either to favelas and corticos in the central areas of town, or to distant
municipalities in the metropolitan r e g i ~ n . ~ According to a recent study by the
office of Siio Paulo’s Secretary of Housing, residents in faveZas represented 1.1 %
of the city’s population in 1973, 2.2% in 1980, 8.8% in 1987, and 19.4% in
1993-that is, 1,902,000 people in 1993 (0 Estado de S. Paulo, 15 October
1994, C-1).

3. As I write, in June of 1995, inflation has been low at around 2.5% a month for one year, as
a consequence of the Plano Real, the most successful plan so far to fight inflation. This plan was
elaborated by ex-Minister of Treasury Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was elected president of
Brazil on the basis of the success of this plan.

4. Although the Metropolitan Region of Siio Paulo has one of the best situations in Brazil, the
Gini coefficient increased from 0.516 in 1981 to 0.566 in 1989 (Rocha 1991:38). The Gini coefficient
varies from zero to one. It would be zero if all people had the same income, and one if one person
concentrated the whole national income. For Brazil, the Gini coefficient was 0.580 in 1985 and 0.627
in 1989 (Rocha 1991:38).

5. A favela is a set of shacks built on seized land. A cortico is a type of tenement housing.

Fortified Enclaves

Public Culture

Published by Duke University Press

Public Culture

Second, these changes during the 1980s accompanied the consolidation of a
democratic government in Brazil after twenty-one years of military rule. On the
one hand, elections were held peacefully, regularly, and fairly, and political
parties organized freely. On the other hand, trade unions and all types of social
movements emerged onto the political scene, bringing the working classes and
dominated groups to the center of politics and transforming the relationship be-
tween politicians and citizens. This is not a small achievement in a country with
a tradition of high social inequality, elitism, and authoritarianism. This process
of democratic consolidation has had many consequences and limits (see Caldeira
and Holston 1995). It is important to note the consequences of this process in terms
of the urban environment. Since the mid- 1970s, social movements organized by
homeowners associations in the periphery have pressured local administrations
both to improve the infrastructure and services in their neighborhoods and to
legalize their land. Combined with changes in political groups in office brought
about by free elections, this pressure transformed the priorities of local administra-
tion, making the periphery the site of much investment in the urban infrastructure.
Moreover, during two decades of land disputes, social movements forced munici-
pal governments to offer various amnesties to illegal developers, which resulted
in the regularization of lots and their insertion into the formal land market.
However, these new achievements also diminished the supply of irregular and
cheap lots on the market. Since legal developments and lots in areas with a better
infrastructure are obviously more expensive than illegal lots in underdeveloped
areas, it is not difficult to understand that the neighborhoods which achieved
these improvements came to be out of the reach of the already impoverished
population, who were therefore pushed into favelas and curtips.

Third, during the 1980s, Siio Paulo’s economic activities started to be restruc-
tured. Following the same pattern of many metropolises around the world, Siio
Paul0 is under a process of expansion of tertiary activities or tertiarization. In
the last decade, the city lost its position as the largest industrial pole of the country
to other areas of the state and to the Metropolitan Region as a whole, becoming
basically a center of finance, commerce, and the coordination of productive
activities and specialized services -in a pattern similar to what is happening in
the so-called global cities (Sassen 199 1) . This process has various consequences
for the urban environment. The oldest industrial areas of the city are going
through combined processes of deterioration and gentrification. In some of them,
especially in districts in the inner part of town where various sectors of the middle
classes live, abandoned houses and factories were transformed into curtiqus.
Concomitantly, both the opening of new avenues and of a subway line in the

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eastern zone generated urban renewal and the construction of new apartment
buildings for the middle classes, some of which conform to the model of closed
condominiums discussed below. The most recent process, however, concerns
the displacement of services and commerce from the inner city to districts on
the periphery, especially to the western and southern zones of the metropolitan
region. The new tertiary jobs are located in recently built, enormous office and
service centers which have multiplied in the last fifteen years. At the same time,
spaces of commerce are changing as immense shopping malls are created in
isolated areas of the old periphery, and as some old shopping areas are abandoned
to homeless people and street vendors.

Finally, the fourth process of change relates most directly to the new pattern
of urban residential segregation because it supplies the justifying rhetoric: the
increase in violent crime and fear. Crime has been increasing since the mid-1980s
but, more importantly, there has been a qualitative change in the pattern of crime.
Violent crime in the 1990s represents about 30% of all crime, compared to 20%
in the early 1980s. Murder rates in the 1990s are higher than 35 per 100,000
people in Siio Paulo.6 However, the most serious element in the increase of
violence in Sio Paulo is police violence. In the early 1990s, Siio Paulo’s military
police killed more than 1 ,OOO suspects per year, a number which has no compari-
son in any other city in the world.’ The increase in violence, insecurity, and
fear comes with a series of transformations, as citizens adopt new strategies of
protection. These strategies are changing the city’s landscape, patterns of resi-
dence and circulation, everyday trajectories, habits, and gestures related to the
use of streets and of public transportation. In sum, the fear of crime is contributing
to changes in all types of public interactions.

As a result, Sio Paulo is today a city of walls. Physical barriers have been
constructed everywhere – around houses, apartment buildings, parks, squares,
office complexes, and schools. Apartment buildings and houses which used to
be connected to the street by gardens are now everywhere separated by high

6 . Violent crime has been growing in various metropolises around the world. This is especially
clear in the United States, where the number of violent crimes per capita grew by 355% between
1960 and 1990, according to FBI reports. In 1990, rates of murder per 100,OOO population in several
American cities were higher than or comparable to those of Sio Paulo. The highest rate was 77.8
in Washington, D.C. It was 36.0 in Miami, 30.6 in New York City, and 28.2 in Los Angeles (Los
Angeles Times, 25 March 1992: A-14).

7 . In 1992, Sgo Paulo’s military police killed 1,470 civilians, including 1 1 1 prisoners killed
inside the city’s main prison. In that year, Los Angeles police killed 25 civilians, and the New York
police killed 24 civilians. For a complete analysis of the pattern of police violence and of the increase
in violence and crime in Sio Paulo, see Caldeira (n.d.a).

Fortified Enclaves

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fences and walls, and guarded by electronic devices and armed security men.
The new additions frequently look odd because they were improvised in spaces
conceived without them, spaces designed to be open. However, these barriers are
now fully integrated into new projects for individual houses, apartment buildings,
shopping areas, and work spaces. A new aesthetics of security shapes all types
of constructions and imposes its new logic of surveillance and distance as a means
for displaying status, and is changing the character of public life and public

Among the diverse elements changing the city, the new enclaves for residence,
work, and consumption of the middle and upper classes are provoking the deepest
transformations. Although they have different uses and many specializations
(some for residence, others for work, leisure, or consumption; some more re-
stricted, others more open), all types of fortified enclaves share some basic charac-
teristics. They are private property for collective use; they are physically isolated,
either by walls or empty spaces or other design devices; they are turned inwards
and not to the street; and they are controlled by armed guards and security systems
which enforce rules of inclusion and exclusion. Moreover, these enclaves are
very flexible arrangements. Due to their size, the new technologies of communica-
tion, the new organization of work, and security systems, they possess all that
is needed within a private and autonomous space and can be situated almost
anywhere, independent of the surroundings. In fact, most of them have been
placed in the old periphery and have as their neighbors eitherfavelas or concentra-
tions of autoconstructed houses. Finally, the enclaves tend to be socially homoge-
neous environments, mostly for the middle and upper classes.

Fortified enclaves represent a new alternative for the urban life of these middle
and upper classes. As such, they are codified as something conferring high status.
The construction of status symbols is a process which elaborates social distance
and creates means for the assertion of social difference and inequality. In the
next section, I examine real estate advertisements as one way of analyzing this
process for the case of Ssio Paulo’s enclaves. After that, I analyze the characteris-
tics of the enclaves that make them an urban form which creates segregation and
reproduces social inequality while transforming the character of public life.

Advertising Segregated Enclaves for the Rich

Real estate advertisements tell us about the lifestyles of the middle and upper
classes and reveal the elements which constitute current patterns of social differ-
entiation. The ads not only reveal a new code of social distinction, but also

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explicitly treat separation, isolation, and protection as a matter of status. The
following interpretation is based on the analysis of real estate advertisements for
closed condominiums published in the newspaper 0 Estado de S. Paul0 between
1975 and 1995. I analyze the advertisements in order to try to discover what is
capturing the imagination and desires of Siio Paulo’s middle and upper classes
and to highlight some of the main images they are using in order to construct
their place in society. I am particularly interested in uncovering how, in the last
twenty years, the advertisements elaborated the myth of what they call “a new
concept of residence” on the basis of the articulation of images of security, isola-
tion, homogeneity, facilities, and services.* I argue that the image which confers
the highest status and is most seductive is that of an enclosed and isolated commu-
nity, a secure environment in which one can use various facilities and services
and live only among equals. The advertisements present the image of islands to
which one can return every day, in order to escape from the city and its deteriorated
environment and to encounter an exclusive world of pleasure among peers. The
image of the enclaves, therefore, is opposed to the image of the city as a deterio-
rated world pervaded by not only pollution and noise but more importantly confu-
sion and mixture, that is, social heterogeneity.

Closed condominiums are supposed to be separate worlds. Their advertise-
ments propose a “total way of life” which would represent an alternative to the
quality of life offered by the city and its deteriorated public space. The ads
suggest the possibility of constructing a world clearly distinguishable from the
surrounding city: a life of total calm and security. Condominiums are distant,
but they are supposed to be as independent and complete as possible to compensate
for it; thus the emphasis on the common facilities they are supposed to have
which transform them into sophisticated clubs. In these ads, the facilities promised
inside of closed condominiums seem to be unlimited – from drugstores to tanning
rooms, from bars and saunas to ballet rooms, from swimming pools to libraries.

In addition to common facilities, Siio Paulo’s closed condominiums offer a
wide range of services. The following are some of the services (excluding security)
mentioned in the advertisements: psychologists and gymnastic teachers to manage
children’s recreation, classes of all sorts for all ages, organized sports, libraries,
gardening, pet care, physicians, message centers, frozen food preparation,
housekeeping administration, cooks, cleaning personnel, drivers, car washing,
transportation, and servants to do the grocery shopping. If the list does not meet
your dreams, do not worry, for “everything you might demand” can be made

Fortified Enclaves

8. Expressions in quotation marks are taken from the advertisements.

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available. The expansion of domestic service is not a feature of Brazil alone. As
Sassen (1991, chapters 1 and 8) shows for the case of global cities, high-income
gentrification requires an increase in low-wage jobs; yuppies and poor migrant
workers depend on each other. In Siio Paulo, however, the intensive use of
domestic labor is a continuation of an old pattern, although in recent years some
relationships of labor have been altered, and this work has become more profes-

The multiplication of new services creates problems, including the spatial
allocation of service areas. The solutions for this problem vary, but one of the
most emblematic concerns the circulation areas. Despite many recent changes,
the separation between two entrances -in buildings and in each individual apart-
ment – and two elevators, one labeled “social” and the other “service”- seems to
be untouchable; different classes are not supposed to mix or interact in the public
areas of the building^.^ Sometimes, the insistence on this distinction seems ridicu-
lous, because the two elevators or doors are often placed side-by-side, instead
of being in distinct areas. As space shrinks, and the side-by-side solution spreads,
the apartments which have totally separate areas of circulation advertise this fact
with the phrase, “social hall independent from service hall.” The idea is old:
class separation as a form of distinction.

Another problem faced by the new developments is the control of a large
number of servants. As the number of workers for each condominium increases,
as many domestic jobs change their character, and as “creative services” prolifer-
ate for middle and upper classes who cannot do without them, so also the mecha-
nisms of control diversify. The “creative administrations” of the new enclaves
in many cases take care of labor management, and are in a position to impose
strict forms of control which would create impossible daily relationships if adopted
in the more personal interaction between domestic servants and the families who
employ them. This more “professional” control is, therefore, a new service and is
advertised as such. The basic method of control is direct and involves empowering
some workers to control others, In various condominiums, both employees of
the condominium and maids and cleaning workers of individual apartments (even
those who live there) are required to show their identification tags to go in and
out of the condominium. Often they and their personal belongings are searched
when they leave work. Moreover, this control usually involves men exercising
power over women.

9. See Holston 1989 for an analysis of this system of spatial separation in Brasflia.

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The middle and upper classes are creating their dream of independence and
freedom – both from the city and its mixture of classes, and from everyday domes-
tic tasks-on the basis of services from working-class people. They give guns
to badly paid working-class guards to control their own movement in and out
of their condominiums. They ask their badly paid “office-boys” to solve all their
bureaucratic problems, from paying their bills and standing in all types of lines
to transporting incredible sums of money. They also ask their badly paid maids –
who often live in the favelas on the other side of the condominium’s wall-to
wash and iron their clothes, make their beds, buy and prepare their food, and
frequently care for their children all day long. In a context of increased fear of
crime in which the poor are often associated with criminality, the upper classes
fear contact and contamination, but they continue to depend on their servants.
They can only be anxious about creating the most effective way of controlling
these servants, with whom they have such ambiguous relationships of dependency
and avoidance, intimacy and distrust.

Another feature of closed condominiums is isolation and distance from the
city, a fact which is presented as offering the possibility of a better lifestyle. The
latter is expressed, for example, by the location of the development in “nature”
(green areas, parks, lakes), and in the use of phrases inspired by ecological
discourses. However, it is clear in the advertisements that isolation means separa-
tion from those considered to be socially inferior, and that the key factor to assure
this is security. This means fences and walls surrounding the condominium,
guards on duty twenty-four hours a day controlling the entrances, and an array
of facilities and services to ensure security -guardhouses with bathrooms and
telephones, double doors in the garage, and armed guards patrolling the internal
streets. “Total security” is crucial to “the new concept of residence.” Security
and control are the conditions for keeping the others out, for assuring not only
isolation but also “happiness,” “harmony,” and even “freedom.” In sum, to relate
security exclusively to crime is to fail to recognize all the meanings it is acquiring
in various types of environments. The new systems of security not only provide
protection from crime, but also create segregated spaces in which the practice
of exclusion is carefully and rigorously exercised.

The elaboration of an aesthetics of security and the creation of segregation
on the basis of building enclaves is a widespread process, although not necessarily
occurring elsewhere in the same obvious ways as in Siio Paulo. Fortified enclaves
are not unique to Siio Paulo. In October 1993, a large advertising campaign in
Siio Paulo elaborated on the similarities with enclaves in U.S. cities. It was a
campaign to sell the idea of an “edge city” (an expression used in English) as a

31 I
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way of increasing the appeal and price of specific enclaves. One of the main
characters of this campaign was Joel Garreau, the U.S. journalist and author of
the book, Edge City-Life on the New Frontier. His photograph appeared in full
page ads in national magazines and newspapers, he came to Siio Paulo to talk to
a select group of realtors, and he was one of the main participants in a thirty-minute
television program advertising some enclaves. Garreau was helping market three
huge real estate developments- Alphaville, Aldeia de Serra, and TamborC-
which combined closed condominiums, shopping centers, and office complexes
as if they were a piece of the first world dropped into the metropolitan region
of Siio Paulo.

The Paulista “edge city” was not created from scratch in 1993. The Western
zone in which these developments are located is the part of the metropolitan
region most affected by transformations in the last two decades. Until the 1970s
this area was a typical poor periphery of the metropolitan region. Since then,
real estate developers who benefited from the low price of land and facilities
offered by local administrations have invested heavily in this area. Over fifteen
years, they built large areas of walled residences adjacent to office complexes,
service centers, and shopping malls. The area had among the highest rates of
population growth in the metropolitan region during 1980-90, a period when
the growth rate in the city of Siio Paulo declined sharply. Because the new residents
are largely from the upper social groups, this area today has a concentration of
high-income inhabitants, who, before the 1980s, would have lived in central
neighborhoods (Metro 1989). In other words, this area clearly represents the
new trend of movement of wealthy residents as well as services and commerce
to the periphery of the city and to enclosed areas. The 1993 campaign used many
images already old in real estate advertisements of closed condominiums, but
gave to them a touch of novelty by baptizing its product as “edge city.” Its aim
was to launch new projects in the area and for this they used Garreau’s expertise
on suburban development.

The television program, broadcast in Siio Paulo on Saturday, 16 October 1993,
illustrates very well the connections with the first world model as well as the
local peculiarities. The program combined scenes from U.S. edge cities (Reston,
Virginia and Columbia, Maryland) and the three developments being advertised
in Siio Paulo. In this program, Garreau- speaking in English with Portuguese
subtitles – described edge cities as the predominant form of contemporary urban
growth and used Los Angeles and its multicentered form as an example. The
program had interesting differences in the way it presented Brazilian as opposed
to U.S. edge cities. Residents from enclaves in both countries were interviewed

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in front of swimming pools, lakes, and in green areas, emphasizing both the
luxurious and the anti-urban character of the developments. However, if the U.S.
edge cities have external walls and controls in their entrance gates, they are not
shown, and their security personnel is not visibly present either. In the Paulista
case, on the contrary, they are crucial and emphasized. At one point, the program
shows a scene shot from a helicopter: the private security personnel of a condomin-
ium intercept a “suspect car” (a popular vehicle, a Volkswagen bus) outside the
walls of the condominiums; they physically search the occupants, who are forced
to put their arms up against the car. Although this action is completely illegal
for a private security service to perform on a public street, this together with scenes
of visitors submitting identification documents at the entrance gates, reassures the
rich residents (and spectators) that “suspect” (poor) people will be kept away.
Another revealing scene is an interview in English with a resident of a U.S. edge
city. He cites as one of his reasons for moving there the fact that he wanted
to live in a racially integrated community. This observation is censored in the
Portuguese subtitles which say instead that his community has “many interesting
people.” In Sgo Paulo, the image of a racially integrated community would cer-
tainly devalue the whole development. For the Paulista elites, first world models
are good insofar as they may be adapted to include outright control (especially
of the poor) and the eradication of racial and social difference.

To use first world elements in order to sell all types of commodities is a very
common practice in third world countries. However, contrasting the different
situations may be especially revealing. In this case, the need to censor a reference
to racial integration indicates that the Paulista system of social inequality and
distance is indeed obvious and that race is one of its most sensitive points.’0
Moreover, the parallel between the Brazilian and the American examples suggests
that although the degree of segregation may vary in different contexts, it is present
in similar forms in both cases. It is worth then investigating the characteristics
of this form and its effects on the organization of public life.

Attacking Modern Public Space

The new residential enclaves of the upper classes, associated with shopping malls,
isolated ofice complexes, and other privately controlled environments represent

Fortified Enclaves

10. Although many people like to think of Brazilian society as a “racial democracy,”any reading of
available social indicators shows pervasivediscrimination against the Black population. For example, a
recent study by Lopes (1993) on poverty shows that 68 % of the urban households below the indigent

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a new form of organizing social differences and creating segregation in Sio Paulo
and in many other cities around the world. The characteristics of the Paulista
enclaves which make their segregationist intentions viable may be summarized
in four points. First, they use two instruments in order to create explicit separation:
on the one hand, physical dividers such as fences and walls; on the other, large
empty spaces creating distance and discouraging pedestrian circulation. Second,
as if walls and distances were not enough, separation is guaranteed by private
security systems: control and surveillance are conditions for internal social homo-
geneity and isolation. Third, the enclaves are private universes turned inwards
with designs and organization making no gestures towards the street. Fourth,
the enclaves aim at being independent worlds which proscribe an exterior life,
evaluated in negative terms. The enclaves are not subordinate either to public
streets or to surrounding buildings and institutions. In other words, the relation-
ship they establish with the rest of the city and its public life is one of avoidance:
they turn their backs on them. Therefore, public streets become spaces for elite’s
circulation by car and for poor people’s circulation by foot or public transportation.
To walk on the public street is becoming a sign of class in many cities, an activity
that the elite is abandoning. No longer using streets as spaces of sociability, the
elite now want to prevent street life from entering their enclaves.

Private enclaves and the segregation they generate deny many of the basic
elements which constituted the modern experience of public life: primacy of
streets and their openness; free circulation of crowds and vehicles; impersonal
and anonymous encounters of the pedestrian; unprogrammed public enjoyment
and congregation in streets and squares; and the presence of people from different
social backgrounds strolling and gazing at those passing by, looking at store
windows, shopping, and sitting in cafes, joining political demonstrations or using
spaces especially designed for the entertainment of the masses (promenades,
parks, stadiums, exhibitions). The new developments in cities such as Sio Paulo
create enclosures which contradict both the prototype of modern urban remodel-
ing, that of Baron Haussmann, and basic elements of the modern conception of
public life. Haussmann’s state-promoted transformations of Paris were strongly
criticized and opposed, but no one denied that the new boulevards were readily

line have a Black or Mulatto person as its head while Black or Mulatto households represent only
41% of the total urban households.

1 1 . Analyses of various dimensions o.f the modern experience of urban life are found in: Benjamin
1969; Berman 1982; Clark 1984; Harvey 1985; Holston 1989; Rabinow 1989; Schorske 1961; Sennett
1974; Vidler 1978.

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appropriated by huge numbers of people eager to enjoy both the street’s public
life, protected by anonymity, and the consumption possibilities which came with
it. Thejldneur described by Baudelaire and the consumer of the new department
stores each became symbols of the modem appropriation of urban public space,
as Paris became the prototype of the modern city.

At the core of the conception of urban public life embedded in modern Paris
are notions that city space is open to be used and enjoyed by anyone, and that
the consumption society it houses may become accessible to all. Of course, this
has never been entirely the case, neither in Paris nor anywhere else, for modern
cities have always remained marked by social inequalities and spatial segregation,
and are appropriated in quite different ways by diverse social groups, depending
on their social position and power. In spite of these inequalities, however, modern
western cities have always maintained various signs of openness related especially
to circulation and consumption, which contributed to sustaining the positive value
attached to the idea of an open public space accessible to all.

These modern urban experiences were coupled with a political life in which
similar values were fostered. The modern city has been the stage for all types
of public demonstrations. In fact, the promise of incorporation into modern society
included not only the city and consumption but also the polity. Images of the
modern city are in many ways analogous to those of the modern liberal-democratic
polity, consolidated on the basis of the fiction of a social contract among equal
and free people, and which has shaped the modern political sphere. This fiction
is quite radical -like that of the open city -and helped to destroy the hierarchical
social order of feudal statuses preceding it. But, clearly, it was only with severe
struggles that the definitions of those who could be considered “free and equal”
have been expanded. As with the open city, the polity incorporating all equal
citizens has never occurred, but its founding ideals and its promise of continuous
incorporation have retained their power for at least two centuries, shaping people’s
experience of citizenship and city life and legitimating the actions of various
excluded groups in their claims for incorporation. l 2

In sum, the images of openness, freedom, and possibilities of incorporation
which constituted modernity have never been completely fulfilled, but have never
completely lost their referential role either. In cities such as Siio Paulo and Los

Fortified Enclaves

12. A powerful image of progressive incorporation is offered in the classic essay by T. H.
Marshall (1965 [ 19491) on the development of citizenship. For recent critiques of Marshall’s optimistic
and evolutionary view, see Hirschman 1991 and Turner 1992; Turner 1992 also criticizes the univer-
sality of Marshall’s model.

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Angeles, however, various aspects of public experience are now contradicting
those images. One challenge to basic concepts sustaining these fictions comes
from some minority groups. They question the liberal principle of universalism,
arguing that the social contract has always been constituted on the basis of the
exclusion of some, and that the rights of minority groups can only be addressed
if approached from the perspective of difference rather than that of commonality. l 3

This is what we might call a positive attack on modern liberal ideals: its aim is
still to expand rights, freedom, and equality, and it searches for models which
may achieve these goals in a more effective way. However, the transformations
going on at the level of the urban environment represent an attack of a different
kind. They reject the principles of openness and equality, and take inequality
and separation as their values. While minority groups criticize the limitations of
liberal fictions in terms of the creation of equality and justice, recent urban
transformations materially build a space with opposite values. And this new type
of urban form shapes public life and everyday interactions of millions of people
around the world. In what follows I discuss in more detail the instruments used
by enclaves to produce segregation.

Modernist Instruments, Segregated Spaces

In order to achieve their goals of isolating, distancing, and selecting, the fortified
enclaves use some instruments of design which are, in fact, instruments of mod-
ernist city planning and architectural design. Various effects of modernist city
planning are similar to those of the new enclaves, suggesting that we should look
at their similarities more carefully. One strikingly similar effect of both modernist
city planning and the fortified enclaves is their attack on streets as a type and
concept of public space. In Brazil, the construction of modernist Brasilia in the
late 1950s crystallized an international modernism and its transformation of public
space and relayed it to the rest of the country (see Holston 1989). In modernist
Brasilia as in new parts of Siio Paul0 and Los Angeles, pedestrians and anonymous
interactions in public life which marked modern Paris tend to be eliminated.
However, if the results tend to be the same, the original projects of modernism
and current enclosures are radically different. It is worth, then, investigating how
such different projects ended up producing similar effects.

13. See, for example, the feminist critique of the social contract (Pateman 1988) and of the legal
understanding of equality as sameness (Eisenstein 1988).

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Modernist architecture and city planning were elaborated on the basis of a
criticism of industrial cities and societies and intended to transform them through
the radical remodeling of space. Their utopia was clear: the erasure of social
difference and creation of equality in the rational city of the future mastered by
the avant-garde architect. Modernist attacks on the streets were central to its
criticism of capitalism and its project of subversion. They perceived the corridor
street as a conduit of disease and as an impediment to progress, because it would
fail to accommodate the needs of the new machine age. Moreover, modernist
architecture attacks the street because “it constitutes an architectural organization
of the public and private domains of social life that modernism seeks to overturn”
(Holston 1989: 103). In capitalist cities, the organization of the public and private
domains is best expressed in the corridor street and its related system of public
spaces including sidewalks and squares: a solid mass of contiguous private build-
ings frames and contains the void of public streets. Modernist planning and
architecture inverted these solid-void/figure-ground relationships which have
been the basis for the physical structure of Western cities since the fifth century
B.C. In the modernist city, “streets appear as continuous voids and buildings as
sculptural figures” (p. 125). By subverting the old code of urban order, modernist
planning aims at and succeeds in erasing the representational distinction between
public and private. When all buildings – banks, offices, apartments -are sculp-
tural, and all spaces are nonfigural, “the old architectural convention for discrimi-
nating between the public and the private is effectively invalidated (p. 136).

Modernist city planning aspired to transform the city into a single homogeneous
state-sponsored public domain, to eliminate differences in order to create a univer-
sal rationalist city divided into functional sectors such as residential, employment,
recreational, transportation, administrative, and civic. Brasilia is the most com-
plete embodiment of both the new type of city and public life created by modernist
city planning. This new type of city space, however, turned out to be the opposite
of the planner’s intentions. Brasilia is today Brazil’s most segregated city, not
its most egalitarian. Ironically, the instruments of modernist planning, with little
adaptation, become perfect instruments to produce inequality, not to erase differ-
ence. Streets only for vehicular traffic, the absence of sidewalks, enclosure and
internalization of shopping areas, and spatial voids isolating sculptural buildings
and rich residential areas are great instruments for generating and maintaining
social separations. These modernist creations radically transform public life not
only in cities such as Brasilia, but in other contexts and with different intentions,
In the new fortified enclaves they are used not to destroy private spaces and
produce a total unified public, but to destroy public spaces. Their objective is

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to enlarge specific private domains so that they will fulfill public functions, but
in a segregated way.

Contemporary fortified enclaves use basically modernist instruments of plan-
ning with some notable adaptations. First, the surrounding walls: unlike in mod-
ernist planning, such as for Brasilia, where the residential areas were to have
no fences or walls but only to be delimited by expressways, in Siio Paulo the
walls are necessary to demarcate the private universes. However, this demarcation
of private property is not supposed to create the same type of (nonmodernist)
public space that characterizes the industrial city. Because the private universes
are kept apart by voids (as in modernist design), they no longer generate street
corridors. Moreover, pedestrian circulation is discouraged and shopping areas
are kept away from the streets, again as in modernist design. The second adapta-
tion occurs in the materials and forms of individual buildings. Here there are
two possibilities. On the one hand, buildings may completely ignore the exterior
walls, treating fasades as their backs. On the other, plain modernist fasades may
be eliminated in favor of ornament, irregularity, and ostentatious materials which
display the individuality and status of their owners. These buildings reject the
glass and transparency of modernism and their disclosure of private life. In
other words, internalization, privacy, and individuality are enhanced. Finally,
sophisticated technologies of security assure the exclusivity of the already isolated

Analyzing what is used from modernist architecture and city planning and
what is transformed in the new urban form generated by the private enclaves,
one arrives at a clear conclusion: the devices which have been maintained are
those that destroy modern public space and social life (socially dead streets trans-
formed into highways, sculptural buildings separated by voids and disregarding
street alignments, enclaves turned inside); the devices transformed or abandoned
are those intended to create equality, transparency, and a new public sphere (glass
fasades, uniformity of design, absence of material delimitations such as walls
and fences). Instead of creating a space in which the distinctions between public
and private disappear – making all space public as the modernists intended – the
enclaves use modernist conventions to create spaces in which the private quality
is enhanced beyond any doubt and in which the public, a shapeless void treated
as residual, is deemed irrelevant. This was exactly the fate of modernist architec-
ture and its “all public space” in Brasilia, a perversion of initial premises and
intentions. The situation is just the opposite with the closed condominiums and
other fortified enclaves of the 1980s and 1990s. Their aim is to segregate and
to change the character of public life by bringing to private spaces constructed

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as socially homogeneous environments those activities which had been previously
enacted in public spaces.

Today, in cities such as SBo Paulo we find neither gestures toward openness and
freedom of circulation regardless of differences, nor a technocratic universalism
aiming at erasing differences. Rather, we find a city space whose old modern
urban design has been fragmented by the insertion of independent and well-
delineated private enclaves (of modernist design) which pay no attention to an
external overall ordination and which are totally focused on their own internal
organization. The fortified fragments are no longer meant to be subordinated to
a total order kept together by ideologies of openness, commonality, or promises
of incorporation. Heterogeneity is to be taken more seriously: fragments express
radical inequalities, not simple differences. Stripped of the elements which in
fact erased differences such as uniform and transparent fagades , modernist archi-
tectural conventions used by the enclaves are helping to insure that different social
worlds meet as infrequently as possible in city space, i.e., that they belong to
different spaces.

In sum, in a city of walls and enclaves such as Siio Paulo, public space under-
goes a deep transformation. Felt as more dangerous, fractured by the new voids
and enclaves, broken in its old alignments, privatized with chains closing streets,
armed guards, guard dogs, guardhouses, walled parks, public space in Siio Paulo
is increasingly abandoned to those who do not have a chance of living, working,
and shopping in the new private, internalized, and fortified enclaves. As the
spaces for the rich are enclosed and turned inside, the outside space is left for
those who cannot afford to go in. A comparison with Los Angeles shows that
this new type of segregation is not SBo Paulo’s exclusive creation and suggests
some of its consequences for the transformation of the public sphere.

Sao Paulo, Los Angeles

Compared to Siio Paulo, Los Angeles has a more fragmented and disperse urban
structure. l 4 Siio Paulo still has a vivid downtown area and some central neighbor-
hoods concentrating commerce and office activities which are shaped on the model
of the corridor street and which, in spite of all transformations, are still crowded

Fortified Enclaves

14. It is not my intention to give a detailed account of Los Angeles’s recent pattern of urbanization.
I will only point out some of its characteristics which, by comparison with Sfio Paulo’s process,
allow me to raise questions about new forms of social segregation which seem to be quite generalized.
For analyses of Los Angeles, see Banham 1971, Davis 1990, Soja 1989 and 1992.

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during the day. Contemporary Los Angeles is “polynucleated and decentralized”
(Soja 1989:208). And its renovated downtown, one of the city’s economic and
financial centers, does not have much street life: people’s activities are contained
in the corporate buildings and their under- and overpass connections to shopping,
restaurants, and hotels.15 Siio Paulo’s process of urban fragmentation by the con-
struction of enclaves is more recent than Los Angeles’s, but it has already changed
the peripheral zones and the distribution of wealth and economic functions in
ways similar to that of the metropolitan region of Los Angeles. According to Soja
(1989), the latter is a multicentered region marked by a “peripheral urbanization,”
which is created by the expansion of high-technological, post-fordist industrializa-
tion, and marked by the presence of high-income residential developments, huge
regional shopping centers, programmed environments for leisure (theme parks,
Disneyland), links to major universities and the Department of Defense, and
various enclaves of cheap labor, mostly immigrants. Although Siio Paulo lacks
the high-technology industries found in Los Angeles, its tertiarization and distri-
bution of services and commerce are starting to be organized according to the
Los Angeles pattern.

Although we may say that Siio Paulo expresses Los Angeles’s process of
economic transformation and urban dispersion in a less explicit form, it is more
explicit and exaggerated in the creation of separation and in the use of security
procedures. Where rich neighborhoods such as Morumbi use high walls, iron
fences, and armed guards, the West Side of Los Angeles uses mostly electronic
alarms and small signs announcing “Armed Response.” While Siio Paulo’s elites
clearly appropriate public spaces – closing public streets with chains and all sorts
of physical obstacles, installing private armed guards to control circulation –
Los Angeles elites still show more respect for public streets. However, walled
communities appropriating public streets are already appearing in Los Angeles
and one can wonder if its more discrete pattern of separation and of surveillance
is not in part associated with the fact that the poor are far from the West Side,
while in Morumbi they live beside the enclaves. Another reason must surely be
the fact that the Los Angeles Police Department-although considered one of
the most biased and violent of the United States – still appears very effective and
nonviolent if compared to S5o Paulo’s police (see Caldeira n.d.a., chapter 4).
Siio Paulo’s upper classes explicitly rely on the services of an army of domestic
servants and do not feel ashamed to transform the utilization of these services

15. See Davis 1991 and Soja 1989 on the importance of downtown Los Angeles in the structuring
of the region.

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into status symbols, which in turn are incorporated in newspaper advertisements
for enclaves. In West Los Angeles, although the domestic dependence on the
services of immigrant maids, nannies, and gardeners seems to be increasing, the
status associated with employing them has not yet become a matter for advertise-
ment. In Siio Paulo, where the local government has been efficient in approving
policies to help segregation, upper-class residents have not yet started any im-
portant social movement for this purpose. But in Los Angeles residents of expen-
sive neighborhoods have been organizing powerful homeowner associations to
lobby for zoning regulations which would maintain the isolation their neighbor-
hoods now enjoy (Davis 1990, chapter 3).

Despite the many differences between the two cases, it is also clear that in
both Los Angeles and Siio Paulo conventions of modernist city planning and
technologies of security are being used to create new forms of urban space and
social segregation. In both cities, the elites are retreating to privatized environ-
ments which they increasingly control and are abandoning earlier types of urban
space to the poor and their internal antagonisms. As might be expected given
these common characteristics, in both cities we find debates involving planners
and architects in which the new enclaves are frequently criticized, but also de-
fended and theorized. In Siio Paulo, where modernism has been the dominant
dogma in schools of architecture up to the present, the defense of walled construc-
tions is recent and timid, using as arguments only practical reasons such as
increasing rates of crime and of homelessness. Architects tend to talk about walls
and security devices as an unavoidable evil. They talk to the press, but I could
not find either academic articles or books on the subject. In Los Angeles, however,
the debate has already generated an important literature and both the criticism
and the praise of “defensible architecture” are already quite elaborated.

One person voicing the defense of the architectural style found in the new
enclaves is Charles Jencks. He analyzes recent trends in Los Angeles architecture
in relation to a diagnosis of the city’s social configuration. In his view, Los
Angeles’s main problem is its heterogeneity, which inevitably generates chronic
ethnic strife and explains episodes such as the 1992 uprising (1993:88). Since
he considers this heterogeneity as constitutive of L.A.’s reality, and since his
diagnosis of the economic situation is pessimistic, his expectation is that ethnic
tension increases, that the environment becomes more defensive, and that people
resort to more diverse and nastier measures of protection. Jencks sees the adoption
of security devices as inevitable and as a matter of realism. Moreover, he discusses
how this necessity is being transformed into art by styles which metamorphose
hard-edged materials needed for security into “ambiguous signs of inventive

32 I
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beauty and ‘keep out”’ (1993:89), and which design faGades with their backs to
the street, camouflaging the contents of the houses. For him, the response to
ethnic strife is “defensible architecture and riot realism” (1993: 89). The “realism”
lies in architects looking at “the dark side of division, conflict, and decay, and
represent[ing] some unwelcome truths” (1993:91). Among the latter is the fact
that heterogeneity and strife are here to stay, that the promises of the melting
pot can no longer be fulfilled. In this context, boundaries would have to be both
clearer and more defended.

Architecturally it [Los Angeles] will have to learn the lessons of Geh-
ry’s aesthetic and en-formality : how to turn unpleasant necessities such
as chain-link fence into amusing and ambiguous signs of welcome/keep
out, beauty/defensive space. . . . Defensible architecture, however re-
grettable as a social tactic, also protects the rights of individuals and
threatened groups. (Jencks 1993:93)

Jencks targets ethnic heterogeneity as the reason for Los Angeles’s social
conflicts and sees separation as a solution. He is not bothered by the fact that
the intervention of architects and planners in L. A .’s urban environment reinforces
social inequality and spatial segregation. He also does not interrogate the conse-
quences of these creations for public space and political relationships. In fact,
his admiration of the backside-to-the-street solution indicates a lack of concern
with the maintenance of public streets as spaces which embed the values of
openness and conviviality of the heterogeneous masses.

But Los Angeles’s defensible architecture also has its critics, and the most
famous of them is Mike Davis, whose analysis I find illuminating, especially for
thinking about the transformations in the public sphere. For Davis (1990, 1991,
1993), social inequality and spatial segregation are central characteristics of Los
Angeles, and his expression, “Fortress L. A.,” refers to the type of space being
presently created in the city.

Welcome to post-liberal Los Angeles, where the defense of luxury life-
styles is translated into a proliferation of new repressions in space and
movement, undergirded by the ubiquitous “armed response.” This obses-
sion with physical security systems, and, collaterally, with the architec-
tural policing of social boundaries, has become a zeitgeist of urban re-
structuring, a master narrative in the emerging built environment of the
1990s. We live in “fortress cities” brutally divided between “fortified
cells” of affluent society and “places of terror” where the police battle
the criminalized poor. (Davis 1990:223-24)

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For Davis, the increasingly segregated and privatized Los Angeles is the result
of a clear master plan of post-liberal (i.e., Reagan-Bush Republican) elites, a
theme he reiterates in his analysis of the 1992 riots (Davis 1993). To talk of
contemporary Los Angeles is for him to talk of a new “class war at the level of
the built environment” and to demonstrate that “urban form is indeed following
a repressive function in the political furrows of the Reagan-Bush era. Los Angeles,
in its prefigurative mode, offers an especially disquieting catalogue of the emer-
gent liaisons between architecture and the American police state” (Davis 1990:

Davis’s writing is marked by an indignation fully supported by his wealth of
evidence concerning Los Angeles. Nevertheless, sometimes he tends to collapse
complex social processes into a simplified scenario of warfare which his own
rich description defies. Despite this tendency to look at social reality as the direct
product of elite intentions, Davis elaborates a remarkable critique of social and
spatial segregation, and associates the emerging urban configuration with the
crucial themes of social inequality and political options. For him, not only is
there nothing inevitable about “fortress architecture,” but also it has deep conse-
quences for the way in which the public space and public interactions are shaped.

My analysis of Siio Paulo’s enclaves coincides with Davis’s analysis of Los
Angeles as far as the issue of the public space is concerned. It is clear in both
cases that the public order created by private enclaves of the “defensible” style
has inequalities, isolation, and fragmentation as starting points. In this context,
the fiction of the overall social contract and the ideals of universal rights and
equality which legitimated the modern conception of public space vanish. We
should ask, then, if there is already another political fiction organizing inequalities
and differences at the societal level, and how to best conceive this new configura-
tion as the old modern model loses its explanatory value. If social differences
are brought to the center of the scene instead of being put aside by universalistic
claims, then what kind of model for the public realm can we maintain? What
kind of polity will correspond to the new fragmented public sphere? Is democracy
still possible in this new public sphere?

Public Sphere: Inequalities and Boundaries

People attach meanings to the spaces where they live in flexible and varying
ways and the factors influencing these readings and uses are endless.I6 However,
cities are also material spaces with relative stability and rigidity that shape and

Fortified Enclaves

16. On this theme, see de Certeau 1984, part 3.

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bound people’s lives and determine the types of encounters possible in public
space. When walls are built up, they form the stage for public life regardless of
the meanings people attach to them and regardless of the multiple “tactics” of
resistance people use to appropriate urban space.

In this essay, I have been arguing that in cities where fortified enclaves produce
spatial segregation, social inequalities become quite explicit. I have also been
arguing that in these cities, residents’ everyday interactions with people from
other social groups diminish substantially, and public encounters primarily occur
inside of protected and relatively homogeneous groups. In the materiality of
segregated spaces, in people’s everyday trajectories, in their uses of public trans-
portation, in their appropriations of streets and parks, and in their constructions
of walls and defensive fagades, social boundaries are rigidly constructed. Their
crossing is under surveillance. When boundaries are crossed in this type of city,
there is aggression, fear, and a feeling of unprotectedness; in a word, there is
suspicion and danger. Residents from all social groups have a sense of exclusion
and restriction. For some, the feeling of exclusion is obvious as they are denied
access to various areas and are restricted to others. Affluent people who inhabit
exclusive enclaves also feel restricted; their feelings of fear keep them away from
regions and people that their mental maps of the city identify as dangerous.

Contemporary urban segregation is complementary to the issue of urban vio-
lence. On the one hand, the fear of crime is used to legitimate increasing measures
of security and surveillance. On the other, the proliferation of everyday talk
about crime becomes the context in which residents generate stereotypes as they
label different social groups as dangerous and therefore as people to be feared
and avoided. Everyday discussions about crime create rigid symbolic differences
between social groups as they tend to align them either with good or with evil.
In this sense, they contribute to a construction of inflexible separations in a way
analogous to city walls. Both enforce ungiving boundaries. In sum, one of the
consequences of living in cities segregated by enclaves is that while heterogeneous
contacts diminish, social differences are more rigidly perceived and proximity
with people from different groups considered as dangerous, thus emphasizing
inequality and distance.

Nevertheless, the urban environment is not the only basis of people’s experi-
ences of social differences. If fact, there are other arenas in which differences
tend to be experienced in almost opposite ways, offering an important counterpoint
to the experience of the urban environment. This is the case of the perceptions
of social difference forged through the intensification of communication networks
and mass media (international news, documentaries about all types of lives and

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experiences), through mass movements of populations, through tourism, or
through the consumption of ethnic products (food, clothes, films, music). In these
contexts, boundaries between different social universes become more permeable
and are constantly crossed as people have access to worlds which are not originally
their own.

Thus, the perception and experience of social differences in contemporary
cities may occur in quite distinct ways. Some tame social differences, allowing
their appropriation by various types of consumers. Other experiences, such as
those of emerging urban environments, characterized by fear and violence, mag-
nify social differences and maintain distance and separateness. If the first type
of experience may blur boundaries, the second type explicitly elaborates them.
Both types of experience constitute the contemporary public sphere but their
consequences for public and political life are radically distinct. On the one hand,
the softening of boundaries may still be related to the ideals of equality of the
liberal-democratic polity and may serve as the basis of claims of incorporation.
The tamed differences produced to be consumed do not threaten universalist
ideals, and in their peculiar way put people into contact. On the other hand, the
new urban morphologies of fear give new forms to inequality, keep groups apart,
and inscribe a new sociability which runs against the ideals of the modern public
and its democratic freedoms. When some people are denied access to certain
areas and when different groups are not supposed to interact in public space,
references to a universal principle of equality and freedom for social life are no
longer possible, even as fiction. The consequences of the new separateness and
restriction for public life are serious: contrary to what Jencks thinks (1993),
defensible architecture and planning may only promote conflict instead of pre-
venting it by making clear the extension of social inequalities and the lack of

Among the conditions necessary for democracy is that people acknowledge
those from different social groups as cocitizens, i.e., as people having similar
rights. If this is true, it is clear that contemporary cities which are segregated
by fortified enclaves are not environments which generate conditions conducive
to democracy. Rather, they foster inequality and the sense that different groups
belong to separate universes and have irreconcilable claims. Cities of walls do
not strengthen citizenship but rather contribute to its corrosion. Moreover, this
effect does not depend either on the type of political regime or on the intentions
of those in power, since the architecture of the enclaves entails by itself a certain
social logic.

Fortified Enclaves

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Discussions about cities such as Los Angeles, London, or Paris, that is, cities
populated by people from the most diverse cultural origins, commonly invoke
the theme of the limits of modern citizenship based on affiliation to a nation-state.
One might rethink the parameters of citizenship in those cities and suggest that
the criterion for participation in political life could be local residence rather
than national citizenship. Moreover, it would be possible to argue that this local
participation is increasingly necessary to make those cities liveable and to improve
the quality of life of the impoverished population, increasingly consisting of
immigrants. The contrast between this alternative political vision and the reality
of fortified cities allows for at least two conclusions, one pessimistic and one
more optimistic.

The pessimistic would say that the direction of new segregation and the exten-
sion of social separation already achieved would make impossible the engagement
of a variety of social groups in a political life in which common goals and solutions
would have to be negotiated. In this view, citizenship in cities of walls is meaning-
less. The optimistic interpretation, however, would consider that the change in
the criteria for admission to political life, and the consequent change in status
of a considerable part of the population would generate a wider engagement in
the search for solutions to common problems and would potentially bridge some
distances. There are many reasons to be suspicious of such optimism; studies
of homeowner associations in Los Angeles remind us how local democracy may
be used as an instrument of segregation (Davis 1990, chapter 3). However, the
boom of social movements in Sio Paulo after the mid-1970s suggests a cautious
optimism. Where excluded residents discover that they have rights to the city,
they manage to transform their neighborhoods and to improve the quality of their
lives. That fortified enclaves in part counteracted this process should not make
us abandon this qualified optimism. The walls were not able to totally obstruct
the exercise of citizenship, and poor residents continue to expand their rights.

Teresa P. R. Caldeira teaches in the Departments of Anthropology at the University
of California, Irvine and at Unicamp (State University of Campinas, Sio Paulo).
Her book, City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in Sdo Pauto is
forthcoming from the University of California Press. Her current research focuses
on the constitution and expansion of citizenship rights from a comparative perspec-
tive, and on the association of these processes with notions of the body and of
racial relations.

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For this assignment, you will research a case of socio-spatial segregation in a particular city and prepare a case study report.


Chosen city: Johannesburg, South Africa

· Research your chosen city to look for answers to the questions below. You should find at least 4-5 sources relevant to your chosen city in addition to course materials provided.

· These may include peer reviewed articles, books, policy papers, reports, government documents, blog posts, and/or news articles.

· However, not all sources are equally reliable, accurate, or rigorously reviewed. Treat each source accordingly.

What is the general state of socio-spatial segregation in your chosen city? (keep this section briefest)

Along which lines of social difference are residents divided?

How segregated is the city? (You can look for measures such as evenness, clustering, and dissimilarity).

How has segregation changed over time?

What are the origins and drivers of segregation?

When did segregation start? What prompted segregation?

What has contributed to maintaining segregation?

What have been the social/economic/environmental impacts of segregation on residents?

How do educational, health or environmental outcomes differ across communities?

What has the city government done to address segregation? With what impact?

NOTE: You do not have to specifically answer the questions in italics. These are there to guide you.

Requirements & Formatting (please read carefully)

Approx. two single-spaced pages/1,000 words in length excluding references or graphs/tables etc.

Your analysis should include references to material from lessons 1.5 and 1.6 and at least two course readings.

Sub-headings are not required but recommended.

You may wish to include graphs, maps, and other visuals. Make sure to label these and cite your sources.

Your independently researched sources should include at least two peer-reviewed articles.

Course Materials

Harvey, D. (2012) Chapter 1 The Right to the City (pp. 3 – 26) and Chapter 3 The Creation of the Urban Commons (pp. 67-88) In Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. London, Brooklyn: Verso.

Bayat, A. (2000). From ‘Dangerous Classes’ to ‘Quiet Rebels’ Politics of the Urban Subaltern in the Global South. International sociology, 15(3), 533-557.

1. This chapter is the introduction to the book Cities of Difference. The chapters in the book collectively explore how “axes of social difference” – including, but not limited to: religious identity, citizenship, race, gender, and sexuality – shape our lived experiences of urban space.

Late twentieth century scholarship on identity was marked by a transition from thinking about identity as something pre-given or fixed (a view reflected in the work of the Chicago School), to instead conceptualizing identity as fluid and socially produced.

You can skim read this article for the basic arguments, but read closely enough to understand: What the authors mean by a “located politics of difference”; and

How social studies scholars have come to theorize the relationship between place/space and identity.

Jacobs, J. M. and R. Fincher (1998) “Introduction.” In Cities of Difference. (pp. 1-22).

2. Teresa Caldeira is an urban planner and professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. Caldeira is particularly well known for her book City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo, published in 2000, which analyzes urban segregation in São Paulo, drawing comparisons to Los Angeles. This article was published in 1996, and based on the work for her book.

After reading, you should be able to define fortified enclaves and describe their particular characteristics, explain the process of enclaving using specific examples from the text, and recall Caldeira’s critiques of this particular form of urban residence.

Caldeira, T. P. (1996). ” Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation.” Public Culture. 8: 303-328.

3. Yaffa Truelove is a political ecologist whose research focuses primarily on women’s experiences of accessing water and sanitation in Delhi, India. In this article, Truelove examines how low-income women risk physical and sexual violence in their everyday lives. As you read, pay attention to how Truelove shows the intersection of class and gender, and how this doubly burdens women.

What kinds of interventions or policies might help to address and minimize the risks women face in accessing sanitation?

Truelove, Y. (2011). (Re-) Conceptualizing water inequality in Delhi, India through a feminist political ecology framework. Geoforum, 42(2), 143-152

4. Kimberlé W. Crenshaw is a scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law.

Crenshaw’s groundbreaking work on intersectionality was influential in the drafting of the equality clause in the South African Constitution. She authored the background paper on race and gender discrimination for the United Nations’ World Conference on Racism in 2001, served as the rapporteur for the conference’s expert group on gender and race discrimination, and coordinated NGO efforts to ensure the inclusion of gender in the WCAR Conference Declaration.

Crenshaw first introduced the term in an 1989 essay published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Policies.”

The article you will read, which was published two years later and has since been cited some 35,000 times, comprehensively describes the concept and differentiates between different kinds of intersectionality. It is a lengthly piece and you do not need to read it in its entirely BUT you should read enough that you understand the basic concept of intersectionality.

5. Crenshaw, K. (1991) Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6): 1241-1299.

Born in Culcutta, India (where she conducted research for her Ph.D.) and trained in the US, Ananya Roy (UCLA) is an urban planner and one of the leading voices in critical urban studies of the global South today.

As you read this article, consider: What different representations of slums does Roy discuss? Why does she critique these representations? Look for definitions and explanations of the following concepts: subaltern urbanism; urban informality, zones of exception, and gray spaces.


For further insight into Roy’s thinking on slums and informality, watch her short video “Are Slums the Global Urban Future?”

International Sociology

DOI: 10.1177/026858000015003005
2000; 15; 533 International Sociology

Asef Bayat
Subaltern in the Global South

From `Dangerous Classes’ to `Quiet Rebels’: Politics of the Urban
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On behalf of:

International Sociological Association

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