Reuben Louis Riggs-Bookman

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10146

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Riggs-Bookman, Reuben (Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of) "Unrepresentative Democracy: Emergency Management and Shifting Urban Governance"

REUBEN RIGGS-BOOKMAN, then a graduate student at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, was awarded a grant in April 2021 to aid research on “Unrepresentative Democracy: Emergency Management and Shifting Urban Governance,” supervised by Dr. Melissa Burch. This project ethnographically and historically compared two Detroit suburbs that recently emerged from takeover by the state of Michigan. Under its Emergency Management policy, Michigan took near total control over a dozen elected governments in ‘fiscal emergencies.’ During the policy’s peak use, 51% of the state’s Black residents lived under periods of emergency control compared to just 3% of white residents. This research asks: How does deliberately unrepresentative government affect local governance, if at all? Particularly, what kinds of effects does unrepresentative government have on the practices (i.e., policies and agendas) of government and ultimately, ideas about democratic representation and social difference? Fifteen months of fieldwork were spent following municipal employees, residents’ associations, and elected officials as they navigated annual budgeting and economic development. Preliminary analysis suggests that previously taken over cities strategically recall past takeovers and invoke the threat of future ones to navigate popular opposition to policy choices made to contend with local manifestations of global political-economic contradictions. These practices have taken place simultaneously against a reorganized racial ethnic distribution of local political power. Especially in light of recent non-democratic, racially disparate policies across the U.S., this study helps clarify what democracy means in actual practice.