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"

Unrepresentative local government is often a key element of anthropological depictions of cities all over the world. In the United States, however, the workings of a nominally representative government are often (and accurately) assumed. In the case of Michigan’s Emergency Management policy, however, this assumption does not hold. This research asks: how does deliberately unrepresentative municipal government affect local governance in the U.S., if at all? In particular, what kinds of effects does unrepresentative government have on the practices (i.e., policies and agendas) of government and ultimately, on ideas about democratic representation and differential experiences of governance? This project ethnographically and historically compares two Detroit suburbs that recently came out from Emergency Management. Under this law, the state of Michigan took near total control of over a dozen elected municipal governments and school districts deemed in ‘fiscal emergencies.’ Twenty months of fieldwork will be spent following municipal employees, residents’ associations, and activists as they navigate city wide COVID-19 efforts, annual budgeting, and economic development projects. Especially in light of non-democratic policies in post-PROMESA Puerto Rico, post-Katrina New Orleans, and current concerns about the rise of authoritarianism in the U.S., this study helps us clarify what democracy means in actual practice.