Blog post

"Real Utopias" and the "Revolutionary and Evolutionary" Culture and Politics of Detroit

Michael Bacal 8 February 2012

Drawing on the work of Jacques Ranciere and Erik Olin Wright, Vince Carducci at Deliberately Considered has written a remarkable reflection on the renewed experience of aesthetic and political community in Detroit. In the face of decades of blight and increased "demassification," the city has, in a stunning dialectical movement, recently begun to witness an unprecedented creative flourishing and reclamation of the city's downtown space. In his article, Carducci points to the ways that the city's neglected spaces, foreclosed homes and abandoned buildings have suddenly come to "open up a new field of cultural production" that has, of late, encouraged young artists to repurpose them and, in effect, reimagine and assert a robust new understanding of the "commons". That is, by using as their raw material the virtually abandoned ruins of the city, artists in Detroit are seizing opportunities to use them to boldly re-articulate new understandings of what public space, community and urban experience mean to them today.

Allowed to bypass conventional property relations and the prevailing logic of privatization elsewhere enforced by modern capitalism, they are seizing their unique position to take the veritably dystopian landscape of Detroit (the product of three decades of neo-liberalism) to reinvent spaces in which they can begin to prise open space for social and political alternatives.

Carducci notes that in this milieu, Detroit has given rise to the emergence of new artistic collectives, galleries and organizations that are all facilitating collaborative artistic and community projects throughout the city. He then, crucially, ties this new appearance of the ‘commons' and cultural community engagement to the theoretical formulation of "real utopias" offered by Wright. A "real" utopian project, defined in opposition to the classic idealist strain by its insistence on the rigorous pursuit of attainable goals, places its aspirations on actualizing viable emancipatory social and political achievements through the principled and pragmatic transformation of dominant institutional structures. Following Wright in this vein, Carducci suggests that, with the burgeoning artistic scene of Detroit and the deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing nature of aesthetics and politics, the city is beginning to feel itself undergoing serious "revolutionary" and "evolutionary" changes and possible "utopian" alternatives to the former reigning institutions of privatized and corporate space and culture.

Visit Deliberately Considered to read the article in full.