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January 16, 2006

UCSC conference to reflect on New Orleans after Katrina

By Scott Rappaport

Before it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August, New Orleans was a city of contradictions.

Poster of conference

Known for its distinctive architecture and atmosphere that meshed elements of African American, Anglo- American, French, Cajun, Spanish and Caribbean culture, it boasted a tourism industry that annually generated nearly $5 billion.

But the city was less known for its gritty culture of everyday life that was far removed from the tourist image projected around the world.

Hurricane Katrina exposed the city’s contradictions, and current struggles over New Orleans’s future have raised critical questions about catastrophe, race, social justice, urban renewal, memory, and the image and marketing of cities.

New Orleans is now being forced to confront radically different ideas of exactly what a city is, and what are the responsibilities of local and national institutions to rebuild its communities, preserve its architecture, resolve its inequalities, and honor its memory.

In light of these events, the UCSC Center for Cultural Studies will present a one-day conference, "Reflections on Katrina: Place, Persistence & the Lives of Cities" on Saturday, January 21, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Oakes College, Room 105. The conference is the second of three quarterly events in 2005-06 that are part of the Center for Cultural Studies' three-year "Other Globalizations" project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It was organized by by Phil Steinberg, a Florida State University associate professor of geography and a Rockefeller Fellow at the Center for Cultural Studies. Admission is free and open to the public.

“The aftermath of Katrina has revealed much about the deeply layered character of the global city,” noted associate professor of literature Christopher Connery. “We hope that this event will contribute to our understanding of New Orleans's history, political economy, and future. We also hope to stimulate new thinking about our attachment to cities, and how they are inhabited, imagined, and remembered,” Connery added.

Mike Davis, professor of history at UC Irvine, will deliver the keynote address: “Gentrifying Disaster,” beginning at 10:15 a.m. Davis’s research combines interests in political economy, urban planning, and perceptions of disasters. His most recent book is The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (New Press, 2005).

Other conference participants will include:

• Craig Colten, professor of geography at Louisiana State University, who researches environmental historical geography--focusing most recently on New Orleans. Topic: “Poverty and Plenty: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina.”

• Jordan Flaherty, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New Orleans and an editor of Left Turn magazine, where he has published several articles on race, power, and corruption in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Topic: “Race, Relief & Reconstruction: Community Organizing and the Destruction and Reconstruction of New Orleans.”

• Rob Shields, professor of sociology and art & design at the University of Alberta, whose research focuses on the cultural construction of public spaces in virtual and urban environments. Topic: “Urban Calamities in Worlds of Mobility.”

• Elizabeth V. Spelman, professor in the Departments of Philosophy & Women and Gender Studies at Smith College, whose recent research explores analogies and “disanalogies” between repair of the material world and repair of relations among its inhabitants. Topic: “Repair & the Scaffold of Memory.”

 • Karen Till, associate professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, who researches the cultural politics of memorialization--how practices of remembering reflect and reproduce conflicts over the meaning of place and nation, focusing on postwar Berlin and, most recently, postapartheid Cape Town. Topic: “Urban Awakenings: Matter, Hauntings, Returns.”

• Lewis Watts, assistant professor of art at UCSC, whose photography focuses on African American communities and the ways in which people consciously and unconsciously personalize their living spaces, institutions, and places of business, leaving traces of experience in the landscape. Lunchtime photographic exhibit: “Ghosts in New Orleans.”

• Clyde Woods, assistant professor of black studies at UC Santa Barbara, whose research links the southern African-American “blues epistemology” of resistance with the political economy of underdevelopment and racialization. Topic: “Katrina & the Crisis of Neo-Plantation Politics.”

For more information and a complete schedule of presentation times, go to the Center for Cultural Studies web site or contact the UCSC Center for Cultural Studies at (831) 459-4899 or

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