Catherine Fennell

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Columbia University

Heyman Center Fellow 2016-17

Project Description:

Catherine Fennell's book project, "Ends of the House: Dereliction and Dreaming in Late Industrial Urban America"focuses on the social and material aftermaths of the mortgaged home in the "Rustbelt." In late industrial urban America, derelict houses and the spaces between them incite fear, disgust, and frustration among those who must live and work with them, including neighbors, politicians, and planning professionals. Yet Fennell's ongoing anthropological research reveals that as much as some seek to obliterate derelict houses, contain their wastes, and wipe remaining lots clean for future development, others approach them as objects of care, vigilance, even excitement. In this respect, derelict houses and their immediate surrounds incite values, aspirations, and sentiments that depart from popular narratives that paint the region as a space of inexorable loss, decay, bitterness, and obsolescence. Through this book project, Fennell examines competing visions of collective flourishing and obligation gathering around houses in cities wracked by economic and ecological degradation. These visions, she argues, can illuminate the emerging shape of an increasingly urbanized world from the analytical vantage points of stasis and ecological disturbance, rather than those fixated on endless growth and the technological transcendence of environmental problems. Fennell's fellowship year at the Heyman Center allowed her to spend time on data analysis and writing toward this book project and to engage with a collegial and creative cohort of fellows.

Catherine Fennell is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Her work examines the transformation of the US welfare state and its effects on the politics of belonging, race and development in the urban Midwest. Through her ethnographic and archival research, she has focused on how urban built environments in tremendous social and material flux shape the ways in which urbanites come to understand social difference, and practice new forms of care and concern. In particular, she is interested in how the sensory and affective qualities of such environments cultivate novel attachments to a place, as well as commitments to the people and things gathered within it. She is finalizing revisions on a book manuscript that investigates Chicago's ongoing public housing reforms as a policy experiment that conjoined the palpability of past welfare failures with the potentials of "post welfare" social protection. A new project investigates the burgeoning building deconstruction movement in the urban Midwest, and pays close attention to the ethics of waste disposal and waste remediation. 

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