Volume 95,#2

Spring 2022


Introduced by Chloe Ahmann



phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu


Volume 95, #2 • Spring 2022




SOCIAL THOUGHT & COMMENTARY Rethinking Vacancy, or Thinking with the Going Home

Catherine Fennell, Columbia University

ABSTRACT—Based on ongoing research in Chicago, this commentary focuses on a ubiquitous figure in mainstream imaginaries of late industrial life in the urban American Midwest—the vacant home and the vacant residential lot it becomes when brought down by wrecking, weather, debts, and deferred maintenance. “Vacancy” is the commonplace term most of my interlocutors will reach for to describe such places. More often than not, this description opens onto expectations of imminent refilling. This commentary considers such prevalent descriptions and related expectations alongside other language for these places. I argue that attending to such language complicates these expectations of imminent refilling. What’s more, it challenges urban anthropologists to reconsider how our own expectations of expansive urban growth color and constrain our understandings of late industrial urban futures. [Keywords: Vacancy, growth, homes, late industrial urban life, United States]


I Feel Brandenburg: Temporality, Vacancy, and Migration in Germany’s Model Socialist City

Samantha Maurer Fox, Lehigh University

ABSTRACT—This paper examines the shifting notions of vacancy deployed in Eisenhüttenstadt, Germany from its founding in 1950 as Stalinstadt, an East German socialist utopia, through to the 2015 European Migrant Crisis, when Eisenhüttenstadt found itself with over 1,000 uninhabited apartments and thousands of asylum seekers living in tents, shipping containers, and a high school gym. Eisenhüttenstadt is a steel manufacturing city on the German-Polish border, and its population has declined precipitously in recent decades. As a result, 6,200 apartments were demolished between 2002 and 2015, with more demolitions planned through 2030. But the European Migrant Crisis, which surged in 2015, upended the expectation that spatial and population shrinkage would inevitably come to define Eisenhüttenstadt’s future. In this context, I examine the relationship between vacancy and futurity, noting how vacancy serves as the designation of a spatial locus through which urban futures are imagined and evaluated. I call attention to how vacancy is problematized in moments of crisis, when expected futures are upended, as well as how the legibility of vacancy changes with sociopolitical circumstances. I show how the presentism brought on by the Migrant Crisis stirred up older anxieties about the emptying out of the German countryside that followed the collapse of the East German state. [Keywords: Germany, post-socialism, late industrialism, urban planning, temporality, migration]



Kathryn Marie Dudley, Yale University