Visualizing Toxic Subjects

Rachel Lee & Mehar Maju: No Parking Next to Garden

The image’s subject is the community garden which serves as a proxy for the community itself. The spatial location of the garden near the freeway will inevitably impact the health and...Read more

Constructing Heteronormative Urban Spatialities

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Politicizing Urban Aesthetics

In the latter part of the nineteenth-century, representations of poor people and their neighborhoods were complemented with the emergence of documentary photography. The integration of photographic images in sociological research developed a knowledge system premised on the belief that photographs could not lie and that cameras captured reality and presented subjects in a truthful manner (Chronopoulos 2014, 209).  For theorists seeking universal force-causing claims to explain social phenomena, housing, and neighborhood conditions, illiteracy and poverty became omens of gender and sexual pathologies that could topple the rational order of cities and even the nation (Ferguson 2004, 77).

The politicization of aesthetics in the closing decades of the 19th century proved to be a powerful discursive tool for Progressives who sought to eliminate perceived social disorders engendered by industrial urbanization vis-à-vis the wholesale spatial reconfiguration of cities. As Ferguson states,

Postulating sexuality as a general and diffuse causality provides an example of how sexuality came to mean much more than eros, “sexual instincts”, and practices but came to signify a host of apparently “nonsexual” factors (Ferguson 2004, 77).

Published in 1950, the first comprehensive plan proposed for Washington, D.C. identified Southwest as a “problem area” suffering from urban “blight” in need of redevelopment (NCPPC). At the end of 1952, with the passage of the first urban renewal plan for a Southwest Project Area B[i], urban renewal moved from the planning stage to the action stage, triggering a wave of racial dramas in cities across the U.S. Located in the 700-block area of 4½ Street SW, Frank’s Department Store was well within the 76-acre boundary of Project Area B. Faced with the prospect of losing his business Mr. Morris and neighboring business owner Goldie Schneider refused to sell to the RLA. To prevent the government from taking their properties by eminent domain Mr. Morris and Mrs. Schneider filed suit in federal district court, challenging the constitutionality of the DCRA. They argued the government’s ability and scope to take and transfer private property to private developers as part of a project to eliminate “blight” does not constitute a legitimate “public use.” Rather, the taking of private property from one business owner for the benefit of another business owner under eminent domain amounts to an unconstitutional taking, thus violating the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Contending their businesses were not “blighted” (Fig. 3), claimants further argued that since the DCRA had not defined the term “blight,” the RLA could not apply this ambiguous term to all of Project Area B. That said, however, the circuit court dismissed their allegations and the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the decision and reaffirmed the constitutionality of the DCRA. The conflict between Morris, Schneider, and the RLA highlights a critical tension in American jurisprudence during the political economy of the early Cold War: the struggle to balance an image of the U.S. as a formally liberal-capitalist nation against rationalizations for sustained maldistribution along social divides. It also illuminates an epistemic lag between the American judicial system and sociocultural developments.

[i] Southwest Washington Urban Renewal Area – bounded by Independence Avenue, Washington Avenue, South Capitol Street, Canal Street, P Street, Maine Avenue and Washington Channel, Fourteenth Street, D Street, & Twelfth Street – for more info. refer to the HABS Report by the National Parks Service.

Neoliberal Specifics of Dominance in Washington, DC

Since its initial founding by the Residence Act of 1790, the urban geography of Washington, DC, has long become the battleground wherein the “limits of citizenship are manifest” (Carr et al. 2009: 1964). In 2006, the DC, Council enacted a Prostitution Free Zone (PFZ) code, wherein a city where prostitution has long been formally criminalized since the Mann Act of 1910, the new law constituted what may be viewed as geographies of ‘zero-tolerance’ attitude towards sex work. Under the auspices of ‘quality of life’ controls (Mitchell 2003), the PFZ ordinance (Fig. 1) vested the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) substantial discretionary powers to determine and declare a radius of blocks off-limits to already illegal prostitution or sex-work related activities for time periods lasting up to ten consecutive days (Edelman 2011: 849). Suspects ordered to disperse by the police for alleged prostitution or prostitution-related activities were “subject to a literal banishment – an evicted individual could not return to that area for the duration of the implemented zone” (Brunn 2018: 108). Refusal to disperse legitimated arrests, humiliation, and even harassment by police officers. As Alison Brunn agued: “in terms of governance and management of urban space, the figure of the sex worker was seen as a hallmark of ‘urban blight,’ whose existence in public space served as a stand-in for the existence of other stigmatized or illegal activities, such as drug use and violent crime” (2018: 107). To this end, the trans body, specifically, black trans and trans-of-color bodies were pathologized and publicized as toxifying agents in urban spaces that must be eliminated in order to mitigate geographies of ‘risk.’ 

Stephanie Narrow: Admitted at: Calexico, Calif.

This is an extremely evocative and powerful ethnographic image. The strength of emotion behind Juan's eye's forces the reader to consider what was he feeling at this moment in time? Did he know...Read more

Mapping Detention and Toxicity

Mapping Detention and Toxicity
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Adelanto 360


This screenshot is of a virtual 360 tour of the detention center. This virtual tour is important for various reasons. To begin it is a tool by the facility to show the facility to the public as a human space. As online tourists click through the various rooms of the facility, it becomes evident that the facility is being portrayed as "humane". It also becomes obvious the missing bodies in the pictures in the tour, which is an attempt to make the facility a neutral space. 

george air force base

Mapping Detention and Toxicity 3

This map pinpoints the housing areas of the base as well as noted sites of stored waste. The article that used the image discussed various reported miscarriages, childhood cancer and other health hazards believed to have been caused by the toxins from the base. While the base has now been closed, there has been no permanent clean up of the toxins. Given that this base is near the Adelanto Detention Center, the accusations of toxic waste of the military base is important to consider when thinking through the health hazards that people in the area and in the detention center may be continuing to experince. 


As a native of Los Angeles, I have witnessed the smog worsen over the years. These photographs serve to complicate and add nuance to how people have conceptualized smog as a problem in LA. In the...Read more

Corporeal Landscapes: Discourse, Memory, and Embodiment In Mexico's Changing Climate

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Rain, Family, and Sensory Experience: Imagining Quotidian Climate Change

Caption: Brother and Sister Escape Rain Storm. 

This image is of Pancha and Chon Alanis, brother and sister, taken during my preliminary feildwork in Coamiles, Nayarit, Mexico. I chose this image particularly because it does something that I have difficulty capturing textually, it vividly captures weather as well as bodily/sensorial experience. It also gives the observer an opportunity to visualize the field as an affective plane, where affect is being transmitted through environment, bodies present, and bodies viewing. 

As my project attempts to articulate the everyday experiences, memories, affects, and embodiments that eventually become the foundations for which farmers are able to describe, pinpoint, and make real climate change, I fixate on images like these which capture moments which eventually become memories of "climate change." These visualizations are thus intended to be images of retrospect, in which climate change becomes articulated as the changes within one's lifetime. 

Imagining Climate Change

Caption: Collage of "Climate Change" Google Search. 

This collage brings together numerous images from goolge searches of "climate change" in order to visualize how climate change is being popularly imagined, explained, and experienced. In many instances, these images appear right away, often indicating the most recent news reports on climate change. Through these searches one can see how climate change, at a quick glance, is  being represented through juxtapositions between quotidian imagery and foreboding descriptions. Images of children, farmers, and icebergs are coupled with descriptors such as "grim," "dire," and "crisis." 

By using this as one of my own ethnographic images I hope to illustrate how climate change happens simultaneously in our imaginaries as apocalyptic specticle and everyday slow violence. I also hope to drive forward the question: how can we bridge the gap between the spectacular and the everyday? 

Chae Yoo: Exposure ... to information

This is a collage of infographics designed by various institutions to disseminate information. One way we could build larger research question on this is perhaps to examine what kind of formal...Read more

Institutional and State-Sanctioned Toxic

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This image is was taken from Los Angeles Star, the first newspaper in Los Angeles, that covered the lynching of Pancho Daniel. The Flores Daniel group has been historically positioned by white settlers as a gang of Mexican thieves and outlaws. However, within the Mexican working-class community during 1856 and 1857, the Flores Daniel posse were seen as heroes that sought to defend their rights and fought western oppression. Their mechanisms were primarily based on taking back land and animals that were taken from Mexican families through capitalist practices through any measure necessary, including violence. Pancho Daniel and a posse of fifty men were accused for the robbery and murder of a German shopkeeper. Sheriff James Barton was investigating this murder and was killed along with four other men who ambushed Pancho Daniel and his posse. On November 30, 1858, Pancho Daniel was forcibly taken out of the county jail that he was housed in by a group of citizens and was hanged. The California Governor John B. Weller considered his lynching a barbarous execution and issues a reward for the arrest of the perpetrators. Although the perpetrators were never identified, it is within this struggle that Mexicans (and all Latinxs) have been positioned precariously with Blackness. In other words, the lynching of Pancho Daniel positioned Mexicans in an uncertain position in which technologies of control used with Black people would be applied to them, while simultaneously conveying that they would receive the benefits of the justice system in western society. Additionally, it established the use of technologies of control with Mexicans that have similar purposes to those used in schools and prisons. Furthermore, lynching with Mexicans established notions of gender in which men, particularly those in the working class, were to be held accountable with detrimental consequences if they defied the nation state and the authority of white men.


Police in Government (1974) sought to teach black youths how to behave under the façade of U.S. morality, which have been used as “…the legitimacy of physical and psychological violence against Black people in the United States and consequently served to legitimate the oppression of Black life” (Sojoyner, 2013) and were undermining Black organizing within public education and higher education. While the LAPD’s classes targeted Black youth, their mechanism to teach youth how to behave and teach moral standards did not stop with them. LLatinx students, primarily Mexican students, were also in public schools during the 1970s and were exposed to these classes and the technologies of control employed. However, these mechanisms were applied differently to Mexican students.While those mechanism were made for Blacks they were used with Mexicans. However, they were used in ways that would use state violence to control Mexicans, while giving them some of their demands to keep them working within dominating institutions that would continue to limit their organizing.



The United States adopted the term Latino in the 2000 U.S. Census. The term Latino means Latin and was created to refer to people who are from Latin America. On the one hand, Latino serves as a homogenous label that groups people from Latin America or with an ancestry connected to Latin America. It has historically served as a way to organize and empower people who share similar cultural practices. On the other hand, it ignores how diverse Latinos are and it hides and erases the lived experiences of people who have distinct histories, cultures, migration experiences, and many other factors. The current term “Latinx” has been proposed as a genderless term to make language more inclusive for gender non-binary and/or transgender folk. This term is primarily used online and in social media and is being used in academic settings, but older generations and people living in Latin America do not seem to be receptive to this term, which has been explained by linguistics floodgates and a disrespect to Spanish. However, it is important to unmask and interrogate how the Latinx community adheres to a binary view of gender and sexuality and it how it contributes to the tensions and struggles among the several ethnic groups. Existing theories and notions of race have failed to understand and complicate how Latinxs have been racialized as a homogenous group without understanding the historical and political contexts of Latin America and its various countries.

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