Citizenship Pedagogy “in Public”

Citizenship Pedagogy “in Public” in Chicago Public Housing’s Wake

Catherine Fennel

Roughly fifteen years ago, Chicago began transforming its troubled public housing projects into smaller-scaled, mixed-income, socially diverse and partially-privatized neighborhoods called “new communities.” Proponents insisted that as public spaces in the “new communities” promoted casual sociability among passing familiars, public housing residents and their new, middle class neighbors would also be transformed — into self-sustaining individuals with “civic” commitments. Ethnographically, this paper focuses anxieties emerging around the use of such public spaces, and asks what they might tell us about the reconfiguration of citizenship in a “post welfare” urban America. Through a focus on sociability practices at one “new community,” I argue that at stake in socializing or pet care practices “in public” is the instruction of the kind and degree of intimacy demanded to commit to a particular place and the people “in” it. Throughout, I show how local (de)valuations of kinship and thick forms of sociality “in public” complicate treatments of urban public space as the material artifact of stranger sociability or democratic consensus.

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