Unfinished Business: Michael Jackson, Detroit, and the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization

Friday, Sep 8, 2017


How does structural economic change look and feel? How are such changes normalized? Who represents hope? Who are the cautionary tales? Unfinished Business argues that U.S. deindustrialization cannot be understood apart from issues of race, and specifically apart from images of, and works by and about African Americans that represent or resist normative or aberrant relationships to work and capital in transitional times. It insists that Michael Jackson's performances and coverage of his life, plays featuring Detroit, plans for the city's postindustrial revitalization, and Detroit installations The Heidelberg Project and Mobile Homestead have something valuable to teach us about three decades of structural economic transition in the U.S., particularly about the changing nature of work and capitalism between the mid 1980s and 2016. Jackson and Detroit offer examples of the racialization of deindustrialization, how it operates as a structure of feeling and as representations as well as a shift in the dominant mode of production, and how industrialization's successor mode, financialization, uses imagery both very similar to and very different from its predecessor.