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The Role of Financial Knowledge Production in the City of Detroit Bankruptcy

I am developing a project that draws on cultural sociology and science studies to investigate how financial knowledge production influences politics, using Detroit’s recent bankruptcy as a case.

Though historically uncommon, city bankruptcies have grown more frequent in recent years. Chapter 9 of Title 11 of the federal bankruptcy code provides a legal framework for the adjustment of a city’s debt. The intent is to alleviate an otherwise crushing debt burden through the reorganization of a city’s balance sheet.

Reorganizing the balance sheet implies both material and symbolic projects. The material project entails a concrete reorganization of the city government and its obligations to various local and extra-local stakeholders: contracts are abrogated, promises are reneged, departments are dissolved and reconstituted, select services are privatized or regionalized. The symbolic project obtains to the balance sheet as a representational device that city governments use to manage their outward presentation of self. To declare bankruptcy implies a profound loss of legitimacy. To restructure the balance sheet implies a moral project in the effort to restore the city to a state of creditworthiness.

This project will use archival and interview data to analyze the role of financial knowledge production in shaping Detroit’s bankruptcy. The analysis will unfold through comparisons of how how financial knowledge production influenced the politics surrounding, first, pension promises (seen as the city’s greatest liability), second, the DIA art collection (seen as the city's greatest asset), and finally the “Grand Bargain,” an arrangement in which foundations raised more than $800 million in order to protect the deaccessioning of the city’s art collection, while also reducing pension cuts.


Research assistants will undertake a variety of tasks, including:
1. Transcribing interviews and hearings
2. Collecting archival data
3. Conducting literature reviews
4. Developing a database of newspaper articles
5. As the project progresses, RAs may also conduct preliminary data analysis by coding interviews.
6. RAs with coding skills may have an opportunity to develop code towards a discourse analysis of newspaper articles.

Supervising Faculty Member: Greta Krippner

Graduate Student: Mikell Hyman

Contact information:

Average hours of work per week: 6 - 12

Range of credit hours students can earn: 2 - 4

Number of positions available: 2