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Shifting Meridians Poster
 

Research Project

Shifting Meridians: Authority and Trust in American Culture, Society, History, and Politics.

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GKAT’s interdisciplinary research program focuses on the emergence and transformation of authority and trust in American politics, society, religion, literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present. We have designed three broad research areas that address different aspects of authority and trust. Geography is especially involved in research area 2: The Urban Dimension of Authority and Trust. Here, we focus on the tensions between institutional power and everyday life in American cities which have been subject to profound social and economic changes, such as the rise of the service sector, immigration, gentrification, segregation, and branding strategies. Inquiries into the ways in which people of different ethnic and social backgrounds employ authority, trust, identity, and power in urban spaces open up numerous new interdisciplinary perspectives from geography, linguistics, and cultural studies. Under the scope of Research Area 2 we are looking for applicants interested in the following topics and questions:

American culture has nurtured a traditional distrust of cities as opposites of Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of the virtuous agrarian republic. Nevertheless, American cities grew at a rapid pace and became subject to careful spatial planning. Planers claimed trust and authority by virtue of their expertise and by the promise to create urban unities as the basis for self-governing communities. In reality, American cities became fragmented and disintegrated while trust and solidarity eroded. In the late twentieth century neoliberalism has prompted both the retreat of the state as an urban planner and structural changes in the economies of American cities. Global market forces have replaced local and national policies while government has been reduced to the function of law and order, exercising authority without trust. As a consequence, cities have become spaces of vast socio-economic inequality where residents retreat to protected areas, such as shopping malls, gated communities, and creative neighborhoods.

As a countermovement to the decline of state authority and social trust, civil society claims a right to the city and urban citizenship based on comprehensive concepts of inclusion and participation. To what extent urban governance will be shaped by civil society, private business interests and elected officials and how urban governance will create authority and trust among city residents are still open questions.

Cities are also spaces of imagination, cultural representation and aesthetic experiences and practices. The city as metropolis has often been associated with uniquely modern notions of cultural authority. In fictional narratives, e.g. literature and film, trust and distrust in the anonymous jungle of the big city have been leitmotifs of narration and shaped the aesthetics of genres such as crime stories. Both as specific localities and global icons, American cities play a key role in popular culture.

Because cities are social spaces where people enact authority and trust within their everyday lives, the urban dimension also includes linguistics. Language and semiotic systems are neither static nor necessarily consensual but change and rearrange according to different contexts of social interaction. How people employ language to claim authority and trust in diverse and contested urban landscapes is a question that requires an interdisciplinary linguistic approach, displayed by the following possible research questions and themes:

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