Nate Gabriel
PhD, Geography
Fellow, Center for Cultural Analysis
Rutgers University
Contact me: nategabriel [at] gmail

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Abstracts for Works in Progress

"Fixity and Rupture: Neoliberalism Happens in Place." For submission to Geoforum, March 2012.

This paper begins with the argument that the ways in which parks and cities were produced through imagery, mapping, and daily practice in the nineteenth century (which I discuss in previous work - see Gabriel 2011) remained largely intact in the 21st Century. That is, I show that the park continued to be reproduced as a space that is economically and socially separate from the city for the people living in it. Continuing to draw on the case of Philadelphia, I show how this is accomplished through park management focused on the reestablishment of "native" ecosystems. The values expressed in these efforts also deeply infuse the practices of volunteer-driven organizations, which assist the city in managing its parks. Through the examination of the specific interventions of such organizations, I argue that the park "network" was able to dominate precisely because the practices associated with the founding of park discourse continued to be performed. "The work that parks do", as I put it elsewhere, is work that is done again and again, by the people, maps, photographs, and landscapes that constitute "the park".

Yet, because these arrangements require renewal and reperformance, they are also always on the precipice of transformation, of dissolution and reconfiguration, once the human and non-human actors who perform them cease to do so. In the last section of the paper, I focus my attention on sites of rupture in this network, sites in which the actors that produce the city and the park began to rearrange themselves in the late 1990s, to articulate new interests and desires, and to produce something new. In that section, I discuss the events that led to the demise of the Fairmount Park Commission, the quasi-governmental institution that managed the park since the 1860s. This series of events conveys the sense that what often looks like a stable, solid, and static arrangement of people and things is actually quite dynamic and subject to profound and sudden change, and that the illusion of stability is maintained only because particular arrangements are continually produced anew. This is a subtle, but politically important difference in how to conceptualize the formation and maintenance of such arrangements, and indeed to intervene in them, since it helps to identify opportunities to act otherwise, to begin forming other arrangements.