NICK CAVERLY /// Economic, Demographic, and Biological Politics of Detroit


Nick Caverly received me in Detroit a day after I arrived in the city whose population and economy has been drastically shrinking for the last decades and is now populated with a multitude of ruins and empty lots. We discuss about the governance of the city that is now piloted by an “Emergency Finance Manager,” who reduced public service to a worrisome level, mostly detrimental to the most impoverished populations of the city. We also talk of the newcomers in the city, the white “creative class,” which, despite a commendable optimism tends to develop an imaginary that omit the existence of the (mostly African-American) working class population that compose the core of the city’s demographics. In the second part of the conversation, we examine the toxicity of the city’s abandoned and demolished infrastructures and its affect on Detroit’s inhabitants. Water, in particular, constitutes a political site where its access, as well as its chemical composition, is determined through problematic decisions.

Nick Caverly is an urban researcher and PhD student in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Michigan. His dissertation research centers on the entanglement of bodies, matter, history, and politics through vacant buildings in Detroit. Decaying built environments are enduring legacies of Detroit’s fraught histories of race and class exclusion that have become sites for physical and imaginative work by local residents, city planners, and other actors. Fallow factories are stripped down by former autoworkers who sell their components for scrap. Deteriorating water treatment facilities filled with toxic algae become targets for remediation and redevelopment schemes. As vacant buildings inspire competing interventions they demonstrate how visions of the future are grounded in the material remains of the past. Before coming to UM, Nick earned an MA in anthropology from The New School for Social Research where he first developed interests in narrative, landscape, and the material sedimentations of history. He can be reached at nickcav(at)umich(dot)edu.




– Thomas J. Sugrue, “Notown: Good news: A few hipsters are rediscovering Detroit. Bad news: everything else,” on Democracy (Spring 2013)
– Anna Tsing, “Strathern Beyond the Human: Testimony of a Spore” Theory, Culture & Society (January 2014)


– Thomas Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis. Princeton, 1996
– June Manning Thomas, Race and Redevelopment. Johns Hopkins, 1997.

– Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay. Knopf, 1988.
– Greg Grandin, “Empire’s Ruins: Detroit to the Amazon,” in Ann Laura Stoler (ed), Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination, Duke University Press, 2013.