Research

An Ascendant Phoenix: Settler Colonialism and the Making of the Metropolitan Sunbelt, analyzes urban development in the American Sunbelt as an iteration of settler colonial displacement. While a constellation of controversial conservatives, like Barry Goldwater, Joe Arpaio, and Donald Trump, found their earliest constituencies in metropolitan Phoenix, new scholarship must address how historical practices of settler colonialism allowed rabid reactionaries to pilot the ascent of the Salt River Valley toward global prominence. Drawing from Patrick Wolfe’s insight that settler colonialism is not a singular event but a dynamic structure, this manuscript reinterprets Anglo settlement in  Phoenix as a series of land dispossessions mediated by municipal annexation.

An Ascendant Phoenix argues scholars should recognize metropolitan development as integral to American settler colonialism. The United States uses urban outposts to burrow settler communities into the postbellum American West. Federal officials and corporate investors eliminate indigenous sovereignty in territories targeted for Anglo settlement, and in frontier cities, civic boosters help local politicians attract capital investment. In Maricopa County, Anglo settlers use public policies to dispossess property from Asian-American, Black, Chicano, and indigenous communities and sustain racial political sovereignty, a prerequisite for statehood, through economic hegemony. In the Salt River Valley, Anglo settlers erode land tenure in these racialized communities so land speculators and agricultural producers can maximize profits from metropolitan development. These attacks on land tenure take different forms during different time periods: racial segregation excluded racialized communities from urban areas in the territorial period; municipal annexation amalgamated racialized communities under urban governance in the postwar era; eminent domain displaced racialized communities during the Vietnam War. Land dispossession has fueled metropolitan development in central Arizona, along with the broader American Sunbelt, since initial Anglo settlement.

Research for this manuscript has been funded, in part, by fellowships from the Arizona Historical Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Manuscript revisions have been sponsored by Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University.