Research

Ashes and Dust: Settler Colonialism and the Ascendance of Metropolitan Phoenix, 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, my research obliges scholars to 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, I reinterpret the rise of metropolitan Phoenix as a series of land dispossessions mediated by municipal annexation.

Ashes and Dust asks two questions: first, how did human migration and capital investment influence spatial development in metropolitan Phoenix? Scholars who interrogated this question have concluded that public subsidies, elite migration, and military-industrial investment encouraged Anglo landowners to promote suburban growth. But to my other query: how did human migration and investment capital impact racialized communities in metropolitan Phoenix? My research shows that Anglo settlers marginalized and disenfranchised racialized communities in South Phoenix and the West Valley through the municipal annexation of unincorporated suburbs. Ashes and Dust sees municipal annexation as part of a settler colonization project by Anglo elites seeking to shift hidden costs of uninhibited growth onto annexed suburbs. Their efforts to privatize civic institutions ensured Anglo hegemony within the Salt River Valley.

In ten chapters, I trace Anglo settlement from the late 19th century when the mirage-like townsite shimmered near the ashes of indigenous ruins; through the postwar period when civic boosters invoked suburban fantasies to entice new settlers; and to the late 20th century when suburban homesteaders found their dreams dashed due to enduring civic inequality. Throughout the narrative arc, I focus on how racial capitalism drove Anglo settlers to marginalize civic concerns of Indigenes, Chicanos, Blacks, Asian Americans, and occasionally each other, in pursuit of profits from speculative land development. This perspective outlines how spatial displacement, racial exploitation, and civic exclusion developed the American Sunbelt through this illustration of metropolitan Phoenix as part of an enduring settler colonization project.

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.