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Resisting Dispossession: Performative Spatial Irruptions and the LA Poverty Department

  • Kimberly Chantal Welch (a1)


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1. RCB, actor, Los Angeles Poverty Department, interview with the author, recorded as MP3, Los Angeles, 2 August 2015. Emphasis in the original.

2. Butler, Judith, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 44.

3. McKittrick, Katherine, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 7.

4. My use of the term “carceral state” draws on Dominique Moran's Carceral Geography: Spaces and Practices of Incarceration (Farnham, Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014). In her work, Moran posits that carceral spaces exist outside of prisons and highlights “the relationship between the carceral and an increasingly punitive state” (2).

5. Stuart, Forrest, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 7.

6. Weheliye, Alexander G., Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 48.

7. Ibid., 49.

8. See McKittrick's argument about the logic of transparent space in Demonic Grounds, 5–6.

9. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, dispossession “refers to processes and ideologies by which persons are disowned and abjected by normative and normalizing powers that define cultural intelligibility and that regulate the distribution of vulnerability.” Butler, Judith and Athanasiou, Athena, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), 2.

10. Dain Morain, “A Walk along Skid Row in Los Angeles—Block by Bleak Block,” CALmatters, 27 June 2018,, accessed 26 January 2019.

11. Leonard, Robert H. and Kilkelly, Ann, Performing Communities: Grassroots Ensemble Theaters Deeply Rooted in Eight U.S. Communities, ed. Burnham, Linda Frye (Oakland, CA: New Village Press, 2006). For more on Cornerstone, see Kuftinec's, SonjaStaging America: Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003).

12. I place the term “just” in quotations to acknowledge the variety of factors that can hinder attendance to rehearsal, thinking specifically about transportation and time obstacles often present in sites of spatial dispossession.

13. McEnteer, James, Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty Department (North Charleston, SC: Streetwise Press, 2015). Other scholarship on the company includes Cohen-Cruz's, JanLocal Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), and Leonard and Kilkelly.

14. In my project, I understand precarious bodies as those that lie outside of or on the borders of frameworks of intelligibility in dominant material, affective, and/or psychological landscapes. Precarious space, then, is the site(s) in which the subjectivities of the spatially dispossessed are disavowed or under erasure.

15. Spillers, Hortense J., “Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” in Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Film and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 203–29, at 207.

16. Keeling, Kara, in The Witch's Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 1415, argues that people share a set of collective memory-images that are called forth when one is presented with an image. The memory-images are often found in the form of clichés or stereotypes.

17. Los Angeles Poverty Department, excerpt from Chasing Monsters from under the Bed, directed by Henriëtte Brouwers and John Malpede,, accessed 21 May 2016. In the online video, only an edited version of this scene is available. Rather than analyzing the full opening scene, my analysis focuses on the condensed version of the scene archived online.

18. Kate Mather, “Skid Row Shooting: Autopsy Shows Man Shot Six Times, Had Meth in System,” Los Angeles Times, 29 July 2015,, accessed 29 April 2016.

19. Kelly Goff, “Homeless Man Killed by LAPD Officers ID'd,” 5 March 2015,, accessed 4 May 2016.

20. Gale Holland and Richard Winton, “LAPD Body Camera Video of Skid Row Shooting Raises Questions on Tactics and Training,” Los Angeles Times, 24 September 2015,, accessed 4 May 2016.

21. Mather.

22. Young, Harvey, Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory, and the Black Body (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), 9. In his elaboration of the black body, “an abstracted and imagined figure [that] shadows or doubles the real one” (7), Young argues that “[t]he phenomenon of the black body, or, for short, phenomenal blackness, invites a consideration of history, habit, memory, and the process of racial mythmaking” (9).

23. Spillers, “Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe,” 208.

24. “The World Factbook: Cameroon,” Central Intelligence Agency,, accessed 1 September 2017.

25. Smith, Neil, “Contours of a Spatialized Politics: Homeless Vehicles and the Production of Geographical Scale,” Social Text, no. 33 (1992): 5481, at 58.

26. Silvia, Skid Row resident, interview with the author, recorded as MP3, Los Angeles, 31 July 2015.

27. Harney, Stefano and Moten, Fred, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Wivenhoe, NY: Minor Compositions, 2013), 5868, esp. 63–5.

28. Stephanie, Skid Row resident, interview with the author, recorded as MP3, Los Angeles, 4 August 2015.

29. McKittrick, 92.

30. “About the Black Lives Matter Network,” Black Lives Matter,, accessed 23 April 2016.

31. Hortense J. Spillers, “Interstices: A Small Drama of Words,” in Black, White, and in Color, 152–75, at 156.

32. Hartman, Saidiya V., Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 20–1.

33. “Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD): State of Incarceration,” Queens Museum, NY, 2 February 2014, video,, accessed 21 May 2016.

34. “LAPD: State of Incarceration,” video, ca. 29:20–32:52.

35. Anthony Taylor, actor, Los Angeles Poverty Department, interview with the author, recorded as MP3, Los Angeles, 13 April 2016.

36. Spillers, “Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe,” 206.

37. Ibid., 207.

38. Anthony Taylor, interview with the author, recorded as MP3, 13 April 2016.

39. Although the hieroglyphics of Africa's flesh may have been cataloged in his physical body as well, it is outside the scope of this paper to make that argument, as the only engagement I have with Africa is through the Chasing the Monsters production and media clips and news stories about his untimely death.

40. “LAPD: State of Incarceration,” video, ca. 25:30–26:40.

41. For a more detailed delineation of discourse around drugs in the latter half of the twentieth century in the United States, see Marez, Curtis, Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004).

42. Liz Ronk, “The War Within: Portraits of Vietnam Veterans Fighting Heroin Addiction,” Time, 20 January 2014,, accessed 21 August 2016.

43. During the 1970s, President Nixon called for a “War on Drugs.” Continuing into the Reagan administration, state-sanctioned narratives demonized the usage of crack cocaine, linking the drug to black communities and criminality.

44. “LAPD: State of Incarceration,” video, ca. 32:55–36:39.

45. In the United States, ramen noodles are often a staple in low-income as well as college-student communities; they are relatively inexpensive, versatile (thinking here about the spread), and require only hot water to cook.

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Resisting Dispossession: Performative Spatial Irruptions and the LA Poverty Department

  • Kimberly Chantal Welch (a1)


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