Constructing the unruly public: governing affect & legitimate knowledge in post-Katrina New Orleans

Siri Colom, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper turns to a series of public meetings surrounding the rebuilding of the New Orleans jail, OPP in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to argue that neoliberal urban governance is predicated on the everyday reification of racist and patriarchal power hierarchies through the sociospatial policing of what constitutes legitimate knowledge and of affect in the public sphere. We demonstrate that these public meetings served to reproduce racialized and gendered power relations under the façade of urban civic participation. Through ethnographic research and drawing on anti-racist and Black feminist scholarship on epistemology and affect, we uncover three key bureaucratic mechanisms/techniques that shaped the public meetings: the regulation of space, the defining of legitimate knowledge, and the policing of affect. We argue that together these mechanisms produced an unruly public along lines of race and gender which was then used as justification for silencing communities directly impacted by the harms of the criminal legal system from legitimate discourse and debate. However, meeting attendees challenged these processes, using their ‘unruliness’ to call attention to how the narrow definition of legitimate participation in public meetings under neoliberal urban governance regimes mirrored the broader punitive patterns that mark the everyday crises of the carceral state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1317-1337
Number of pages21
JournalGender, Place and Culture
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thank you to the article’s anonymous reviewers whose feedback strengthened this piece. We also appreciate early support on this article from Renia Ehrenfeucht.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • epistemology
  • gender
  • jailing
  • public space
  • race
  • urban governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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