Date of Award

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Anne E Bonds

Committee Members

Kristin M Sziarto, Anna M Mansson McGinty, Jenna M Loyd, Ryan B Holifield


Colorblindness, Economic development, Fast food workers, Milwaukee, Racial capitalism


In this dissertation, I examine how race articulates with economic development in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Drawing on two years of participant observation with the Milwaukee Fight for 15; participant observation of public meetings and days of action; semi-structured interviews with City officials, business leaders, non-profit professionals, and community organizers; and media and document analysis, I find that normative discourses of race underpin economic development in Milwaukee even as City officials and boosters give nominal recognition to racial inequality and purport to embrace diversity and colourblindness.

First, I trace historical and contemporary trajectories of economic development and segregation to show how the elision of such histories allows City leaders and members fo the business community to pose inadequate solutions that fail to actually address entrenched segregation and racialized poverty. Then, I examine the Milwaukee Fight for 15 as a mobilization to counter the City’s redevelopment strategy, which is reliant on low-wage workers, and show how it was ultimately unsuccessful because of its inability to embed the everyday lives of fast food workers within a broader racial capitalist context in the city. Finally, I examine the City of Milwaukee’s creative class-based economic redevelopment strategy to understand how the circulation of the ‘tale of two cities’ discourse reproduces normative socio-spatial patterns of racialization even as it puts forth an agenda of diversity and colourblindness.

Taken together, my dissertation sheds light on how racial capitalism operates and rearticulates through colourblind discourses of economic development in a local urban context with a specific racial politics. My dissertation illustrates how local discourses and strategies of development are contested terrain where movement building for social justice comes into conflict with urban restructuring in a neoliberal context.

Included in

Geography Commons