Tonight was the first session of a new course at Macalester College: The Political Economy of Gender and Sexuality. Taught by visiting Professor Ryan Murphy, this Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies course (which the Economics Department refused to cross-list) is seeking to delve into the relationship between the market and the state, through a less traditional economic lens of feminist scholarship. Let me start by saying that this class is already blowing my mind after a single, three-hour session.
As an introduction to some subjects we will be covering through the semester, we watched a fascinating documentary about the failures of public housing in America. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011) reveals the history of the infamous housing project in St. Louis, that opened in 1952 and was completely and dramatically demolished in 1972. The film attempts to humanize the experience of the tenants who lived in the housing project, by sharing their stories of hope, desire, intimacy, loss, and fear via interviews. I think that it was successful in highlighting the humanity that is often overlooked in discussions of poverty, and the government's role in finding solutions to social problems. It also draws attention to how state power is used as a technology of race, class, and gender to oppress people, especially during the mid-twentieth century with such projects. The Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project is often used as a moralistic lesson to criminalize the tenants themselves, the welfare state, big government, poor communities, and Black communities. However, this film begins to shed light on the reality of the situation; the failure of the project had to do with poor city-planning and a lack of anticipation of "white flight" to the suburbs, lack of funding from the government to keep up maintenance of the project, the changing landscape of St. Louis as more poor migrants from the rural south flocked to the city center, and ultimately the government's intentional use of public housing as a segregation tool.