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Book Review, Vol. 31 No. 2

Unfinished Business: Michael Jackson, Detroit, & the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization

Unfinished Business: Michael Jackson, Detroit, & the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization. Judith Hamera. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017; Pp. 286 + xvii.

Scholarship on the subject of performance labor has proliferated with renewed intensity over the past decade. This development is, in part, a response to the way that scholars across the humanities and social sciences have diagnosed transformations in the organization and practice of work in the past half century as a problem of “performance.” With Unfinished Business: Michael Jackson, Detroit, & the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization, Judith Hamera offers a contribution to these conversations that is both methodologically innovative and politically ferocious. Hamera argues that a performance studies analysis can register, recognize, and reimagine the racialized structures of feeling that attend deindustrialization in the U.S. She does so by attending to the overabundant and hypervisible representations of two deindustrial icons: Michael Jackson and Detroit.

Three interrelated questions drive Hamera’s inquiry: 1) How does structural economic change feel? 2) What is the role of performance in these transformations? 3) And how have racist hierarchies shaped the performances, including the “promises and perils,” of deindustrial life (xiv)? She pursues these questions through both archival and ethnographic methods, engaging a sprawling performance archive that includes music videos, plays, documentary films, and art installations. Hamera wrests authority from economists as the experts best equipped to explain such structural transformations, modeling a performance theorization of political economy through the analysis of what she calls “figural economies.” Figural economies concern “material and historical entities” as well as the formal, representational, affective, and rhetorical currents through which those entities circulate (13). Performance theorists working across a broad range of contexts will find this notion of “figural economies” useful, even as I suspect most will be hard pressed to mine the “rhetorical, exemplary, and metaphorical potential” of “representations with uncanny persistence” that matches that of Jackson and Detroit (xii, 3).

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