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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Cedric de Leon

Second Advisor

Agustin Lao Montes

Third Advisor

Sancha Medwinter

Fourth Advisor

Louise Jezierski

Subject Categories

Other Sociology | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity


Existing research suggests that either neoliberalism or residential segregation is responsible for the dispossession of Black people in contemporary urban crises like Hurricane Katrina. The problem with these accounts, however, is that they describe processes – neoliberalization, deindustrialization, and the racialization of space – that have been ongoing for more than two generations and thus cannot fully explain either the content or timing of the Flint Water Crisis. In other words, these explanations do not address the puzzle, “why water and why now?” Drawing on a content analysis of the minutes of official meetings, archival correspondence, 25 in-depth interviews, and three years of participant observation, this dissertation argues that the Flint Water Crisis was the unintended consequence of a larger colonial revanchist project to expropriate the assets of Black cities, especially the Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD). Specifically, suburban actors, working with the State of Michigan, attempted to make the DWSD look fiscally insolvent by removing the city of Flint, the DWSD’s largest wholesale customer, from the department’s clientele. This allowed said actors to justify the takeover of DWSD and funnel revenue away from the city of Detroit into a regional water authority. Flint residents, in turn, were placed on Flint River water, a source that had not been used since the 1950s, which was contaminated with industrial toxins and fecal microbes. The result was the mass poisoning of more than 100,000 Flint residents, most of them Black and Brown working class people.