Lucas Owen Kirkpatrick


Assistant Professor


Office: Hyer Hall 310D
Phone: 214-768-2924

Educational Background

Ph.D., University of California, Davis


My current research is focused on the political economy of urban crisis and decline. For the past several years, I’ve worked in and around Detroit, a city with a long history of economic contraction and racially exclusionary suburbanization. More recently, the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession punctuated the city’s slow historical decline, resulting in an urban hyper-crisis of unprecedented proportions.

In 2014, Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, the largest municipal filing in U.S. history. In the context of neoliberal austerity, the response to local fiscal crisis is retrenchment, which not uncommonly takes the form of urban triage and planned shrinkage – efforts to strategically reduce the city’s fiscal and physical footprint. This is a model of planning and development based on the targeted withdrawal of public infrastructure networks and service systems from the poorest areas of the city. My research demonstrates how distributing resources on the basis of the perceived viability of receiving communities (and withholding resources from neighborhoods deemed “nonviable”) will tend to create concentrated areas of gentrification and “spectacular” spaces of consumption in favored areas – such as the (7.2 square mile) Greater Downtown Area – but it also creates vast “sacrifice zones” across the (140 square mile) city, wherein residents lack the basic necessities of modern life.  

My research is also concerned with the flipside of this extreme socio-spatial and socioeconomic inequality: the fragmentation of the political sphere. In response to the crisis, the city has developed increasingly hybridized political practices, pseudo-dictatorial administrative mechanisms, and new norms of socio-spatial inclusion and exclusion. Ultimately, what has emerged is a “graduated citizenship” model, whereby the bundle of rights, protections, and entitlements that once defined urban citizenship have been peeled apart and reassembled in various combinations in discrete geographical areas. Detroit is now a kaleidoscope of spaces representative of, and constituted by, distinct types of rule. These zones represent a new, radically uneven geography of urban citizenship and sovereignty in contemporary Detroit.

Research and Teaching Interests

  • Urban sociology
  • Urban political economy
  • Local democracy/urban citizenship
  • Economic and fiscal sociology
  • Urban and regional planning
  • Community development and nonprofits

Selected Publications

Books (Edited)

  • 2015—Michael Peter Smith and L. Owen Kirkpatrick (eds.). Reinventing Detroit: The Politics of Possibility (Comparative Urban and Community Research Book Series, Volume 11). Transaction Publishers.

Journal Articles

  • 2016—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. “The New Urban Fiscal Crisis: Finance, Democracy and Municipal Debt.” Politics & Society 44(1): 45-80.
  • 2015—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. “Urban Triage, City Systems, and the Remnants of Community: Some ‘Sticky’ Complications in the Greening of Detroit.” Journal of Urban History, 41(2): 261-278.
  • 2011—L. Owen Kirkpatrick and Michael Peter Smith. “The Infrastructural Limits to Growth: Rethinking the Urban Growth Machine in Times of Fiscal Crisis.” International Journal of Urban & Regional Research, 35(3): 477-503.
  • 2007—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. "The Two 'Logics' of Community Development: Neighborhoods, Markets, and Community Development Corporations." Politics & Society, 35(2): 329-359.

Book Chapters

  • 2017—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. “Graduated Sovereignty and the Fragmented City: Mapping the Political Geography of Citizenship in Detroit.” In Cherstin Lyon and Allison Goebel (eds.), Citizenship and Place (forthcoming). Rowman & Littlefield.
  • 2017—L. Owen Kirkpatrick and Chalem Bolton. “Austerity and the Spectacle: Urban Triage and Post-Political Development in Detroit.” In M. Davidson and K. Ward (eds.), Cities Under Austerity: Restructuring the U.S. Metropolis (Ch. 2). SUNY Press.
  • 2015—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. “Ritual and Redistribution in De-democratized Detroit.” In M.P. Smith and L.O. Kirkpatrick (eds.), Reinventing Detroit: The Politics of Possibility (Ch.8). Transaction Publishers: pp. 123-144.
  • 2013—L. Owen Kirkpatrick and Casey Gallagher. “Low-Income Housing and the Suburban Geography of Moral Panic: The Rise of the Revanchist Fringe?” In C. Niedt (ed.), Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs: History, Politics, and Prospects (Ch.3). Temple University Press: pp. 31-53.
  • 2011—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. “The Local Politics of Embeddedness: Karl Polanyi and the Community Development Movement.” In JP Rothe, L. Carroll, and D. Ozegovic (eds.), Deliberations in Community Development (Ch.10). Nova Science Publishers: pp. 151-173.

Other Publications

  • 2017—L. Owen Kirkpatrick. “Donald Trump is poised to do great harm to US cities (but not for the reasons you might think),” London School of Economics’ United States Policy & Politics Blog (LSE USAPP). (Available at:

Courses Taught

  • SOC 3368: Global Urbanism
  • SOC 3369: U.S. Urbanism
  • SOC 3305: Race and Ethnicity
  • SOC 4399: Cities, Race, and The Wire: Exploring the US Urban Crisis
  • KNW 2367: The Greater Dallas Experience (with Drs. David Doyle and Elizabeth Russ)