Performing Nation Spaces: Public Housing and Hip-Hop in 1970s Bronx

By Kevin Kosanovich.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Bronx River Houses in the 1970s served as a space of competing cultural, material, and discursive practices of nationhood and citizenship. As the United States increasingly represented a suburban nation of private homeowners, urban public housing and its residents represented a space populated by those deemed unfit for the cultural and material signifiers of citizenship. Furthermore, residence in urban public housing justified the erasure from national space. Although a minor star in New York’s constellation of public housing projects, the Bronx River Houses represented these emerging spatial definitions of citizenship. By the 1970s, the institutional practices of public housing, urban renewal, and formal and informal segregated housing practices converged, rendering the Bronx a space of stagnation and decay. At this moment, African American and Latino youth throughout the Bronx developed cultural practices that became known as hip-hop, re-imagining the links between urban space and the nation. At the cutting edge of spatial discursive practices of citizenship, Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation in the Bronx River Houses Community Center codifying everyday cultural practices into formal conventions of a nascent, alternate nation. Importantly, the creation of the Zulu Nation within the Bronx River Houses Community Center demonstrated the increasing practice of privatized renderings of space to determine national inclusion. The emergence of the Zulu Nation within the Bronx River Houses demonstrated the importance of the Bronx as site in late 20th century constructions of American citizenship.

Keywords: Bronx River Houses, Afrika Bambaataa, Hip-Hop, Public Housing, Bronx and South Bronx, African American Cultural History, Suburban/Urban History

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.17-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 919.795KB).

Kevin Kosanovich

PhD Candidate, American Studies, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, USA

Kevin Kosanovich’s interests include urban history, African American cultural history, cultural studies, and American Cultural history. Currently, Kosanovich is researching and writing his dissertation, investigating the shared cultural and material history of hip-hop and the Bronx. Kosanovich’s dissertation looks to not only answer the basic questions as to why hip-hop emerged from the Bronx, but also to look at how this cultural production informs present-day American culture.