Emerging in British agricultural discourse in the seventeenth century, the term blight moved from agriculture to culture, and so from countryside to city, in the context of the industrializing American city of the early twentieth century. This city housed increasingly large populations of reserve labor and provided increasingly large spaces to accommodate that population. Defined as “blight,” the spaces occupied by reserve labor were expelled from the very system that produced them: those spaces become obstacles to property development, as opposed to products of a disavowed form of de-development. As race has been the principal medium of difference that has legitimized and stabilized the hierarchical social order of industrial capitalism, the management of “blight” also inscribed race in urban space. A long but continuous line therefore connects the political definition of “black”—in terms of an absence of the full rights of persons, from the era of enslavement, through the era of segregation, to the present—with the political definition of “blight” in terms of an absence of full rights to property from the era of urban renewal into present-day austerity urbanism.

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