Catherine Fennell

Catherine Fennell

Research Interests

Research Concentrations

Urbanism, Late Industrial Life, Collective Obligation, Materiality


North America; United States


Catherine Fennell is an urban anthropologist with a joint appointment in the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Her work examines how the social and material legacies of twentieth century urbanism shape the politics of social difference, collective obligation, and utopian imagination in the contemporary United States. She has special interests in the fate and futures of subsidized housing, the transformation of urban built environments, and experiences of the urban sensorium. Her writing combines classic and contemporary anthropological thought with fine-grained ethnographic and archival research to animate a problem that resonates beyond the late industrial cities where she has conducted research: How should we understand the ethical potentials of urban life in places characterized by intense forms of social abandonment, economic disinvestment, environmental degradation, and racial and economic segregation? Her first book, Last Project Standing, won the 2016 Book Prize from the Association of Political and Legal Anthropology.


University of Chicago, PhD, 2009
Georgetown University, BS, 1999

2018. “Beyond the Trace.” Postcolonial Studies 21, no. 4: 520–524.

2018b. “What Was Public Housing?” Public Books (website).

2016. “The Family Toxic: Triaging Obligation in Post-Welfare Chicago.” South Atlantic Quarterly 115, no. 1: 9–32. 

2016b. “Limn: Are We All Flint?” Limn (website).

2015. Last Project Standing: Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 

2014. “Experiments in Vulnerability: Sociability and Care in Chicago’s Redeveloping Public Housing: Experiments in Vulnerability.” City & Society 26, no. 2 (2014): 262–284.

2012. “THE MUSEUM OF RESILIENCE: Raising a Sympathetic Public in Postwelfare Chicago.” Cultural Anthropology 27, no. 4 (2012): 641–666. 

2011. “‘Project Heat’ and Sensory Politics in Redeveloping Chicago Public Housing.” Ethnography 12, no. 1 (2011): 40–64. 

Courses Taught


Selected Publications