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Sara Safransky

Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development

Research: Professor Safransky is trained as a geographer and urban planner. Broadly, her research interests lay at the intersection of urban and environmental studies, decolonial theory, critical race studies, feminist geography, social movements, and participatory research. Her research and teaching are motivated by a concern for social and ecological justice. Her current research and writing deal with several themes including urban displacement and land justice, the politics of collective memory work, and forms of algorithmic violence associated with data-driven planning. She is working on a book project about the racial and environmental politics involved in redeveloping Detroit, where 150,000 lots lie “vacant” after decades of industrial decline, white flight, and poverty. Here she shows how histories of racial state building and struggles for Black self-determination shape everyday tensions between residents and community activists who claim the city as an urban commons and actors who pursue governance policies and plans to shrink and “green” Detroit.

Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Her writing has appeared in Antipode, the Annals of Association of American Geographers, Geoforum, among other journals.

Teaching: Professor Safransky teaches an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on Environmental Politics and Justice, as well as the HOD core course Community Development Theory that focuses on race and inequality in the US city. At the graduate level, Prof. Safransky has taught Critical Methodologies, Race, Space and Environmental Justice, and Community Development Theory. 

Service: Professor Safransky is the Director of the Community Leadership and Development track of the HOD major and a member of the HOD Colloquium Committee. She serves as a reviewer for a number of geography journals.   

Community Engagement: Professor Safransky is the co-editor of a forthcoming book entitled A People’s Atlas of Detroit (Wayne State University Press), which offers counter-narratives of Detroit’s past, present, and future from below. The Atlas is an outcome of a community-based participatory research project called Uniting Detroiters. It is a collection of oral histories, interviews, critical essays, poems, and maps that document the voices and experiences of some of the many Detroiters sidelined in discussions of the city’s future. Drawing on the geographical tradition of counter-cartography, the Atlas uses mapping to highlight grassroots perspectives on development in Detroit and other cities around the world facing similar dynamics of spatial injustice.

Representative Publications

Safransky, S. (2016). Rethinking Land Struggle in the Postindustrial City. Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, doi: 10.1111/anti.12225.

Safransky, S. (2014). Greening the Urban Frontier: Race, Property, and Resettling in Detroit. Geoforum 56: 237-248.