Talkin’ ’bout the Ghetto: Popular Culture and Urban Imaginaries of Immobility


The concept of the ghetto, referring to specifically urban experiences of sociospatial marginalization, has played a prominent role in black popular culture. This article explores the role of the ghetto as a discursive space of immobility and traces its global journey as a mobile imaginary. Focusing mainly on the US and the Caribbean, it explores how this popular culture imaginary is produced and employed to frame and negotiate social and spatial marginalization in a broad range of urban settings. As ‘the ghetto’ begins to travel through the global dissemination and appropriation of black popular culture, its relation to racialized understandings of blackness shifts. This move, in which the ghetto can belong to anyone, allows the imaginary both to function as a site for the production of transgressive, cosmopolitan ‘immobile subjects’, and to be transformed by commercial forces into a global commodity.