The Trouble With Flag Wars: Rethinking Sexuality in Critical Urban Theory


Critical urban theory (CUT) provides intellectual support for a politics of the right to the city. However, CUT has rarely engaged with the rich scholarship on sexuality and the urban, much of which directly addresses questions of social justice. CUT has most often treated sexuality as an attribute, rather than a diffuse discourse of subject-producing power intimately connected with race, class and gender. This article highlights two strands in contemporary queer studies––queer subjectless critique and queer temporality––that can enrich understandings of the key concepts of alienation, deprivation and resistance in the city. I illustrate the salience of queer thinking for CUT through a close reading of Flag Wars (2003), a documentary film recognized for its engagement with gentrification and the politics of difference in the United States. While the film ostensibly explores the problem of gay gentrification in a working-class black neighborhood, a queer subjectless approach asks how discourses on sexuality produce residents at risk of displacement as deviant, immoral and queer––regardless of sexual orientation. I argue that recognizing the wide range of ways in which narratives about sexuality can deprive and alienate urban subjects could generate additional alternative bases for solidarity in the struggle for a just city.