The city of Austin, Texas conjures two parallel images in America’s popular imagination: Glowing descriptions of a cool, fast-growing city for the young and creative, known for internationally famous music events and Formula 1 racing, compete with portrayals of increasing socio-economic inequality and residential class, racial, and ethnic segregation. Like many U.S. cities and metropolitan areas, wealth and poverty are booming alongside one another in contemporary Austin—a thriving, highly unequal technopolis—magnifying the effects of social insecurity and reconfiguring the cityscape. Austin now enjoys the worrisome privilege of having the highest level of economic segregation of any large metro city in America. New exclusive areas of prosperity emerge, while deprivation forces others to the urban margins where environmental risks and poor quality housing, schools, and public services prevail.
Collins and twelve colleagues co-authored a book that sought to uncover and document the lives of those who live on the city’s margins yet whose undervalued, underpaid labor allows the city to survive and thrive. Invisible in Austin relies on roughly 18 months of life history interviews and ethnographic observation to portray the predicament of those working at the bottom of Austin’s social structure: house cleaners, office machine repairers, cab drivers, restaurant cooks and dish washers, exotic dancers, musicians, and roofers, among them.
Drawing on life-history interviews and field observations with a woman Collins calls Raven, her chapter grapples with the perceived moral and economic divides that structure Raven’s service sector labor as a waitress, line cook, exotic dancer, and escort.
Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City was published in 2015 with the University of Texas Press. The book is available on Amazon and at UT Press.
Book Launch at BookPeople, September 4, 2015