Unfinished Business

Michael Jackson, Detroit, and the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization


How does structural economic change look and feel? How are such changes normalized? Who represents hope? Who are the cautionary tales? Unfinished Business argues that U.S. deindustrialization cannot be understood apart from issues of race, and specifically apart from images of, and works by and about African Americans that represent or resist normative or aberrant relationships to work and capital in transitional times. It insists that Michael Jackson's performances and coverage of his life, plays featuring Detroit, plans for the city's postindustrial revitalization, and Detroit installations The Heidelberg Project and Mobile Homestead have something valuable to teach us about three decades of structural economic transition in the U.S., particularly about the changing nature of work and capitalism between the mid 1980s and 2016. Jackson and Detroit offer examples of the racialization of deindustrialization, how it operates as a structure of feeling and as representations as well as a shift in the dominant mode of production, and how industrialization's successor mode, financialization, uses imagery both very similar to and very different from its predecessor.

  • Offers a new cultural theory of deindustrialization
  • Argues that Michael Jackson exemplified postwar social mobility
  • Posits "kunst-washing" as key to understanding Detroit's redevelopment


“A profoundly necessary and absorbing book.”

Text and Performance Quarterly

“Indeed, Unfinished Business is an urgent read for scholars already steeped in literature concerning performance and political economy, as well as for those who might be newly alerted to the work that remains to be done.”

— Patrick McKelvey, The Journal of American Drama and Theatre

Unfinished Business is a compelling, rigorously interdisciplinary work of scholarship: Hamera deftly fuses economic theory, cultural criticism, and performance analysis to offer a trenchant expose’ of the workings of deindustrialization. Rooted in the specifics of Detroit but deeply revealing of the broader structures of racialized global capital, this book makes a compelling case for the centrality of performance cultures-and performance scholars-in making sense of the precarious times in which we live.”

— Brandi Wilkins Catanese, author of The Problem of the Color[blind]: Racial Transgression and the Politics of Black Performance

“This captivating study shows how structural economic changes must be seen not only through economic theory but also through their lived entanglements with racialized labor; labor as art and vice versa; the crisis and the potential behind bodies that aspire to be property; the extravagance and the exhaustion that choreograph both our economic practices and aesthetic consumptions. This ambitious project can only be realized in the hands of one of the most interdisciplinary and inventive scholars of our time.”

— Anne Anlin Cheng, author of Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface

“Through analysis of endlessly circulating figures of Michael Jackson and Detroit, Hamera offers a startling, de-familiarizing new view of how the current economic moment looks and feels. Boldly combining American studies and economics with studies of movement, dance, theatre, art, and performance, this book is as intellectually exhilarating as it is politically scathing.”

— Robin Bernstein, author of Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights

“This book is an insightful analysis of deindustrialization with a Detroit perspective ... Recommended. Graduate students through faculty.”



  • 2020 Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize, Dance Studies Association
  • 2018 Outstanding Book Award, Association for Theatre in Higher Education
  • 2017-18 Sally Banes Publication Prize, American Society for Theatre Research