The (Im)mobilities of Mutual Aid
Occupy Sandy, Racial Liberalism, and the Making of Insurgent Infrastructures
This article provides an analysis of Occupy Sandy – a New York-based activist organization that was formed in response to superstorm Sandy in October 2012 – in order to demonstrate what we might learn from its emergency (im)mobilities. Specifically, it suggests that the praxis of Occupy Sandy draws attention to the notion that American racial liberalism is best understood not through the binary language of personal mobility and immobility – or motility – but rather through an infrastructural grammar. That is, American racial liberalism is best understood as a mode of governance that enables and obscures radically unequal relations to infrastructures of production and consumption – and circuitries of resources and investment – under racial capitalism. Finally, this article argues that Occupy Sandy, and its myriad forms of movement and emplacement, can help us find a way toward an insurgent infrastructure beyond racial liberalism, one predicated on and productive of a radical re-conceptualization of the city and urban citizenship itself.
Adey, Peter. 2015. Evacuation: a crucial type of mobility. [video online] Available at:
Adey, Peter. 2016. Emergency mobilities. Mobilities 11(1), 32-48.
Alderman, Derek and Joshua Inwood. 2016. Mobility as antiracism work: the “hard driving” of NASCAR’s Wendell Scott. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3), 597-611.
Amin, Ash. 2004. Regions unbound: towards a new politics of place. Geografiska Annaler 86(1), 33-44.
Amin, Ash. 2014. Lively infrastructure. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(7-8), 137-161.
Amin, Ash and Nigel Thrift. 2017. Seeing Like a City. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Anand, Nikhil. 2011. Pressure: the politechnics of water supply in Mumbai. Cultural Anthropology 26(4), 542-564.
Anand, Nikhil. 2015. Accretion. [online] Available at:
Anonymous and Liboiron, Max. 2013. Interview with Rockaways hub volunteer & canvasing coordinator. [online] Available at:
Appel, Hannah, Nikhil Anand and Akhil Gupta. 2015. Introduction: the infrastructure toolbox. [online] Available at:
Aslam, Ali. 2017. Ordinary Democracy: Sovereignty and Citizenship Beyond the Neoliberal Impasse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bauer, A.J. and Michael Ralph. 2012. The question of infrastructure: an interview with Michael Ralph. [online] Available at:
Benjamin, Walter. 1940. Theses on the philosophy of history. [online] Available at:
Berlant, Lauren. 2016. The commons: infrastructures for troubling times. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34(3), 393-419.
Blake, Eric, Todd Kimberlain, Robert Berg, John Cangialosi and John Beven II. 2013. Tropical cyclone report: Hurricane Sandy. [pdf] Available at:
Braun, Bruce. 2014. A new urban dispositif? Governing life in an age of climate change. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32(1), 49-64.
Braun, Bruce and James McCarthy. 2005. Hurricane Katrina and abandoned being. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23(6), 802-809.
Brenner, Neil and Christian Schmid. 2013. The ‘urban age’ in question. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(3), 731-755.
Casarino, Cesare and Antonio Negri. 2008. In Praise of the Common. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Chari, Sharad. 2008. Critical geographies of racial and spatial control. Geography Compass 2(6), 1907-1921.
Ciannavei, Andrea and Max Liboiron. 2013. Interview with Andrea Ciannavei, InterOccupy, Occupy Sandy inbox volunteer. [online] Available at:
Cope, Meghan. 2010. Coding transcripts and diaries. In, Nicholas Clifford, Shaun French and Gill Valentine (eds.), Key Methods in Geography. London: SAGE, pp. 440-452.
Cowan, Lisa and Max Liboiron. 2013. Interview with Lisa Cowan, Board President of the Red Hook Initiative. [online] Available at:
Cowen, Deborah. 2014. The Deadly Life of Logistics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Cresswell, Tim. 2008. Understanding mobility holistically: the case of Hurricane Katrina. In, Sigurd Bergmann and Tore Sager (eds.), The Ethics of Mobility: Rethinking Place, Exclusion, Freedom and Environment. London: Routledge, pp. 129-140.
Cretney, Raven. 2014. Resilience for whom? Emerging critical geographies of socio-ecological resilience. Geography Compass 8(9), 627-640.
Dawson, Ashley. 2013. Occupy Sandy and emerging forms of social organization. [online] Available at:
Dawson, Ashley. 2017. Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change. New York: Verso.
Dawson, Michael. 2016. Hidden in plain sight: a note on legitimation crises and the racial order. Critical Historical Studies 3 (1), 143-161.
Department of Homeland Security, 2013. The resilient social network. [pdf] Available at:
Derickson, Kate. 2017. Urban geography II: urban geography in the age of Ferguson. Progress in Human Geography 41(2), 230-244.
Desai, Renu, Colin McFarlane and Stephen Graham. 2015. The politics of open defecation: informality, body, and infrastructure in Mumbai. Antipode 47(1), 98-120.
Doyle, Rice and Alia Dastagir. One year after Sandy, 9 devastating facts. [online] Available at:
Duffield, Mark. 2010. Risk-management and the fortified aid compound: everyday life in post-interventionary society. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 4(4), 453-474.
Feuer, Alan. 2012. Occupy Sandy: a movement moves to relief. [online] Available at:
Foucault, Michel. 1997. What is revolution? In, Sylvere Lotringer, (ed.), The Politics of Truth. Cambridge: MIT, pp. 83-100.
Fox, Joshua. 2012. Occupy Sandy. [video online] Available at:
Freudendal-Pedersen, Malene. 2015. Whose commons are mobilities spaces? – the case of Copenhagen’s cyclists. ACME: An International Journal of Critical Geographies 14(2), 598.
Gandy, Matthew. 2006. Planning, anti-planning and the infrastructure crisis facing metropolitan Lagos. Urban Studies 43(2), 371-396.
Giroux, Henry. 2006. Reading Hurricane Katrina: race, class, and the biopolitics of disposability. College Literature 33(3), 171-196.
Gluck, Zoltan. 2013. Race, class, and disaster gentrification. [online] Available at:
Greenberg, Miriam and Penny Lewis. 2017. Introduction: from the factory to the city and back again. In, Miriam Greenberg and Penny Lewis (eds.), The City is the Factory: New Solidarities and Spatial Strategies in an Urban Age. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 1-25.
Greenfield, Adam. 2013. Urban omnibus: a diagram of Occupy Sandy. [online] Available at:
Hague, Euan. 2010. ‘The right to enter every other state’ – the Supreme Court and African American mobility in the United States. Mobilities 5(3), 331-347.
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2017. Assembly. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Holston, James. 2008. Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Holston, James. 2011. Contesting privilege with right: the transformation of differentiated citizenship in Brazil. Citizenship Studies 15(3-4), 335-354.
Ince, Anthony and Helen Bryant. 2018. Reading hospitality mutually. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 1-20.
Jaleel, Rana. 2013. Is this what democracy looks like? [online] Available at:
Jampel, Catherine. 2018. Intersections of disability justice, racial justice and environmental justice. Environmental Sociology 4(1), 122-135.
Kay, Kelly and Miles Kenney-Lazar. 2017. Value in capitalist natures: an emerging framework. Dialogues in Human Geography 7(3), 295-309.
Kilkenny, Allison. 2012. Occupy Sandy efforts highlight need for solidarity, not charity. [online] Available at:
Knight, Sam. 2014. Occupy Sandy and the future of socialism. [online] Available at:
Kurtz, Hilda. 2009. Acknowledging the racial state: an agenda for environmental justice research. Antipode 41(4), 684-704.
Lawhon, Mary, David Nilsson, Jonathan Silver, Henrik Ernstson and Shuaib Lwasa. 2018. Thinking through heterogeneous infrastructure configurations. Urban Studies 55(4), 720-732.
MacKinnon, Danny and Kate Derickson. 2015. From resilience to resourcefulness: a critique of resilience policy and activism. Progress in Human Geography 37(2), 253-270.
Mahler, Jonathan. 2012. How the coastline became a place to put the poor. [online] Available at:
Malave, Edward, Shelly Ronen and Michael Gould-Wartofsky. 2013. Interview with Edward Malave, New Church International, Coney Island. [online] Available at:
Manski, Rebecca. 2013. Beyond the box: the Occupy movement’s new vision for disaster relief. [online] Available at:
Marcuse, Peter. 2012. Blog #23 – Occupy Sandy: social change through prefiguring action. [online] Available at:
Massey, Doreen. 1994. Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
McFarlane, Colin and Alex Vasudevan. 2014. Informal infrastructures. In, Peter Adey, David Bissell, Kevin Hannam, Peter Merriman and Mimi Sheller (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. London: Routledge, pp. 256-264.
McFarlane, Colin, Jonathan Silver and Yaffa Truelove. 2017. Cities within cities: intra-urban comparison of infrastructure in Mumbai, Delhi and Cape Town. Urban Geography 38(9), 1393-1417.
McKittrick, Katherine. 2011. On plantations, prisons, and a black sense of place. Social & Cultural Geography 12(8), 947-963.
Melamed, Jodi. 2006. The spirit of neoliberalism: from racial liberalism to neoliberal multiculturalism. Social Text 24(4), 1-24.
Mills, Charles. 2008. Racial liberalism. PMLA 123(5), 1380-1397.
Mills, Charles. 2017. Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Milstein, Cindy. 2012. Dispatches from hurricaned NY: mutual aid is a social relationship. [online] Available at:
Moore, Jason. 2017. Value in the web of life, or, why world history matters to geography. Dialogues in Human Geography 7(3), 326-330.
Nathanson, Rebecca. 2016. After the hurricane, worker co-ops rebuild. [online] Available at:
Nicholson, Judith and Mimi Sheller. 2016. Race and the politics of mobility: introduction. Transfers 6(1), 4-11.
Nixon, Rob. 2011. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Ogman, Robert. 2013. The U.S. Occupy movement – since the eviction from the squares. [pdf] Available at:
Out of the Woods. 2014. Disaster communism part 3 - logistics, repurposing, bricolage. [online] Available at:
Parenti, Christian. 2016. Environment-making in the capitalocene: political ecology of the state. In, Jason Moore (ed.), Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism. Oakland: PM Press, pp. 166-184.
Parks, Virginia. 2016. Rosa Parks redux: racial mobility projects on the journey to work. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(2), 292-299.
Pasternak, Shiri and Tia Dafnos. 2017. How does a settler state secure the circuitry of capital? Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 0(0), 1-19.
Pickerill, Jenny and Paul Chatterton. 2006. Notes towards autonomous geographies: creation, resistance and self-management as survival tactics. Progress in Human Geography 30(6), 730-746.
Pinto, Nick. 2012a. Devastation and a sense of abandonment in the Rockaways. [online] Available at:
Pinto, Nick. 2012b. Hurricane Sandy is New York’s Katrina. [online] Available at:
Purcell, Mark. 2002. Excavating Lefebvre: the right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant. GeoJournal 58, 99-108.
Purcell, Mark. 2013. Possible worlds: Henri Lefebvre and the right to the city. Journal of Urban Affairs 36(1), 141-154.
Rajan, Sudhir. 2006. Automobility and the liberal disposition. The Sociological Review 54(1), 11.
Ranganathan, Malini. 2016. Thinking with Flint: racial liberalism and the roots of the American water tragedy. Capitalism Nature Socialism 27(3), 17-33.
Ranganathan, Malini. 2018. Rule by difference: empire, liberalism, and the legacies of urban “improvement.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 1-21.
Rodgers, Dennis and Bruce O’Neill. 2012. Infrastructural violence: introduction to the special issue. Ethnography 13(4), 401-412.
Robbins, Bruce. 2007. The smell of infrastructure: notes toward an archive. boundary 2 34(1), 25-33.
Roy, Ananya. 2017. Dis/possessive collectivism: property and personhood at city’s end. Geoforum 80, A1-A11.
Rugh, Peter. 2012. Occupy Sandy funds growth of worker-owned co-ops. [online] Available at:
Safransky, Sara. 2016. Rethinking land struggle in the postindustrial city. Antipode 49(4), 1079-1100.
Sager, Tore. 2006. Freedom as mobility: implications of the distinction between actual and potential travelling. Mobilities 1(3), 465-488.
Salazar, Noel and Alan Smart. 2011. Anthropological takes on (im)mobility. Identities: global studies in culture and power 18(6), i-ix.
Sheller, Mimi. 2012. The islanding effect: post-disaster mobility systems and humanitarian logistics in Haiti. cultural geographies 20(2), 185-204.
Scott, James. 1987. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Shepard, Benjamin. 2013. From flooded neighborhoods to sustainable urbanism: a New York diary. Socialism and Democracy 27(2), 42-64.
Silver, Jonathan. 2014. Incremental infrastructures: material improvisation and social collaboration across post-colonial Accra. Urban Geography 35(6), 788-804.
Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2004. People as infrastructure: intersecting fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16(3), 407-429.
Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2011. The surfacing of urban life. City 15(3-4), 355-364.
Solnit, Rebecca. 2009. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. New York: Viking Press.
Springer, Simon. 2013. Anarchism and geography: a brief genealogy of anarchist geographies. Geography Compass 7(1), 46-60.
Stavrides, Stavros. n.d. Brazilian urban movements ‘re-inventing’ the city as collectively produced ‘common.’ [pdf] Available at:
Strike Debt. 2012. Shouldering the costs: who pays in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy? [online] Available at:
Stuesse, Angela and Mathew Coleman. 2014. Automobility, immobility, altermobility: surviving and resisting the intensification of immigrant policing. City & Society 26(1), 51-72.
Tadiar, Neferti. 2015. Decolonization, “race,” and remaindered life under empire. Qui Parle 23(2), 135-160.
Tonkiss, Fran. 2015. Afterword: economies of infrastructure. City 19(2-3), 384-391.
Trenberth, Kevin, John Fasullo and Theodore Shepherd. 2015. Attribution of climate extreme events. Nature Climate Change 5, 725-730.
Trovalla, Eric and Ulrika Trovalla. 2015. Infrastructure as a divination tool: whispers from the grids in a Nigerian city. City 19(2-3), 332-343.
Wakefield, Stephanie and Bruce Braun. 2014. Governing the resilient city. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32(1), 4-11.
Walker, Jeremy and Melinda Cooper. 2011. Genealogies of resilience: from systems ecology to the political economy of crisis adaptation. Security Dialogue 42(2), 143-160.
Watters, Siobhan. 2013. Food ontology and distribution: ethical perception and the food object. [online] Available at:
Watters, Siobhan. 2014. Mutual aid and distribution in Occupy Sandy. [online] Available at:
Wedes, Justin and Ned Crowley. 2013. Interview with Justin Wedes, Occupy Sandy volunteer. [online] Available at:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors agree to publish their articles in ACME under the Creative Commons "Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works" Canada licence. To read and review agreement, click here.