Professor Susan Phillips’ Book The City Beneath Wins Urban Communication Book Award

The City Beneath

Claremont, Calif. (December 14, 2021)—Susan A. Phillips, Pitzer College professor of environmental analysis and associate dean of faculty, has received the 2021 Jane Jacobs Urban Communication Book Award for her book The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti, presented by the Urban Communication Foundation.   

As the name suggests, the award recognizes an outstanding book that exhibits excellence in addressing issues of urban communication. Phillips presents a sweeping history of Los Angeles through the lens of its many marginalized groups—from hoboes to taggers—that have used the city’s walls as a channel for communication.

In announcing the award, the selection committee praised the theoretical and methodological contributions of The City Beneath, which offer clear engagement with multiple dimensions of urban communication studies.

“By considering the built environment as a medium of communication, the book presents a novel approach to reading urban infrastructures and city spaces as texts or archives,” noted selection committee chair R. Curry Chandler. “The members of the selection committee were uniformly impressed by the scope of historical analysis presented in the project and the depths of overlapping narratives that the research revealed.”

The committee commended the book’s organizational structure for highlighting the struggles of marginalized and disenfranchised groups over time. It praised the overall clarity and accessibility of Phillips’ writing, along with the book’s broad appeal to scholars as well as the general public.

The 320-page book, published by Yale University Press in November 2019, has also received rave reviews from historians and experts on Los Angeles culture.

Josh Kun, author of The Autograph Book of L.A., described the book as “deeply researched and consistently breathtaking.”

Professor Susan Phillips
Professor Susan Phillips

“Crack open the canon and make room at the top for The City Beneath,” Kun said. “(T)his book will change the way you see and understand Los Angeles.”

“An astonishing book and a revelation, from first to last,” writes William Deverell of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. “I learned from every single page and from the sheer exuberance of Phillips’s long journey into these places, spaces, histories, and inscriptions.”

Susan Phillips has been at Pitzer College since 2002. In addition to being a professor and a dean, Phillips is the faculty director of Pitzer’s Community Engagement Center and the director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. Her work at the Redford Conservancy emphasizes participatory research and pedagogy, community-led strategies for equitable sustainability, nature-based solutions for climate resilience, theories of violence and inequality, anarchic social forms, and intersections between urban history, material life, and the built environment.

Phillips has studied gangs, graffiti, and the U.S. prison system since 1990. In addition to The City Beneath, she is the author of Wallbangin’: Graffiti and Gangs in L.A. (1999) and Operation Fly Trap: Gangs, Drugs, and Law (2012).  The recipient of the Harry Frank Guggenheim research grant for the study of violence and numerous other grants, Phillips earned her PhD in anthropology from UCLA.

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