Undergraduate Research

Colette Goggin ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Colette Goggin ’23

Colette Goggin
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Colette Goggin (any pronouns) is majoring in comparative American studies and politics. They conduct research under the mentorship of Professor of Comparative American Studies Gina Pérez. Their project is titled “Contours of Success and Failure: An Exploration of the Resistance to the Proposed Amazon HQ2.”

Please describe your project:

Long Island City is a neighborhood in Queens whose history of development embodies many of the contemporary gentrification trends that can be seen in cities across the US. The Amazon HQ2 deal began when Amazon announced that they were searching for a second location for their headquarters in September 2017. 238 cities responded to Amazon’s search by pitching their city to the company as the ideal site of Amazon HQ2 (Committee 1). Cities entered into competition with one another, to offer Amazon the best package. The process began with an inherent power imbalance as cities and states scrambled for the corporation's second headquarters. The collective scramble of city governments for the bid epitomizes the Logan and Moloch’s model of the city as a growth machine. On November 13th of 2018, Amazon selected Long Island City, New York and Arlington, Virginia for the locations of its second headquarters, dividing jobs equally between the two sites. After two New York City Council meetings with the EDC and Amazon, and many protests put on by local activists, the deal fell through on February 14th of 2019. While politicians played a role in Amazon backing out of the deal, the work of local activists also led to the deal collapsing. My thesis explores the events that led to Amazon’s withdrawal and uses gentrification as a window to explore the larger forces at play in the deal.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

This thesis explores the three primary actors in the Amazon HQ2 deal; the EDC who facilitated the deal with Amazon, the New York City Council who unanimously opposed the HQ2 deal, and the grassroots resistance to the HQ2 deal. I examine how each group upholds or resists not just gentrification, but neoliberalism. Through taking a critical look at the anti-gentrification movement in Long Island City in opposition to HQ2 affords the ability to ask the question: are the various parties involved with the deal contending with or upholding the larger force of neoliberalism? This exploration enables me to make the argument that while the cancellation of HQ2 is often touted as a win for anti-gentrification movements, the City Council meetings reveal that the underlying mechanisms that continue to drive neoliberal pro-growth policies that encourage gentrification remain largely unchallenged by both the EDC and the City Council. I further assert that it is the grassroots organizers who are able to largely challenge neoliberalism and gentrification.

Why is your research important?

As Leslie Kern notes in her book, Gentrification is Inevitable and Other Lies, instances of resistance to gentrification- especially successful resistance- are hard to come by in academic scholarship; not due to their scarcity but because they remain largely understudied and undertheorized. In this lack, my study contributes an understanding of the movements against global capital to the field of urban geography, specifically grasping what makes actions against policies that support hyper-gentrification effective at challenging neoliberalism. 

What does the process of doing your research look like?

A typical day of research for me looks like going to either my carrel at Mudd or Slow Train. My process of doing research consisted of doing a discourse analysis of many online sources discussing Amazon HQ2. I analyzed the meeting minutes of the two New York City Council hearings on Amazon and the social media activity of the grassroots activists protesting the Amazon Headquarters.

Colette Goggin working on their laptopWhat knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

This thesis does the work of challenging conventional theories of urban growth and neoliberalism. It additionally adds nuance to the contours of how progressive politics uphold neoliberalism.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

I will showcase my work in the Comparative American Studies honors presentations. 

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college? 

I got involved in research after hearing about the interesting projects that the CAST honors students were doing last year! The prospect of taking on a long-term project and having so much faculty support seemed like a great way to spend my final year in Oberlin.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite part of doing research has been putting my work in conversation with many of the theorists whose work I have read and admired throughout college. It has been rewarding to apply the knowledge that I have gained at Oberlin to the very interesting case study of the proposed Amazon HQ2 in NYC.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

Writing and research is always collaborative, I could not have done this work without the support of my mentor Professor Pérez as well as my two other thesis readers and fellow CAST honors students. Being able to discuss, be challenged, and expand my ideas has made the process of research meaningful and rewarding. My work would not be where it is if not for all of the amazing feedback and engagement that I received.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Spending this year researching the nuances of gentrification and resistance to gentrification in New York City has motivated me to pursue a career in housing justice. I would love to further my knowledge of housing policy to ultimately support implementing a more equitable housing system that ends evictions, homelessness, and displacement of communities.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field? 

I would say that even if research sounds daunting, go for it! Research is a super exciting way to get the most out of your time at Oberlin. Research has challenged me and helped me grow as a writer and student.