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“In Shapeshifters Aimee Meredith Cox explores how young Black women in a Detroit homeless shelter contest stereotypes, critique their status as partial citizens, and negotiate poverty, racism, and gender violence to create and imagine lives for themselves. Based on eight years of fieldwork at the Fresh Start shelter, Cox shows how the shelter’s residents—who range in age from fifteen to twenty-two—employ strategic methods she characterizes as choreography to disrupt the social hierarchies and prescriptive narratives that work to marginalize them. Among these are dance and poetry, which residents learn in shelter workshops. These outlets for performance and self-expression, Cox shows, are key to the residents exercising their agency, while their creation of alternative family structures demands a rethinking of notions of care, protection, and love. Cox also uses these young women’s experiences to tell larger stories: of Detroit’s history, the Great Migration, deindustrialization, the politics of respectability, and the construction of Black girls and women as social problems. With Shapeshifters Cox gives a voice to young Black women who find creative and non-normative solutions to the problems that come with being young, Black, and female in America.”
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Aimee Meredith Cox, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Performance and African and African American Studies at Fordham University. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan where she also held a postdoctoral fellowship with the Center for the Education of Women. Dr. Cox’s research and teaching interests include expressive culture and performance; urban youth culture; public anthropology; Black girlhood; and Black feminist theory. She is currently completing a book entitled, Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Shapeshifters is an ethnographic exploration of the performative strategies young black women in low-income urban communities use to access various forms of self-defined economic and social mobility. Dr. Cox is the current co-editor of Transforming Anthropology, the peer-reviewed journal of the national Association of Black Anthropologists. Dr. Cox is also a choreographer and dancer. She trained on scholarship with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, toured extensively as a professional dancer with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble/Ailey II, and is the founder and creative director of The BlackLight Project, a youth-led arts activist organization currently working in partnership with the Sadie Nash Leadership Project.