2015/ 2016

Saima Akhtar

Irmgard Coninx Prize 2015/2016

Corporate Empire: Fordism and the Making of Immigrant Detroit

Saima Akhtar is an architect and designer whose research focuses on the relationship between corporate enterprise, labor migrations, and the built environment. She holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a master’s degree in the history, theory, and criticism of architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received a PhD in urban studies from the University of California, Berkeley and has published in the International Journal of Islamic Architecture and the Journal of Urban History.

Corporate Empire: Fordism and the Making of Immigrant Detroit

As a Fellow, Saima will work on completing her book manuscript, which examines how the social engineering projects of the Ford Motor Company’s capitalist enterprise shaped the social and material worlds of labor migrants in the first half of the twentieth century. Her project focuses on the company’s appeal to emerging markets in the so-called “Orient” through a type of cultural imperialism, which used film, advertisements, and photography to advocate for technological modernity, civility, and Americanism. These messages were distributed to cities in the greater Middle East with the aim of creating opportunities for American commerce abroad while also having the effect of drawing immigrant workers to assembly lines in Detroit. The analysis for this project is located between the (moving) image and the built environment, which became key sites of power and struggle between corporate forces and immigrant groups. In its entirety, the book examines how visual propaganda and the built environment figured into the growth of a major American enterprise and Fordist constructions of identity, citizenship, and nationalism.