Martin Wagner in America: Planning and the political economy of capitalist urbanization

Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, “Martin Wagner in America: Planning and the political economy of capitalist urbanization,” Planning Perspectives 32, 2017, 481–502, doi: 10.1080/02665433.2017.1299636

What happens when design meets political economy? This article explores this problem through an analysis of the theoretical work of planner Martin Wagner. Better known as a champion of Modernist social housing and urban design, and collaborator of trade unions and center-left administrations in Weimar Republic Berlin, Wagner also produced substantial theoretical contributions, especially during his exile as a professor at Harvard in the 1940s and 1950s. Blending urban theory, planning speculation and economic geography, these interventions were meant to provide a more robust intellectual background for postwar recovery and metropolitan restructuring in Europe and the US. Contrary to contemporary urban visions such as those of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright or Ludwig Hilberseimer, Wagner explored the potential reach and limitations of design in a capitalist society embracing the imperative of thinking with capital, i.e. incorporating the logics of markets, property, financial capital and uneven spatial development in his intellectual toolkit. At Harvard he came to see capital flows as the true architect of the city and explored the possibility of contouring its shape through a form of planning that would focus on harnessing such flows. Thus rent gaps, corporate property, purchasing power, or architectural and infrastructural obsolescence and depreciation were reframed as design tools that, if governed correctly, could yield important benefits for municipalities and the working class.

But Wagner’s is also a cautionary tale about design’s political tasks in the imagination of alternative urban futures. In the US his speculations developed beyond this Fordist-Keynesian ethos. Writing at a time when urban decay, the loss of population and economic activity, and competition for investment were already a reality in many city cores and regions, he not only advanced some of the most radical urban renewal and new town schemes of his time, but also envisioned aspects of the urban order that would ravage social space from the 1970s on. Eventually his political-economic realism produced a surreal combination of cynicism about the possibilities of socialist design and a sort of hallucinated intellectual escapism that announced some of the darkest elements of neoliberal urbanization. Throughout this period Wagner influenced the work of his collaborators including not only eminent colleagues such as Walter Gropius but, more importantly, students who would soon become the architects of a new urban America in key projects such as Baltimore’s Charles Center and Inner Harbor renewal, the plans for New York’s Lower Manhattan and downtown Dallas, Maryland’s Plan for the Valleys and many more.  

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NOTES ON RURALITY OR THE THEORETICAL USEFULNESS OF THE NOT-URBAN

Swarnabh Ghosh, “Notes on Rurality or The Theoretical Usefulness of the Not-Urban,” The Avery Review 27, November 2017.

The recent discourse of planetary urbanization tends to discard the categorical difference between the constitutive urban and the non-urban. While this diagnosis of ‘the ubiquitous urban’ subsuming (and making obsolete) ‘the countryside’ is a useful tool for analyzing the processes of urbanization in the context of post-Fordist accumulation, this essay proposes a momentary retreat. This is not to mount a rearguard action against this proposition but to better understand its points of origin and to complicate its formulation of the theoretical category of ‘the urban’. This essay does so through a discussion of Henri Lefebvre’s notion of ‘rurality’ and its historical relationship to ‘the urban’ and ‘urban life’. In addition to a discussion of Lefebvre’s ‘urban-rural’ dialectic, this essay seeks – through a brief discussion of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, an ongoing project of neoliberal urbanization – to illustrate emergent forms of managerial governmentality that are inscribing new sets of relationships between territory and capital through the construction of purportedly “smart” cities in predominantly agrarian landscapes. This analysis has two purposes: (i) to delaminate or unfocus the concept of ubiquitous ‘planetary’ urbanization and arrive at a ‘thick’ multivalent understanding of the not-urban and its ongoing transformation under various modes of capitalist development, and (ii) to initiate the study of a contemporary project of territorial management that seeks to concentrate vast amounts of global capital along an infrastructural spine imposed on heretofore “undeveloped” agrarian landscapes.

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Farming tracts in the village of Dholera, the site for the upcoming Dholera Special Investment Region.

MINING LANDSCAPES IN THE GAUTENG CITY-REGION

Kerry Bobbins and Guy Trangoš, Mining Landscapes in the Gauteng City-Region (Johannesburg: Gauteng City-Region Observatory, 2018).

Johannesburg is the product of gold. Its history charts the large scale extraction of the world’s largest gold reserves, where extreme wealth and extreme exploitation have been fused together in the substructures of society. While mining close to the city has ceased, the mining landscape remains as a toxic homage to the city’s origins. With multiple contributions from urban researchers and photographers, this extensive research report investigates the continued social, economic, and environmental effects of Johannesburg’s landscape of extraction. It questions the role of both private and governmental actors in mediating the numerous externalities these landscapes cause and proposes that the mining landscape is reconsidered as a major opportunity for reimagining the spatial form of the region.

Image caption: Mine residue areas near Johannesburg. Guy Trangoš; GDARD Mine Residue Areas, 2012; 20m contour.

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DEEPENING DIVISION: INTERPRETING SCALES OF SPATIAL CONTESTATION IN JOHANNESBURG

Guy Trangoš, “Deepening division: Interpreting scales of spatial contestation in Johannesburg,” Perspecta 50 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017): 103-118.

Johannesburg has seen significant and successful instances of social change and racial integration, when examined through a post-apartheid lens. Despite this, many divisions remain and are enforced at multiple and interoperable scales. This paper traces three ways in which social division is being entrenched in post-apartheid Johannesburg, as neoliberal ‘progress’ replaces politically entrenched division. It is published as a chapter of the 50th edition of the Yale School of Architecture’s annual journal, Perspecta, which examines forms and mechanisms of urban division around the world.

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NEW GEOGRAPHIES 09: 'POSTHUMAN'

Mariano Gomez-Luque & Ghazal Jafari, editors, New Geographies 09: 'Posthuman' (Harvard Graduate School of Design; Actar Publishers, 2017)

'Posthuman' signals a historical condition in which the coordinates of human existence on the planet are altered by profound technological, ecological, biopolitical, and spatial transformations. Engendering new ways of being in the world, this condition challenges long-established definitions of the ‘human’, and by extension, of the human environment. Interpreting design as a geographical agent deeply involved in the territorial engravings of contemporary urbanization, New Geographies 09 investigates the urban landscapes shaping the posthuman geographies of the early 21st century, fostering a wide-ranging debate about both the potentialities and challenges for design to engage with the complex spatialities, more-than-human ecologies, and diverse forms and habits of life of an increasingly post-anthropocentric world.

NG09 includes contributions by Rosalind Williams, Erik Swyngedouw, Luciana Parisi, Benjamin Bratton, Shannon Mattern, Barbara Adam, Krystelle Denis, The GIDEST Collective, Antoine Picon & Carlo Ratti, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Eyal Weizman, Stephen Graham, Martín Arboleda, Mimi Sheller & Esther Figueroa, Jose Ahedo, Rosetta Elkin, Eli Nelson, Charles Waldheim, John D. Davis, Namik Mackic & Pedro Aparicio Llorente, Cary Wolfe, McKenzie Wark and Jason W. Moore

LINK: GSD WEBSITE

LINK: ACTAR PUBLICATIONS

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ORGANIZACIÓN TERRITORIAL Y DISOLUCIÓN DEL CAMPESINADO EN EL SUPERCICLO DE MATERIAS PRIMAS DE AMÉRICA LATINA

Martín Arboleda, “La naturaleza como modo de existencia del capital: organización territorial y disolución del campesinado en el superciclo de materias primas de América Latina,” Anthropologica 38: 145-176.  

This article addresses the processes of technological modernization that have taken place in Latin America’s mining industry, especially in the context of a new geography of late industrialization whose gravitational center has shifted towards East Asian economies.Through the Marxist critique of ecology, the paper explains the ways in which both human and nonhuman natures have been emptied of their concrete specificity in order to be transformed into the alienated powers of capital. The intensification in land use that has followed the robotization and computerization of large-scale mining has not only reconfigured the biogeophysical environment into a constitutive moment of the forces of production, but also entailed the systematic transformation of peasantries into dispossessed multitudes that act as mere appendages of technical systems of extraction, or as surplus populations. The reorganization of the mining industry into global supply chains requires rethinking extraction beyond primary commodity production, and interrogating its organic unity with the modern mode of production generally considered.

Este artículo discute los procesos de modernización minera que se han dado en Latinoamérica, particularmente en el contexto de una nueva geografía de industrialización tardía cuyo centro gravitacional ha girado hacia las economías del Este asiático. A través de una lectura marxista de la ecología, se pretende explicar la manera en que tanto el territorio como el ser humano se han visto despojados de su especificidad concreta para pasar a ser parte de los poderes enajenados del capital. La intensificación en el uso del suelo que se da tras la robotización y computarización de la actividad minera no solamente ha convertido el entorno biogeofísico en un momento constitutivo de las fuerzas de producción: también ha implicado la transformación sistemática de campesinados en muchedumbres que se desempeñan como meros apéndices de los sistemas técnicos de la extracción, o como poblaciones sobrantes. La reorganización de la industria minera en cadenas globales de suministro requiere extender el concepto de extracción más allá de la especificidad misma de la producción primaria, e interrogar su unidad orgánica con el modo de producción moderno en general.

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DEBATING PLANETARY URBANIZATION: FOR AN ENGAGED PLURALISM

Neil Brenner, “Debating planetary urbanization: for an engaged pluralism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, April 2018, in press.

This essay reflects on recent debates around planetary urbanization, many of which have been articulated through strikingly dismissive caricatures of the core epistemological orientations, conceptual proposals, methodological tactics and substantive arguments that underpin this emergent approach to the urban question.  Following brief consideration of some of the most prevalent misrepresentations of this work, I build upon Trevor Barnes and Eric Sheppard’s (2010) concept of “engaged pluralism” to suggest more productive possibilities for dialogue among critical urban researchers whose agendas are too often viewed as incommensurable or antagonistic rather than as interconnected and, potentially, allied.  The essay concludes by outlining nine research questions whose more sustained exploration could more productively connect studies of planetary urbanization to several fruitful lines of inquiry associated with postcolonial, feminist and queer-theoretical strands of urban studies.  While questions of positionality necessarily lie at the heart of any critical approach to urban theory and research, so too does the search for intellectual and political common ground that might help orient, animate and advance the shared, if constitutively heterodox, project(s) of critical urban studies.

Image Credit: László Moholy-Nagy, Composition A.XX (1924), Centre Pompidou / Musée National d'Art Moderne (Paris)

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NEIL BRENNER: TEORÍA URBANA CRÍTICA Y POLÍTICAS DE ESCALA

Álvaro Sevilla Buitrago, ed., Neil Brenner: Teoría urbana crítica y políticas de escala, Espacios criticos, 9 (Barcelona: Icaria, 2017).

This book, edited by our friend and comrade Álvaro Sevilla Buitrago, assembles various writings by Neil Brenner on critical urban theory for a Spanish-language readership.  Key topics include the nature of critical urban theory, state rescaling/urban governance, neoliberalization, uneven spatial development and planetary urbanization.  Several texts also discuss ongoing research connected to the Urban Theory Lab.  Deepest thanks to Álvaro for his generous, expert and dedicated labor on this project, and to our colleagues at Espacios Criticos / Icaria for including our work in this distinguished book series.  The Spanish-language book summary follows below.

Profesor de teoría urbana en Harvard, Neil Brenner —politólogo, geógrafo crítico, figura abierta a una red de indagación transdisciplinar— es, a pesar de su juventud, uno de los pensadores de referencia en el campo de los estudios urbanos críticos. Su trabajo cubre un amplio abanico de problemáticas: de la posición de la ciudad global en los procesos de mundialización a su rol en la reestructuración neoliberal del Estado y el territorio, de la transformación postfordista de la gobernanza urbana al análisis de su articulación con las políticas de escala, de la reflexión sobre el cometido de la teoría urbana en un escenario de desmantelamiento del Estado de bienestar a la exploración de las nuevas geografías de la urbanización planetaria y la intervención militante en los debates sobre la dimensión política del diseño. Conjugando rigor conceptual e imaginación creativa, Brenner ha forjado nuevos paradigmas interpretativos que abren horizontes poderosos para replantear el hecho urbano contemporáneo desde dimensiones económico-políticas, sociales y ambientales. Este volumen desarrolla un análisis crítico de su periplo biográfico e intelectual y ofrece al lector textos clave para entender su trabajo, incorporando traducciones, artículos inéditos y entrevistas.

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STATO, SPAZIO, URBANIZZAZIONE

Neil Brenner, Stato, Spazio, Urbanizzazione,  ed. and trans. Teresa Pullano (Milan: Guerini Scientifica, 2016).

This book, edited and translated by our friend and colleague Teresa Pullano, assembles various writings by Neil Brenner on critical urban theory for an Italian-language readership.  Key topics include the nature of critical urban theory, the rescaling of urban governance and planetary urbanization.  Deepest thanks to Teresa Pullano for her generous and expert work on this project, and to our colleagues at Guerini publishers for introducing their new book series on the “Il futuro della città” (directed by Alessandro Balducci) with this volume.  The Italian-language book summary follows below.

La riconfigurazione dello spazio è al centro dei processi urbani, politici ed economici contemporanei, in Europa così come su scala globale. Le città, le regioni, i processi di integrazione europea e della globalizzazione si fondano su dinamiche, movimenti e linee di frattura che delineano una profonda ricomposizione dello stato nazionale come struttura fondante della vita politica e sociale moderna. Il lavoro di Neil Brenner è tra i più innovativi ed importanti contributi alla comprensione delle dinamiche di ricomposizione dello spazio nell’epoca globale. I saggi qui raccolti propongono una nuova grammatica teorica per decifrare la grande trasformazione contemporanea e metterne in evidenza la portata. Brenner in queste pagine si sofferma in particolare sul processo di regionalizzazione e riqualificazione scalare in corso nell’Europa occidentale dagli anni Settanta ad oggi e sulla necessità di ripensare il concetto di urbano al di là della reificazione che lo identifica con gli agglomerati che definiamo comunemente "città".

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GRAMSCI AND FOUCAULT IN CENTRAL PARK: ENVIRONMENTAL HEGEMONIES, PEDAGOGICAL SPACES AND INTEGRAL STATE FORMATIONS

Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, “Gramsci and Foucault in Central Park: Environmental Hegemonies, Pedagogical Spaces and Integral State Formations,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 35, no. 1 (2017): 165–83, doi: 10.1177/0263775816658293.

Gramsci’s and Foucault’s readings of power provide critical illuminations for understanding the linkage of state formations to urbanization and the spatial production of subjectivity. This article uses Central Park to illustrate how a combination of their insights helps to elucidate the emergence of pedagogical spaces and environmental hegemonies. It first proposes a conceptual framework drawing on diverse parallels and tensions in Gramsci’s Quaderni del carcere and Foucault’s investigations in the 1970s, reassessed here from the vantage point of the implicit debate with Marxism in La société punitive. Urbanization and the built environment are theorized as material apparatuses of a form of capillary power that reconfigures the relations between state, civil society and individual subjects, striving to forge common senses of space that buttress political hegemony. This analytical toolkit is then applied in a political reappraisal of Central Park, exploring the role of design in the pedagogy of subaltern spatialities and the normalization of a consensual regime of publicity. The discussion pays special attention to the park’s assemblage of liberal and disciplinary spatial techniques, its connection to broader agencies beyond core state apparatuses, and their effect on the advent of an integral state formation.

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Market Monstrosity in Industrial Fishing

Martín Arboleda and Daniel Banoub, “Market Monstrosity in Industrial Fishing: Capital as Subject and the Urbanization of Nature,” Social & Cultural Geography, published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2016.1266025.

Through a materialist reading of the aesthetic, this paper explores Leviathan, a project of visual anthropology produced by Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, in order to reflect on the urbanization of nature as it is advanced by the more-than-human scripture of power objectified in the technologized, capital-intensive spaces of transnational fishing. With its idiosyncratic and technically elaborate mode of representation, Leviathan realizes a visual testament to the forms of disfigurement, exploitation and brutalization of human and nonhuman natures that have ensued from the real subsumption of planetary space to capital. Building upon a strand of critical theory that has advanced Marx’s original, yet partially developed insights on “capital as alienated subject”, we contend that one of Leviathan’s most salient artistic accomplishments has been to provide a vivid portrayal of how circuits of abstraction come to life as they take possession of human bodies and instruments of production. As a monster-tale of global capitalism, Leviathan showcases the purposeful, impersonal, and quasi-organic features of the ‘automatic subject’ that has come to rule over the materiality of social life.

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LINK: LEVIATHAN TRAILER

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​CRITIQUE OF URBANIZATION

Neil Brenner, Critique of Urbanization: Selected Essays, Bauwelt Fundamente (Berlin/Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 2016​)

​​Urbanization is transforming the planet, within and beyond cities, at all spatial scales. In this book, Neil Brenner mobilizes the tools of critical urban theory to deconstruct some of the dominant urban discourses of our time, which naturalize, and thus depoliticize, the enclosures, exclusions, injustices and irrationalities of neoliberal urbanism. In so doing, Brenner advocates a constant reinvention of the framing categories, methods and assumptions of critical urban theory in relation to the rapidly mutating geographies of capitalist urbanization.  Only a theory that is dynamic—which is constantly being transformed in relation to the restlessly evolving social worlds and territorial landscapes it aspires to grasp—can be a genuinely critical theory.

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THE HINTERLAND, URBANIZED?

Neil Brenner, “The Hinterland, Urbanized?,” AD / Architectural Design, July/August, 2016, 118-127.

What defines the urban? And can the non-urban necessarily always be classified as rural? In this article, Neil Brenner reflects on the lack of an overarching theory to describe these realms, and argues that what we call the countryside or the hinterland has become key to the process of capitalist urbanisation.

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From the city lens toward urbanisation as a way of seeing

Hillary Angelo, “From the City Lens Toward Urbanisation as a Way of Seeing: Country/City Binaries on an Urbanising Planet,” Urban Studies, published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1177/0042098016629312

Our friend and colleague Hillary Angelo of UC Santa Cruz has just published a highly productive reflection on urbanization and "ways of seeing" in Urban Studies.  Hillary was part of the small doctoral discussion group in New York City from which the Urban Theory Lab's project emerged, and she continues to blast forward with her theoretical explorations, which remain closely allied to our agendas.  We are delighted to post this text here.  The article Abstract follows below.

In recent years, three superficially distinct urban subfields have made parallel efforts to incorporate the city’s traditional ‘outsides’ into urban research. Urban political ecology, American urban sociology and postcolonial urban studies have made, respectively, ‘nature’, the ‘rural’ and the ‘not-yet’ city the objects of self-consciously urban analyses. I argue that these interventions are analogous efforts to hybridise city/nature, city/country or society/nature binaries, and that they have a common cause. Each is a response to a persistent ‘city lens’ that remains pervasive in urban practice, and whose assumptions are an increasingly poor fit for contemporary urban environments. This lens, ground in the context of the 19th century metropolis, interprets the world through a series of binary associations hung on the basic assumption that the city can be defined against a nonurban outside. I develop John Berger’s (2008 [1972]) idea of ‘ways of seeing’ as a heuristic for understanding this situation and, using the case of nature, show how the city lens encourages practitioners and some scholars to romanticise, anachronise or generalise when confronting signs of the not-city in the urban. I conclude by evaluating the limitations of hybridity as a solution to the problems of the city lens, and by outlining an alternative approach. I advocate for turning this way of seeing into a research object, and argue for the importance of an historical and process-oriented examination of the ongoing use of these categories even as critical urban scholars attempt to move beyond them.

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Logistical Ecologies of the North American Operational Landscape

Conor O’Shea, Luke Hegeman, and Chris Bennett, “Logistical Ecologies of the North American Operational Landscape,” MAS Context: Hidden, 28, 2015, 8-35.

This essay, photo essay, and accompanying video document variations in North American logistics landscapes. Arguing that much is overlooked if logistics landscapes are categorized by their form alone, the essay introduces the term “logistical ecologies” to describe regionally-specific logistics landscapes. The essay examines distinct combinations of land uses, infrastructure, development, and biodiversity in two case studies: Rochelle, IL and Alliance, Texas.

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THE COMMODITY SUPER-CYCLE IN LATIN AMERICA

Martín Arboleda, “Spaces of Extraction, Metropolitan Explosions: Planetary Urbanization and the Commodity Boom in Latin America,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12290

Through an exploration of the political economy of the most recent commodity boom in Latin America, and on the basis of recent appropriations of Henri Lefebvre’s notion of planetary urbanization, this paper proposes viewing spaces of resource extraction resulting from an escalating international demand for raw materials, as particular morphological expressions of market-driven processes of urbanization. Furthermore, and drawing from Lefebvre, the paper argues that such burgeoning spaces of urbanization are the result of a contradictory tension between spatial homogenization –in the form of multiscalar governance frameworks and infrastructural programs-, and territorial fragmentation –in the form of fixed capital allocations and state-led spatial segregation-. When considered jointly, those contradictory movements allow grasping in full extent the problematic explosion of spaces that according to Lefebvre, characterizes capitalist urbanization. The paper concludes by reflecting on the emancipatory promise that underlies the planetary extension of the urban form, because with the projection of material infrastructures required for resource extraction –especially information technologies- across the rural realm, local communities have been able to shed their isolated state and emerge as fully-fledged political actors.

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THE EXPLOSION OF THE URBAN

Neil Brenner, La Explosión de la Urbano (Santiago de Chile:  ARQ editiones, 2016) 

This book, produced by our colleagues in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urban Studies at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, contains English and Spanish versions of several key articles by Neil Brenner on critical urban theory and planetary urbanization.  Framed by brief introductory essays by UTL researchers, Martín Arboleda and Daniel Ibañez, the volume also contains a dossier of cartographic work produced in the UTL in conjunction with our research on the "extreme territories" of planetary urbanization.  The volume concludes with a dialogue between Neil Brenner and Daniel Ibañez on the agency of design under contemporary conditions.

LINK: ARQ WEBSITE
LINK: BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT

Humanitarian Hybrids: New Technologies and Humanitarian Resilience

Marianne Potvin, “Humanitarian Hybrids: New Technologies and Humanitarian Resilience,” in David Sanderson, Jerold Kayden and Julia Leis eds., Urban Disaster Resilience: New Dimensions from International Practice in the Built Environment (New York: Routledge, 2016),  182-196.

The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in humanitarian assistance is as a mechanism of potential resilience and distortion in the exercise of humanitarian action. Science, technology and societies studies (STS) provide a useful lens to understand the growing enthusiasm for technological innovation in a context where humanitarian legitimacy is contested. Digital practices deemed more objective, such as an increased reliance on big data, digital imagery, and new modes of visualization stabilize the humanitarian field by strengthening its claims of neutrality and impartiality, thus creating some form of a resilient humanitarianism. But new instruments such as ‘open’ crisis mapping and digital volunteerism also deeply destabilize the humanitarian ethos by enlarging and complicating the humanitarian polity. Can increased scrutiny into ‘humanitarian hybrids’ – those practices and instruments that combine humanitarian values with techniques borrowed from other fields – help assess claims that ICT will indeed save more lives, better protect human dignity and thus improve humanitarian resilience?

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In the nature of the non-city

Martin Arboleda, “In the Nature of the Non-City: Expanded Infrastructural Networks and the Political Ecology of Planetary Urbanisation,” Antipode, 48, 2, 2016, 233-251.

Our colleague Martin Arboleda, who is currently Urban Studies Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the UTL, has recently published a brilliant new article in Antipode that engages productively and creatively with some of the Urban Theory Lab’s work in the context of his investigation of resource extraction urbanization in Latin America.  We are grateful to Martin Arboleda for permission to share this article here, which will, we hope, animate and orient future work on the uneven, variegated and contested geographies of planetary urbanization.  The article’s abstract follows:

This paper proposes extending Urban Political Ecology’s (UPE) ideas about the urbanisation of nature in order to include the geographical imprints of expanding, global metabolic flows of matter, energy and capital. It does so through the analysis of Huasco, a small agricultural village in northern Chile that has been overburdened with massive energy undertakings aimed at powering the operations of mines that supply raw materials to international markets. Like the sewage and technological networks that feed the life of cities, the paper argues that Huasco -as a metabolic vehicle of planetary urbanisation- has also been hidden from view, and thus the fetishisation of urban infrastructural networks initially theorised by UPE, has been ratcheted-up to the global level by the mediating powers of neoliberalising capitalism. Just as the socio-material arrangements that facilitate the smooth functioning of the modern city and household are riddled with glitches and exclusions, the paper suggests that globally up-scaled infrastructures reveal even larger contradictions that put into jeopardy the very premises upon which the ongoing commodification of nature is grounded.

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What World? Reframing the World as One City

Roi Salgueiro, "What World? Reframing the World as One City: A review of the exhibition “City of 7 Billion. A Constructed World"" UrbanNext 

The recent exhibition and symposium "City of 7 billion. A constructed world", organized by Yale faculty members Bimal Mendis and Joyce Hsiang, explored how the totality of the world could be conceived and represented as one single city. Placing this image of the world amidst a lineage of architectural approaches to the planetary scale and examining its position vis-à-vis ongoing debates about the analytical overcoming of the discrete city, the ideologies of geo-spatial information, and the (dis)encounters between World and Earth systems; Roi Salgueiro examines in this review how the construction of such an image can help to bridge between contemporary urban theory and the practices of architecture and urbanism. In this sense, the review works in tandem with the debate forum that the author, together with UTL member Daniel Ibañez, has started at urbanNext to discuss how diverse meta-geographic theoretical positions could may inform disciplinary reorganizations.

This essay was originally published at urbanNext.net, Actar Publishers' online platform devoted to discussions of contemporary urbanization.  We are most grateful to our colleagues at urbanNext/Actar for generously permitting us to post this text here.  Original post date:  December, 2, 2015. DOI: https://urbannext.net/what-world/  

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UNEVEN GEOGRAPHIES OF FINANCE

Martín Arboleda, “Financialization, Totality and Planetary Urbanization in the Chilean Andes,” Geoforum 67, 2015, 4-13.

In a context of planetary urbanization, where vast swathes of the countryside are being enclosed on an ongoing basis in order to support a sprawling urban system, the relationship between finance and land-use change needs to be brought to the forefront. By engaging with Henri Lefebvre’s ideas of levels and totality, this paper draws analytical connections between the financialization of the transnational mining industry and the production of the financialized urban everyday in geographies of extraction. The paper does this by looking at the case of Pascua Lama, a multibillion open-cast mine to be developed in Chile by a major mining company in the context of the current global gold rush. Through this case, I show how a set of strategies pursued by financiers and corporate managers thousands of kilometers away from the extraction site, resulted in fractured spaces of urbanization shaped by socioecological plunder, dispossession and geographically uneven financial landscapes.

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Towards a new epistemology of the urban?

Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid, “Towards a new epistemology of the urban?” CITY, 19, 2-3, 2015, 151-182.

New forms of urbanization are unfolding around the world that challenge inherited conceptions of the urban as a fixed, bounded and universally generalizable settlement type. Meanwhile, debates on the urban question continue to proliferate and intensify within the social sciences, the planning and design disciplines, and in everyday political struggles. Against this background, this paper revisits the question of the epistemology of the urban: through what categories, methods and cartographies should urban life be understood? After surveying some of the major contemporary mainstream and critical responses to this question, we argue for a radical rethinking of inherited epistemological assumptions regarding the urban and urbanization. Building upon reflexive approaches to critical social theory and our own ongoing research on planetary urbanization, we present a new epistemology of the urban in a series of seven theses. This epistemological framework is intended to clarify the intellectual and political stakes of contemporary debates on the urban question and to offer an analytical basis for deciphering the rapidly changing geographies of urbanization and urban struggle under early 21st-century capitalism. Our arguments are intended to ignite and advance further debate on the epistemological foundations for critical urban theory and practice today.

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Grga Basic, Urban Theory Lab-GSD

OUTRAGED SPATIALITIES: THE PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC SPACE IN THE #SPANISHREVOLUTION

Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, “Outraged spatialities: the production of public space in the #spanishrevolution,” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 18, 2015, 90-103.

This article was part of the Special Section that ACME dedicated to explore the ‘Geographies of 15-M: crisis, austerity and social movements in Spain’, including contributions by some of the protagonists of the new wave of political change in that country. The piece analyzes how the spatialities of the 15-M movement exceeded the limits of conventional politics, providing new criteria for understanding sociospatial and urban phenomena. The article discusses how public space, its representations and the spatialities associated with them have served as a support for, have determined and, ultimately, have been reshaped and transformed by the Spanish “indignados”, particularly in Madrid. Drawing on a series of theoretical approaches to the articulation of recent revolts, the deployment of a prefigurative politics and the occupation of public space, the author provides an experience-based account of the spatial constitution and effects of these connections in and around Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. 

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New Geographies 7: 'Geographies of Information'

Ali Fard & Taraneh Meshkani editors, New Geographies 7: 'Geographies of Information' (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Digital information and data flows permeate every aspect of our society. Within this context, design extensively avails itself of the technological bounty of advanced digital tools. Yet beyond these tools, the fluidity of digital information and the seemingly immaterial nature of communication dominate most discussions. Most readings of ICTs (information and communications technologies) have been unable to fully articulate their spatial implications and have instead focused on the general binary conditions of their materiality (physical or virtual), manifestation (hardware or software systems), scales of operation (global or local), or relational characteristics (social or technological).

Understanding the contemporary networks of information and communication as inherently geographic, Geographies of Information attempts to realign design’s relationship to ICTs by expounding on their multiscalar complexities and contextual intricacies. This volume presents a new set of frameworks that refrain from generalizations to highlight the many facets of the socio-technical constructions, processes, and practices that form the spaces of information and communication. From the impact of digital social media on political action and the rise of predictive technologies in speculative real estate to new ways of mapping temporal conditions of a site and the evolving role of information in how designers see, understand, and act on space, ICTs exert critical influence. This issue of New Geographies examines the forms, imprints, places, and territories of ICTs through spatially grounded and nuanced accounts of the hybrid conditions that ICTs generate, the scales at which they operate, and how this production of space is manifested in both advanced and emerging economies.

NG07 includes contributions from Jean-François Blanchette, Caitlin Blanchfield, Benjamin Bratton, Peter Del Tredici, Erle Ellis, Mark Graham, Stephen Graham, Adam Greenfield, Shuli Hallak, Rob Kitchin, Evangelos Kotsioris, Jennifer Light, Merlyna Lim, Eleonora Marinou, Malcolm McCullough, Yannis Orfanos, Dimitris Papanikolaou, Antoine Picon, Michalis Pirokka, Spiro Pollalis, Vicky Sagia, Mark Shepard, Molly Steenson, Kazys Varnelis, Mason White, and Matthew Wilson.

This volume emerged from ongoing collaborations with our friends and colleagues in the New Geographies Lab at the Harvard GSD.

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Is “Tactical Urbanism” an Alternative to Neoliberal Urbanism?

Neil Brenner, “Is ‘tactical urbanism’ an alternative to neoliberal urbanism?,” POST: notes on modern and contemporary art around the globe (MoMA), April 2015.

What can “tactical urbanism” offer cities under extreme stress from rapid population growth, intensifying industrial restructuring, inadequate social and physical infrastructures, rising levels of class polarization, insufficiently resourced public institutions, proliferating environmental disasters, and growing popular alienation, dispossession, and social unrest? In this essay, Neil Brenner explores this question through a detailed review of the recent MoMA exhibition Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities.  The essay was published on the MoMA's website, POST.

Image credit: Installation view of Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities. 2014–May 10, 2015. © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Thomas Griesel.

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URBANIZING URBAN POLITICAL ECOLOGY

Hillary Angelo and David Wachsmuth, "Urbanizing Political Ecology: A Critique of Methodological Cityism," International Journal of Urban And Regional Research, 39, 1, 2015, 16-27. 

Our close colleagues, Hillary Angelo and David Wachsmuth, have recently published an article in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research that builds upon and extends several agendas of the Urban Theory Lab in relation to the closely allied field of urban political ecology.  Angelo and Wachsmuth were among the original doctoral members of the Urban Theory Lab during its early years at New York University; they remain members of our International Advisory Board. We are grateful for their permission to post the article here.  Their abstract follows:

Urban political ecology (UPE), an offshoot of political ecology that emerged in the late 1990s, has had two major impacts on critical urban studies: it has introduced critical political ecology to urban settings, and it has provided a framework for retheorizing the city as a product of metabolic processes of socionatural transformation. However, there was another goal in early UPE programmatic statements that has largely fallen by the wayside: to mobilize a Lefebvrian theoretical framework to trouble traditional distinctions between urban/rural and society/nature by exploring urbanization as a global process. Instead of following this potentially fruitful path, UPE has become bogged down in ‘methodological cityism’ — an overwhelming analytical and empirical focus on the traditional city to the exclusion of other aspects of contemporary urbanization processes. Thus UPE’s Lefebvrian promise, of a research program that could work across traditional disciplinary divisions and provide insights into a new era of planetary urbanization, has remained unfulfilled. In this article we trace UPE’s history to show how it arrived at its present predicament, and offer some thoughts on a research agenda for a political ecology not of the city but of urbanization.

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Capitalist Formations of Enclosure

Alvaro Sevilla, "Capitalist Formations of Enclosure: Space and the Extinction of the Commons", Antipode, forthcoming 2015, DOI: 10.1111/anti.12143.

Our close colleague and collaborator, Professor Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago of the Technical University of Madrid, who contributed a key chapter to Implosions/Explosions, has recently published a new article in Antipode that takes those arguments a step further.  Here, he offers further theoretical reflections on the variegated spatialities of "enclosure" under modern capitalism.  We look forward to further dialogues with Prof. Sevilla-Buitrago regarding the intimate connections between enclosure and urbanization. We are grateful for his permission to post the article here.

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Painting by Anton Räderscheidt, Der Begegnung II (1921)

New Geographies 6: 'Grounding Metabolism'

Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis editors,  New Geographies 6: 'Grounding Metabolism' (Harvard University Press, 2014).

Over the past decade, there have been widespread efforts to reposition design and its agency in relation to a changing, more fluid and expanding context. However, the redefinition of the context itself has proven to be a serious challenge—not only due to the increasing complexity of urban environments, but because their socio-environmental intensities and interdependencies are now expanding across the earth, and thus need to be understood through a new geographical lens. Under these conditions of generalized urbanization, the question of urban metabolism can no longer be understood as a focal point for a unified field of inquiry; it instead currently articulates a set of emergent approaches that have gained influence through their promise to interweave a multiplicity of contexts, sites and scales in relation to the continuous processes of energy, material and population exchange within and between cities and their extensive hinterlands. As a metaphor derived from the physical sciences, the notion of urban metabolism offers a framework for understanding the production of space as well as its circulatory and functional dynamics.

Bringing together contributions within and outside the design disciplines, New Geographies 6: ‘Grounding Metabolism’ aims to trace alternative routes to design through a more elaborate understanding of the relation between concepts of urban metabolism and the formal and material engraving of metabolic processes across scales. The volume addresses the challenges associated with the planetary dimension of contemporary metabolic processes; it offers a critical examination of the long lineage of historical discussions and schemes on urban metabolism from the design disciplines; and it places them in parallel with a set of contemporary projects and interventions that open up new approaches for design.

This volume emerged from ongoing collaborations with our friends and colleagues in the New Geographies Lab at the Harvard GSD.

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CENTRAL PARK AGAINST THE STREETS: THE ENCLOSURE OF PUBLIC SPACE CULTURES IN MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY NEW YORK

Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, “Central Park against the streets: the enclosure of public space cultures in mid-nineteenth century New York,” Social & Cultural Geography 15, 2, 2014, 151-171.

This article uses Central Park as a counter-intuitive example to contend that enclosure is not necessarily related to ‘privatization’, but can be also found in the development of local state welfare policies that pursue the dispossession of urban social and cultural commons. The industrialization of New York and its rise to economic dominance in the first half of the 19th century produced a major restructuring of street life. The commoning of public space became a key sociospatial resource that helped the working classes resolve their reproduction in a way the elite found disturbing and far removed from the civic order they were trying to instil. The piece presents the practices prescribed by Central Park in its attempt to reform everyday spatialities as a form of state enclosure of public conducts. Following a preliminary discussion of the economic and social determinants and configuration of the material cultures of public space use in Manhattan, the article studies the park’s strategies as a special type of enclosure, consisting not of the usurping of common land for private profit but of the mobilization of public space to shift behaviors from one regime of publicity to another.

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The 'Urban Age' in Question

Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid, “The ‘urban age’ in question” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38, 3, 2014, 731-755.

Foreboding declarations about contemporary urban trends pervade early 21st century academic, political and journalistic discourse. Among the most widely recited is the claim that we now live in an “urban age” because, for the first time in human history, more than half the world’s population today purportedly lives within cities. Across otherwise diverse discursive, ideological and locational contexts, the urban age thesis has become a form of doxic common sense around which questions regarding the contemporary global urban condition are framed. This article argues that, despite its long history and its increasingly widespread influence, the urban age thesis is a flawed basis on which to conceptualize world urbanization patterns: it is empirically untenable (a statistical artifact) and theoretically incoherent (a chaotic conception). This critique is framed against the background of postwar attempts to measure the world’s urban population, whose main methodological and theoretical conundrums remain fundamentally unresolved in early 21st century urban age discourse. The article concludes by outlining a series of methodological perspectives for an alternative understanding of the contemporary global urban condition.

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On the Geographical Organization of World Urbanization

Nikos Katsikis, “On the Geographical Organization of World Urbanization”,  MONU, 20, April 2014, 4-11.

This article is a preliminary attempt to examine the interplay between urbanization and geography in the context of contemporary debates on world urbanization. The first part traces the shifting expressions of the persistent dichotomy between geography and the social dynamics of urbanization, from environmental determinism to contemporary debates on the anthropocene.  In these more recent discussions, geography is no longer considered a shaping agent; rather, it is thought to be itself shaped by the expanding activities of humanity. Building upon such perspectives, including those being developed in the Urban Theory Lab-GSD, the second part of the paper points towards alternative conceptualizations of the “urbanization fabric” that supersede the boundaries of agglomerations, as they have traditionally been understood. A series of cartographic representations, based on contemporary global datasets, sketch the various layers of this fabric. It is the increasingly hybrid and sclerotic nature of the urbanization fabric – both physical and sociotechnical – that today defines the geographical organization of world urbanization.

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Implosions/Explosions

Neil Brenner, editor,  Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013).

In 1970, Henri Lefebvre put forward the radical hypothesis of the complete urbanization of society, a circumstance that in his view required a radical shift from the analysis of urban form to the investigation of urbanization processes.  Drawing together classic and contemporary texts on the “urbanization question”, this book explores various theoretical, epistemological, methodological and political implications of Lefebvre’s hypothesis. It assembles a series of analytical and cartographic interventions that supersede inherited spatial ontologies (urban/rural, town/country, city/non-city, society/nature) in order to investigate the uneven implosions and explosions of capitalist urbanization across places, regions, territories, continents and oceans up to the planetary scale.

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REVIEW: AREA 
REVIEW: SOCIETY AND SPACE
REVIEW: URBAN GEOGRAPHY
REVIEW: URBAN STUDIES
REVIEW: URBANITÉS

Urban theory without an outside

Neil Brenner, “Urban theory without an outside,” in Neil Brenner (ed.), Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization.  Berlin: Jovis, 2013, 14-35.

Urban theory has long been premised on the assumption that cities are distinctive, discrete and bounded types of settlement space that can be contrasted to putatively "non-urban" zones that lie outside or beyond them (suburbs, the countryside, the rural, the natural and so forth).  In this introductory chapter to Implosions/Explosions, such entrenched assumptions are called into question.  A new epistemology of urbanization is proposed in which there is no longer any "outside" to an emergent worldwide urban fabric.  Building upon the work of theorists such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Henri Lefebvre, several conceptual tools, methods and clarifications are elaborated through which this variegated fabric of extended urbanization may be investigated across time and space.  The genesis, structure and design of the book are briefly summarized, along with the broader research agendas that are currently under development in the Urban Theory Lab.  

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Is the mediterranean urban?

Neil Brenner and Nikos Katsikis, “Is the Mediterranean urban?,” in Neil Brenner (ed.), Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization.  Berlin: Jovis, 2013, 428-459.

Is the contemporary Mediterranean zone an urban space? This chapter from the volume Implosions/Explosions reflects on this question through an exploration of recent cartographic evidence compiled from state-of-the-art geospatial datasets created by leading research labs at Columbia University's Earth Institute, the Oak Ridge National Lab, and the European Commission, among others. We begin by considering various representations of concentrated urbanization, with specific reference to traditional indicators such as population (size and density) and the geographical extent of major urban regions. Such representations reveal a thick web of urban development stretching around the Mediterranean zone, albeit mainly in apparently bounded settlement configurations. In a second, more speculative step, we consider several possible representations of extended urbanization, the broad fabric of land uses, infrastructures and sociospatial connectivities that at once facilitate and result from the configuration of dense agglomeration zones. Such maps significantly broaden our understanding of the contemporary urban condition by demonstrating the ways in which the formation of the Mediterranean urban system hinges upon the reorganization of land uses and interspatial connections across the entire continent and beyond. In the early twenty-first century, understanding the “urban” character of the Mediterranean—or any other zone of the earth’s surface—requires not only fine-grained empirical data and cartographic sophistication, but systematic theoretical reflexivity regarding the categories being used to classify sociospatial organization.

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Visualizing an urbanized planet—materials

Urban Theory Lab-GSD (Neil Brenner, Nikos Katsikis, Danika Cooper, Ghazal Jafari), “Visualizing an urbanized planet—materials,” in Neil Brenner (ed.), Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization.  Berlin: Jovis, 2013, 460-475.

Any attempt to understand and influence urbanization hinges upon representations of the core spatial units that underpin this process and the spatial parameters in which its effects are thought to be circumscribed.  This chapter from the volume Implosions/Explosions reflects upon the ways in which such assumptions have been inscribed and naturalized in major visualizations of the world as a space of urbanization since the early-twentieth century.  Specifically, we consider the ways in which a variety of indicators—population; economic activity; transportation networks; communications infrastructures; and patterns of worldwide land occupation and environmental transformation—have been used in fourteen exemplary maps of cities and the space of the world from the last century.  These materials also illustrate how, even as new, potentially more sophisticated geospatial data sources become available, many of the same basic analytical and representational taxonomies have remained operative in relation to the classic indicators that have long been used to demarcate urbanization processes.  More generally, the chapter argues for an approach to cartographic visualization that is critically attuned to the visual techniques, metageographical assumptions and spatial ideologies that pervade both historical and contemporary representations of the global urban condition.

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Two approaches to ‘world management’: C. A. Doxiadis and R. B. Fuller

Nikos Katsikis, “Two approaches to ‘world management’: C. A. Doxiadis and R. B. Fuller,” in Neil Brenner (ed.), Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization.  Berlin: Jovis, 2013, 480-504.

Against the background of contemporary debates on planetary urbanization, this chapter critically revisits two important postwar approaches to conceptualizing, envisioning and managing the world as a whole—those of Constantinos Doxiadis and R. Buckminster Fuller.  Notably, both Fuller and Doxiadis recognized the fundamentally global dimensions of urbanization and the associated challenges of population growth, land management, resource allocation, unequal development and environmental degradation.  Albeit in distinctive ways, each of these authors proposed to confront this issue comprehensively, through radical design agendas, based upon scientific rationality, systematic knowledge and the aspiration for total administrative control.  After critically surveying Doxiadis’ and Fuller’s approaches to world urbanization and their associated strategies for managing the latter, the chapter reflects upon the technoscientific epistemological foundations of both approaches, which neglected to consider the fundamentally political character of spatial relations under modern capitalism.  Such technoscientific approaches are experiencing a renaissance today, albeit in new and often less visionary guises. Critical perspectives on the regulation of worldwide capitalist urbanization thus remain as urgently relevant as ever.

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Open city or the right to the city?

Neil Brenner, “Open city or the right to the city?,” TOPOS: The International Review of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, 85, 2013, 42-45.

Henri Lefebvre once postulated “the right to the city”, which was a radical demand for a democratization of control over the collective means of producing urban space. But designed open spaces like the High Line Park in New York obey the rules of neoliberalizing capitalism and result in gentrification, displacement and exclusion. Designers should reflect critically on their possible roles in contributing to a democratic redesign of the city.

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Theses on Urbanization

Neil Brenner, “Theses on Urbanization,” Public Culture, 25, 1, 2013, 86-114.

The urban has become a keyword of early twenty-first-century economic, political, and cultural discourse. But as its resonance has intensified in social science and in the public sphere, the conceptual and cartographic specificity of the urban has been severely blunted. Is there any future for a distinct field of urban theory in a world in which urbanization has been generalized onto a planetary scale? This article reflects on this state of affairs and outlines a series of theses intended to reinvigorate the theoretical framework of urban studies in relation to emergent forms of urbanization. Several conceptual distinctions — between categories of practice and categories of analysis, nominal essences and constitutive essences, and concentrated and extended urbanization—are proposed to inform possible future mappings of the planetary urban condition.

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TERRITORY AND THE GOVERNMENTALISATION OF SOCIAL REPRODUCTION: PARLIAMENTARY ENCLOSURE AND SPATIAL RATIONALITIES IN THE TRANSITION FROM FEUDALISM TO CAPITALISM

Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, “Territory and the governmentalisation of social reproduction: parliamentary enclosure and spatial rationalities in the transition from feudalism to capitalism,” Journal of Historical Geography 38, 3, 2012, 209–219.

This article studies the classic period of parliamentary enclosure in England to show how territory and territoriality acquired a strategic role in the regulation of processes of social reproduction, containing but also going beyond traditional understandings of land and property as ends in themselves. Articulating a Marxist and a Foucauldian perspective, the piece compares the autonomous, self-managed spatialities of the commons to the new regime of dependent, disciplined social reproduction triggered by enclosure. Dispossession —of material resources, social institutions and community representations— thus appears as a foundational moment of capitalist territorialization, an element intrinsic to large-scale reorganizations of the rural world for the creation of broader markets and geographies of extraction, according to the dictate of budding industrial cities.

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City becoming world: Nancy, Lefebvre, and the global-urban imagination

David J Madden, "City becoming world: Nancy, Lefebvre, and the global-urban imagination" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, volume 30, 2012, 772 –– 787.

It is part of the self-conception of the contemporary era that the world is becoming increasingly global and urban. This paper explores the global–urban imagination in works by Jean-Luc Nancy and Henri Lefebvre. Both Nancy and Lefebvre understand globalization as a fundamentally violent and unequal process that unfolds through the uneven expansion of a particular sort of urban space. They both strive to articulate a critical stance towards this process by opposing globalization to the idea of mondialisation or world forming. While their respective approaches di! er in important ways, they both provide indispensible critical tools for conceptualizing the urban planet and its political possibilities. Their positions are brie" y contrasted to the conservative imagery of the urban planet as techno utopia that was produced at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China.

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Planetary Urbanization

Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid, “Planetary urbanization,” in Matthew Gandy ed., Urban Constellations. Berlin: Jovis, 2012, 10-13.

This brief essay outlines the core rationale which motivates us to develop a theory of planetary urbanization. We emphasize, in particular, the limitations of inherited metageographical binarisms in relation to early twenty-first century transformations of sociospatial organization across places, territories and scales.

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Assemblage Urbanism and the Challenges of Critical Urban Theory

Neil Brenner, David J. Madden and David Wachsmuth, “Assemblage urbanism and the challenges of critical urban theory,” CITY, 15, 2, 2011, 225-240.

Against the background of contemporary worldwide transformations of urbanizing spaces, this paper evaluates recent efforts to mobilize the concept of “assemblage” as the foundation for contemporary critical urban theory, with particular attention to a recent paper by McFarlane (2011). We argue that there is no single “assemblage urbanism,” and therefore no coherence to arguing for or against the concept in general. Instead, we distinguish between three articulations between urban political economy and assemblage thought. While empirical and methodological applications of assemblage analysis have generated productive insights in various strands of urban studies by building on political economy, we suggest that the ontological application favored by many assemblage urbanists contains significant drawbacks. In explicitly rejecting concepts of structure in favor of a naïve objectivism, it deprives itself of a key explanatory tool for understanding the sociospatial “context of contexts” in which urban spaces and locally embedded social forces are positioned. Relatedly, such approaches do not adequately grasp the ways in which contemporary urbanization continues to be shaped and contested through the contradictory, hierarchical social relations and institutional forms of capitalism. Finally, the normative foundations of such approaches are based upon a decontextualized standpoint rather than an immanent, reflexive critique of actually existing social relations and institutional arrangements. These considerations suggest that assemblage-based approaches can most effectively contribute to critical urban theory when they are linked to theories, concepts, methods and research agendas derived from a reinvigorated geopolitical economy.

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What is critical urban theory?

Neil Brenner, "What is critical urban theory?" in CITY,  13, 2–3,  2009, 198-207.

What is critical urban theory? While this phrase is often used in a descriptive sense, to characterize the tradition of post-1968 leftist or radical urban studies, I argue that it also has determinate social–theoretical content. To this end, building on the work of several Frankfurt School social philosophers, this paper interprets critical theory with reference to four, mutually interconnected elements—its theoretical character; its reflexivity; its critique of instrumental reason; and its emphasis on the disjuncture between the actual and the possible. On this basis, a brief concluding section considers the status of urban questions within critical social theory. In the early 21st century, I argue, each of the four key elements within critical social theory requires sustained engagement with contemporary patterns of capitalist urbanization. Under conditions of increasingly generalized, worldwide urbanization, the project of critical social theory and that of critical urban theory have been intertwined as never before.

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