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The urban process under financialised capitalism

Excerpt from Louis Moreno

Cover detail from Profiting without producing, C. Lapavistas, Verso Books, 2013.

It was a tremendous gamble: the new neighbourhoods were speculated in as one speculates in stocks and shares.(1) Émile Zola

Finance is the web of intermediation binding economic agents to one another, across both space and time. (2) Martin Wolf

Robinson believed that, if he looked at it hard enough, he could cause the surface of the city to reveal to him the molecular basis of historical events, and in this way he hoped to see into the future.(3) Patrick Keiller

1. Introduction – the liquid terrain of finance capital

Written in 1872, Zola’s novel The Kill offers a vivid account of the marauding social and cultural forms finance-capital assumes in the process of urbanisation. Underneath the Beaux-Arts grandeur of Napoleon III’s new Paris, a ‘complicitous city’ begins to crystallise (Zola 2008, 133); where speculation and fashion replace enterprise and morality, and the immense improvement of the urban fabric, belies an intense degeneration of the human condition. But beyond the drama of a culture reaching its apex and nadir in a single moment, what strikes the contemporary reader most forcefully is the anti-hero’s entrepreneurial ascent. In an early part of the story Saccard arrives from the provinces utterly resentful towards the world because of his poverty. Whilst roaming the city’s newly minted boulevards he begins to see the city’s public realm as a boundless field of economic opportunity. Saccard feels wealth ooze beneath his feet, and as he walks the streets he hatches a plan to extract its liquidity.

He walked for the sake of walking, marching along the pavements as if he were in some conquered country. He saw very clearly, the battle that lay ahead, and was happy to compare himself to a skilful picklock, who by cunning or violence, was about to seize his share of the common wealth which so far had been cruelly denied him. (Zola 2008, 41)

In the same year, Friedrich Engels also reflected on the urban redevelopment of Paris. For Engels what was historically resonant was not the manner of Paris’s re-design, but the way in which the urban process offered the bourgeoisie with a method to wash its hands of social questions. By clearing slums and demolishing squalid housing, the bourgeoisie could ‘lavish self-praise…on account of th[e] tremendous success’ (1942, 71 4) of the more luxurious and civilised landscape they had produced. In reality, however, what this method – which Engels bluntly christened ‘Haussmann’ – created was a process through which the social problem of exploitation could be displaced to the periphery, so that the process of capital accumulation could be intensified at the centre.

Photo by Charles Marville; National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Link: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2013/marville.html

Photo by Charles Marville of 19th Century Paris, from an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. 'The Butte des Moulins (literally “windmill hill”) was a small hill—part natural, part built up—that had existed in Paris since ancient times. Dotted with windmills, it was a working-class neighborhood dominated by small trades until the mid-1870s, when its population was cleared and the hill was leveled to construct the avenue de l’Opéra—which would become widely celebrated as the most glamorous street in Paris. Construction of the avenue de l’Opéra: The Butte des Moulins (from the rue Saint-Roch), December 1876 albumen print from collodion negative Musée Carnavalet, Paris Image © Charles Marville / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet. Link: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2013/marville.html

Zola provides a fascinating account of the Haussmann method as Saccard takes ‘possession of the city’, worming his way into the municipal planning offices as a clerk. In the corridors of municipal power, he studies closely the ‘second network’ of favoured boulevards (traced by Napoleon III over Haussmann’s plans) and spots the most fertile sites to make a profitable ‘killing’ from the new land-parcels expropriated by the state. Here, Saccard assembles the capital he needs to construct a property portfolio through speculative deals built on what Zola calls ‘fictitious assets’ (137); fictitious, because the financing orchestrated via a complex network of French municipal and colonial banks, are backed by capital secured by institutions with no basis in reality. Thus, the luxurious apartments built by Saccard, become what Zola calls ‘the gilded facade of missing capital’ (138).

Such descriptions of architectural forms cladding corrupt practices and ‘mortgage-loan machine(s)’ yielding ‘useless luxury and real penury’ (ibid.) finds a peculiar symmetry in 21st Century London. With fields of ‘super-prime’ real estate providing a safe haven for overseas wealth, spatial infrastructure paid by the public, but benefiting ‘high-net-worth individuals’, the new urban landscape appears in thrall to the same process of accumulation which gripped the Second Empire. Until very recently, however, the notion of the global city has been largely accepted as a structural fact of ‘advanced’ economic growth. Policies have been shaped, theories developed, and urban infrastructure laid on the promise that large agglomerations of financial and business services are essential engines of wealth creation and distribution. This agenda has given a platform for a new style of urban politics, based on a competition to attract, capture and monopolise the resources needed to dominate the ‘global technological frontier’ of financial and human capital.

Through the looking glass of the financial crisis, however, the triumphalist rhetoric of the global city is being seen in a darker light. With capital reversing into London’s property markets in flight from social upheaval, economic turbulence and climate change, the notion of ‘wealth preservation’ suggests something different to ‘wealth creation’. In the media the charge that London since 2008 has become increasingly ‘a kind of ‘City-State’ within the national economy’ (Ertürk et al. 2011, 3; 5), has been widely voiced.(6) Even the Business Secretary, admits that the capital is like some ‘giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country’ (BBC 2013). But for urban theorists what contemporary London represents is a far more extensive process of value extraction. In a stimulating and provocative work Merrifield argues that what the financial city represents is a new kind of urban apparatus of capture, consisting of nothing less that ‘Haussmannisation’ on a planetary scale.(7)

The thesis of ‘neo-Haussmannisation’, as Merrifield notes, has its roots in a line of thought which sprung from a few paragraphs Henri Lefebvre wrote in The Urban Revolution and developed, in sporadic form, in later work. Where the economist Joseph Schumpeter saw Keynesianism’s collapse as laying a path to authoritarianism, the urbanist Lefebvre argued that capitalism could survive in a new competitive form: urbanisation offered a vehicle to provide a new medium of global accumulation. ‘Such is the context,’ Lefebvre said,

“…of an unfolding ‘economic’ process which no longer answers to classical political economy and which indeed defies all the computations of the economists. ‘Real property’ (along with construction) is no longer a secondary form of circulation, no longer the the auxiliary and balanced branch of industry and financial capitalism that it once was. Instead it has a leading role, albeit it in an uneven way, for its significance is liable to vary according to country, time or circumstance. The law of unevenness of growth and development so far from being obsolete is becoming worldwide in its application – or, more precisely is presiding over the globalisation of a world market…” (1991, 335; 8).

Drawing on Marx’s notion of the circuits capital needs to negotiate to realise a surplus, Lefebvre considered what would emerge from the crises of production and consumption that destabilised the post-war model. In moments when, ‘the production-consumption cycle slackens or when there are freak recessions’ (1976, 34; 9) Lefebvre claimed there was nothing stopping the primary circuit of productive investment, becoming geared towards the dominance of a secondary circuit of money and commercial capital capturing the production of urban space. ‘Capital investment,’ Lefebvre speculated, would find ‘a place of refuge in the real estate sector, a supplementary and compensatory sector for exploitation’; realising a systemic inversion where the proportion of the global capital ‘formed and realized in industry would decline’ while ‘speculation, construction and real estate grows’ (Harvey 1974, 239; 10). Half a decade on from a global crisis triggered by the multi-regional collapse of speculative real estate markets, this forty year old hypothesis feels like a fresh take on a process known today as financialisation.


Finance has always played a fundamental role in the spatial development of world markets. Well before the industrial revolution the worlds of banking and commercial lending used urban centres to shape, influence and mould the political and economic structures of trade, production and consumption (Braudel 1984; 11). But in the mid 1990s, political economists highlighted the disproportionate influence of financial capital in global economic growth. The ‘revolutionary transformations undergone by world capitalism,’ Arrighi said, indicated a strong connection between the comparative expansion in financial accumulation relative to productive activity since the 1970s (2010, 309; 12). The ‘growing weight’ of financial activity in the US economy, Krippner elaborated, suggested a break in the way capital was being accumulated in mature industrial economies. The leading trend of capitalism in the early 21st Century was ‘a pattern of accumulation in which profits accrue primarily through financial channels rather than trade and commodity production’ (Krippner 2005, 174; 13). Similarly, over the 2000s a host of influential accounts came to the fore identifying financialisation to be a complementary trend to neoliberalism and globalisation. (see Duménil & Lévy 2011, 14; Glyn 2006, 15; French et al. 2011, 16) Yet, as Krippner points out, the study of financialisation has taken such a variety of forms it becomes difficult to define in clear terms what in fact this process represents.(17).

Perhaps a reason for this lack of clarity lies with an ambiguity in the historical and geographical account of financialisation. For Braudel financial domination was a recurrent feature of any ‘world-system’ of capitalism. But as Arrighi notes, Braudel’s analysis lacked a singularly ‘consistent explanation of the patterns of recurrence and evolution’ involved in the financialisaton of capital (2001, 120; 18). Arguably, this problem reappears in contemporary presentations of the spatial structure of financial activity. Analyses of ‘global city’ systems tend to be descriptive in their outlook, interpreting the stratified, nodal structure of financial and business service networks. What is rarely tackled, even in Sassen’s (2001) comprehensive work The Global City, is an account of the urban process that enables finance-capital to colonize not only global space but also that of everyday life. It was only at the latter level, Lefebvre suggested, that we could appreciate the molecular capability of capital to not only transform material use-values into immaterial exchange-values (and back again), but that this constant turnover of value into wealth could transform the very conditions of daily life; turning urban society from a solid industrial form to some more liquid state.

Lapavitsas (2013) Profiting without producing: How finance exploits us all. Verso.In short, while contemporary studies have tended to describe the institutional context, cyclical nature and social impacts of finance, what has been withheld is an account of the underlying process that creates the conditions of financial growth. But in a recent account of financial capitalism, Lapavitsas (2013, 19) contends that to grasp the enormity of the crisis, the intellectual challenge is to explain financialisation as an unprecedented transformation in the way capital reproduces itself as a global system; one which has been globally unfolding and locally evolving over the last three to four decades, and has changed the ‘molecular’ relations of capital’s production, consumption, distribution and exchange. Specifically, Lapavitsas highlights an interactive process where non-financial companies increasingly make profits by speculating in capital markets; banks in turn have transformed acting largely as agents converting assets into loanable funds for producers and consumers; and workers have sought assets and credit to finance consumption as wages have stagnated. The result, the shocks of 2007 and 2008 and aftershocks like the Eurozone crisis, has illuminated an apparatus of financial accumulation extending across all levels and dimensions of social and economic life, based on the essential principle of profiting without producing.

On the surface, Lapavitsas’s analysis corresponds with Harvey’s own approach to analysing capital as a ‘molecular process of capital accumulation in space and time’ (2003, 26). In the 1970s and 1980s, Harvey developed and expanded Lefebvre’s strategic hypothesis about the urban circuits of accumulation by examining how monopoly-rent and finance capital merge in the urban process. Following an analysis of the way financial institutions and property development form a secondary circuit of accumu- lation in urban housing markets, Harvey concluded that within the investment process there were abundant opportunities for finance to take a controlling influence. In Limits to Capital Harvey (1982) said that the transformation of ground-rent into interest, mediated via real estate, meant that the production of space could be synched to the production of credit looking for its highest and best spatial fix. In other words, the financial system working within the production of built environments could find ways to extract profits from the income circulating through, and wealth incorporated in, social space. Thus, it was certainly conceivable, Harvey concluded, that cities could be restructured into financial ensembles of social relations, whose spaces could be fixed and liquidated according to the need to ‘realize value without producing it’ (1974, 254).

Yet while Lapavitsas’s critique of financialised capitalism – perhaps the most systematic theorisation yet given – has clear resonances with Harvey’s pathbreaking theorisation of finance-capital as a spatial entity, problems of geography and urbanism enter only at the edges. This perhaps reflects the fragmented picture of financialisation within the field of urban studies. As one literature review (French et al. 2011; 20) concludes the spatial study of financialisation is loosely defined, fragmentary, and has failed to develop the implications arising from Harvey’s theorisation of finance-capital’s spatial fixity and fluidity. (21) Aspects of financialisation occur in urban studies of mortgage markets, the regulatory conditions of neoliberalism, geographical concentrations of finance, the complex ways architecture embodies the cultural logic of accumulation, and the rise of gentrification as an urban economic strategy. (22) All of these touch on important urban aspects of financialisation as a political and cultural phenomenon. But with a few exceptions (23) outside of Harvey’s own evolving molecular analysis of ‘accumulation by dispossession’, there has been less interest in connecting financialisation and urbanisation as a systemically inter-dependent process.

So although critical urban theory has deep political economic resources available – vis-à-vis concepts like the circuits of accumulation, the spatial fix, monopoly-rent, and so forth – the emergent forms and tendencies of ‘planetary urbanisation’ (Brenner 2013; 24) have yet to be fully explored in terms of the implosive/explosive dynamics of financial accumulation. On one level this reflects the fact that the social forms finance takes arise through institutional mediations which are geographically and historically contingent; making theorisation fraught with difficulty. But given the relative ease with which financial and business services have made ‘the global city’ the normative expression of international financial domination, re-loading the spatial critique of political economy seems crucial. Particularly, if Lefebvre’s concept of ‘planetary urbanisation’ is to have real traction in confronting the ‘urban age’ of global finance. (Brenner & Schmid 2014; 25)

The rest of this paper examines how financialisation has taken shape as an urban process in recent decades. Theoretically it draws on Marxian political economy as a frame of reference with the intention of tightening the ‘molecular’ bonds of Harvey and Lapavitsas’s accounts of finance-capital. I start by putting the role of financial intermediation in capital accumulation in context, and examine how systemic changes enabled finance to permeate the conditions of everyday life and enabled a huge shift in the share of wealth being absorbed in capital markets. The following two sections try to explain this transformation by tracing some points of intersection between Lapavitsas and Harvey’s theorisation of financialisation and urbanisation. To conclude I develop this syn- thetic framework to try to define what is specifically spatial and ‘contemporary’ about the urban question of financial capitalism, the revival of interest in ‘rentiership’ and underline the important role of critical urbanism in confronting financialisation.

Free to download! Full article available here:

Moreno, Louis (2014) ‘The urban process under financialised capitalism’, CITY, Vol. 18.3


  1. Zola, É, 2008 (1872). The Kill. Oxford: Oxford University 2008, 94
  2. Wolf, M., 2008. ‘Congress decides it is worth risking depression.’ The Financial Times Available at: http:// www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0fa9d526-8eec-11dd-946c- 0000779fd18c.html#axzz1ZtaovJwy. Accessed October 5, 2011
  3. Taken from London (1994) Patrick Keiller’s fictional documentary film portrait of London in the early 1990s. See Catterall, B. 2012. ‘Towards the Great Transformation: (1) Beyond ‘the Urban Revolution’.’ CITY, 16 (1– 2), 253– 263 for another discussion in CITY in the context of Keiller’s later film Robinson in Ruins. For the latest in the series see Towards the Great Transformation: (11) Where/ what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm
  4. Engels, F. 1942 (1872). The Housing Question. London: Lawrence and Wishart Ltd.
  5. Ertürk, I. et al. 2011. ‘City State against national settlement.’ CRESC Working Paper Series, (101). Available at: http://www.cresc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/ City%20State%20and%20National%20Settlement% 20CRESC%20WP101.pdf.
  6. See the following recent BBC TV and radio programmes first broadcast in 2014: ‘Mind the Gap: London vs. the Rest’ and ‘The Country Formerly Known as London’.
  7. “What happened to mid-nineteenth century Paris,” Merrifield writes, “is now happening globally, not only in big capital cities and orchestrated by powerful city and national political-economic forces, but in all cities, orchestrated by transnational financial and corporate elites everywhere, endorsed by their respective national governments. While these class forces in and out of government aren’t always consciously conspiring, they nonetheless create a global orthodoxy, one that’s both creating and tearing apart a new urban fabric that clothes the whole wide world.” (Merrifield, A. 2014. The New Urban Question. London: Pluto Press.)
  8. Lefebvre, H. 1991. The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell.
  9. Lefebvre, H. 1976. ‘Reflections on the Politics of Space.’ Antipode, 8(2) : 30– 37.
  10. Harvey, D. 1974. ‘Class-monopoly rent, finance capital and the urban revolution.’ Regional Studies, 8: 239–255
  11. As Braudel succinctly put it: “Towns spelled money, the essential ingredient of the so-called commercial revolution” (1984, p94–5); a proto-urban revolution that laid the spatial infrastructure for industrialisation and market expansion in the 19th Century. Braudel, F. 1984. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The wheels of commerce. New York: Harper & Row.
  12. Arrighi, G. 2010. The long twentieth century: money, power, and the origins of our times. London: Verso.
  13. Krippner, G.R. 2005. ‘The financialization of the American economy.’ Socio-Economic Review, 3: 173–208.
  14. Duménil & Lévy, 2011. The Crisis of Neoliberalism. Dume Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  15. Glyn, A. 2006. Capitalism Unleashed: Finance, Globalization, and Welfare. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  16. French, S., Leyshon, A. & Wainwright, T. 2011. ‘Financializing space, spacing financialization.’ Progress in Human Geography 35(6) 798– 819.
  17. Some highlight the dominant trends surround the problem of ‘shareholder’ value, others technical and institutional innovation in the financial system. A hybrid Marxian and Post-Keynsian tradition links the phenomenon to the rise of neoliberal restructuring making way for a new social form of rentiership (see Krippner 2005 and Lapavitsas, C., 2011. ‘Theorizing Financialization.’ Work, Employment & Society, 25(4): 611–626. – for an overview of the debates)
  18. Arrighi, G. 2001 (1994). ‘Braudel, Capitalism, and the New Economic Sociology.’ Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 24(1):107– 123.
  19. Lapavitsas, C. 2013. Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All. London: Verso.
  20. French, S., Leyshon, A. & Wainwright, T. 2011. ‘Financializing space, spacing financialization.’ Progress in Human Geography 35(6) 798– 819.
  21. See Walker, R. 2004. ‘The Spectre of Marxism: The Return of The Limits to Capital.’ Antipode, 36: 434–443.; French et al. (2011) for a commentary on this.
  22. See Aalbers, M.B. 2009. ‘The Sociology and Geography of Mortgage Markets: Reflections on the Financial Crisis.’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2) : 281– 290.; Zeller, C. 2007. ‘From the gene to the globe: Extracting rents based on intellectual property monopolies.’ Review of International Political Economy, 15(1) : 86 – 115.; Wójcik D. 2009. ‘Geography of Stock Markets.’ Geography Compass, 3(4) : 1499 –1514; Jameson, F. 1998. ‘The Brick and the Balloon: Architecture, Idealism and Land Speculation.’ New Left Review, 228: 25 –46.; Smith, N. 2002. ‘New globalism, new urbanism: gentrification as global urban strategy.’ Antipode, 34(3) : 427–450, respectively.
  23. See Christophers, B. 2011. ‘Revisiting the Urbanization of Capital.’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 101(6) : 1347 –1364.; Kaika, M. & Ruggiero, L. 2013. ‘Land Financialization as a ‘lived’ process: The transformation of Milan’s Bicocca by Pirelli.’ European Urban and Regional Studies; Merrifield, A. 2014. The New Urban Question. London: Pluto Press.
  24. Brenner, N. (ed). 2013. Implosions /Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin: Jovis.
  25. Brenner, N. & Schmid, C. 2014. ‘The ‘Urban Age’ in Question: The ‘urban age’ in question.’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(3) :731– 755.

Towards the Great Transformation: (11) Where/ what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm

Excerpt from Bob Catterall,

Lichen; Poster detail from Robinson in Ruins.

” ‘A lichen is a symbiotic hybrid of a fungus and a green alga or photosynthesising bacterium, sometimes all three. Lichens are examples of mutualism, in which all the partners benefit from their association. They are the dominant life-form on about 8% of the earth’s land surface. Many live in extreme environments. Some lichen are believed to live to be about 5,000 years old, and among the oldest living things on earth.’ “In this context, the lichen, it is reasonable to propose, are, or are part of, the network of non-human intelligences, as posited by Robinson/Keiller in the film, that had sought refuge in marginal and hidden locations. They were ‘determined to preserve the possibility of life’s survival on the planet’ and have enlisted Robinson. They are ‘examples of mutualism’ which we may also recognise in the form of comradeship and communalism.’ p.370

The project for the series was introduced in 2011 in these pages under two successive headings: ‘From the spectre of communism to the spectre of democracy’; and ‘Back to Marx?’ in an editorial response to our somewhat inconclusive series of professional debates between assemblage theory and a Marxian-inspired critical theory.(1) It can be suggested, that according to taste and/ or conviction, a preponderance of points can be awarded to either side but that neither was the overwhelming victor.

Looking beyond this academic dispute there is the global struggle between the spectre of ‘democracy’, recently damaged by its financial near-collapse but now apparently acceptable, and the re-emerging but troubling (to the universal claims of ‘democracy’) spectre of communalism and revolution, in a global struggle that has yet to be decided.

Both debates, it is suggested here, require much deeper and more extensive discussions and struggle than is provided by either. These two areas of debate – over the adequacy of Marxism as an analytical tool, and over the relative merits of ‘democracy’ and communalism as socio-economic and political forms – have to be connected to an emerging, but still largely silenced debate over the nature of the relationship between the bio-social environment, the planet, and urbanisation. But where and what is the planet itself in much of the work on ‘planetary urbanisation’? Where featured at all it is reduced to dehumanised and apparently nonsentient (mainly male, if gendered) actors and actants.

Such an approach cannot do justice to the nature of life on the planet and therefore cannot provide an adequate account or critique of planetary urbanisation. It is, in fact, in danger of becoming an accomplice in that imperial(ist) project. An alternative paradigm, outlined here, is one in which the biosocial and gendered nature of culture, including its relationship to agriculture and ‘the rural’, is central to its explorations of the full geo-spatial field and their implications for action.

To achieve justice with and for sentient beings and the planet, that misrepresented biosocial entity has, first, to be earthed, materialised, gendered, and cultured. This approach, then, enters the house of urban and urbanisation studies by the groundfloor and basement and finds that the building is not well-founded. This approach leads to a strange entry into the study of urbanisation in that it appears initially not to be about urbanisation at all but instead about earth, soil, material, gender – and now culture. But foundations should not, as they have been, neglected in any enterprise if it is not to lead to disaster. This entry-point and concern does lead to what may seem to be a somewhat marginal account of two major projects in urban and urbanisation studies, the work of Andy Merrifield and of Neil Brenner and associates, but it is a necessary though much neglected step. The journey does lead to the first and other floors, even if it concludes that the building is unsound. Subsequent episodes reconsider ‘the city’ in this neglected context and then science as partly normative notions.

Such concerns also lead back to the debate over Marxism and to the subject of the disciplinary base for understanding the relationship between urbanisation and the planet. It should be noted that it is not satisfactory to take up the term transdisciplinary, rather than interdisciplinary, without indicating and justifying, in any particular case, in what ways and for what reasons the work in question transcends interdisciplinarity.

The series itself, ‘Towards the great transformation’(2) , has taken up the question ‘Back to Marx?’, with some references to Deleuze and more particularly Guattari, in the not entirely estranged but largely marginalised company of anarchism, animal imagery, literature, sentience (human, plant and animal), soil, and increasingly at this point, culture.

Culture – the generic cluster of meanings as distinct from the various professionalised reserves to which it has been confined – is, as the great cultural materialist Raymond Williams claimed and demonstrated, ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language . . . (3) This is so not only because it carries the imprints of several European languages and social and intellectual movements but also of the extending uses to which it has been put in what can now be seen as a struggle to understand the engagement of sentience (human, plant, animal) with the planet, the actual, material planet as distinct from the one presented as a result of the clipped concepts and reductive procedures within which much social science and now much of the discourse of ‘planetary urbanisation’ has sought to represent it. (4)

Some early meanings, which Williams notes but whose importance he does not fully bring out, can now be seen as crucial (despite the implications for gender apparently attached to the first of them): ‘husbandry, the tending of natural growth’, ‘the tending of something, basically crops or animals’(5). The notion of ‘tending’, though, is not enough unless one connects it to the notion of tenderness – the dimension of emotions, which does not, of course, belong exclusively to psychology. What is required in order to further social understanding and practice is a sensuous materialism that sees the essentially overlapping categories of nature, culture and the rural as in fact central to the new paradigm for biosocial knowing/knowledge, one that is the product of images as well of ‘facts’, of the university of the streets and fields as well as new media, of praxis as well as theory and empirical investigation.

Towards sensuous materialism and praxis

But the established social and socio-spatial sciences, extended a little but not really challenged by sanitised and professionalised versions of Marxist critical theory and Deleuzian (but not Guattarian, only slowly admitting Guattari to the academic circle) assemblage, remain largely impervious, unprepared to acknowledge that there is an alternative or a need for one.(6)

Free to download! Full article available here:

Catterall, Bob (2014) ‘Towards the Great Transformation: (11) Where/what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm’ CITY, Vol. 18.3


  1. The two concluding sections of the Editorial in 15.6 (December 2011): ‘From the spectre of communism to the spectre of democracy’ and ‘Back to Marx?’ (pp. 614– 617). Reference was made here particularly to the two concluding statements in the Assemblage debate, by McFarlane and by Wachsmuth, Madden and Brenner. The series of four, Assemblage and Critical Urban Praxis ran from City 15.2 ( APRIL 2011), through 15.2 and 15.3–4 to 15.6.
  2. For the first of the series – Bob Catterall (2012) “Towards the Great Transformation: (1) Beyond ‘the urban revolution’”, CITY, Vol. 16.1-2;
  3. Williams , R. (1983) Keywords: vocabulary of culture and society 2nd edition. London:Fontana, p. 87.
  4. This critique of ‘much of the discourse of “planetary urbanisation”’ is applied here to early presentations of their work by Brenner and Schmidt, notably their 2011 article, particularly the claim on p12 that ‘even spaces that lie well beyond the traditional city cores and suburban peripheries. . . have become integral parts of the worldwide urban fabric’, (One could get some way beyond the binary logic if one added to Brenner and Schmidt’s sentence: but some such spaces can still be significantly agrarian and rural). Their later work, particularly Brenner’s huge and very valuable compilation (2013), is taken up in subsequent episodes of this series.
  5. Williams, p. 87.
  6. A series of preliminary attempts to invite and further such discussions, have been met with very little in the way of explicit response, occasional enthusiastic general endorsements of the work of the journal as a whole but no specific citation or discussion. This problem has become so serious, both intellectually and practically, that it may be time to name names and occasions.These, somewhat awkwardly for professional relationships, are, in the main, the names of friends and colleagues but it seems more likely that the attempt to open up discussion with them will bear fruit rather than with those working with an even more unsatisfactory version of the old paradigm. The point is not to seek to convert colleagues. Some of them lack the background reading and expertise that would enable them to engage with, for example, some relevant work in the humanities (for example Raymond William’s The City and the Country or S.S. Prawer’s Karl Marx and World Literature, introduced earlier in this series.) The point, however, is to encourage colleagues to acknowledge work that seems to lie outside their paradigm and at times to engage in collaborative projects across their patrolled borders. At the moment the field within socio-spatial studies seems at times to consist of incestuous and powerful ingroups that not only dominate and define the field but also exclude other work. (See also, in this issue, Alex Schafran’s ‘Debating urban studies in 23 steps’). On the plus side in developing this work there has been the strong support, despite intellectual differences at times, of Neil Brenner and Ed Soja, the dialogue with Melissa Wilson, Pushpa Arabindoo, Marcelo Lopes de Souza, Elvin Wyly and Nasser Abourahme, leading members of City, and with the Greek and Occupied London combine of Antonis Vradis and Klara, also leading members of City, and the inspiration of the films of Ross Dominey (see their forthcoming feature, 18, 4– 5, on ‘crisis-scape’).

Thinking across boundaries: Re-imagining planning in the urban global south

3-Day Conference to Celebrate 60 Years of DPU:

16.30 – 19.00, Wed 2nd July;
08.00 – 18.00, Thurs 3rd July;
09.00 – 17.00, Fri 4th July

at Darwin Lecture Theatre, Darwin Building, UCL
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Our Anniversary Conference is the highlight of a year of celebrations marking the DPU’s 60 years of education, training, research, consultancy and knowledge sharing in urban and regional development policy and planning in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.A range of speakers drawn from academia, practice and community organisation will be brought together with DPU staff, past and present, students, alumni, and others to deliberate on critical issues that guide the field of development planning. The themes of the conference are:

- A future for urban development planning? Thinking across boundaries
- A future for urban development planning?  Approaches to urban inequality and informality in cities of the global south
- Participation and contested practices in urban design and planning: rights, needs and urban imaginaries
- Re-imagining socio-environmental trajectories of change: Radical practices and approaches to environmental planning and governance
- Forging new relationships in governance and planning: the state, market and society in a post economic crisis world
- Urban Development and development assistance
- Gender, intersectionality and socially just futures: Planning in an era of social polarisation
- Positioning planning learning in an urbanizing world: the challenge of practitioner formation and the co-production of knowledge

The event will also see the launch of the ‘DPU Reflections Working Paper Series‘ and ‘The DPU’s first 60 Years: A Short History’ booklet.

Download conference programme (.pdf)

More info: http://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/dpu/events/anniversary-conference

See also from CITY, free to download! The latest piece from a special Editorial series in CITY,

‘Towards the Great Transformation: (11) Where/what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm’ (2014) Bob Catterall, CITY Vol. 18, Issue 3


The present dominant paradigm in much writing on ‘planetary urbanisation’ with its exclusive emphasis on ‘ the urban’ and consequent neglect/denial of ‘the rural’, thereby of the planet itself, and its minimal deployment of the concept of culture and of the humanities, reflects the somewhat ramshackle condition of urban studies and socio-spatial sciences with their uncritical and undertheorised notion of interdisciplinarity (sometimes incorrectly labelled recently as transdisciplinarity). Where and what is the planet itself in much of the work on ‘planetary urbanisation’? Where featured at all it is reduced to dehumanised and apparently nonsentient (mainly male) actants. It cannot do justice to the nature of life on the planet and therefore cannot provide an adequate account or critique of planetary urbanisation. It is, in fact, in danger of becoming an accomplice in that imperial(ist) project. An alternative paradigm, outlined here, is one in which the biosocial and gendered nature of culture, including its relationship to agriculture and ‘the rural’, is central to its explorations of the full geo-spatial field and their implications for action. To achieve justice with and for sentient beings and the planet, that misrepresented biosocial entity has, first, to be earthed, materialised, gendered, and cultured. (subsequent episodes reconsider the city in this neglected context and then science as partly normative notions). This series, developing a multidimensional, transdisciplinary(rather than interdisciplinary) approach, providing some necessary infilling and new/old orientations to the now outmoded paradigm, sets out a claim for this new paradigm for the biospatial sciences and the humanities. It seeks, in this episode drawing particularly on Marx’s studies of the Russian commune and beyond (in space and time), Chernyshevski’s work, particularly his novel What Is To Be Done?, and on earlier work in the series, to contribute to the identification of a partly agrarian and fully ‘encultured’ path to the reclamation of the now acutely over-urbanised planet.

Editorial: Landscape without figures?

‘‘Financialisation has not only produced a space conducive to the needs and requirements of wealthy individuals, this process has used real estate as a medium to harness and regulate the way urban value is socially constructed. Urban space now provides, in other words, a complex apparatus through which the interlocking forms of landed, financial and technological capital construct a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’.’’(Moreno)

How do we fill out this portrayal of a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’, usefully labelled perhaps as ‘neo-urbanism’? How do we fill it out so that we can begin to grasp and transform it? Is it necessarily a landscape without figures?

Louis Moreno sets out a portrayal of neo-urbanism, as a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’, in this issue, drawing particularly on work by Costas Lapavitsas and David Harvey. This seminal contribution is acknowledged, supplemented and challenged in this issue with papers and articles which, though not brought together for this purpose, present an opportunity to explore and test it, and considered in the light of the three questions posed above, to take it and related work forward. This exploration is undertaken in three stages that also serve as an introduction to the new material assembled here : first, in a section headed ‘Portrayals of landscapes without figures’, by reference to Moreno’s and three other lenses with a more specific focus, on eco-housing assemblages, the ‘Singapore model’, and ‘smart cities’; second, under the heading, ‘Towards alternative stories and oppositional figures’, to consider alternative and/or supplementary narratives that include (oppositional) figures; and third, under the heading ‘Towards a paradigm for a planetary and conflictual approach to rural-urban socio-spatial studies’, to the new episode in our series of endpieces, Towards the Great Transition, that includes in its landscape ‘the land’, not just that reductively economistic notion of ‘land’, and the figures of its workers and dependents as well as its urban enemies and allies.

Portrayals of landscapes without figures

Of the four portrayals of landscapes included in this section, each begins to turn towards grasping and, with varied emphases, perhaps to transforming them. Of the portrayals none presents figures in their landscapes, though Moreno does do so for an earlier urban age, that of ‘the Belle Arts grandeur of Napoleon’s III’s new Paris’, in which he picks out from Emile Zola’s novel, The Kill, the ‘the entrepreneurial ascent’ of the anti-hero’, Saccard, who as Zola put it: ‘marching along the pavements as if he were in some conquered country . . . saw very clearly, the battle that lay ahead, and was happy to compare himself to a skilful picklock, who by cunning or violence, was about to seize his share of the common wealth which so far had been cruelly denied him.’ Some such figures have been marching along our pavements today but who tells not only their story, most of all with Zola’s ironic force, and the addition of oppositional figures, but also that of the ‘conquered country’ of the new urbanism so that we can grasp and release it from the grip of those who are making a killing? How can it be done?

Of the three other portrayals, each one has something to tell us, seeking to reach beyond the limits of those versions, positivist and quasi-positivist, of narratives that do not see the need for landscapes with figures. First, Anders Blok brings together architectural and other eco-housing practices from diverse cities on three continents—Kyoto (Japan), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Surat (India). His aim is ‘to conjure a more cosmopolitan research imagination on how climatic solidarities may emerge in the face of multiple urban differences and inequalities.’

In a second portrayal Choon Piew Pow illustrates how ‘stylized models’ – including a physical model in the case of Singapore (see on the previous page, the Urban Redevelopment Agency’s representation of the city) – ‘of ‘‘successful’’ paradigmatic cities [that] have been assembled and circulated widely around the world, providing supposedly ‘‘best practices’’ and ‘‘tried and tested’’ policy solutions for a variety of problems.’ But, he notes: ‘Far from being neutral and objective, these traveling models and policy assemblages are deeply embedded in power relations and animated by urban imaginaries of ‘good places’ to live and work.’

In a third portrayal, Ola Soderstrom, Till Paasche and Francisco Klauser look at IBM’s smarter city campaign finding it ‘to be story- telling, aimed at making the company an ‘‘obligatory passage point’’ in the implementation of urban technologies’. The authors’ aim is to address ‘two critical questions raised by this discourse: technocratic reductionism and the introduction of new moral imperatives in urban management; and second, by calling for the crafting of alternative smart city stories.’

Towards alternative stories and oppositional figures

The quest beyond positivistic accounts involves in the case of the first two papers of the now established practice of taking over the counter-positivistic notion of imagination (a practice often associated with the technocratic and reductive re-use of ‘vision’, extended in Blok’s case to the practice of ‘conjuring’) once deployed as a critical term in the work of Romantic writers in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and re-appropriating it, without a critical edge. In the third case study, Soderstrom, Paasche and Klauser seem to put ‘storytelling’ to similar uncritical re-appropriation in their account of IBM’s ‘smart cities’ campaign but conclude with ‘two critical questions’, one about technocratic reductionism and new moral imperatives, and the other about the need to craft alternative stories.

Three oppositional figures, neither technocratically nor ‘morally’ reductionist, each crafting alternative stories (ones that also seek alternative outcomes) are presented in the articles that follow: a Polish rapper, Peja, a founding member and producer of Slums Attack; the late Stuart Hall, a cultural and sociological scholar-activist of Caribbean origin; and a posited critical urbanist scholar- activist or, rather, posse of them. Each figure, and their scribes, defines themselves in relation to a particular time-space or time- spaces, a temporal landscape.

Peja’s location, as introduced by Agata Lisiak and clearly articulated by him, is one seen from a corner, one that he is nevertheless seeking to navigate:

‘On my corner nothing ever changes Even though I’m no longer there, though my shadow’s gone Time speeds like fuck, but here it is Frozen . . . ’

Adam Elliott-Cooper’s ‘dedication’ to Stuart Hall (also personalised by Les Back and Monica Moreno Figueroa) moves away from the common presentation of him as a bland figure, as ‘the godfather of multiculturalism.’ There was an element of that in the relaxed and usually but not always good-humoured manner with which he navigated the soporific nature of established British culture. But Elliott-Cooper points to his passionate commitment – so evident in the photograph of Hall speaking at a public meeting (included here and in our earlier review of the BFI dvd The Stuart Hall Project) (1)– to ‘agitating for radical transformation’, a task he also refers to as being undertaken in this journal, in relation to anti-imperialist struggles worldwide, and in relation to domestic struggles, particularly those of black youth, against oppression . That commitment must not be separated from his work as a cultural theorist.

The posited posse of critical urbanist scholar-activists is invoked in Alex Shafran’s ‘Debating urban studies in 23 steps’. Schafran presents his necessarily hard-hitting critique of established urban studies in the context provided by two 50th anniversaries: that of Ruth Glass drawing our attention to the notion of gentrification in her ‘observation about the shifting class geographies of a small sliver of London’; and that of the US War against Poverty which ‘quickly devolved into a fight against concentrated poverty…, a fight against public housing and ultimately a fight with the very (poor) people who lived in them.’ What we need, picking just a few, seven in fact, of the necessarily clear and forceful 23 point recap of his opener to a new series of debates is to act on the recognition that:

‘We must come to terms with the fact that critical urban studies is smart, correct and weak. ‘‘Critical urban theory’’ is itself not a sufficient aspiration. As urbanists in particular we need to shift the conversation towards a very specific debate about land and profit. Reimagine sustainability as a failed coalition that must be made to succeed, rather than as a project of neoliberal urbanism, bourgeois environmentalism or global greenwashing. We must remember just how hard it is to do things, to make the institutions and politics and structures and systems that we all need to live our daily lives, let alone better ones. Critical urban studies needs to shed the baggage of 20th-century social science if we are to establish ourselves as more central to the production of space in the 21st century. What we need is a different and partially separate urban academy, one linked to 20th-century institutions of higher education but which is located at the intersection of all the actors responsible for the production of space.’

Where, then, does this all leave us? Some might argue that, in common parlance, it leaves us ‘up shit creek without a paddle’. Not so, as the committed spirit of this journal, as identified by Adam Elliott-Cooper, suggests. A further episode in our series of endpieces, ‘Towards the great transformation’, that owe much to contributors to CITY, both in agreement and disagreement, points further not only to a set of paddles and oars but even to a refurbished and extended flotilla, an occasional motor, and to the necessary direction.

‘Towards a paradigm for a planetary and conflictual approach to rural-urban socio-spatial studies:

‘Urban space now provides, in other words, a complex apparatus through which the interlocking forms of landed, financial and technological capital construct a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’.’’(Moreno)

Echoing but extending Moreno’s conclusion that ‘urban space is a complex appararatus through which the interlocking forms of landed, financial and technological capital construct a new kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’, it has to be added that this kind of ‘spatial-cognitive fix’ is one in which the planet, including all sentient life, is not only super-exploited but also denied anything but a marginalised, sentimentalised and ultimately terminal existence . A paradigm for a plane- tary and conflictual approach to rural-urban socio-spatial studies, has to refer, it is argued, to one that includes in its landscape ‘the land’, not just that reductively economistic notion of ‘land’, and the figures of its workers and dependents as well as its urban enemies and allies. This has to be a time, updating Zola, for the entrepreneurial and existential ascent of the people marching along the pavements as if they were in some reclaimed country, seeing very clearly, the battle that lies ahead, and happy to compare themselves to skilful locksmiths, who through foresight, persistence and force, moral and physical, are about to open the doors which will give access to the share of the common wealth which is being oppres- sively and destructively denied them.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 18 Issue 3 ; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 18.3

Editorial: Landscape without figures? Bob Catterall, Pages 239-243

The urban process under financialised capitalism Louis Moreno, Pages 244-268

Worlding cities through their climate projects? Eco-housing assemblages, cosmopolitics and comparisons Anders Blok, Pages 269-286

License to travel Policy assemblage and the ‘Singapore model’ Choon Piew Pow, Pages 287-306

Smart cities as corporate storytelling Ola Söderström, Till Paasche & Francisco Klauser, Pages 307-320


Debating urban studies in 23 steps Alex Schafran, Pages 321-330

Scenes and Sounds

Introduction: Scenes and sounds of urban standstill Anna Richter, Pages 331-333

Navigating urban standstill Hip-hop representations of Jeżyce, Poznań Agata A. Lisiak, Pages 334-348

Stuart Hall: A dedication

Introduction Stuart Hall: a dedication Adam Elliott-Cooper, Pages 349-352

Following Stuart Hall Les Back & Mónica Moreno Figueroa, Pages 353-355


Securing the security Ashok Kumar, Pages 356-359

Progressive activism and activists in Chicago and Boston in the 1980s Euan Hague, Pages 360-362

Polarisation and cohesion in divided cities Diana Martin, Pages 363-367


Towards the Great Transformation: (11) Where/what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm Bob Catterall, Pages 368-379


  1. The image in this article of Stuart Hall giving a public speech was used in Adam Elliott-Cooper’s review ((17.6, pp. 827–34) of the BFI dvd,’ The Stuart Hall Project’, and is reproduced here by permission of the BFI.

Editorial: Re-ordering or remaking cities?

‘We see the global financial crisis as an impetus for the City of London and other business-purposed urban districts, to consider using design as a method of productively responding and reconnecting to its surrounding urban fabric. We imagine opportunities to create hybrid, multi-scalar and multi-programmed public spaces, complemented by an equally responsive and dynamic residential intervention.’

The authors (1) of ‘Reordered publics: Re-imagining the City of London’ ‘re-imagine the City of London (‘and other business-purposed urban districts’) as ‘a true public city for the 21st century’, captioning their re-imagined City/city (see image) ‘Vision of the 2025 public city’. With its hybrid, multi-scalar and multi-pro-grammed public spaces … and dynamic residential intervention’, this would indeed be an intensively re-ordered city but would ‘a true public city’ require not just physically re-ordering but also socio-economic and political, perhaps even ethical, re-making?

‘Vision of the 2025 public city’

‘Vision of the 2025 public city’ from Guy Trangoš et al (2014) "Reordered publics: Re-imagining the City of London".

Re-ordering or remaking? The distinction between the two terms is not absolute but it is nevertheless a useful pointer to crucial dimensions of urban and planetary transformation and survival now essential for public urbanism. Can a physical re-ordering remake cities? Or is it essentially a deceptive, whether intentional or naive, operation that in fact further entrenches the established order, another case of the increasingly manic re-arranging of furniture on the Titanic. Is it really, as the ironic title to Sarah Barns’ review of Antony Townsend’s Smart Cities implies, “Plus ça change? Remaking the city, ‘one site, one app, one click at a time’”? The phrase Barns quotes is Townsend’s but is that, too, ironic, as the subtitle to his book suggests: ‘big data, civic hackers and the quest for a new utopia’? Such questions echo throughout this issue with an emphasis on the means – re-order or remake – and/or on ends, the objectives, involving active critique and redefinition of the public realm, not a static utopia but, with periodic re-settlement, an ongoing process of radical socio-economic change.

The critiques of the largely ‘development’-led urban political economy and the envisioning of alternative publics and processes here range from Willian Tabb on the wider context of austerity urbanism, and Peter Marcuse’s related examination of aspects of the Right to the City, to Stephanie Butcher and Alexandre Apsan Frediani on insurgent citizenship in Nairobi, Kenya, and Erbatur çavuşoğlu and Julia Strutz on contesting corporatism in Turkey.

Is it that increasingly development-led urban politics that ultimately lies behind the planning system with which Richard Lee and Sharon Hayward are struggling in the quest for Just Space in London? Or perhaps the emerging neoliberal political economy which the late Stuart Hall and others struggled to understand in their path-breaking Policing the Crisis thirty-five years ago, a study revisited here by Vincenzo Ruggiero and others?

Looking at the sources for such analysis and looking beyond them for new and neglected sources and insights, we first return to Tabb’s paper on the wider context of austerity urbanism (touching aspects of Jamie Peck’s work and its implications), and move on to a discussion, ‘How to change the post-crash economy’ (2), following up on Costas Lapatvit- sa’s recent book on financialisation, Profiting without Producing. Concluding with Marcelo Lopes de Souza‘s notes on the past and future of radical urban research and praxis, we take ‘a libertarian turn’ and talk of resurrection in the City of London.

From zombies to structure (and beyond?)

‘The temptation to attribute to zombie neoliberalism a will of its own needs to be countered by greater focus on structure. In the current stage of capitalist development the dominant moment is found in the global gaze of transnational corporations and international financial institutions.’ (Tabb) ‘Once this new social layer associated with finance emerges, it achieves policy capture and then begins to put new measures in place that favour its own interests. But the transformation is fundamentally structural and, therefore,the policies we need to confront it are actually structural, not simply re-regulating finance. The change is actually deeper and has to do with balance of power and ownership in the economy.’(Lapatvitsas)

Both Tabb and Lapatvitsas focus on financia- lisation and structure in a move away from the obsession with neoliberalism as a catch- all and thereby catch-nothing term.

The change is, Lapatvitsas argues, too deep for simple re-regulation to reach. How deep? Perhaps as deep as ‘balance of power and ownership in the economy’? Or even deeper? He moves a step nearer to that dimension when he refers elsewhere in the discussion to ‘a new spirit of public service’ and again to the need for ‘new associational and communal, as well as other forms of organisation of the economy.’ In trying to catch that essentially ethical dimension Tabb refers, in his concluding section, ‘Re- embedding the social (and the urban)’, to the continuing importance of Karl Polanyi’s work (as does Mariana Mazzucato in her con- tribution to the Post-Crash Economy discus- sion), drawing also on Jamie Peck’s parallel thoughts.

Still sketching in this dimension, Tabb brings in Peter Marcuse’s argument about Lefebvre’s notion of the Right to the City, that it is not a literal call but one that needs, rather, to be read in the tradition of the ‘moral economy’ and indeed of a new stage in the development of civilization:

‘For Lefebvre, the call for the Right to the City was a revolutionary call, a call produced by and justified by the urban revolution of which he wrote as a new stage in the historical development of civilization.’ (Peter Marcuse)

A resounding call but are there too many imponderable inevitabilities here? A call that is ‘produced by’, ‘justified by’ ‘the urban revolution’? What is the new stage? How will it come about? Two remaining contribu tors to the Post-Crash Economy discussion offer an answer to each of these questions. Paul Mason’s characterisation of the new stage is that an Information Age but one with a strange economy, one where (para-phrasing Paul Romer) information technology is ‘destroying the price mechanism … , driving the price of information goods towards zero unless there is a monopoly … it cannot be a market economy.’ Seumas Milne’s answer to these connected questions about what this new stage is and how it will come about is that there are ‘developments happening in Latin America, in China, in the European mainland … which are assembling a new way of doing things’ but that ‘like previous social and economic models’ it will have ‘arisen out of particular historical circumstances’ and not ‘have come off the shelf.’

Two further models of change remain to be considered (3) , one of resurrection without tears and the other, an anarchist (libertarian) one that includes a period of suffering and is without a certain conclusion.

Resurrection with or without crucifixion?

‘We’ve had the fall, now it’s time for the resurrection’ (Headline to an article by Ken Costa in the London ‘Evening Standard’, 17 April, 2014)

‘Future social struggle will not only be increasingly complex, but probably to a large extent also a multifaceted, ‘molecular’ and longterm confrontation between on the onehand an increasingly alienating, oppressive and liberticidal capitalism, supported by quasi-fascist state repression and flanked by quasi-fascist forms of behaviour and socio-political patterns, and on the otherdecentralised, horizontal, self-management oriented forms of insurgence and resistance.’ (Marcelo Lopes de Souza)

In arguing for a ‘libertarian turn (in theory and practice) Marcelo Lopes de Souza pre- sents stark alternatives in which he sees the anarchist as opposed to the Marxian tradition as having the edge in relevance and effective- ness. Ken Costa, former Chairman of Lazard International, writing about the forces of change he now sees at work in the City of London, states: ‘During the past five years, post-crash, there has been a significant shift in the attitude and practice of the City. And it has been values driven … I am not saying that the entire City has undergone an Easter conversion, rather that market forces, enlightened self-interest and old-school conscience are now driving long- needed cultural change.’ This is a bland statement but though not effective sources of radical change, such shifts of opinion, even, perhaps particularly, among elites are not insignificant. While the struggle to which Souza refers is being conducted, the ‘particular historical circum- stances’ to which Milne refers could include a crucial flash- and turning-point. In such circumstances remaking and re-ordering could and should begin to come together.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 18 Issue 2 ; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 18.2

Editorial: Re-ordering or remaking cities? Bob Catterall, Pages 83-86

The wider context of austerity urbanism William K. Tabb, Pages 87-100

Reading the right to the city. Part two: Organisational realities Peter Marcuse, Pages 101-103

Towards a libertarian turn? Notes on the past and future of radical urban research and praxis Marcelo Lopes de Souza, Pages 104-118

Insurgent citizenship practices: The case of Muungano wa Wanavijiji in Nairobi, Kenya Stephanie Butcher & Alexandre Apsan Frediani, Pages 119-133

Producing force and consent: Urban transformation and corporatism in Turkey Erbatur C̨avuşoğlu & Julia Strutz, Pages 134-148

Policing the crisis

Policing the Crisis thirty-five years on Vincenzo Ruggiero, Pages 149-151

Exploring the continuing relevance of Policing the Crisis Tony Jefferson, Pages 152-159

Moral panic(s) in the 21st century Adam Elliott-Cooper, Estelle du Boulay & Eleanor Kilroy, Pages 160-166

International legal responses to uprisings in the Middle East Joshua Castellino, Pages 167-174

Post-crash Economy Discussion

How to change the post-crash economy: A discussion following the publication of ‘Profiting without Producing’ Costas Lapavitsas, Paul Mason, Mariana Mazzucato, Seumas Milne & Ben Chew (chair), Pages 175-190

Reordered publics

Reordered publics: Re-imagining the City of London Guy Trangoš, Ilana Adleson, Nicolas Palominos, Adriana Valdez Young & Sharifa Alshalfan, Pages 191-213

Forum: Just Space: Building a Community-Based Voice for London Planning

Just Space: Building a community-based voice for London planning Barbara Lipietz, Richard Lee & Sharon Hayward, Pages 214-225


Plus ça change? Remaking the city, ‘one site, one app, one click at a time’ Sarah Barns, Pages 226-229

Migrants as scale makers: untangling the intersections of urban theory and migration research Shanthi Robertson, Pages 230-233

Sociology of Delhi Laura Dryjanska, Pages 234-238


  1. Guy Trangoš , Ilana Adleson, Nicolas Palominos, Adriana Valdez Young and Sharifa Alshalfan
  2. Costas Lapavitsas, Paul Mason, Mariana Mazzucato, Seumas Milne, and Ben Chew (chair)
  3. new model discussed in these pages involves, crucially, an agrarian dimension (see Adrian Atkinson, Readjusting to reality 2 Transition, City 17(5), pp.580–605, and, involving as well a new paradigmforurban/socio-spatialstudies,particularly uncritical notions of ’planetary urbanisation, is Catterall, ‘Towards the Great Transformation:(11) Where/what is culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’? Towards a new paradigm’, forthcoming, City 18(3)).

Editorial: Writing and Righting the City

Two grand narratives, somewhat haltingly, seek to ride, right and write the world. Each seeks to represent itself and its rival in similar ways. Neoliberalism likes to present itself, as it ‘recovers’, as rising from what it sees as a momentary lapse, as compelling, with an assured though austere (for some) immediate future. It presents its rival(s), forms of what are perhaps most accurately referred to as communalism, as either naive, well-meaning schemers whose best features can anyhow be incorporated in a slightly wiser capitalism or as threatening, past-encrusted, grandiloquent spectres that have to be kettled, disabled or eliminated. The communalist alternatives present themselves as a rising, not tainted, compelling movement with a future in which austerity will be moderated or abolished. They increasingly distrust the blandishments of capitalist incorporation, and seek transformation, sometimes an apocalyptic variety.

Both narratives present ways of writing and supposedly righting a now universal accumulation of interlinked problems. How beyond the labels, neoliberalism, capitalism, communalism, apocalypse, is our situation to be written, characterised, and righted, improved or superseded?

In this issue Caroline Knowles offers a characterisation of a somewhat indistinct form of global capitalism drawing on research among migrants on Beijing’s periphery. Michele Lancione, reacting against grand narratives of capitalist oppression in common with many assemblagist respondents on other occasions, considers the homeless in Turin, a social situation which he chooses not to characterise as other than unsatisfactory. Andrew Wallace examines the riots of 2011 in England, as a situation of imposed and mystifying ‘alchemical austerity’.

Moving on to attempts at improvement or supersession, Lancione seeks better intentioned and better designed assemblages of care. Marie Huchzermeyer, referring particularly to South Africa, and Peter Marcuse, on the other hand, engage with the assertion of rights, picking up on the Lefebvrian notion of the Right to the City as applied and misapplied in current confusions, debates, and struggles. But is this all there is to writing and righting the city? And is it enough? Welcoming ‘the multiplicity of readings’ that Jim Pine’s The Art of Making Do in Naples lends itself to, reviewer Pascal Menoret nevertheless observes of Naples and beyond:

‘The city is under deconstruction, torn by free-market policies, deindustrialization, European symbolic and economic violence, and the growth of informal strategies of making do. But make no mistake: this is not a peculiar southern European story … ’

But clearly adding in ‘a multiplicity of readings’ will not be enough. Is there, rather, an alternative way, a new paradigm? Adding in previous and subsequent material from CITY and elsewhere(1) we address these questions in our next issue.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 18 Issue 1; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 18.1


Editorial: Writing and Righting the City, Bob Catterall, Pages 1-3


Reading the Right to the City, Peter Marcuse, Pages 4-9

The English riots of 2011: Summoning community, depoliticising the city, Andrew Wallace, Pages 10-24

Assemblages of care and the analysis of public policies on homelessness in Turin, Italy, Michele Lancione, Pages 25-40


Invoking Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’ in South Africa today: A response to Walsh, Marie Huchzermeyer, Pages 41-49

Scenes and Sounds

Introduction: Navigating urban fabrication, Anna Richter, Pages 50-51

Dancing with bulldozers: Migrant life on Beijing’s periphery, Caroline Knowles, Pages 52-68


Treading on Naples’ contact zone: anthropological encounters with the Camorra, Pascal Menoret, Pages 69-72

Finding meaning in alternative spaces, Stephen Przybylinski, Pages 73-77

Squatting in Europe, Amy Starecheski, Pages 78-81


Abourahme, N. 2013. “‘The Street’ and ‘The Slum’: Political Form and Urban Life in Egypt’s Revolt.” City 17 (6) : 716– 728.

Atkinson, A. 2013. “Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition?” City 17 (5) : 580–605.

Brenner, N., ed. 2014. Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, Berlin: Jovis.

Brenner, N. and C. Schmid. 2011. “Planetary Urbanisation.” in Urban Constellations , edited by Matthew Gandy. Berlin: Jovis.

Catterall, B. 2013a. “Towards the Great Transformation: (9) Where is the Planet in ‘Planetary Urbanization’?” City 17 (5) : 703–710.

Catterall, B. 2013b. “Towards the Great Transformation (10) Earthing ‘Planetary urbanization”, City 17 (6) : 835–844.

Catterall, B. 2014, forthcoming. “Towards the Great Transformation (11): Where/what is Culture in ‘Planetary Urbanisation’?” Link >>

Merrifield, A. 2013. The Politics of the Encounter: Urban Theory and Protest Under Planetary Urbanisation . Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press


1 Particularly by Abourahme, Atkinson, Brenner and Schmid, Catterall, and Merrifield.

  1. Note 1 Particularly by Abourahme, Atkinson, Brenner and Schmid, Catterall, and Merrifield.

Gray Space and the new urban regime: Between liberalism and creeping apartheid

Lecture with Professor Oren Yiftachel, Ben-Gurion University, Israel.

Date: 30 January 2014

Time: 18.30-20.00pm

Venue: UCL Conference Suite 05, 188 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7PH

Chashem Zaneh, an unrecognized Bedouin locality with the city of Beersheba in the background, August

Chashem Zaneh, an unrecognized Bedouin locality with the city of Beersheba in the background, August

This lecture will analyse the impact of structural economic, identity and governance tensions on urban regimes and societies in the twenty-first century. It draws attention to the pervasive emergence of ‘gray spaces’, that is, informal, temporary or illegal developments, transactions and populations. ‘Gray-spacing’ has become a central feature of urbanism in most parts of the world, as well as a strategy to manage the unwanted/irremovable, as well as the wanted/uncontrollable.

Urban planning is central to this process, given its ability to approve, deny, legitimate and criminalise urban development. Gray spacing enables the mobility of marginalised groups into privileged regions, often under the guise of liberalising economies. At the same time, this puts in train a process of ‘creeping urban apartheid’ under which the region is governed through the principle of ‘separation and inequality’. These tensions and trends will be illustrated by highlighting research findings on the planning of cities around Europe, Africa and Asia, with special focus on the ‘ethnocratic’ cities of Israel/Palestine, such as Beersheba, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.

Prof. Yiftachel teaches urban studies as well as political and legal geography at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba. His research has focused on critical understandings of the relations between space, power and conflict, with particular attention to ethnic, social and urban aspects of these relations. Yiftachel has taught as guest professor at a range of universities including RMIT Melbourne, Curtin, Columbia, Penn, Berkeley, Venezia, Kolkata and Cape Town. He has published over 100 articles and ten authored and edited books, including “Indigenous (In)Justice: the Bedouins in Comparative Perspective” (co-ed, Harvard University Press, 2013); “Ethnocracy: the Politics of Land and Identity in Israel/Palestine” (Pennpress, 2006); and “The Power of Planning” (ed, Kluwer, 2001).

Oren Yiftachel”Critical theory and ‘gray space’ Mobilization of the colonized” CITY , Vol. 13: 2–3, June–September 2009

(Free download link: http://www.geog.bgu.ac.il/members/yiftachel/new_papers_2009/City%202009.pdf)

‘The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt

Excerpt from Nasser Abourahme (2013) The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt, CITY 17.6 available here.

It starts with a black screen. A single female voice recites: “Deliver us from evil”. It cuts to a solitary figure in a gas mask, walking down a dusky, battle-ravaged, eerily empty—even sad—Cairo street. Her mediated breathing through the mask is audible, at once ominous and vulnerable. Her voice seems to come from somewhere behind the scene—more prayer than reflection. Heavy with the pathos of an already thwarted desire for a return of innocence, she pleads:

“Spare us this trial.

The battle this time is terrifying.

The battle is murky, strain upon strain. And on our side, the General …”

This figure—masked, anonymous, generic—that had previously seemed so full of collective purpose, so confident in its own political and universal truth, walks alone … lost, despondent. Severed from the crowd that had previously been the medium of both its de-individualization and its re-emergence; the crowd that now carries an essential ambivalence, perhaps even a taint. The screen cuts to people demonstrating in support of the army, jubilantly waving the image of the latest general to assume control. There is loss here. But also something much more troubling. Black filthy water pours down stairs. Something won’t be washed away. The editing cuts to images of the Rabe’ el-‘Adawiya massacre,(1) but we watch this scene from within our protagonist’s sonic space, there is no sound but her breathing and monotonous speech. We share her inner space, and maybe her inner guilt:

“We stood like corpses, watching the massacre. Blood on our chest.

Are we winning? Or in line for slaughter?

Is this question shameful? Or is silence worse?

Should we go down to scavenge the spoils?

Or count the bodies of the martyred?”

This is more than prayer, this is testimony, confession. This video put out a few days ago by the Egyptian activist-media collective Mosireen (2) cuts—with the very honesty of its confusion—to the affective core of the current impasse. The military junta effectively ruling Egypt since July 3rd of this year have done worse than physically smash the revolutionaries, they have embraced them. Implicated them. Tarnished them. What we are left with is a disoriented revolutionary subject, weighed down heavily with a sense of associated guilt and taken aback by the closing of societal ranks around the military. This is not a question of Egypt’s “absent third” as Slavoj Zizek recently put it when he rhetorically asked “where are the agents of the Tahrir Square protests from two years ago?”, only to reply to himself that they have been reduced to “surprised impassive observers” {2013: unpaginated}. No, that won’t do. The disjuncture is far more vexed than that. What underpins the bewilderment and self-interrogation is that they might have been reduced not to observers but to unwitting accomplices.

Full article Nasser Abourahme (2013) The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt, CITY 17.6 available here.

  1. The Rabe’ el-‘Adawiya Mosque was the main sit-in for the pro-Mursi supporters. On the morning of August 14th the army cleared the encampment, killing over 1,000 people in the process, though figures to this day remain oblique and contested.
  2. Mosireen, a Cairo-based activist-media collective, put out the video in September; the poem recited in it is called “Prayer of Fear”, by Mahmoud ‘Ezzat.

Editorial: Beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’

‘This is the world of real, not theory. Our categories are always going to be stretched by it.’ (Paul Mason, 2013).

The message was from Paul Mason (2013), journalist, author, academic, writing to us one night in October from Athens. The story at this point, he says, is “not the ‘network versus the hierarchy’ but three hierarchies against each other: the Greek left …, Golden Dawn …, and the Greek state… ” And each of them, as he describes it, is further divided, (see, in this issue, ‘Why It’s (Still) Kicking Off Everywhere’). But the real, too, is a category. Both categories, ‘real’ and ‘theory’, need to be and are stretched in this issue.

Editorial 17.6

We begin with the current situation in Egypt where Nasser Abourahme’s (2013) gaze moves beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’ towards political form, urban life and revolt, and back again. We move on to Blair Taylor’s (2013) critical survey of protest and revolt, mainly in the West, ranging from the Alterglobalization and Occupy movements to Neoanarchism and ‘the new spirit of the left’, and on, with Yael Allweil and Rachel Kallus (2013), to the interplay of male bodies in public spaces in Tel Aviv, concluding this sequence, stretching our categories even further, to Debra Shaw’s  (2013) explorations of ‘strange zones’ of the posthuman city, drawing on science fiction (including China Mie ́ville’s fantasy novel Perdido Street Station).

But it is not just the categories of our theory that we need to extend, it is also those of our actions. In the concluding episode of our Forum series on NGOs and Social Movements, David Sogge (2013) sets out the case for new thinking and action about their relative roles, and Adam Elliot- Cooper (2013), reviewing John Akomfrah’s fine documentary The Stuart Hall Project, argues, beyond its almost obituary-like ambience and ‘muted optimism’, that:

‘The subtleties of racially-coded signifiers, the U.S-led bombings and occupations in the Middle-East and beyond, in addition to the continual march of neo-liberalisation make Hall’s critique an essential component in building alternatives as well as resistance.’

Two other perspectives come together so as to stretch our categories of theory and action with an emphasis on reversing key capitalist economic and urban trends. In an extensive survey and reconsideration of pioneering Marxist analysis of financialisation, Costas Lapatvitsas (2013) argues that it ‘cannot be reversed without re-establishing the command of the social and collective over the private and the individual.’ And, picking up on our previous issue, entitled Reversing Urbanisation, (1) challenged and informed by Adrian Atkinson and Julie Viloria,’ Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition?’ (Atkinson and Viloria, 2013), our current episode in the series, Towards the Great Transformation, argues against much current work on ‘planetary urbanisation’ that, drawing on the marginalised insights of ‘late Marx’ and recent much-neglected urban and rural struggles, the planet has to be re-earthed

Extreme events

Writing in the immediate aftermath of super-storm Sandy in 2012 a New Scientist editorial (2) noted that it was ‘suggestive of the extreme events that a changing climate will visit on us – much sooner than we had anticipated.’ One of the much-neglected rural projects is Atkinson’s and Viloria’s (2013) work in the Philippines. Atkinson reports:

‘The Hayen typhoon rushed across the south central islands of the Philippines and was truly destructive. I have been to Tacloban in the past and the pictures were horrendous. But also the countryside right across the island of Leyte was laid totally waste, including destroying so many trees and totally rubbishing the harvest which was almost ready.

‘Our area was pretty much wasted just a month back (two weeks before Hayen) with a direct hit from a typhoon, also rubbishing the harvest.’ (3)

It is ironic that such attempts are threatened by climatic conditions for which the system that they seek to supplant is almost certainly responsible. It is deeply worrying that those engaged in or concentrating on street battles cannot in the main see that ‘readjusting to reality’ is of at least equal importance Paul Mason too needs to stretch his categories. One analyst who can and does is Nasser Abourahme in both his recent contributions to CITY. In the current one he sees into and beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’. His atmospheric photograph of ‘a young boy earning a living fetching and delivering food walks under the watchful gaze of plain-clothes security officers’ illustrates his reference to ‘the possibility of new collectivities that might be found in the coordination between the revolutionary subjectivities and network that emerged from the revolt and the life-worlds of Egypt’s ‘informal’ urban poor that have both participated in and provided the enabling conditions of revolt.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 17 Issue 6; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 17.6


Editorial: Beyond ‘the street’ and ‘the slum’ Bob Catterall, Pages 713-715


‘The street’ and ‘the slum’: Political form and urban life in Egypt’s revolt Nasser Abourahme, Pages 716-728

From alterglobalization to Occupy Wall Street: Neoanarchism and the new spirit of the left Blair Taylor, Pages 729-747

Re-forming the political body in the city: The interplay of male bodies and territory in urban public spaces in Tel Aviv Yael Allweil & Rachel Kallus, Pages 748-777

Strange zones: Science fiction, fantasy and the posthuman city Debra Benita Shaw, Pages 778-791

The financialization of capitalism: ‘Profiting without producing’ Costas Lapavitsas, Pages 792-805

Why It’s (Still) Kicking Off Everywhere: Part Two

Introduction: The global revolution as one of ideas? Bob Catterall, Pages 806-807

Why it’s STILL Kicking Off Everywhere Paul Mason, Pages 808-809

Forum: NGOs and Social Movements: Convergences and Divergences: Part Three

Introduction: on structures and conjunctures, rules and exceptions Marcelo Lopes de Souza & Barbara Lipietz, Pages 810-811

Urban organisations amidst transnational pressures David Sogge, Pages 812-817


The Political is Noch Nicht (not yet)! Eduardo Mendieta, Pages 818-821

Around the illegal city Véronique Dupont, Pages 822-826

Film Review

The Stuart Hall Project: Review and reflections Adam Elliott-Cooper, Pages 827-834


Towards the Great Transformation: (10) Earthing ‘planetary urbanisation’ Bob Catterall, Pages 835-844


Abourahme, N. 2013. “‘The Street’ and ‘the Slum’: Political Form and Urban Life in Egypt’s Revolt.” CITY 17 (6) : 716– 728.

Allweill, Y., and R. Kallus. 2013. “Re-forming the Political Body in the City: The Interplay of Male Bodies and Territory in Urban Public Spaces in Tel Aviv.” CITY 17 (6) : 748– 777.

Atkinson, A., and J. Wiloria. 2013. “Readjusting to Reality 2: Transition?” CITY 17 (5) : 580–605.

Catterall, B. 2012. “Editorial: Reform and/or Transformation?” CITY 16 (6) : 621– 625.

Catterall, B. 2013. “Editorial: Reversing Urbanization?” CITY 17 (5) : 577– 579.

Elliot-Cooper, A. 2013. “The Stuart Hall Project: Review and Reflections.” CITY 17 (6) : 827– 834.

Lapavitsas, C. 2013. “The Financialization of Capitalism: ‘Profiting Without Producing’.” CITY 17 (6) : 792–805.

Mason, P. 2013. “Why it’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere.” CITY 17 (6) : 808– 809.

Shaw, D. B. 2013. “Strange Zones: Science Fiction, Fan- tasy and the Posthuman City.” CITY 17 (6) : 778–791.

Sogge, D. 2013. “Urban Organisations Amidst Transnational Pressures.” CITY 17 (6) : 812– 817.

Taylor, B. 2013. “From Alterglobalization to Occupy Wall Street: Neoanarchism and the New Spirit of the Left.” CITY 17 (6) : 729– 747.


  1. See Catterall (2013).
  2. Discussed in Catterall ( 2012 ), p. 624.
  3. Email, 19 November 2013

Global Uprisings: first reflections on a historic get-together of radicals in Amsterdam

by Antonis Vradis

Note: CITY will be publishing an upcoming special issue on the Global Uprisings event at De Balie with contributions from many of the speakers and participants… Please check back for the special issue!

Global Uprisings event at De Balie, Amsterdam, November 2013.

There might be no better sign that we may be “living in the end times”, as Slavoj Žižek has had it, than the fact that the day came when dozens of anarchists, council communists, autonomous Marxists and other radicals descended in Amsterdam, gathering in one of the city’s most well-established cultural venues, De Balie.

What took place during the past weekend in the Dutch capital is, in this sense, already the stuff of legend: direct participants in some of the most important uprisings of the past five years, plus some of the strongest and most passionate voices that have come in their defense since, got together under one roof. In the opening plenary, Paul Mason set the tone by moving on from his recording and mapping out of the global uprisings in Why it’s (still) kicking off everywhere (see 17.5 for the CITY reflection and response – Editorial and contents list here), Mason outlined his vision for what may, or should happen from now on.

In the morning plenary of November 21st, Lobna Darwish from the Mosireen collective in Egypt, Foti Benlisoy from Istanbul, Turkey and from Victor Khaled from Brazil offered an inspiring account of their respective struggles – the most recent ones in this continuing global thread of revolt.

What followed was nothing short of a complete mapping-out of the some of the most important struggles of our times. From the crisis in Europe – and the way in which it has hit the European periphery in particular, to the question of housing, all the way to feminist and LGBTQ organising in the revolts, attempts to network and fight back across the Mediterranean and even, experiments and attempts at self-organisation; that crucial threshold when the moment of revolt is (sur)passed in favour of a more permanent shift in the way that people live their lives. The end-of-day plenary saw David Graeber and George Caffentzis putting the day’s discussions in perspective, and tackling the question of the in/visibility of class struggle at the time of crisis.

November 22nd was the last day of the conference (and videos are not yet uploaded on the De Balie Vimeo channel). The day saw some excellent discussions on the topics of migration, the question of urbanization and revolt, student struggles around the world, grassroots media at the sites of revolt around the world, and the question of ‘reinventing’ the strike – an important attempt to reflect on new tactics and trends in strike organization. At the event’s closing plenary, Paul Mattick Jr. reflected on the current crisis in a much larger, historical perspective – explaining how the current disaster is little more (or less) than capitalism’s business as usual.

In what was most definitely the most powerful of moments in an already moving event, the closing moments of Global Uprisings played out down the street from De Balie, at the space where hundreds of migrants have found refuge, in a parallel attempt to make their voices heard, to become visible in the Dutch society. What kind of impact might Global Uprisings have? What is its legacy? The answer to the question will take a while to discern in the horizon, but there is already enough evidence that it will be formidable.

‘Prayer of Fear’, a video by the self-organised media collective Mosireen from Egypt – reflecting on their thoughts, their questions and their dilemmas after the massacre of approximately 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the Egyptian Army. (A translation in English of the text is underneath the video on Youtube).

Videos from all sessions at Global Uprisings are available through the De Balie Vimeo Channel.

Antonis Vradis is a research fellow at http://www.crisis-scape.net, a member of the Occupied London collective and alternatives editor of CITY. See also http://blog.occupiedlondon.org/.

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