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Editorial: ‘Go viral or die trying’

‘(The) globalizing working class is now put into dialogue with what the science historian George Dyson has called the ‘universe of self-replicating code,’ in an intensifying global meritocracy. That’s the playful, retail side of “Go Viral or Die Trying” — but the harsh, wholesale warehouse side of it is a globalized precariat, downgraded by intensifying, accelerating neoliberalization and put into competition with robotics and the widespread elimination of jobs for human beings, struggling to find an audience, to ‘go viral’ and have a chance at … something.’(1)

Is the somewhat sombre figure gazing inwards-outwards from a keyboard in an advertisement placed somewhere along the Delhi-Jaipur Expressway, also to be placed, as authors and scholars are increasingly, within ‘a globalized precariat, … struggling to find an audience, to ‘go viral’ and have a chance at … something’? Is that something a matter of (apparently?) gaining a place within the ‘intensifying global meritocracy’? But what is that? Where is that? Is this the nexus between ‘the city’ and literacy at which we have arrived, the ‘cognitive capitalism’ in which literacy ‘reconstituted through partially automated constellations of quantification and commodification’ serves, and is served by, planetary urbanisation? Is this the somewhere where something is found? Is this our scene?

These questions arise here through a reading of Elvin Wyly’s ‘Where is an author?’, subsequent discussion with him of this particular image and slogan, ‘Go viral or die trying’, followed up through the context(s) presented in this issue, beyond these to the historic associations of the slogan, and, beyond that, to ‘the human condition’ at this point in urban and planetary history.


What, then, is our scene or scenes? There are so many uncertainties: Something, Somewhat, Somewhere, Sometime. And so many questions: What? Where? When? Who? ‘There must be someway outa here’? Which? And how do we come to characterise these scenes and possible exits?

There are at least eight scenes or combinations of scenes presented in this issue. A ninth, giving perhaps the origin of the advertiser’s slogan is added.

Taking them in the order in which they are presented, Wyly’s combination of an intensifying global meritocracy and a downgraded globalised precariat comes first. In it he takes an insight from Foucault through ‘an intertextual dialogue with contemporary critical urban theory as well as earlier elements of Comte, Marx and Kant.’ What should also be noted is his use at times of particularly resonant photographs, such as this one, that more than merely illustrating a point also, in the case considered here, opens it up to further possibilities?(2)

Two further papers take up specific scenes, in Cyprus and Turkey, associated with conflict. In Cyprus, Paul Dobraszczyk’s atmospheric photographs and descriptions, in his ‘Traversing the fantasies of urban destruction’, take the reader through the off-bounds, former Greek resort town of Varoshka, abandoned at the time of the Turkish invasion in in 1974. He asks how, in a world saturated with images, real and imagined, where the line between them becomes increasingly blurred, we might (in Zizek’s terms) ‘traverse the fantasy’. He concludes: ‘I suggest, like Zizek, that fantasies of large-scale ruination allow us access to a potentially redemptive form of imaginative thinking … ’ In Turkey, authors Tahir Abbas and Ismail Hakki Yiggi are relatively optimistic about the implications of the ‘Scenes from Gezi Park’ that they witnessed.

Two subsequent scenes are both in New York. One as represented by the Phun Phactory, or Institute for Higher Burnin’, in Queens. And the other in our special feature compiled and introduced by David Madden on the late Marshall Berman, ‘a radical New York intellectual’, with contributions by Todd Gitlin, Daniel Skinner, and Gareth Millington, whose implicit and explicit theme of ‘faithful to the city’ is one to which we shall return.

The sixth scene is in ‘London’s Olympic State’ and the seventh has perhaps a place for authors and ‘the people’ somewhere ‘Toward the Horizon of Democracy’.

The penultimate scene, ‘City’s holistic and cumulative project’ as presented by Melissa Wilson and Bob Catterall, draws on Los Angeles, sometime, then and now, as CITY nears its twentieth year and seeks to uncover its roots and advance its growth. The concluding scene, presented here in this editorial, takes us from the slogan ‘Go Viral or Die Trying’ to its origin in Lyons in 1830-1 and to ‘the human condition’ at this point in urban and planetary history.

What, whose scene?

What is a scene? In an introduction to Joseph Heathcott’s piece on New York’s late Phun Phactory, Anna Richter gives a democratic slant to a definition, generalising from her experience and that of her predecessor as editors of our long-running series, ‘Scenes and Sounds’. The series presents a scene which ‘invites readers to follow urban dwellers through their everyday lives, using navigational skills that correspond with spatial grammers and practices.’ But that democratic element can be negated, as Heathcott shows in his article, following the neoliberal imperatives that undermined and eliminated both the ‘phun’ and the ‘phactory’? What then? Heathcott concludes with two alternatives. But, Richter suggests, these are ‘perhaps not too far away from creative-class discourse in urban planning’. Nor, much more threatening to Higher Burnin’, is the agenda of ‘self-replicating code,’ in a combination of an ‘intensifying global meritocracy’ with the increasingly downgraded globalized precariat, in which acutely marginalised citizens are now invited to ‘“go viral” and so, by implication, have a chance at … something.’ Nor can we expect too much from Todd Gitlin/s celebration of Marshall Berman’s ‘perennial modernism’? To what extent is ‘Hurling the little streets aganst the great’ now the answer? What, then, is the ‘something’? Wyly spells it out:

‘You could be famous. You could become known, get a job, get admission to an elite institution that will give you entry to the disappearing rungs of the middle class—but as those rungs disappear faster, it’s a widening gap between those on the top—the viral global celebrities—and every other step lower on the ladder.’(3)

Live working or die fighting

‘The widely cited story is Kodak vs. Instagram: at the peak, Kodak employed 140,000 before the company died amidst the digital shift; Instagram, when it was bought by Facebook for a billion dollars, had a total full-time employee roster of … thirteen.’(4)

Wyly concludes:

‘So that’s part of what I think of when I think of this image—a global competition that is spinning faster and faster. And a lot of it is about education (somewhere in my collection I have an image for one of the schools outside Delhi promising to educate the ‘global child’), and thus it is about an unassailable meritocracy (who can be against everyone trying to be ‘the best’?)’(5)

But the dialogue, and struggle, that Wyly points to between ‘the globalizing working class’ and an ‘intensifying global meritocracy’, with its “universe of self-replicating code” can only succeed when we turn to the actual processes described in Paul Mason’s seminal book (2007, (6), Live Working or Die Fighting, How the Working Class Went Global. It cannot be, as Andy Merrifield (2013, (7) would have it, a matter of mere encounter. What it has to be, as Mason brings out so clearly in his chapter on the Lyon silk weavers’ revolt of 1831, is also a matter of organisation. As Pierre Charnier, a master weaver, argued it out with his colleagues:

‘It’s our sedentary lifestyle … which shapes our morale. It is etiolated, just like our bodies. In order to remedy this double weakness. We have to create within our profession an esprit de corps. And there’s only one way to get there: organisation … ’(8)

Charnier set up the Society of Mutual Duty. What was involved is described by Mason. An aspect of this organisational activity was the setting up of the first worker’s newspaper in history, L’Echo de la Fabrique. It forecast a revolt. In the ensuing revolt one contingent carried a black flag. On the flag was a slogan: ‘Live Working, or Die Fighting’. It is, of course, a necessary alternative to ‘Go Viral or Die Trying’. It is part perhaps of what the somewhat etiolated figure gazing inwards-outwards from a keyboard in an advertisement placed somewhere along the Delhi-Jaipur Expressway, and many others, are waiting for, a city that exceeds Berman’s and Millington’s optimism, a city which becomes ‘faithful to the earth’.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY

Editorial to CITY, Vol. 19 Issue 1; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 19.1

Editorial: ‘Go viral or die trying’ Bob Catterall, pages 1-4

Where is an author? Elvin Wyly, pages 5-43

Traversing the fantasies of urban destruction: Ruin gazing in Varosha Paul Dobraszczyk, pages 44-60

Scenes from Gezi Park: Localisation, nationalism and globalisation in Turkey Tahir Abbas & Ismail Hakki Yigit, pages 61-76

Scenes and Sounds

Introduction: Hacking the redevelopment script Anna Richter, pages 77-78

The bold and the bland: Art, redevelopment and the creative commons in post-industrial New York Joseph Heathcott, pages 79-101

Special Feature: On Marshall Berman (1940–2013)

On Marshall Berman (1940–2013): A radical New York intellectual: Introduction David Madden, pages 102-103

Hurling the little streets against the great: Marshall Berman’s perennial modernism Todd Gitlin, pages 104-108

Remembering Marshall Berman Daniel Skinner, pages 109-111

Remaining faithful to the city: Marshall Berman’s provocative optimism Gareth Millington, pages 112-120


Adventures in the art of dissent and London’s Olympic State Andrew Harris, pages 121-125

Towards the horizon of democracy: Nurturing our desires, giving space to possible path Francesca Governa, pages 126-130

City’s holistic and cumulative project (1996–2016): (1) Then and now: ‘It all comes together in Los Angeles?’ Melissa Wilson & Bob Catterall, pages 131-142


  1. Email from Elvin Wyly, 6 January, 2015.
  2. Particularly resonant photographs, are selected for most issues, often with invited comments from the photographer/author such as this one, that more than merely illustrating a point also open up the image and implicit meanings to further possibilities.
  3. Wyly, ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Mason, P. 2007. Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global. London: Harvill Secker.
  7. Merrifield, A. 2013. The Politics of the Encounter: Urban Theory and Protest Under Planetary Urbanisation. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.
  8. Mason, p. 32.

Take the Money and run! An evening exploring London’s response to the crisis, with films, talks and debate

Centre of Media Studies, SOAS and CITY Journal present

Take the Money and run! Trickledown Economics: From Hedge Funders to the London Riots

“Riots are the voice of the unheard” – Reverend Martin Luther King


Saturday January 24th, 2015, 4:00 pm to 8:30 pm

at the Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Russell Square

No need to book – all welcome

An evening exploring London’s response to the crisis, with films, talks and debate

The financial crisis following the banking collapse in 2008, has been a purely man-made phenomenon, an unsurprising result of the suicidal economics of short-term, casino economics of the international financial sector, and its capital, the City of London. The link between production and ‘wealth creation’ has been shattered by the financialisation of international capital, hence creating a market detached from economic realities. This has led to the deepest financial crisis in our lifetime, with hundreds of millions all over the world suffering, and having to pay the cost of the reckless financial market. In its wake, ten of thousands have ransacked London shops, taking a bottle and running.

Have we learnt anything from these events? Have we changed society to take account of the two related disasters? Are we now immune from a further crash? What is the price being paid for the last crash, and who is paying it? Are further riots likely, or will society take political action instead to efficiently transform the financial sector? Is this a crisis of financial capital, or of capitalism?

Instead of dealing with the banks and financial institutions of Capitalism which have brought about this latest crisis, the UK Coalition government has launched a massive attack on the victims – the unemployed, the low-wage earners, migrant workers, people on benefits, the old and the infirm. They are to ones who are paying the cost of the banks profligacy.

To answer the question, two filmmakers and a number of researchers have come together to think about London and the crisis, at a point in time when positive change seems further than ever.


16:00            London is Burning (2012, 45Minutes), a documentary film by Prof. Haim Bresheeth (SOAS)

17:00            Secret City (2012, 72 minutes) a documentary film by Prof. Michael Chanan (Roehampton University)

18:30 Panel presentations and discussion:

Chair: Prof. Annabelle Sreberny (SOAS)

Panel Presentations

Prof. Jeremy Gilbert (UEL)

Property and Power in the post-political City

Adam Elliott-Cooper (Oxford University)

Resistance: Disruption at the point of consumption

Michael Edwards (UCL)

London: a class struggle waged from above, and resistance

Q&A Session with Panel and directors

Editorial: ‘We are not the dirt. We clean.’

“First, the working classes and bohemians were priced out … That was gentrification. Now comes plutocratisation: the middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class cleansing. Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos … Global cities are turning into vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces.” 1

Seen as a series of accumulating stages, this characterisation – gentrification followed by plutocratisation followed by a third stage in which patrician ghettos are moving towards domination – is, to say the least, alarming. Concluding their careful analysis in this issue of London’s changing class structure and residential mosaic, David Manley and Ron Johnston turn to the tripartite characterisation by Saskia Sassen of recent urban developments(s). The source in which they came across this formula was an article by the anthropologist and journalist Simon Kuper, in which concentrating on Paris he equates changes there with London, New York and Tokyo (2)

This characterisation and its implications are considered here on the basis of the studies assembled. Does the tripartite model stand up in this light? Or could it be that the various situations and analyses assembled point to a condition that is much more alarming? Whatever the intensity of this condition, is or are there a way or ways out? What do different analytic approaches have to contribute to understanding the situations and their possibilities? Are there any signs of emergence?

That the condition is much more than alarming, in fact terminal, is argued in Adrian Atkinson’s paper in which he looks at urbanisation as ‘a brief episode in history’, as it speeds into decline and self-destruction. Moving on to one of our three special features, ‘Cities in the Arabian Peninsula’, and taking up a paper on environmental costs of coastal urbanisation in the Arabian Gulf, one can see the biological dimension of this possibly terminal condition.

The signs of an emerging alternative to decline and eventual collapse are discerned and documented in Atkinson’s article and in the introductions to and papers in the other two special features. In both ‘Assembling Istanbul’ and ‘Labour Resistance across Global Spaces’, new directions are identified in, for example, the paper that each includes on Romani struggles, one in Istanbul and the other in Italy. Returning to London, a further paper from the Labour Resistance feature, on ‘Precarious Workers’, there are in the struggles of the cleaners signs of an alternative to Sassen’s charted course of mounting progression/ regression for urbanisation.


The near-terminal state of environmental degradation in at least one major world region is now becoming evident. John Burt brings this out in the case of the coastal areas of the Arabian Peninsula. He notes the impact of urbanisation on sabkhas (salt-flats), mangroves, beaches, seagrass beds, and coral reefs (70% of them are now ‘effectively lost’). In addition to coastal development, other factors impacting on coastal ecosystems are overfishing, the production of desalinated water (whose waste products, including toxic pollutants, are discharged back into the Gulf), and pollution from the oil and other industries. Some of this is familiar from newspaper stories, or through glamorised treatment in colour supplements but is marginalised or ignored when the relationship of ‘urban’ to non-urban/rural and to their bio-cultural foundations is missed. ‘Taken together their cumulative impact’, Burt concludes, ‘could trigger the collapse of those productive habitats that for millennia have supported coastal populations … ’

Much of Atkinson’s earlier work in this journal has concentrated on cities. Here his emphasis is on the wider spatial and historical context of urbanisation, the consequent deepening exploitation and decline of rural/ agrarian areas (to which should be added coastal areas), and on a topic much neglected by the social sciences, civilisation. On the rural/agrarian dimension, Atkinson argues that the current global population will soon enough become ‘un-feedable’:

‘indeed, due only to irrational distribution and wastage, rather than a shortfall of supply, we already have more than 1 billion hungry and undernourished people, many of whom were made so by the globalisation of their rural food production industries as a result of international trade agreements.’

The neglect of the topic of civilisation is not to the credit of the social sciences. One can note how in the quest for an, in fact, crudely reductive notion of scientificity earlier work on qualitative dimensions of social life by philosophers and, for example, founding figures in the development of sociology, notably Marx, Weber and Durkheim, has been marginalised or abandoned – a tendency furthered by the neoliberalisation of universities. It is to the credit of Atkinson that as a consultant, working on urban, environmental and local economic development issues, one fully aware (unlike many) of the need for a grass-roots rather than elitist ‘professional’ approach, he has also devoted much of his life to reworking this vast qualitative territory. The bearing of such grounded scholarship on current activist concerns can be seen, for example, in the treatment in his concluding paragraphs of the relevance of a seminal 1980 book on, academically-speaking, ‘moral philosophy’, Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue , to the Right to the City movement:

‘The book analyses how Occidental culture lost the very ability to formulate moral principles at any more than the personal or interpersonal level. We thus see notions asserted—readers of this journal may think of the Right to the City—that swim around in a void, having lost any meaningful foundation or effective connection into a more basic or coherent or systematic moral universe.’

To say this is not, of course, to write off the Right to the City movement but to point to a problematic dimension of its praxis so as to be able to direct attention towards engaging with it.

‘Swimming around in a void’? Romani struggles in Istanbul and Rome

The signs of an emerging alternative to decline and eventual collapse are set out in Atkinson’s article and in papers in the other two special features. In both ‘Assembling Istanbul’ and ‘Labour Resistance across Global Spaces’ new directions are indicated in the introductions and, for example, in the paper that each includes on Romani struggles, one in Istanbul and the other in Italy. But are these struggles nevertheless swimming around in the void to which Atkinson points? Or is there a way out? How might we know?

Each of these papers on Romani struggles is housed in a different analytic approach, set out in an introductory paper in each case, assemblage theory and a broadly cultural orientation for the ‘Assembling Istanbul’ papers, and a broadly political economy and labour-oriented approach in the papers of the ‘Labour and Resistance across global spaces’ special feature.

In their introductory paper, ‘Assembling Istanbul: buildings and bodies in a world city’, Elizabeth Angell, Timur Hammond and Danielle van Dobben Schoon make it clear where it is that readers will find themselves assembled. Nevertheless they consciously and deliberately use a political economy narrative in a section providing ‘A brief primer on contemporary Istanbul’ while noting ‘the potentially incompatible commitments of assemblage urbanism and political economy.’ This introduction and the feature as a whole provide a valuable contribution to that debate – one in which they acknowledge that ‘this journal has played a crucial role (Amin 2007; McFarlane 2011; Swanton 2011) between potential incompatibles.’

Among the papers one, “‘Sulukule is the gun and we are its bullets’: Urban renewal and Romani identity in Istanbul”, by Danielle van Dobben Schoon, provides a valuable cultural emphasis in following the progress of a hip hop video (3) – in and beyond Istanbul. But how can such cultural forms take Romanis and others through and beyond ‘urban renewal’, the ‘storm’ of building that Asu Aksoy (2012) has so eloquently described, so as embody their needs? ‘Assembling Istanbul: buildings and bodies’ is the title of the feature. But what forms of analysis and action in what socio-economic spheres are needed for liberatory embodiment?

In her summing up the feature, ‘Cultures of assemblage, resituating urban theory’, Amy Mills provides ‘a response to the papers’, apparently from within the assemblagist position, allowing David Harvey a walk-on part in the last three paragraphs. But it is not clear that the feature has succeeded in ‘resituating urban theory’, as Mills claims. A return to their political economy ‘primer’ might help? In the Introduction to their special feature, ‘Labour and Resistance across global spaces’, a valuable contribution to understanding and action, Adam Elliott-Cooper, Amber Murrey, Ashok Kumar and Musab Younis adopt a broadly political economy labour-oriented approach with a close focus on forms of resistance and organisation from ‘different sides of the North–South divide: juxtaposing the office custodian and the garment factory; gentrification and the modern prison; state-led repression enabled by transnational corporations and the emerging forms of anti-capitalist resistance’.

Among the Roma in Rome, Gaja Maestri in her contribution sees ‘the economic crisis as an opportunity.’ The paper shows how austerity generates new strategies and solidarities for negotiating Roma access to housing in Rome but lacks the dimension of cultural e ́lan that the equivalent assemblage paper provides. Assemblage and political economy seem, on this showing, to need each other – at least if we are to be clear about the full potentials, negative and positive, of the progression/regression of mounting urbanisation and environmental degradation so as to inform and motivate people towards seeking and finding a way out.

London (and beyond) revisited: ‘We are not the dirt. We clean.’

Revisiting London in another political economy and labour-oriented paper, the same problem arises. Jamie Woodcock’s ‘Precarious workers in London: New forms of organisation and the city’ is, on the one hand, weak on the tactilities of socio-economic and cultural processes, but, on the other, there is, as with other papers in this special feature, an acute sense of the contradictory particularities and potentialities of precariousness/‘pre ́carite ́’ which Bourdieu ( 1998 ) described as a

‘new mode of domination in public life … based on the creation of generalized and permanent state of insecurity aimed at forcing workers into submission, into the acceptance of exploitation. (W)hat is presented as an economic system … is in reality a political system which can only be set up with the active or passive complicity of the official political powers.’

To illustrate the new forms of organisation Woodcock considers two recent university campus struggles, of casual staff and of cleaners in London. In the first, the casual staff at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) launched a campaign, ‘Fractionals for Fair Play’, which began with a survey and then proceeded beyond research to action (successful). The second, the ‘cosas’ campaign (Spanish is widely spoken by the workforce) of University of London cleaners’ started in 2012 – a strike slogan, ‘We are not the dirt. We clean’, shown in the photograph, was erected at the University of London Senate House in February 2014 – is ongoing but has already met with some success. ‘The campaign’, Woodcock reports, ‘had workers’ self-organisation at its heart, but was also able to build links of solidarity with other groups of workers and students’. He refers to inter-relations between the workers, London Citizens, the established unions and the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) Cleaners Branch.

Returning to Sassen’ s three stage model, it has not been the intention here to say much about the first two stages. The first two, gentrification and class cleansing plutocratisation, are already familiar. The third stage of patrician ghettos should be seen in their attachment to ways of life such as those exhibited in and around the Arabian Peninsula. Returning to Burt’s paper on the Gulf, we note:

‘Today chronic oil pollution from ballast discharge, industrial spillage, ship collisions and related causes continue to affect coastal ecosystems. Continued growth in shipping activity, oil production and sewage discharge that will occur alongside urban expansion is likely to be linked to increased occurrence of harmful algal blooms, excess nutrient input, oxygen deficiency and increased heavy metal and organic pollution.’

How can this be dealt with? Burt suggests

‘only the engagement of the highest state authorities may trigger meaningful and long-lasting improvements in coastal management. Improving awareness of the value and importance of coastal ecosystems among senior leadership in Gulf countries should be considered a critical first step towards enacting positive change (the engagement of these decision-makers could trigger comprehensive improvements in the legislative and regulatory framework guiding coastal urbanization.’

Such notions could, though, be deployed as part of the new mode of domination to which Bourdieu referred. Or, to repeat Atkinson’s diagnosis, they could ‘swim around in a void, having lost any meaningful foundation or effective connection into a more basic or coherent or systematic moral universe’. Or they could be deployed by workers’ movements with self-organisation at their heart, research in their programs, claiming the Right to the City, able to build links of solidarity with other groups of workers and students, and continuing to assert and act upon the slogan: ‘We are not the dirt. We clean.’


Aksoy, S. 2012. “Riding the Storm: ‘New Istanbul’.” City 16 (1– 2): 93–111

Amin, A. 2007. “Re-thinking the Urban Social.” City 11 (1): 100–114.

Bourdieu, P. 1998. Contre Feux . London: Raisons d’agir.

Catterall, B. 2004. “Is It All Coming Together? Further Thoughts on Urban Studies and the Present Crisis: (2) What Time is this Space?” City 8 (2): 307–335.

Lisiak, A. A. 2014. “Navigating Urban Standstill.” City 18 (3): 334–348.

McFarlane, C. 2011. “Assemblage and Critical Urbanism.” City 15 (2): 204–224.

Shao, Q. 2013. Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity . Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Shin, H. B. 2014. “Contesting Speculative Urbanisation and Strategising Discontents.” City 18 (4– 5): 509–516.

Swanton, D. 2011. “Assemblage and Critical Urban Praxis – Part Four.” City 15 (6): 727–730.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 18 Issue 6 ; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 18.6

Editorial: ‘We are not the dirt. We clean.’ Bob Catterall, pages 603-608

Urbanisation: A brief episode in history Adrian Atkinson, pages 609-632

London: A dividing city, 2001–11? David Manley & Ron Johnston, pages 633-643

Special Feature 1: Assembling Istanbul: Buildings and Bodies in a World City

Assembling Istanbul: buildings and bodies in a world city: Introduction Elizabeth Angell, Timur Hammond & Danielle van Dobben Schoon, pages 644-654

‘Sulukule is the gun and we are its bullets’: Urban renewal and Romani identity in Istanbul Danielle van Dobben Schoon, pages 655-666

Assembling disaster: Earthquakes and urban politics in Istanbul Elizabeth Angell, pages 667-678

Matters of the mosque: Changing configurations of buildings and belief in an Istanbul district Timur Hammond, pages 679-690

Cultures of assemblage, resituating urban theory: A response to the papers on ‘Assembling Istanbul’ Amy Mills, pages 691-697

Special Feature 2: Roundtable on Arabian Peninsulas

Cities in the Arabian Peninsula: Introduction Pascal Menoret, pages 698-700

Visualizing the margins of Gulf cities Manuel Benchetrit & Roman Stadnicki, pages 701-707

Real estate and political power in 1970s Riyadh Paul Bonnenfant, pages 708-722

Public space and public protest in Kuwait, 1938–2012 Farah al-Nakib, pages 723-734

Urban margins in Kuwait and Bahrain: Decay, dispossession and politicization Claire Beaugrand, pages 735-745

Searching for Nasser Square: An urban center in the heart of Dubai Yasser Elsheshtawy, pages 746-759

The environmental costs of coastal urbanization in the Arabian Gulf John A. Burt, pages 760-770

Special Feature 3: Labour Pains: Resistance Across Global Spaces

Labour and resistance across global spaces: Introduction Adam Elliott-Cooper, Amber Murrey, Ashok Kumar & Musab Younis, pages 771-775

Precarious workers in London: New forms of organisation and the city Jamie Woodcock, pages 776-788

Interwoven threads: Building a labour countermovement in Bangalore’s export-oriented garment industry Ashok Kumar, pages 789-807

The economic crisis as opportunity: How austerity generates new strategies and solidarities for negotiating Roma access to housing in Rome Gaja Maestri, pages 808-823

Does school prepare men for prison? Karen Graham, pages 824-836


The civil relevance of geography between power and knowledge Matteo Bolocan Goldstein, pages 837-841

Bordered subjects Kate Hepworth, pages 842-845


  1. David Manley and Ron Johnston were drawing on an article in the Financial Times (15–16 June 2013) in which the anthropologist and journalist Simon Kuper, concentrating on Paris but equating changes there with London, New York and Tokyo, quotes this tripartite characterisation from Saskia Sassen (not referenced).
  2. The application of this set of changes can be extended and is further intensified by taking up, as we did in our previous issue, Qin Shao’s (2013) work on Shanghai and Hyun Shin’s (2014) related account of aspects of ‘development’ in China and elsewhere in which they deploy the notion of domicide.
  3. or earlier work in this journal on hip hop see Lisiak (2014), and Anna Richter’s introduction to it and my own deliberately ex-centric ramble ten years earlier, ‘What time is this space?’ (2004).

Editorial: ‘City makes your life happier’?

‘Clearly, everyday domicide is as systematic and widespread as the pursuit of economic interest. It has affected and will continue to affect large numbers of mostly powerless people, especially in the developing world. The murder of homes is an intentional act.’

Issue 18.4-5 editorial

Relatively comfortable readers, North and South, may read the first two sentences without too much discomfort. The third may arouse in some feelings of unease and dissent about mixed categories (do, for example, the notions of murder and intention belong to this context?). Comfortable readers, though uneasy, may accept this as a perhaps permissible exaggeration of ‘such things’ elsewhere but not a perspective that comes ‘home’ to them. We shall see.

Hyun Bang Shin begins his analysis of contemporary Chinese development, in this issue (1), with the full paragraph from which this epigraph is taken. It is from Qin Shao’s recent book, Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Mega-city.(2) Shin does not dissent. ‘While her findings are largely based on the city of Shanghai,’ he observes, ‘the stories of uprooted families and flattened dwellings are reminiscent of millions of other similar cases around the world.’

Shin does, however, present another perspective. He includes a photograph of slogans from the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The one in English is comforting, ‘Better City, Better Life’. And it is accompanied (to the right) by a cartoon-like character. It is ‘Expo’s mascot called Haibao holding a firecracker, a usual way of celebrating in times of new year’s eve, etc.’(3)  The other slogan Shin translates (literally) as ‘City makes (your) life happier’, and comments: ‘While the slogan in ‘English was emphasising the importance of improved urban management, the slogan in Chinese was simply an emphasis on ‘city living’ itself. In other words all that is required for a happy life is to live in cities.’ Ultimately, without radical changes that are not on the public agenda, these two slogans are not opposed. ‘Better City, Better Life’ fits neatly within ‘City makes your life happier.’

There is, though, a possible, though complex, combination of ideological opposition and practical unity between the two perspectives presented by Shin. If one argues that ‘domicide’ is not only practised far away from the comfort zones of elitist exceptionalism and ‘democracy’ but also within them, then existing cities or urban/ised forms may not make our lives happier. But how can citizens be encouraged or forced into the acceptance of the slogan ‘City makes your life happier.’ And how can such seduction or enforcement be resisted and superceded?

Such possibilities are touched on here through a brief sketch and interpretation of some of the various contributions gathered together in this issue – two standalone papers, one on Vancouver, the other on urban governance, two special features, one on Northern Ireland, and the other on the ‘crisis-scape’ of Athens and beyond (including Mexico City and Shin’s powerful paper on Chinese urbanisation).

In supplementing and challenging mainstream readings of urbanisation and domicide, relevant attention is given here, as part of a continuing emphasis on the value of personal, artistic, fictional accounts of some of the processes at work, to the contribution of the humanities to a new paradigm for planetary urbanisation rather than to purely empirical or analytical approaches. See the brief references below to reflexivity in Andy Merrifield’s paper, to film and to Lefebvre’s dictum in Adele Lee’s contribution to the special feature on Northern Ireland, and in the crisis-scape Special Feature, to the attention given to their own film ‘Future Suspended’ and to Angelopoulos, particularly his film ‘Ulysses’ Gaze’. What follows are essentially notes towards future reading(s) and discussion.

As interpreted here, Shin’s contribution, ‘Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents’ suggests, first, the question of ‘urban’ forms shaped by speculative urbanisation, resistance to them, and their relation to notions of ‘the city’ and of domicide, to which is added consideration of what kinds of thought and action can represent them. A second question, is then a major ethical and practical question one about the planetary future, post-urbanised futures, and of what kinds of thought and action, urban and rural/agrarian (added at this point), might make us happier, if happiness is to be our major criterion. What can represent and reshape them, could and should contest and undermine domicide, ‘strategising discontents’, the second half of Shin’s title.

It is these two overlapping questions – of urbanised forms and of post-urbanised futures – that, haunted by the counterforces of domicide and resistance, shape this reading of the various papers assembled here. The preferred term in this issue is urbanised rather than urban as a pointer to the question of whether the city ideal has been and is being increasingly marginalised, distorted and undermined, urbanisation as a close companion of urbicide as well as domicide.

Urbanised forms

In the first of the two stand-alone papers Vancouver’s relatively recent development is presented through a revelatory use of Geertz’ concept of involution as ‘the over-driving of an established form in such a way that it becomes rigid through an inward over-elaboration of detail.’ Picking up further on, Jamie Peck, Elliot Siemiatycki and Elvin Wyly, refer twice to its ‘overdriven’ quality. It is, first, a ‘phenomenon [that] has been an involutionary one, rather than an evolutionary or revolutionary one, in the sense that it has been marked less by clean historical breaks or linear incrementalism, but by the continued “overdriving” of sub/urban patterns, processes and practices’. Secondly, on the urbanised, not urban, nature of this powerful form, the authors comment: ‘More than interurban reorganization, more even than postmodern juxtaposition, Vancouver’s development pattern reveals an “overdriving”, complexification and recombination of extant sub/urban forms.’ There seems no end to this continual churning except that, as the authors note, it is not stable.

Moving from the exotic quality of Vancouver and the appropriately exotic quality of its analysis, Northern Ireland presents another urbanised form, problematic both for its inhabitants and its social analysts. Crucial for the ‘cityness’ of a city are its spaces and their uses. It is the sharing of the spaces across religions and, latterly, with new ethnicities that constitutes the problem on the ground. For the first section of the feature, on policies and practices, it is also, with exceptions, the somewhat distanced and distancing discourse of standard forms of research that is the problem. In the second section on ethnic and cultural diversity, the distance narrows. The title of one of the papers, ‘Are you a Catholic Chinese or a Protestant Chinese?’, suggests a lightening of touch. It is, perhaps significantly, by a Lecturer in English Literature, Adele Lee who introduces the analysis of two narrative films from and about migrant communities referring to Henri Lefebvre’s dictum that ‘the most important thing is to multiply the readings of the city’, and that the city contains ‘plentiful detritus to construct different stories which can challenge and provide an antidote to dominant discourses’.

The second standalone is a characteristically deeply felt and acutely observed paper, a fine exercise in reflexive writing, on another aspect of urbanised forms, ‘accountancy governance’. Andy Merrifield even manages to maintain his narrative flow in the abstract to his paper:

‘A new nobility assumed the mantle of political and authoritative power, a para-state of accountants and administrators, of middle managers and think-tank “intellectuals”, of consultants and confidants who reside over our privatized public sector, filing the paperwork and pocketing the rents and fees, together with the interest payments and bonuses, in our ever-emergent rentier and creditor society.’

However, he omits one of the most important aspects of the paper; ‘a new urban collective consumption.’ In the last few pages, following discussion of Castell’s notion of collective consumption as a defining characteristic of the urban in ‘ The Urban Question ’ (1997 in English translation) , he builds a discussion of the possibility of and necessity for a people’s form of accountancy, partly building on Bourdieu’s critique (Acts of Resistance, 1998) of the new ‘state nobility’ and on his own experience and thoughts, leading to the proposed initiative, a movement rather than an institution, for ‘a new urban collective consumption’, correctly and importantly noting that his discussion has entered a normative zone:

‘We, on the Left, need to affirm another value yardstick, free from the cynics’ speculative grip, another form of human solidarity, one that might enrich urban life beyond wealth.’

Towards post-urbanised forms

‘Athens is already heralded in international media (even supposedly “progressive” ones for that matter) as a city that is about to be reborn from its ashes, the “investment opportunities” posed by the city, and so on.’ (Vradis)

Yet another urbanised form is ‘the city that is about to be reborn’. The slogans ‘Better City, Better Life’ and ‘City makes your life happier’ are not, of course, uniquely domiciled in China. Nor, indeed, is their partner, domicide.

Much, much has to be said about domicide. We need to refer to the full quotation (only the first part was used in the epigraph above) from Shao that Shin gives in his epigraph. It is a deeply disturbing account of domicide as a universal form of oppression and psychic destruction into which the apparently less threatening Western/Northern forms of gentrification and relocation fit:

‘Domicide … severs its victims’ lifetime attachment to homes and community and deprives them of the built environment that has shaped their tradition and identity. It also wounds their sense of dignity. Everyday domicide, in other words, in many ways cruelly redefines the existence of its victims and severely diminishes, if not destroys, the quality of their lives … ’ (Shao)

The two partners, in varying degrees of intensity, land wherever they are least needed by the many and are most needed by the few.

That partnership is tracked and resisted in our Special Feature, ‘Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond’, edited by Antonis Vradis on the basis of the conference in May 2014 organised in Athens with his colleagues in the crisis-scape research team whose productions included the film ‘Future Suspended’.(4)

Vradis provides a valuable introduction to the twelve contributions. He concludes with particular reference to discussion of their film and to one other film, Ulysses’ Gaze , and the illuminating gaze of its great director, Angelopoulos. Of the latter he refers to him as ‘easily the most important documenter of the turbulent recent political history of the Greek territory.’ It is a gaze, urbanists please note, that extends out to and back to the villages. Their film, too, ‘Future Suspended’ has a penetrating gaze as it looks into contemporary Athens. As Nasser Abourahme asks in his review of the film:

‘Is the anxious, authoritarian, militarized city of self-avowedly fascist police and pitched civil war our present-future? Is this the fate of urbanity itself in our millennial, post-historical times? Is Athens, the purported birthplace of those secular forms we came to so faithfully value — democracy, the polis, the public — the harbinger of their demise?’

It is in this full context that we return to Shin’s paper ‘Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents’. He sums up his analysis as follows:

‘China’s speculative urbanisation is both an ideological and a political project that disrupts and/or destroys the lives of the masses, while it is the few that benefit from it. As the state and capital proceed with their heavy investment in fixed assets and rewrite the built environment, displacement becomes the norm for villagers and urbanites.’

As the reference to villages suggests, Shin is introducing a rural/agrarian dimension here as well as one that includes migrants and ethnicities, a key dimension of the Greek experience. The strategy that he puts forward is that ‘China’s particular trajectory of urbanisation requires the right to the urban struggles to be inclusive of the struggles by the new working class, who are fighting for their access to the “redistribution” of surplus value and for their “recognition” as legitimate citizens and not simply migrants … The alliance is in need of further inclusion of village farmers whose lands are expropriated to accommodate investments to produce the urban, and of ethnic minorities in autonomous regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang whose cities are appropriated and restructured.’

Not only in China but across the globe such alliances, urban with rural populations, are needed against the domicidal forms of urbanisation. The murder of homes and ways of life, though permitted by ruling ideologies, law and associated contained consciences, is intentional. City, without the rural/agrarian dimension, won’t make us happier. City takes note.

by Bob Catterall, Chief Editor of CITY
Editorial to CITY, Vol. 18 Issue 4-5 ; see contents list below.

Contents list for Issue 18.4-5

Editorial: ‘City makes your life happier’? Bob Catterall, pages 381-385

Vancouver’s suburban involution Jamie Peck, Elliot Siemiatycki & Elvin Wyly pages 386-415

Against accountancy governance: Notes towards a new urban collective consumption Andy Merrifield pages 416-426

The Production of Shared Space in Northern Ireland: Part 1

Introduction: Beyond the divided city: policies and practices of shared space Milena Komarova & Dominic Bryan pages 427-431

‘Shared space’ as symbolic capital: Belfast and the ‘right to the city’? Mary-Kathryn Rallings pages 432-439

The psychological dimensions of shared space in Belfast Rosaleen Hickey pages 440-446

Beyond the walls: Dismantling Belfast’s conflict architecture Jonny Byrne & Cathy Gormley-Heenan pages 447-454

Changing direction: Defensive planning in a post-conflict city Tim Cunningham pages 455-462

The Production of Shared Space in Northern Ireland: Part 2

Introduction: Ethnic and cultural diversity Adele Lee pages 463-465

Possibilities for change?: Diversity in post-conflict Belfast Carey Doyle & Ruth McAreavey pages 466-475

‘Are you a Catholic Chinese or a Protestant Chinese?’: Belfast’s ethnic minorities and the sectarian divide Adele Lee pages 476-487

Beyond Derry or Londonderry: Towards a framework for understanding the emerging spatial contradictions of Derry–Londonderry—UK City of Culture 2013 Peter Doak pages 488-496

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 1: Future privatised

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 1: Future privatised page 497

Crisis-scapes suspended: Introduction Antonis Vradis pages 498-501

Crisis and land dispossession in Greece as part of the global ‘land fever’ Costis Hadjimichalis pages 502-508

Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents Hyun Bang Shin pages 509-516

Unravelling false choice urbanism Tom Slater pages 517-524

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 2: Future devalued

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 2: Future devalued page 525

Infrastructural flows, interruptions and stasis in Athens of the crisis Dimitris Dalakoglou & Yannis Kallianos pages 526-532

Is the crisis in Athens (also) gendered?: Facets of access and (in)visibility in everyday public spaces Dina Vaiou pages 533-537

Strange encounters Jaya Klara Brekke pages 538-544

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 3: The present fighting back

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 3: The present fighting back page 545

Emerging common spaces as a challenge to the city of crisis Stavros Stavrides pages 546-550

The crisis and its discourses: Quasi-Orientalist attacks on Mediterranean urban spontaneity, informality and joie de vivre Lila Leontidou pages 551-562

Crisis, Right to the City movements and the question of spontaneity: Athens and Mexico City Christy (Chryssanthi) Petropoulou pages 563-572

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 4: Future reflected

Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond: Section 4: Future reflected page 573

Ross Domoney and Giorgos Triantafyllou: an interview Ross Domoney & Giorgos Triantafyllou pages 574-576

Ruinous city, ruinous time: Future Suspended and the science fiction of the present Nasser Abourahme pages 577-582

What is to be done? Redefining, re-asserting, reclaiming and re-shaping land, labour and the city Bob Catterall pages 583-588


Deleuze and research methodologies: The impact on planning Hooman Foroughmand Araabi pages 589-593

For creative appropriation: John Protevi’s Life, War, Earth and urban studies Keith Harris pages 594-597

Reframing the ‘creative city’ through tailored and context-sensitive policies Eduardo Oliveira pages 598-602


  1. Hyun Bang Shin (this issue)
  2. Shao, Q. (2013), Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  3. Email from Shin, 2014-09-07.
  4. Future Suspended is available to watch and download at https://vimeo.com/86682631

Athens and beyond…cities in financial/economic/social crisis

‘How does a global financial crisis permeate the spaces of the everyday in a city?’

An exploration through film, presentations, and discussion of Athens, a city in crisis and under authoritarian control. Are the same features appearing, if less starkly but just as insidiously, elsewhere? What is to be done? Check out the virtual special issue of CITY here for related articles – free access! http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/pgas/ccit-vsi-athens

How does a global financial crisis permeate the spaces of the everyday in a city?

Contributions from:

Costas Lapavitsas, economist, SOAS

Lila Leontidou, geographer, Hellenic Open University

Dimitris Dalakoglou, anthropologist, University of Sussex

AntonisVradis, geographer, University of Durham

Adam Elliott-Cooper, geographer, University of Oxford

Bob Catterall, editor, CITY

Saturday, 11 October, 6.00-9.00pm, at the Khalili Theatre, SOAS

The Khalili Lecture Theatre is on the lower ground floor of main College buildings (see http://www.soas.ac.uk/visitors/location/maps/#InteractiveMap)

Presented by CITY with crisis-scape (http://crisis-scape.net/) and co-organised with RMF at SOAS (https://www.soas.ac.uk/rmf/)

An introductory quote (below)?

‘Is the anxious, authoritarian, militarized city of self-avowedly fascist police and pitched civil war our present-future? Is this the fate of urbanity itself in our millennial, post-historical times? Is Athens, the purported birthplace of those secular forms we came to so faithfully value— democracy, the polis, the public—the harbinger of their demise?’’

Nasser Abourahme in his contribution to a special feature ‘Crisis-scape: Athens and beyond’, a special feature in CITY, 18.4-5 (early October, 2014)

Introducing and resituating a debate about ‘planetary urbanisation’

Editorial to the Virtual Special Issue of CITY

Available online now – articles free to download: http://bit.ly/cityvsi

Permaculture, Philippines; Adrian Atkinson.

‘Planetary urbanisation has assumed significance in recent urban studies debates, given its provocative questioning of the precise nature of the city and the urban, especially the neat demarcations separating urban, suburban and rural zones.’

That is the way the debate about ‘planetary urbanisation’ is introduced in the abstract for this session, entitled ‘Reclaim the City and the Planet’, at the 2014 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference. The sentence seems to provide a straightforward introduction to the topic but for the attentive, critical reader doubts may begin to creep in. Is it the actual material process of planetary urbanisation on the ground or is it a particular academic discourse, ‘planetary urbanisation’, that has ‘assumed significance’? And do discourses actually assume or do they acquire significance, a significance that is not only assumed but also empowered by actual individuals, particular academic groups engaged as much in a struggle for recognition, influence and power as in a struggle for truth?

Introducing a selection of relevant material from nearly two decades of publication in CITY, this brief survey seeks to resituate two approaches to planetary urbanisation within wider debates, intellectual, cultural, and activist/‘political’ as well as academic, one led by Neil Brenner at Harvard and Christian Schmid of the ETH Zurich, the other led by CITY. The latter adopts a transdisciplinary approach (including biology and the humanities) rather than the interdisciplinary one (largely dependent on the socio-spatial ‘sciences’) of the former. CITY’s approach seeks to bring this expanding field of ‘planetary urbanisation’ closer to the actual human and material changes and struggles on the ground (the bio-social planet itself).

The  tendency that ‘has assumed significance’ since Brenner’s inaugural lecture at Harvard in November 2011, entitled ‘The Urbanization Question, of the Field Formally Known as Urban Studies’, features in the very impressive and valuable compilation (34 chapters and over 570 pages) edited by Neil Brenner, ‘Implosions/Explosions: Towards a study of planetary urbanization (2014)’. Two founding figures in this tendency are Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey. The two key ‘historic’ texts in the first section, ‘Foundations – The Urbanization Question’, of the book, are by these two leading Marxist analysts/theorists, Lefebvre and Harvey. But Harvey’s piece, ‘Cities or Urbanization?’ (Item 1 here) is in fact reprinted from the first issue (1996) of CITY, whose early entry into the field of ‘planetary urbanisation’ was, or so it would seem, inconveniently premature.

CITY could, then, be conveniently located at the  margins as not having ‘assumed significance’, with no specific university base and many non-academic contributors (including in that first issue a cartoonist as an irreverent historian, an opera director as a social commentator, and, among others, a developer, architects, journalists, and a social/communal entrepreneur). The project, led since 1996 by Bob Catterall, has had four figures in its background, gradually foregrounded later: Levebvre himself; the much travelled grassroots consultant and occasional academic, Adrian Atkinson, an anarchist; the major anarchist theorist, Murray Bookchin; and a mainstream urbanist with both capitalist and anarchist sympathies, the late Peter Hall (all represented in this issue). This unorthodoxy led some academics to suppose that CITY was not quite ‘kosher.’  Despite its re-establishment in 2000 as an academic journal published by Routledge it is still unorthodox and not quite ‘kosher’, and in fact challenging – not only in its range of contributors, now including independent scholars and activists, but also with its choice of themes and their treatment.

Planetary urbanisation, the theme that has now ‘assumed significance’, first emerged in this journal not only in Harvey’s article but, not with that label, also in the wide-ranging editorial in that first issue of 1996, partly influenced by the, evident to some, ‘urbanistic’ conditions on the ground and also by Bookchin’s work. The still partly marginalised theme of the extreme physical vulnerability of the city/urbanisation was introduced by Atkinson with reference to oil (item 2), an analysis not outdated (see 12) by the fact that fracking has ‘assumed significance’.

The need for critical (‘CUT’), rather than mainstream, urban theory  (and action) was brought into the journal by Peter Marcuse (4), Neil Brenner and Margit Mayer in the context of the global North, applied to Palestine/Israel by Oren Yiftachel with an emphasis on the global phenomenon of urban ‘grey space’ (5), and has been presented with a continuing double challenge by Marcelo Lopes de Souza (9) in an assertion of the centrality of the global South to understanding the nature of cities and urbanisation and of the work of anarchists such as Bookchin  to understanding and resisting urbanisation. A cautiously empiricist approach to understanding the nature of cities and urbanization in the global South is presented by Pushpa Arabindoo (11).

The move towards what can and should be done was taken up by a CITY panel at the American Association of Geographers conference in 2007, as reported here by Bjorn Surborg (3). In ‘Reclaim the City!’ was one version of this move, in relation to the ‘Right to the City’, it is taken up by Peter Marcuse (4) and Mehmet Baris Kuymulu (10). It was also considered by an early contributor (and since Associate Editor of this journal),  Andy Merrifield (7), in a Lefebvrian re-conceptualization directed to what lies beyond … A pragmatic and imaginative approach to what can and should be done now is set out by Tom Bliss (6) in ‘The Urbal Fix’  (‘urbal’ as distinct from ‘rurban’).

The struggle towards the re-appropriation of the city, from a black and anti-racist perspective, is presented by Adam Elliott-Cooper (12). His conference blurb for this session , with its reference to ‘post-Duggan Britain’  – i.e., after the 2011 ‘disturbances’ arising from the police killing of a youth – echoes the work of Greek scholar-activists associated with CITY. Antonis Vradis and Dimitris Dalalakoglou, who refer to the subsequent period after the eruption following the police killing of a youth in 2008 as post-Grigoropoulos Greece. An important practice- related intervention, applying Guattarian insights, to our assemblage debate, was made by Bertie Russell, Andre Pusey and Paul Chatterton in their ‘Seven propositions for a more strategic and politicized assemblage thinking’ (8).

The moves towards reclaiming the land,’ transition’, are reported, analysed and enacted* by Adrian Atkinson and Julie Viloria (12), and are to be taken up in a future issue of the journal by Melissa Wilson (see her conference abstract, ‘Back to the Land’). The contrasting paradigms and/or epistemologies on urbanisation and its future are: in the approach to be presented by Brenner, a major associate of CITY, and Schmid, later this year (15); and by Catterall (14) who, returning an unsung late Marx (with Kropotkin and anarchism) to Russian communal struggles in the late nineteenth century, characterises the rural, the urban and the planet as biosocial phenomena, and argues for a transdisciplinary, rather than an interdisciplinary approach.

From the point of view of Wilson  and Catterall  the rural is not, as presented in the epigraph, a mere ‘zone’ but something fundamental  to life that is threatened by over-urbanisation and associated capitalist and neo-colonialist/imperialist developments. The debate over ‘the land’ and ‘the city’ now has a new and vital urgency. It is not by ‘re-thinking the city’ that we can reclaim the city and the planet. The particularities of their joint significance cannot be assumed, they will have to be claimed and reclaimed in the fields and urban and post urban spaces by work, struggle and praxis.

by Bob Catterall and Melissa Wilson

* What the photograph shows (on the inset cover above) is the work of Atkinson and associates in the Philippines. ‘The photograph’, he notes, “is looking from the edge of a regenerated forest area, across one of the rice fields to one of the buildings built to house various training exercises (almost a laboratory) which, as is evident, is built out of bamboo with thatch roof”. Disturbed by an approach to revolution that seems to devote almost total attention to street battles, Atkinson suggests that such (spreading) alternatives (including the notion of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture as the bridge to a more balanced mix of urban and rural) may be ‘the real Revolution’. That issue and editorial were entitled ‘Reversing Urbanisation?’

Reclaim the city and the planet

Available online now!

Virtual Special Issue of CITY: ‘Reversing Urbanization?’

Editorial to the special issue: Introducing and resituating a debate about ‘planetary urbanisation’

Virtual Special Issue flyer: Reversing urbanization?

Download flyer (pdf.)

CITY Panel at the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) 2014

Sponsored by CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.

Planetary urbanisation has assumed significance in recent urban studies debates, given its provocative questioning of the precise nature of the city and the urban, especially the neat demarcations separating urban, suburban and rural zones. While the questions raised by this discourse pose a fundamental challenge to basic epistemological assumptions, categories of analysis, and object of investigation, is it holistic enough to rethink the urban (and the non-urban) as a planetary condition, and more importantly, is it radical enough to provide adequate solutions, making sense of what is happening on the ground in the process? The objective of this panel discussion is to draw on the recent debates in the CITY Journal where by rethinking the urban, one is able to reclaim the city and the planet. But in order to do so, the journal recognises the need for a commitment to follow it out in the universities and on the ground. Thus, following this year’s theme of co-production, this session explores theoretical and empirical encounters across the global to reveal not just a comparative analysis but a disruption of prominent conceptual innovations. In arguing for a radical ‘post-urban’ analysis, it considers the kind of planning movement that will be necessary to facilitate this.

Number 395
Friday 29 August 2014, Session 4
Convenors: Bob Catterall (CITY Journal) and Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)

Panel Contributors:

Gray space and the new urban regime

Oren Yiftachel (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel)

Using the concept of ‘gray space’ as both an analytical tool, and a description of an undeclared planning strategy, Yiftachel’s discussion will use examples from Europe, Africa and Asia (with a special focus on Israel/Palestine) to outline the emergence of new urban regimes across the globe. These accommodate and institutionalize late-capitalist, liberal, collective identity and legal forces to condemn vulnerable populations to a semi-permanent position between the ‘lightness’ of membership, approval and legality and the ‘darkness’ of criminalization, punishment and eviction. Gray spaces have become the hallmark of urbanization in the early 21st Century. The ‘gray spacing’ of contemporary cities forces us to rethink our traditional understandings of urbanizing societies, in the context of a ‘creeping urban apartheid’, and its social and political implications.

Back to the land

Melissa Wilson (CITY Journal)

Melissa Wilson will share from her experience as a scholar-activist working with ‘City’ on the transition from urban life to off-grid ecological living. In the context of contemporary urban struggles for autonomy and health, her work explores the bridge between urban and rural, including the potential of permaculture and ecological knowledge for living harmoniously and co-productively with nature. Given the current alarming developments in climate change and ecological degradation, a biological perspective on the industrial and centralised form of modern urban survival – and especially its implications for the agrarian world out of which it is reproduced – urges us to seek alternative forms of everyday living that restore content to active participation, especially in the realm of food production, localised economic development, reduced dependence on fossil fuels and building community resilience to systemic shocks. There is a growing agrarian and food movement worldwide (discussed by Adrian Atkinson in ‘City’) that acknowledges this challenge in practical terms, but challenges still remain on how to bridge the cultural and political communication mainly located in urban centers, and the ecologically restorative agrarian work to urban communities as well.

Reclaiming the city from the state: Race and activism in post-Duggan Britain

Adam Elliott-Cooper (University of Oxford)

As deindustrialisation tears apart industrial labour, it becomes replaced, and controlled, by securitisation. While G4S herald themselves as the world’s largest employer, state security, namely the police and prisons, intensify their control over both the unemployed, and the never-employed. It is Britain’s black communities face that the brunt of both labour-market exclusion and police repression.

Both capital and the state see black communities, still occupying potentially profitable urban neighbourhoods, as sections of a surplus population. As police stops, searches, strip-searches, ASBO’s, detentions and dispersal orders are a regular feature for black youth on Britain’s city streets, the police taser, charge and plan to water canon those who dare to revolt in signifiant numbers. While deaths in the hands of police continue to face organised resistance, the state sanctions spying, infiltration and smearing of black community campaigns. This paper looks not only at how London and Birmingham’s black inner-cities are policed, but how resistance is organised to defend and reclaim the cities these black communities once helped to build.

A planet of Asians

Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)

Twenty-first century is not only ‘urban’ but it is also Asian if we go by the demographic claims of international financial institutions such as the UN and the World Bank. While more than fifty percent or nearly two billion will be Asian (with a billion plus living in Asia’s teeming cities), there isn’t much beyond this statistical construct that enquires critically about the nature of this urbanisation. This paper in reviewing the current theorisations within urban studies about the ‘Asian city’ also draws on the opportunities as well as constraints of a discourse such as planetary urbanisation, emphasising the need to, first of all, consider conceptually what is the urban in an Asian context, specifically the epistemological challenges posed by countries like India and China. Secondly, we will also need to consider more carefully struggles of the elite and marginalised groups to reclaim the urban, as such encounters tend to defy our empirical understandings of the urban.
See also: http://conference.rgs.org/AC2014/395
Visit the conference homepage here >>

Conference details:

Location: Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Imperial College London RGS-IBG: 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR (Registration & helpdesk) Imperial College London: Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2AZ
Dates: Opening event and pre-conference workshops on Tuesday 26 August, then sessions running Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 August 2014
Theme: Geographies of co-production Conference chair: Wendy Larner (University of Bristol)

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.

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