Issue 121, April 2014

Big city blues


Table of Contents

April 2014; 121 (1)


Big city blues

Trevor Hogan and Julian Potter

Abstract: The advent of the ‘mega’ or world city seems inseparable from the ambivalent and transient experience of modernity – the ideals of liberty, individuality, property, accelerating progress, and, for many, the realities of immobility, anonymity, poverty, and arresting regression. When more than half of the global population pursues an existence within an urban frame, the densities and boundaries of urban spaces swell to fantastical proportions. With the vast increase in size, so the experiences and expectations of the city become more pronounced and profound. This introduction to this special issue of Thesis Eleven, ‘Big City Blues’, discusses the themes and stories of the articles below, which present different aspects of life in the metropolis. The over-stimulation of the desensitized urbanite, the wandering flâneur who fortifies him/her self against fragmenting pressures, the explosion of everyday peace into riots, the battles for political and social recognition of identity and property rights, and the financial meltdown of an entire municipal institution, are just some of the things that take place in the modern city, and are explored here.



Imagining cities, others: Strangers, contingency and fear

John Rundell

Abstract: This paper explores the constellation of fear and the social forces, assumptions and images that construct it. The paper’s underlying presupposition is that there are many locations for fear that run parallel to one another in modernity, one of which will be discussed here – the city. It begins by exploring two images and ideas of the city, around which the social theoretical tradition has revolved, both of which are linked in some way to the ideal of the metropolis and the counter-ideal of the stranger. The stranger invariably accompanies the image of the city, as someone who comes to it from the outside. This co-existence between integration and the experience of being outside generates the inner tension or unease of city life, especially when we are all strangers.

Benjamin, Adorno and modern-day flânerie

Dean Biron

Abstract: The flâneur has remained little more than a hazy, nostalgic figure since first described in detail by Baudelaire in 19th-century Paris. Here, the work of Walter Benjamin, who did more than any other to advance the notion of flânerie post-Baudelaire, is considered alongside that of his friend and critic Theodor Adorno, in an attempt to conceive of a modern-day version of the type. The many critical exchanges between Adorno and Benjamin are envisioned as a moving dialectic: a constant interplay between anticipation and suspicion. What results is a concept of flânerie that mingles a tentatively optimistic Benjamin with a perpetually sceptical Adorno, in order to conjure up an image of the individual strolling and wandering about the margins of contemporary urbanity, balanced on the cusp of hope and hopelessness.

The hidden morale of the 2005 French and 2011 English riots

Ferdinand Sutterlüty

Abstract: This essay reconstructs the normative core of the recent European riots, when young rebels reacted to the disregard for their civic claims to equal treatment. Referring to the available data and facts, the essay uses the example of the two biggest riots in contemporary French and British history to show that prevailing analyses only grasp certain aspects of these events: these riots were primarily neither ‘race riots’, ‘issueless riots’ nor ‘riots of defective consumers’. Nourished in particular by experiences with the police and the school system in the urban districts from which the rioters recruited, rage was directed against the symbols and embodiments of a state that has failed to live up to its promise of equality. It is the everyday undermining of the principle of their equality as citizens and the physically experienced violation of minimum constitutional standards that best explain the motivations of those participating in the riots.

Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad: Three varieties of Kemalist urbanism

Christopher Houston

Abstract: Kemalism has been the guiding and justifying ideology of the Turkish Republic since its institution in 1923. That Kemalism is exclusive to Turkey is a mainstay of Kemalist self-perception. But was (or is) Kemalism as political practice pursued by other regimes in the region’ This paper argues that Kemalism should also be understood as a project of urbanism, and that urban interventions into Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad in the 20th century transformed all three into Kemalist cities. To illustrate, I describe certain features of their spatial, symbolic and sensory re-organization. My concluding remarks address the radically divergent fate of Kemalist urbanism in the contemporary cities of Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara.

Frontier Jerusalem: Blurred separation and uneasy coexistence in a divided city

Rachel Busbridge

Abstract: In this essay, I explore the city of Jerusalem, which not only lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but is inextricably shaped by its developments. Nominally unified under Israeli sovereignty, Jerusalem nevertheless remains starkly divided between an Israeli west and an occupied Palestinian east and is best understood as a frontier city characterized by long-simmering tensions and quotidian conflict. With its future tied to the future of the conflict, Jerusalem remains caught between two options: the almost global preference for the city’s repartition in accordance with a ‘two-state solution’ and the Israeli desire to maintain the status quo. A closer look at contemporary Jerusalem, however, reveals the untenability of both options. In this essay, I seek to document how the reality of Israeli-Palestinian division sits alongside a dynamic of blurred separation in the city, which has forged an uneasy coexistence of sorts. Re-thinking the frontier as a site of both conflict and coexistence, I argue, is key to imagining future possibilities for the city that do not rest on the desire for ethnically-pure spaces, but are rather guided by a politics of co-presence that recognizes the impossibility of disentangling Arab and Jewish histories, memories and connections to the city.

On the verge of displacement: Listening to kampong dwellers in the emotional economy of contemporary Jakarta

Tunggul Yunianto

Abstract: Jakarta is a city of high aspirations of the entrepreneurial and professional middle classes. For the rich, this brave new world of malls, office parks, and apartments represents an optimistic economy. The displaced poor, however, express an emotional economy of fear and anger that begets a politics of resistance. This study seeks to grasp the new urbanisms that uncover this ‘structure of feeling’ among the poor. I suggest that the urban imaginary of Jakarta is co-constituted by a symbiosis of optimism and ambitions on the one hand and, on the other, by pessimism, fear, and anger materialized in the resistance of the occluded and expressed through processes of questioning and cursing the profit-seeking dreams that are transforming the cityscapes. Exploring the making of Jakarta in this way can lead to a fuller understanding of the politics of urban transformation – one that moves away from assuming globalizing neoliberalism is the sole or primary force shaping the urban world.

Bankrupted Detroit

Mathieu Hikaru Desan

Abstract: The recent declaration of the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history has propelled Detroit’s plight into the international spotlight. Though a victim of the general decline of US manufacturing, drawing on Thomas Sugrue’s pioneering work I argue that Detroit’s crisis is better understood as a specifically urban crisis. The city’s concentrated poverty and desolation and its fiscal straits are not reducible to broader economic trends, nor are they exclusively the product of political mismanagement. Rather, they are the outcome of a long history of economic decentralization and racial segregation, made worse by a politico-administrative arrangement that distributes wealth and services unequally across the metropolitan area. By imposing municipal austerity, Detroit’s bankruptcy is unlikely to do much to address these fundamental inequalities. Any plan to revitalize the city must move beyond boosterism and tackle head on the problems of racial and economic segregation that continue to affect Detroit’s 700,000 residents.

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