New Books: Place, Race and Critical Theory

Below is a list of books we’re considering reading in the Place, Race and Critical Theory Reading Group.

Grammars of the Urban Ground

Editors: Ash AminMichele Lancione

The contributors to Grammars of the Urban Ground develop a new conceptual framework and vocabulary for capturing the complex, ever-shifting, and interactive processes that shape contemporary cities. Building on Marxist, feminist, queer, and critical race theory as well as the ontological turn in urban studies, they propose a mode of analysis that resists the staple of siloed categories such as urban “economy,” “society,” and “politics.” In addition to addressing key concepts of urban studies such as dispossession and scale, the contributors examine the infrastructures of plutocratic life in London, reconfigure notions of gentrification as a process of racial banishment, and seek out alternative archives for knowledge about urban density. They also present case studies of city life in the margins and peripheries of São Paulo, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Jakarta. In so doing, they offer a foundation for better understanding the connective and aggregative forces of city-making and the entanglements and relations that constitute cities and their everyday politics.

Mohawk Interruptus

Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States

Audra Simpson

Mohawk Interruptus is a bold challenge to dominant thinking in the fields of Native studies and anthropology. Combining political theory with ethnographic research among the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke, a reserve community in what is now southwestern Quebec, Audra Simpson examines their struggles to articulate and maintain political sovereignty through centuries of settler colonialism. The Kahnawà:ke Mohawks are part of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy. Like many Iroquois peoples, they insist on the integrity of Haudenosaunee governance and refuse American or Canadian citizenship. Audra Simpson thinks through this politics of refusal, which stands in stark contrast to the politics of cultural recognition. Tracing the implications of refusal, Simpson argues that one sovereign political order can exist nested within a sovereign state, albeit with enormous tension around issues of jurisdiction and legitimacy. Finally, Simpson critiques anthropologists and political scientists, whom, she argues, have too readily accepted the assumption that the colonial project is complete. Belying that notion, Mohawk Interruptus calls for and demonstrates more robust and evenhanded forms of inquiry into indigenous politics in the teeth of settler governance.

Black Marxism

The Making of the Black Radical Tradition

Cedric J Robinson

A foundational work of Black Radical critical theory, now to be widely available here for the first time. Any struggle must be fought on a people’s own terms, argues Cedric Robinson’s landmark account of Black radicalism. Marxism is a western construction, and therefore inadequate to describe the significance of Black communities as agents of change against ‘racial capitalism’. Tracing the emergence of European radicalism, the history of Black African resistance and the influence of these on such key thinkers as W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James and Richard Wright, Black Marxism reclaims the story of a movement.

How to Build a Global City

Recognizing the Symbolic Power of a Global Urban Imagination

Michele Acuto

In How to Build a Global City, Michele Acuto considers the rise of a new generation of so-called global cities—Singapore, Sydney, and Dubai—and the power that this concept had in their ascent, in order to analyze the general relationship between global city theory and its urban public policy practice. The global city is often invoked in theory and practice as an ideal model of development and a logic of internationalization for cities the world over. But the global city also creates deep social polarization and challenges how much local planning can achieve in a world economy. Presenting a unique elite ethnography in Singapore, Sydney, and Dubai, Acuto discusses the global urban discourses, aspirations, and strategies vital to the planning and management of such metropolitan growth. The global city, he shows, is not one single idea, but a complex of ways to imagine a place to be global and aspirations to make it so, often deeply steeped in politics. His resulting book is a call to reconcile proponents and critics of the global city toward a more explicit engagement with the politics of this global urban imagination.

The Making of Land and The Making of India

Nikita Sud

Wide-ranging analysis of human-nature interactions in the era of climate change. Offers an inter-disciplinary theorisation of land. Traces the social life of land through field-based, qualitative research over more than a decade. Spotlights land-making as state-making, market-making and politics-making. Unique study of post-liberalisation India from the ground up.

Allotment Stories

Indigenous Land Relations under Settler Siege

Edited by Daniel Heath Justice and Jean M. O’Brien

More than two dozen essays of Indigenous resistance to the privatization and allotment of Indigenous lands. Allotment Stories collects more than two dozen chronicles of white imperialism and Indigenous resistance. Ranging from the historical to the contemporary and grappling with Indigenous land struggles around the globe, these narratives showcase both scholarly and creative forms of expression, constructing a multifaceted book of diverse perspectives that will inform readers while provoking them toward further research into Indigenous resilience.

A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism

Jairus Banaji

The rise of capitalism to global dominance is still largely associated – by both laypeople and Marxist historians – with the industrial capitalism that made its decisive breakthrough in 18th century Britain. Jairus Banaji’s new work reaches back centuries and traverses vast distances to argue that this leap was preceded by a long era of distinct “commercial capitalism”, which reorganised labor and production on a world scale to a degree hitherto rarely appreciated. Rather than a picture centred solely on Europe, we enter a diverse and vibrant world. Banaji reveals the cantons of Muslim merchants trading in Guangzhou since the eighth century, the 3,000 European traders recorded in Alexandria in 1216, the Genoese, Venetians and Spanish Jews battling for commercial dominance of Constantinople and later Istanbul. We are left with a rich and global portrait of a world constantly in motion, tied together and increasingly dominated by a pre-industrial capitalism. The rise of Europe to world domination, in this view, has nothing to do with any unique genius, but rather a distinct fusion of commercial capitalism with state power.

Making Australian History

Anna Clark

Australian history has been revised and reinterpreted by successive generations of historians, writers, governments and public commentators, yet there has been no account of the ways it has changed, who makes history, and how. Making Australian History responds to this critical gap in Australian historical research. A few years ago Anna Clark saw a series of paintings on a sandstone cliff face in the Northern Territory. There were characteristic crosshatched images of fat barramundi and turtles, as well as sprayed handprints and several human figures with spears. Next to them was a long gun, painted with white ochre, an unmistakable image of the colonisers. Was this an Indigenous rendering of contact? A work of history? Each piece of history has a message and context that depends on who wrote it and when. Australian history has swirled and contorted over the years- the history wars have embroiled historians, politicians and public commentators alike, while debates over historical fiction have been as divisive. History isn’t just about understanding what happened and why. It also reflects the persuasions, politics and prejudices of its authors. Each iteration of Australia’s national story reveals not only the past in question, but also the guiding concerns and perceptions of each generation of history makers. Making Australian History is bold and inclusive- it catalogues and contextualises changing readings of the past, it examines the increasingly problematic role of historians as national storytellers, and it incorporates the stories of people.

The Inheritance

Elizabeth A. Povinelli

Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s inheritance was passed down not through blood or soil but through a framed map of Trentino, Alto Adige—the region where family’s ancestral alpine village is found. Far more than a map hanging above the family television, the image featured colors and lines that held in place the memories and values fueling the Povinelli family’s fraught relationships with the village and with each other. In her graphic memoir The Inheritance, Povinelli explores the events, traumas, and powers that divide and define our individual and collective pasts and futures. Weaving together stories of her grandparents’ flight from their village in the early twentieth century to the fortunes of their knife-grinding business in Buffalo, New York, and her own Catholic childhood in a shrinking Louisiana woodlands of the 1960s and 1970s, Povinelli describes the serial patterns of violence, dislocation, racism and structural inequality that have shaped not only her life but the American story. Plumbing the messy relationships among nationality, ethnicity, kinship, religion, and belonging, The Inheritance takes us into the gulf between the facts of history and the stories we tell ourselves to survive and justify them.


An Environmental History

Mark Stoll

coming soon

Rent and its Discontents

A Century of Housing Struggle

Edited bt Neil Gray

The 1915 Rent Strikes in Glasgow, along with similar campaigns across the UK, catalysed rent restrictions and eventually public housing as a right, with a legacy of progressive improvement in UK housing through the central decades of the 20th century.

With the decimation of social housing and the resurgence of a profoundly exploitative private housing market, the contemporary political economy of housing now shares many distressing features with the situation one hundred years ago. Starting with a re-appraisal of the Rent Strikes, this book asks what housing campaigners can learn today from a proven organisational victory for the working class. A series of investigative accounts from scholar-activists and housing campaign groups across the UK charts the diverse aims, tactics and strategies of current urban resistance, seeking to make a vital contribution to the contemporary housing question in a time of crisis. 

Fragments of the City

Making and Remaking Urban Worlds

Colin McFarlane

Cities are becoming increasingly fragmented materially, socially, and spatially. From broken toilets and everyday things, to art and forms of writing, fragments are signatures of urban worlds and provocations for change. In Fragments of the City, Colin McFarlane examines such fragments, what they are and how they come to matter in the experience, politics, and expression of cities. How does the city appear when we look at it through its fragments? For those living on the economic margins, the city is often experienced as a set of fragments. Much of what low-income residents deal with on a daily basis is fragments of stuff, made and remade with and through urban density, social infrastructure, and political practice. In this book, McFarlane explores infrastructure in Mumbai, Kampala, and Cape Town; artistic montages in Los Angeles and Dakar; refugee struggles in Berlin; and the repurposing of fragments in Hong Kong and New York. Fragments surface as material things, as forms of knowledge, as writing strategies. They are used in efforts to politicize the city and in urban writing to capture life and change in the world’s major cities. Fragments of the City surveys the role of fragments in how urban worlds are understood, revealed, written, and changed.

Beyond the Megacity 

New Dimensions of Peripheral Urbanization in Latin America

Edited by Nadine Reis and Michael Lukas

Beyond the Megacity connects and reconnects the global debate on the contemporary urban condition to the Latin American tradition of seeing, considering, and theorizing urbanization from the margins. It develops the approach of “peripheral urbanization as a way to integrate the theoretical agendas belonging to global suburbanisms, neo-Marxist accounts of planetary urbanization, and postcolonial urban studies, and to move urban theory closer to the complexity and diversity of urbanization in the Global South.

From an interdisciplinary perspective, Beyond the Megacity investigates the natures, causes, implications, and politics of current urbanization processes in Latin America. The book draws on case studies from various countries across the region, covering theoretical and disciplinary approaches from the fields of geography, anthropology, sociology, urban studies, agrarian studies, and urban and regional planning, and is written by academics, journalists, practitioners, and scholar-activists. Beyond the Megacity unites these unique perspectives by shifting attention to the places, processes, practices, and bodies of knowledge that have often been neglected in the past.

How the other half lives

Interconnecting socio-spatial inequalities

Edited by Samuel Burgum and Katie Higgins

We are, all of us, intimately familiar with inequalities. Whether finding somewhere to live, walking in the street, following the news, negotiating international travel, or in our working and personal lives, subtle and crude hierarchies shape our lived experience. How the other half lives contributes detailed, multidisciplinary, and qualitative explorations of the everyday social and spatial realities of inequality, drawing new lines from Manchester to Milan, from Brighton to Bologna. Uniquely structured as a series of oppositions between peaks and troughs, with each chapter focusing on a specific subject, including: housing, urban design, place-making, the state, cultures of inequality, and transnational mobility. This book is a resource to navigate an unequal world, oriented around three key understandings of inequality as contingent, intersectional, and interrelated.

The Undercommons

Fugitive Planning & Black Study

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney

In this series of essays Fred Moten and Stefano Harney draw on the theory and practice of the black radical tradition as it supports, inspires, and extends contemporary social and political thought and aesthetic critique. Today the general wealth of social life finds itself confronted by mutations in the mechanisms of control, from the proliferation of capitalist logistics through governance by credit and management of pedagogy. Working from and within the social poesis of life in the undercommons Moten and Harney develop and expand an array of concepts: study, debt, surround, planning, and the shipped. On the fugitive path of an historical and global blackness, the essays in this volume unsettle and invite the reader to the self-organised ensembles of social life that are launched every day and every night amid the general antagonism of the undercommons.

Dreams of Flight

The Lives of Chinese Women Students in the West

Fran Martin

In Dreams of Flight, Fran Martin explores how young Chinese women negotiate competing pressures on their identity while studying abroad. On one hand, unmarried middle-class women in the single-child generations are encouraged to develop themselves as professional human capital through international education, molding themselves into independent, cosmopolitan, career-oriented individuals. On the other, strong neotraditionalist state, social, and familial pressures of the post-Mao era push them back toward marriage and family by age thirty. Martin examines these women’s motivations for studying in Australia and traces their embodied and emotional experiences of urban life, social media worlds, work in low-skilled and professional jobs, romantic relationships, religion, Chinese patriotism, and changed self-understanding after study abroad. Martin illustrates how emerging forms of gender, class, and mobility fundamentally transform the basis of identity for a whole generation of Chinese women.

Against the Commons

A Radical History of Urban Planning

Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago

An alternative history of capitalist urbanization through the lens of the commons Characterized by shared, self-managed access to food, housing, and the basic conditions for a creative life, the commons are essential for communities to flourish and protect spaces of collective autonomy from capitalist encroachment. In a narrative spanning more than three centuries, Against the Commons provides a radical counterhistory of urban planning that explores how capitalism and spatial politics have evolved to address this challenge.

Highlighting episodes from preindustrial England, New York City and Chicago between the 1850s and the early 1900s, Weimar-era Berlin, and neoliberal Milan, Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago shows how capitalist urbanization has eroded the egalitarian, convivial life-worlds around the commons. The book combines detailed archival research with provocative critical theory to illuminate past and ongoing struggles over land, shared resources, public space, neighborhoods, creativity, and spatial imaginaries.

Against the Commons underscores the ways urbanization shapes the social fabric of places and territories, lending particular awareness to the impact of planning and design initiatives on working-class communities and popular strata. Projecting history into the future, it outlines an alternative vision for a postcapitalist urban planning, one in which the structure of collective spaces is ultimately defined by the people who inhabit them.

Abolition Geography

Essays Towards Liberation

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Edited with an introduction by Brenna Bhandar and Alberto Toscano.

New collection of writings from one of the foremost contemporary critical thinkers on racism, geography and incarceration

Gathering together Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s work from over three decades, Abolition Geography presents her singular contribution to the politics of abolition as theorist, researcher, and organizer, offering scholars and activists ways of seeing and doing to help navigate our turbulent present. Abolition Geography moves us away from explanations of mass incarceration and racist violence focused on uninterrupted histories of prejudice or the dull compulsion of neoliberal economics. Instead, Gilmore offers a geographical grasp of how contemporary racial capitalism operates through an “anti-state state” that answers crises with the organized abandonment of people and environments deemed surplus to requirement. Gilmore escapes one-dimensional conceptions of what liberation demands, who demands liberation, or what indeed is to be abolished. Drawing on the lessons of grassroots organizing and internationalist imaginaries, Abolition Geography undoes the identification of abolition with mere decarceration, and reminds us that freedom is not a mere principle but a place.

On the Rural

Economy, Sociology, Geography

Henri Lefebvre
Edited by Stuart Elden and Adam David Morton. Translated by Robert Bononno

A collection of previously untranslated writings by Henri Lefebvre on rural sociology, situating his research in relation to wider Marxist work

Stuart Elden and Adam David Morton present Lefebvre’s key works on rural questions, including the first half of his book Du rural à l’urbain and supplementary texts. On the Rural reveals the production of the rural as a key site of capitalist development and as a space of struggle.

Crowds and Party

Jodi Dean

How do mass protests become an organized activist collective?

Crowds and Party channels the energies of the riotous crowds who took to the streets in the past five years into an argument for the political party. Rejecting the emphasis on individuals and multitudes, Jodi Dean argues that we need to rethink the collective subject of politics. When crowds appear in spaces unauthorised by capital and the state. In Crowds and Party, Dean argues that previous discussions of the party have missed its affective dimensions, the way it operates as a knot of unconscious processes and binds people together. Dean shows how we can see the party as an organisation that can reinvigorate political practice.

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