Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism

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Verso Books, 2011 - Architecture - 402 pages

A powerful exposť of how political violence operates through the spaces of urban life.

Cities are the new battleground of our increasingly urban world. From the slums of the global South to the wealthy financial centers of the West, Cities Under Siege traces the spread of political violence through the sites, spaces, infrastructure and symbols of the world’s rapidly expanding metropolitan areas.

Drawing on a wealth of original research, Stephen Graham shows how Western militaries and security forces now perceive all urban terrain as a conflict zone inhabited by lurking shadow enemies. Urban inhabitants have become targets that need to be continually tracked, scanned and controlled. Graham examines the transformation of Western armies into high-tech urban counter-insurgency forces. He looks at the militarization and surveillance of international borders, the use of ‘security’ concerns to suppress democratic dissent, and the enacting of legislation to suspend civilian law. In doing so, he reveals how the New Military Urbanism permeates the entire fabric of urban life, from subway and transport networks hardwired with high-tech ‘command and control’ systems to the insidious militarization of a popular culture corrupted by the all-pervasive discourse of ‘terrorism.’

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Professor Graham certainly has some good ideas in this book. He touches on alot of the subject matter relevant to those interested in looking at contemporary insurgency within cities; the growth of criminal activity, and their links to insurgency within cities; and the changing influence the military has in western norms and behaviour within cities, even those abroad we are waging war in.
However Graham holds staunch liberal views (which he is completely entitled to), and Chomskian critical thought permeates this text to such a degree it at times seems like its creation was an excuse to criminate the United States and Britain for its behaviour over the past decade, not as a serious analytical piece.
His dismissal of existential threats such as modern terrorism and radical fundamentalism is particularly astounding. The part of the text that really struck myself, a scholar of military history, was the analogy drawn between the modern gaming industry and the technical interface of many of todays high technology systems.
Graham attempts to draw a conclusion that the west is attempting to sanitise war completely by making its method of operation as similar as possible to that of a videogame. Graham attempts here to delve too deep into the thought behind this. The controllers for many UAVs are modelled on that of the microsoft Xbox system simply because it is ergonomic, not because war is a game.
Furthermore, Graham seems to ignore the plight of our soldiers in his analyses. Whilst being critical of western technological dominance in war, he does indeed point out correctly that urban combat nullifies our dominance, but he ignores the fact that even though western soldiers and operators often find themselves in situations were we do not have that technological edge, we still triumph through fighting and dying hard, through old fashioned blood and steel.
- Nick Leyland


1 War Reenters the City
2 Manichaean Worlds
3 The New Military Urbanism
4 Ubiquitous Borders
5 Robowar Dreams
6 Theme Park Archipelago
7 Lessons in Urbicide
8 Switching Cities Off
9 Car Wars
10 Countergeographies
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About the author (2011)

Stephen Graham is Professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle University. He is the author or editor of Telecommunications and the City and Splintering Urbanism (both with Simon Marvin), Cities, War and Terrorism and Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructures Fail. His most recent book is Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism.

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