Graham, Stephen 2011 Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, reviewed by Jennifer Light
Stephen Graham, Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, Verso Books, New York, 2011, 432 pages, $26.95, ISBN 9781844677627 (http://www.versobooks.com/books/1030-cities-under-siege)
Stephen Graham’s Cities Under Siege is a highly original and compelling work. As in many of his other projects, this book manages to integrate insights from a diversity of scholars and disciplines to tell a big picture story. Graham’s earlier Splintering Urbanism (2001, with Simon Marvin) used the phrase “athletically interdiscipinary” to describe its ambitions, a phrase that captures his accomplishments in Cities as well.
The issue I would like to raise grows from my training in the history of technology. Claims about the newness of technologies, especially the novelty of their social effects and implications, typically awaken my skepticism. A clear strength of Cities Under Siege, and characteristic of Graham’s other projects, is the acknowledgement that there is a history to many of the phenomena he explores. But its frame for the subject – The New Military Urbanism – emphasizes change over continuity when my perspective on the story it lays out is one of more continuity than change.
In reading the book I was frequently reminded of similar examples from the Cold War period (for greater detail, see Light 2003). For example, when Graham describes the militarization of civil society and the great boon to the security-industrial complex, I thought about the military-industrial-academic complex of the 1960s and how companies like Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas and RAND started civil systems and urban systems divisions to find new domestic markets for their products. Armed with solutions, they looked for problems and found markets for technology transfer not only in obvious places such as police departments, but also in more surprising contexts, including social programming. In Los Angeles, for example, the city experimented with infrared aerial surveillance to analyze housing conditions in lieu of conducting surveys on the ground (see Mullens 1972).
When Graham writes about the synergy between foreign and homeland security operations and the outer and inner faces of the colonial condition – and more specifically of the “boomerang effect” – I thought about the many defense intellectuals of the 1960s both at universities and think tanks who turned their expertise and technologies from war and modernization overseas to deal with challenges in US inner cities. The RAND Corporation, for example, set up a New York City outpost in the late 1960s, headed by Robert Levine, an expert on arms control. There and at RAND’s Santa Monica headquarters, Guy Pauker and other staff turned their attention from counterinsurgency in Vietnam to riot behavior in urban areas in the US (see, for example, Kain 1967).
And when Graham observes the cultural turn in military urban and counterinsurgency doctrine and noted the anthropologists and other social scientists recruited to the cause, I thought of the participation by academics in all manner of military operations since the first World War, and especially the later notion of what Amron Katz (1966) called “interdisciplinary war” in Vietnam as social scientists from MIT’s Center for International Studies and elsewhere participated in projects sponsored by the services and the CIA (see also Simulmatics Corporation 1967). The US military, in fact, is believed to be the origins of interdisciplinary research of which Graham’s book is a shining example. Each of these developments reflects the broader effort during this period – from both defense professionals and urban professionals – to redefine urban problems as being “like” military problems to facilitate the transfer of technologies and expertise. Cities Under Siege suggests the power of their rhetoric persists.
To be fair, Chapter 3 outlines seven phenomena that the author considers fundamentally new. These were, however, briefer discussions than I was hoping to read. When, more precisely, did the new military urbanism arrive? Why is it new and not just more military urbanism? And might this book have offered a narrative about continuity rather than change and made the identical points?
The second area of Graham’s work that I suspect many readers would be eager to hear about is his process. Scholars spend a great deal of time writing books and responding to their arguments but far too little time, in my opinion, talking with one another about how one moves from idea to finished product. Graham, as someone who is drawn to big idea books on recent historical trends, is a close cousin to the historians and other historically-minded social scientists who try to name and narrate the evolution of phenomena that occurred in the more distant past. But, by contrast, his work does not involve sitting in an archive or crunching data. What is his work process? How does he develop his “big picture” ideas and link them to empirical details? In the case of Cities Under Siege, how did he deal with the fact that so much material might remain in the domain of classified knowledge? What are other challenges inherent in the sorts of projects he undertakes?
Jennifer Light, School of Communication, Northwestern University, Evanston , IL 60208 USA
Graham S, Marvin S, 2001 Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities, and the Urban Condition (New York, Routledge)
Kain J, 1967 A Proposed RAND Strategy for Domestic Policy Research: A Program of Research on the American Negro (Santa Monica, RAND Corporation)
Katz A, 1966 The Short Run and the Long Walk (Santa Monica, RAND Corporation)
Light J, 2003 From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press)
Mullens R, 1972 “Color Infrared Technology-A New Means of Detecting Urban Blight” Second Annual Urban Technology Conference and Display (New York, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics)
Simulmatics Corporation, 1967 A Population Survey in Vietnam (Cambridge, Simulmatics Corporation)