Authoritarianism and the Urban: Alive, and Dominant?

The progressive city is imperilled:  around the world, sweeping populist movements led by the far-right have been characterized by reinvigorated nationalism, xenophobia, localism, and a demonization of so-called ‘urban elites’.  Authoritarian tactics, from mass surveillance to police repression, are increasingly found in erstwhile ‘democratic’ urban environments. Authoritarian urbanism is alive, and increasingly dominant. However, the authoritarian city as a global assemblage is poorly conceptualized in urban theory.

Since the purported ‘end of history’ (Fukuyama, 1992), mainstream discourse has envisioned a liberal-dominant ‘Western’ world, led by a league of ‘global cities’ (Sassen, 2001), in opposition with an ‘illiberal’ ‘East’, including the post-Soviet realm, China and other isolated corners of the world. However, recent global political and socio-cultural firestorms have rendered these bifurcations obsolete: authoritarian urbanism has been unleashed, re-constituted, and assembled in new and hybrid ways that demand new explorations given the (crisis) facing global urban justice in this new ‘illiberal’ paradigm. How should urban scholars reconcile with, and conceptualise, the emerging geographies of authoritarian urbanism? How to engage with this (frightening) reality with theoretical vigour and nuance, while taking into account diverse terrains and contexts? This paper session engages with these questions and themes, and broadens the discourse on global urbanism and global urban justice in a few key ways. Notably, this session seeks to continue the task of deconstructing and better understanding ‘authoritarianism’ as a highly diverse, multi-layered, poorly-theorized globalism, too often divided into neat regional or ideological categories but found in different forms, hybrid and multi-scalar, almost everywhere (P. F. Landry, 2008).

Jason Luger, The University of San Francisco