Feral Cities

I’ve got two more events coming up in London, both on Wednesday, November 26. I’ll post more info about the first event in a bit. The second one, in the evening, has been organized by the Complex Terrain Laboratory, and it will take place in the J.Z. Young Lecture Theatre at UCL, inside the Anatomy Building on Gower Street. Here is a map.

I’ll be teaming up with Antoine Bousquet, Lecturer in International Relations at Birkbeck College, and author of the forthcoming book The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity to discuss our work in relation to space, war, and the city.
A description of the event itself:

Contemporary political discourse on armed violence and insecurity has been largely shaped by references to spatial knowledge, simulation, and control: “human terrain,” “urban clutter,” “terrorist sanctuaries,” “failed states,” “core-periphery.” The historical counterpoint to this is to be found in the key role the successive technologies of clock, engine, computer, and network have all played in spatializing the practice of warfare. In this context, what implications do “feral” Third World cities, “rogue” cities organized along non-Western ideas of urban space and infrastructure, and “wild” cities reclaimed by nature, have for the battlespaces of today and tomorrow?

Antoine and I will both be giving short talks, followed by a general Q&A. The event is wide-open to the public, so please feel free to stop by. At the very least, you’ll get an early preview of Antoine’s forthcoming book – in which he introduces the term chaoplexic warfare in a survey of everything from ant “swarms” and the use of 18th-century battlefield metaphors to the distributed geographies of the Russian mafia, the Medellín drug cartel, and Al-Qaeda – and that’s already quite a lot right there.
For my own part, I’ll be discussing a pretty broad swath of ideas about “feral cities” – what I like to call cities gone wild – ranging from Richard J. Norton’s seminal paper on the topic to Mike Davis’s research on “the Pentagon as global slumlord,” via reference to J.G. Ballard, Eyal Weizman, Stefano Boeri, Reza Negarestani, and many others.
I’ll also briefly mention the radical ecology of a biologically wild city, or the city regressed (perhaps advanced?) into an extraordinary state of nature after abandonment and war.

Some of the basic themes we should be approaching: If a growing majority of the human population has now been urbanized, moving into what are often incorrectly described as “cities,” what will warfare mean – and how will it be practiced – in these increasingly complex spatial environments? If urban insurgency is, indeed, the future of the global battlefield, as many theorists have proposed, how does the changing nature of urbanism itself help to redefine war? Conversely, how does insurrection work to redefine the space of the modern city?
Finally, if the future of war can be seen as Military Operation on Urban Terrain – or MOUT – what mutations will we see when that one key variable, the urban, is redefined?
So I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve got loads and loads of notes and references to bring with me, and it’ll be good to meet Antoine, whose book I’ve been reading this month.
So if you’re in London that night, stop by! It’s free and open to the public. Wild cities, rogue cities, feral cities, future cities.

(Note: This event is sponsored by the excellent Symbio Design, who also produced our web banners, ads, and flyer).

21 thoughts on “Feral Cities”

  1. Dear Geoff,

    You HAVE TO look at Eyal Weizman’s book, Hollow Land.

    Wherein he talks of Israeli army officers actually reading the likes of Tschumi and Deleuze/Guattari to get their ‘inspirations’ for operations in refugee areas, which they regard as 3-dimensional semi urban spaces.


  2. Geoff;

    It just so happens November 26th is the same day as the British Science Fiction Association end-of-year shindig up in the big smoke; if you fancy dropping along after the evening event is done with, drop me a line and I’ll let you know where it is. I expect you have other plans, but it doesn’t harm to ask, AMIRITE?

    Also means that I might be able to make the other presentation if it’s sort of afternoonish… looking forward to the announcement! 🙂

  3. Michael (and Geoff);

    I’ll drop a note on the BSFA forum tomorrow morning; I don’t know how much cross-pollination we’ll get, but it’s worth a try, I reckon. Looking at Google Maps, the BSFA gig is about a mile (or two tube stops) from the evening lecture, so I’m pretty sure that I’ll be doing both even if no one else is! 🙂

  4. Paul, I’d love to meet up; can you email me the details? (bldgblog via gmail) It’s a pretty crazy day for me, to be honest, with an earlier event at the Bartlett, but we can figure something out. Also, don’t know if you’re around Monday night but I’m doing that conversation with Michael Winterbottom at the Barbican about Code 46. Science fiction and the city.

    And, Mahmoud, I’m a big fan of Eyal’s work and I hope to discuss him a bit during my presentation. If you’re in London, stop by!

  5. Geoff, I hope to see you guys around… I’d love to grab a coffee sometime and chat about my upcoming travels: I’ll be looking at military spaces around the world, including US bases but also embassies, city re-fortification, airport checkpoints, etc.

    It’s interesting to me that a good deal of what your blog focuses on is not so much buildings and architecture we can see but rather that which we cannot, and how that “architecture” affects the world which we immediately perceive.

  6. If possible, please record your event on video, and post-it somewhere online so that those that a)are not in London, or b)cannot travel to London, can have a chance to see it.

    Thanks for this great blog!

  7. just discovered your blog and am enjoying it immensely. Was going down through the posts and hit the bottom of the page – Boink !
    Why do you not have an Older Posts or Previous Posts link at the bottom of your page so we can keep on going back through, instead of the ackwardness of dealing with the archives ???

  8. @Anonymous (& everyone else):

    You'll be happy to know that the Battlespace/s public lecture will be A/V captured, and digitally edited to streaming video format for online viewing. I'm told that that that could take up to seven days to complete, post-event. If it's hosted on UCL servers, we'll at least make sure that the link is made available here and at the CTlab website.

    Michael A. Innes, Director
    The Complex Terrain Laboratory

  9. (I’m the previous anonymous making the video request)

    I’m looking forward to seeing the video of the event, it should be very interesting.


    Daniel C.

  10. Actually, I find the advertised terms of this discussion deeply problematic — in fact, downright offensive — if they imply (as they seem to do) that “we” (read the global North) conduct “scientific warfare” – launched from within the space of Reason, Law and Science – against “their” (read the global South’s) wild, savage, “feral” cities. This produces a moral topography that is profoundly shocking, privileging (and masking) “our”, supposedly refined and humane ways of killing against “their”, always degenerate and predatory ways of killing. Colonialism redux or, as Helen Dexter puts it, drawing a moral distinction between death by smart bomb and death by machete….

  11. Derek, I think you’re recognizing the terms of this discussion – but mistaking them for the professed interpretations of the people now citing those terms. We’re referring to feral cities, for instance, because we’re citing the military literature that refers to them as such.

    In a way, your reaction to the event description seems similar to my reading your own faculty page and being “offended” by your use of the phrase war on terror. Surely, I would ask, you know the limitations of using a war metaphor here – let alone how inappropriate it is to wage such a thing against a relative abstraction like terror… etc. etc.

    In other words, it’s possible to cite certain terms for the purpose of questioning them without being forced to subscribe to their every political implication. I can’t imagine that you and I would disagree on this. How else would one discuss, say, “enhanced interrogation”? “Collateral damage”?

    “Feral cities”?

    So I would suggest that this event description does not, in fact, imply that Antoine and I are about to launch scientific warfare against the Asiatic hordes of the Other – it even seems a bit trigger-happy to imply that that’s our motive!

    So if you happen to be in London next week, I would encourage you to stop by and join the discussion, as – having read your work – I think you’d be a valuable participant.

  12. i think both derek and geoff, you’re somewhat missing the point here. the very usage of terms like “feral city” and “scientific warfare” do, as derek notes, bring up some contentious issues. so, too, does “the war on terror.” but it comes in how we look at this. derek has quotations around “war on terror” on his faculty bio. that suggests to me a discussion about constructions of what this looks like, what does that term, that phrase, mean? similarly, what does a feral city look like? what does a scientific war look like? and of course this is done within a rubric of coloniality, or postcoloniality. it is framed in terms of the englightenment v. savagery. this is how colonialism is framed worldwide. and this is how some parts of the west have colonised various parts of the world historically. but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be exploring such terms and topics.
    matthew barlow
    senior editor, ctlab review.

  13. @Matthew – “and of course this is done within a rubric of coloniality, or postcoloniality. it is framed in terms of the englightenment v. savagery.”

    Having just returned from said talk, I don’t think that – in this case – it was. Geoff’s line of enquiry didn’t equate the feral city with the global south. And the choice of “feral” as the term of description doesn’t, as Derek suggests, necessarily imply savagery, chaos, anarchy, degeneracy, or a subaltern position. Instead, it was part of a language/rubric rooted in the terminology of the biological, in which feral describes a domesticated organism that has returned to its original, undomesticated state.

    This isn’t about colonialism, or – at the very least – its not about imperial colonialism as we (Said et. al) have traditionally understood it. From what I understood of Geoff’s argument, you could just as easily imagine a post-colonial feral city (say, some nightmarish near-future Mumbai, fragmenting along religious and socioeconomic lines … Mogadishu … or a Singapore that declares viral sovereignty), as you could a “Western” feral city (a cyberpunk Paris, following explosive race riots … a privatised New Orleans post-Katrina … the C14th Avignon (anti-)Papacy … Copenhagen’s “free city” of Christiania in the late 1970s).

    This is not a concept in which the global north / global south division is any more relevant or acute that any other.

    @Geoff – thanks for a really solid talk; it’s sent my mind spinning down all kinds of interesting tangents and side-alleys. 🙂

  14. Take:

    feral describes a domesticated organism that has returned to its original, undomesticated state

    substitute “colonialized”/”decolonialized”; would that be spot-on?

    Feral, only describes the inhospitableness of the environment that 1st/2nd world forces face in the post-colonial (and post-economic colonial, with the preferred reserve currency, the US dollar, projected to be in long decline) battlesphere. Will 4G/non-lethal systems and tactics suffice in neutralizing the organic advantage indigenous forces increasingly enjoy?

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