Below is the full abstract for a public lecture I’ll be giving at Harvard’s GSD on 25 October 2017. See poster for details. I’ll also be discussing my piece Mare Magnum with the folks from the Urban Theory Lab earlier that afternoon (noon-2pm). Thanks to Tianhui Hou and Boya Guo as well as to Neil Brenner and the Urban Theory Lab for their kind invitations.
Abstract: The urban today is at once unavoidable and yet curiously undoubted. It appears as a historical constant whose presence, more often than not, serves as a background against which other problems are given visibility. Despite how much the urban has become a part of everyday life for billions of us today, and despite the many discourses that attempt to give meaning to the conditions it generates, we nevertheless lack a language with which to speak about the urban itself. What concepts, figures and objects can articulate the urban? What histories can illuminate it? This talk will outline a forthcoming book that departs from a perplexing yet simple question: what is the urban? It will approach it through an archaeology of circulation, making use of cartographic knowledge, discourses of trade, political treatises, discoveries of natural philosophy, cosmological conjectures, colonial administrative protocols, infrastructural and architectural technologies. It will map the notion of circulation in its changing relation to early modern and modern forms of power, locating the urban as a unique spatio-political order that first became legible in the nineteenth century as a project to restructure the space of the emergent liberal Nation-State. Yet more than simply a reflection of this new state form or the product of the capitalist relations it fostered, the urban, I argue, should instead be seen as a primary instrument of both; at once means and ends.