Speculative Imperialism in the Age of Natural Violence

Keynote lecture for Platform-Austria hosted at The Institute of Architecture, University of Applied Arts, Vienna

November 26, 2019

This talk explores the changing spatio-political status of urbanism in an age shaped by risk and instability. It does so first by recognizing that much of the contemporary responses to the instabilities of our world seem to have found simultaneously a subject, object and site of intervention in the human body. As many contemporary projects articulate, the viability of resilience urbanism rests on documenting, measuring and distributing vulnerability globally while projecting the body’s particular vulnerability on the everyday spaces and textures of life in an unstable world. By exploring an emerging complex of interrelated research initiatives and design projects, I will argue that resilience names a meta-project that operates as both a technique for reimagining the body in a new space (or ‘ecology’) of algorithmic governance and a global initiative to reimagine large scale urban development in the age of undifferentiated crisis. Through a network of power built on the confluence of private foundations and multinational firms, global governance frameworks, university research ‘laboratories’ and municipal governments, resilience has come to identify a new kind of ‘pre-emptive’ developmentalism—a renewed urban entrepreneurialism recoded with the language humanitarian aid, whose imperial overtones should not go unnoticed: as with classical forms of imperialism, the dispensation of vulnerability has often accompanied the violence of dispossession and the subsequent imposition of patriarchal modes of sovereign rule. The difference is that today’s imperialism is speculative, privatized. Violence, dispossession and vulnerability are produced as a result of the ‘natural’ violence of climate change, thus inviting urgent responses while offering themselves as the basic set of data points for new forms of enclosures to unfold.

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