- New Urban Worlds: inhabiting dissonant times by AbouMaliq Simone, Edgar Pieterse
This book reflects on the ways in which a neighbourhood, a city, or city-region characterised by the contradictions of poverty and wealth, the rural and urban contrasts or the core and periphery landscapes may be inhabited. Broadly, it is about the transformative potential of cities, in that, although the paradoxes it highlights may be waning, sharply drawn, or incompatible, the intersections as well as social and materials flows among the scaled spaces of the city may signal transitional moments. Such potentialities, based on the making of unanticipated connections among people, things, information, institutions, finance, and politics, in turn introduce uncertainties that do not only defer tendencies for scrutiny and control, but also disentangle a hold on the urban landscape (for example, landlords and tenants may agree on flexible escape clauses or they may agree on cheap payment plans before a building project is completed). Similarly, new associations between the digital and human realms of social life may create fuzzy forms of ‘governance’, including multiple possibilities for loyal social affiliations (as opposed to the appropriation of the social as a factor of production). Moreover, as part of capital remaking itself – generating financial value from that which cannot be computed – the infusion of incomputable data (skewed deals, shakedowns, over-invoicing) may turn places of buying and selling (markets) into those of chance taking. At the level of everyday life, an urban resident is kept in play by his or her multiple subjectivities. While devaluing life, particular forms of living (sex-work, flexible and temporary work, migration) may be grounds for the production of value. [End Page 133]
The authors advance the multi-dimensional realities of today’s urban worlds implied above through the new ideas of ‘redescription’, secretion, resonance, redemption and doubleness. Picking on two of them, the ‘secretions’ of the state, the economic, and built environments (secret dealings and deceptions, for instance) may be used to ‘redescribe’ the relational and institutional potentialities of cities. Such banal and occult folds of everyday urbanisms may be channelled in unanticipated ways, with urban residents imagining possible worlds or moving about without considering the city’s structures of domination. Drawing from the example of Phnom Penh’s (Cambodia) excesses, the city then becomes rogue, sold and leveraged for bigger acquisitions. At the level of the individual everyday life, the excesses of the city may be resources for people to take advantage of situations – a family member letting things slide only to gainfully use such conformity later.
The contribution of the book lies mainly in the way it underscores the more obscure dimensions of city life – the invocation of social and institutional practices of favouritism, sorcery, loaded gifts, kickbacks, extortion, contestations, complicities, habits, impulses, tricks, manoeuvres, attitudes, sensibilities, and gestures in influencing the remaking of urban life. The value of the book is also seen in the way it highlights the imperatives of creatively holding together contending scales, where the molecular forces engage the structural without being co-opted. The book is comprehensive, divided into seven chapters that address not only the ecological, governance, and economic aspects of the city’s life, but also the ways in which shaky contradictions may be inhabited in the process of articulating service delivery, social justice, and cultural transformation. The book also stands out in how it draws from the practices of the United Nations Habitat and South Africa’s Integrated Development Programme to enrich the discourses on the city. It uses the experiences of the Social Justice Coalition in South Africa to think about improved practices of social movements. Notably in fostering multiple publics through the use of Cityscapes and African Cities Reader publications as well as the City Desired exhibition, it provides innovative materials for scholarship on southern urbanism and a more cosmopolitan urban theory in general. With all this said, the book tends to use inaccessible language that dispenses with the linearity of social science traditions – assertion-followed-by-evidence conventions, ‘if-then’ syntaxes. In particular, its evocative language about the world that might be...