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  • The City as Power: Urban Space, Place, and National Identity ed. by Alexander C. Diener and Joshua Hagen
  • James Baker
The City as Power: Urban Space, Place, and National Identity. Alexander C. Diener and Joshua Hagen, eds. Latham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019. Pp. xi+ 313, photographs, maps, notes. $85.00, cloth, ISBN 978-1-5381-1825-2. $38.00, paperback, ISBN 978-1-5381-1826-9.

In roughly three hundred pages, geographers Alexander C. Diener (University of Kansas) and Joshua Hagen (Northern State University) assemble an expansive set of arguments for analyzing the contested narrative-, memory-, identity-, and world-making power of urban landscapes. The introduction to The City as Power sets the stage. The "literal and figurative front line" of reunified Berlin is explored through the deliberate preservation and destruction of its palaces (1). Diener and Hagen understand Berlin as illustrative of how urban space constitutes "a formidable and perhaps even preeminent force shaping the negotiation of national identity, citizenship, and belonging" (3). The editors clearly frame the political geographies of urban space and place as "key venues" in which the "modalities of power" of state borders and their normative and legal "ideal[s] of citizenship" are synthesized and, echoing Lewis Mumford, concentrated (6). The City as Power presents fifteen chapters organized through three analytical concepts that form the main sections of the anthology: (I) Remembering and Forgetting; (II) "Other" Identities and Counternarratives; and (III) National Identity amid Globalization.

Within these sections, Diener and Hagen have assembled an impressive range of salient examples at the nexus of the "memory turn" and the study of identity and social movements, each demonstrating the centrality of urban space to processes of social exclusion and ethnonationalism. These are broad, topical themes that continue to be of critical relevance to the field of geography. Bringing together postcolonial perspectives, incisive explorations of scale and the built environment, and astute interrogations of the proliferation of ethnic and national identities and their roles in mobilizing ideals of citizenship in the twenty-first century, The City as Power offers a compelling volume that explores how urban space is used in contemporary contexts to "delineate citizens and foreigners, insiders and outsiders, those who belong and those who do not" (259).

Central to this exploration, Diener and Hagen argue, is the idea of urban space as palimpsest—a kind of "cultural geology," to circulate a term of art appropriated by the editors—as a means by which scholars [End Page 235] can interpret the "multiple visions and impacts" of different groups and cultural units, such as (non)citizens and collective entities such as the nation, respectively (6). Palimpsest, as the act and document of the partial erasure and superimposition of text(s), is operationalized through urban spatial processes "for the construction and contestation of national and other identities; for the juxtaposition of inclusion and exclusion" (16). What follows is an unraveling of this "cultural geology" palimpsest across a variety of sites and scales from the flag-draped cars of the United Arab Emirates' National Day celebrations, to the renaming of streets in Viktor Orban's Budapest, to monuments glorifying Genghis Khan. We step into the Yushukan museum's revisionist narratives of Japan's "Greater East Asian War" and emerge amid the "fantasy Islamic" architecture of Malaysia's urban megaproject, Putrajaya. Beyond the editors' brief treatment of Berlin, four chapters in the anthology consider manifestations of memory, ideology, and the salvage of a "usable past" in socialist and postsocialist urban landscapes. Ulaanbataar, Tashkent, Budapest, and multiple contemporary Chinese contexts are interrogated. Contested politics of identity emerge through countermemory and their attendant counterpublics. Joshua Inwood's discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States challenges the unifying discourses of white progressivism in urban national politics, paralleling Brian Godfrey's analysis of Rio de Janeiro, where Afro-Brazilian activists successfully pressured city officials and developers to preserve Valongo Wharf, which UNESCO terms "the most important physical trace of the arrival of African slaves on the American continent" (106).

Throughout the book, its authors revisit the central thesis that "the salience of urban space as an arena for the contestation of identity, economics, and politics" has an outsize role...


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