The Spaces of the Modern City: Imaginaries, Politics, and Everyday Life

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By United Nations estimates, 60 percent of the world's population will be urban by 2030. With the increasing speed of urbanization, especially in the developing world, scholars are now rethinking standard concepts and histories of modern cities. The Spaces of the Modern City historicizes the contemporary discussion of urbanism, highlighting the local and global breadth of the city landscape.

This interdisciplinary collection examines how the city develops in the interactions of space and imagination. The essays focus on issues such as street design in Vienna, the motion picture industry in Los Angeles, architecture in Marseilles and Algiers, and the kaleidoscopic paradox of post-apartheid Johannesburg. They explore the nature of spatial politics, examining the disparate worlds of eighteenth-century Baghdad, nineteenth-century Morelia, Cold War-era West Berlin, and postwar Los Angeles. They also show the meaning of everyday spaces to urban life, illuminating issues such as crime in metropolitan London, youth culture in Dakar, "memory projects" in Tokyo, and Bombay cinema. Informed by a range of theoretical writings, this collection offers a fresh and truly global perspective on the nature of the modern city.

The contributors are Sheila Crane, Belinda Davis, Mamadou Diouf, Philip J. Ethington, David Frisby, Christina M. Jiménez, Dina Rizk Khoury, Ranjani Mazumdar, Frank Mort, Martin Murray, Jordan Sand, and Sarah Schrank.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This ambitious collection of essays is the result of a series of seminars at Princeton University aimed at developing fresh thinking about the city as a dynamic physical space that 'shapes, and is shaped by, power, economy, culture and society.' A fascinating introductory essay by Gyan Prakash outlines recent urban theorising and counters the idea that, in an age of globalisation, specific cityscapes are losing their significance: our urban experiences still depend on 'local lifeworlds', rich with memories and imagination."The Guardian
The Guardian
This ambitious collection of essays is the result of a series of seminars at Princeton University aimed at developing fresh thinking about the city as a dynamic physical space that 'shapes, and is shaped by, power, economy, culture and society.' A fascinating introductory essay by Gyan Prakash outlines recent urban theorising and counters the idea that, in an age of globalisation, specific cityscapes are losing their significance: our urban experiences still depend on 'local lifeworlds', rich with memories and imagination.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691133430
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/4/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Gyan Prakash is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University. Kevin M. Kruse is associate professor of history at Princeton University.

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Read an Excerpt

The Spaces of the Modern City Imaginaries, Politics, and Everyday Life
Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13343-0

Introduction GYAN PRAKASH

If modernity is a Faustian bargain to unleash human potential and subdue nature to culture, then modern cities are its most forceful and enduring expressions. The breathless intensity and the awesome power of modern life have made and remade cities across the world: London and Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mumbai, New York and Mexico City. The great dramas of recent centuries-the triumph of industrialization and capitalism, the erection of powerful state apparatuses and the outbreaks of political insurrections, the exercise of colonial control and eruptions of anticolonial movements-were enacted on the stage of the modern cities. These urban spaces have shaped, and were shaped by, race, class, and gender relations and exclusions. Modern urban life, lived on streets and in apartments and slums, has produced new subjects, solidarities, and meanings. The city-scape-its streets and sidewalks, its public space, the ebb and flow of its crowd, its infrastructure of transportation-has served as the setting for dynamic encounters and experiences. A great deal of modern literature, art, and cinema would be unthinkable without the modern city. In an important sense, cities are the principal landscapes of modernity.

Nearly as old as the modern city is the critical attention fromwriters and social commentators. One has to only think of the brilliant reflections of the European urbanists of the early twentieth century: Georg Simmel on the psychic space of the metropolis; Siegfried Kracauer on the mass forms of everyday life, taste, and entertainment; and Walter Benjamin on the dreamscape of commodities. These writings continue to inform our understanding of the contemporary urban experience. But the recent spurt of urbanization questions the idea of the European metropolis, defined as a bounded unit by modernist theory, as the paradigmatic modern city. As globalization increasingly extends urban forms across the world and integrates the existing cities into vast urbanized systems of communication, transnational flows of finance, commodities, labor, images, and ideas, the idea of the city as an organism, defined by an internally coherent civic life and structured by clear relationships to the region, nation, and wider world, appears obsolete. Urban theorists tell us that the city is dead. They suggest that, in place of the clearly defined unity called the city, we live increasingly in the amorphous and expanding spaces of urban networks.

Even as recent change forces us to rethink the urban form, it is undeniable that we continue to speak of cities as specific spatial formations: London, New York, Mumbai, Hong Kong. Urban sprawl and the rise of vast urban networks connected by rapid transportation systems do not erase the idea of cities as particular places, each defined by its distinctive constellation of social space, history, and memory. It may be the case that the production of space-binding center and periphery, city and the countryside-has superseded the city, as Lefebvre suggests, but lived experience, as he himself also argues, is not subsumed by spatial practices. Urban dwellers experience their globally situated and connected urban space as decidedly local lifeworlds, thick with specific experiences, practices, imaginations, and memories.

Written against the background of these two opposed representations, this volume represents an effort to rethink the history of urban modernity and urban change. This means, first, expanding the focus beyond Europe and North America to include the experiences of urban modernity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It entails approaching the historical experiences of modern urban forms and transformations as ineluctably global, specific, diverse, and divergent. Second, what unites the essays dealing with cities ranging across the world and discrepant historical moments is the concentrated focus on the city as a spatial form of social life and power relations, not just a site of society and politics. The contributors identify historical processes in the urban form itself. This does not only mean the structure and design of the built environment but also the entire architecture of urban life and representations; they regard urban forms as society, economy, culture, and politics. Third, its approach is interdisciplinary. The contributions range across several disciplines-sociology, history, art history, cinema, and cultural studies-and each essay treats different fields of knowledge. This is as it should be, for cities are composed of many fragments, each one requiring the examination of several dimensions of knowledge. Any attempt to provide a singular and totalizing map of the city can only impoverish the richness and multiplicity of the urban experience.

The City and the Urban

Urban studies is not a new field, but the past two decades have witnessed a noticeable "urban turn" in scholarship. In disciplines ranging from anthropology to history, sociology to literature, and architecture to film and cultural studies, there is renewed interest in urbanism. This spurt of academic attention has occurred against the background of the rapidly quickening pace of urbanization. As early as 1970, Henri Lefebvre wrote about urbanization superseding industrialization as the global dynamic of capitalism. Whatever one may think of his view about the supplanting of industrialization, there is no doubt that urbanization is a central force in the contemporary world. According to UN estimates, whereas 30 percent of the world population was urban in 1950, this proportion rose to 47 percent in 2000 and is expected to reach 60 percent by 2030. Much of the developed world has been predominantly urban at least since the early twentieth century as a result of capitalist industrialization and colonial and imperial expansion. The recent spurt in urbanization, therefore, is concentrated in the developing regions of the world. Mexico City, Sao Paolo, and Mumbai are experiencing explosive growth, outstripping the populations of old cities such as London, Paris, and even New York. Breakneck expansion of manufacturing and striking economic growth animate rapid urbanization in some cases, as in China. But, in other cases, as in sub-Saharan Africa, the runaway growth of cities occurs in the context of economic stagnation, growing debt, and economic crisis, producing specters of political and social convulsions.

The spurt in urbanization is a matter not just of numbers but also of change in the urban form. Suburbanization and the proliferation of "edge" cities at highway interchanges encapsulate the transformation in the urban landscape in North America. Paris no longer consists only of the city built by Baron Haussmann but also includes the towns connected to it through roadways, airports, and metro lines. The megacities of the developing world, swollen with rural immigrants, are burgeoning with slums and squatter settlements, pointing to the increasing urbanization of poverty. As the urban network extends to fill the spaces between the city and the countryside, one can no longer speak of a strict divide between the two. Increasingly, regional urban complexes and huge urban corridors have blurred the earlier city-hinterland distinctions. China, for example, now contains two immense urban networks, one extending from Hong Kong to Guangzhou on the Pearl River Delta, and the other spreading outward from Shanghai on the Yangtze River Delta. The emergence of such regional constellations has also meant a massive urbanization of the countryside. These urban processes cannot be situated exclusively within national borders, for global movements of finance capital, people, ideas, and images traverse the cities. These movements across territories are not qualitatively equal-the migration of Mexican laborers across the border to the United States and the circulation of Hollywood films across the globe are not the same-but globalization confounds the earlier center-periphery dichotomy.

Urban theorists contend that capitalist globalization has also overwhelmed the modernist city of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Classic political movements and ideologies nursed in the heyday of modernist cities have lost their appeal, and new informational networks and "pirate modernity" have marginalized old urban solidarities. As globalization produces different kinds of legal regimes and citizens, and new hierarchies of cities and urban dwellers, it poses a new set of questions for citizenship, identity, and politics. The nonlegal basis of urban existence and politics in the slums and squatter settlements of the global South mocks the classic ideal of the city as the space of civil society and political discourse. Never realized in practice even in European cities, this ideal lies in ruins. The global processes and representations of contemporary urbanization have destroyed the halo of this modernist urbanism. Today, it is difficult to sustain the paradigmatic notion of modern cities as unified formations, securely located within their national borders, with clearly legible politics and society.

Paul Virilio had predicted the dissolution of the city by media and communication. But it was left to Rem Koolhaas, the architect and urban theorist, to celebrate the death of the modernist city and hail the emergent urban form: the "Generic City." Writing in 1988 about the emergent urban forms, he emphasized a shift from the center to the periphery, fragmentation, and spontaneous processes, and described his research on the contemporary city as "a retro-active manifesto for the yet to be recognized beauty of the twentieth-century urban landscape." He followed this up by directing a research program at the Harvard School of Design, called the "Project on the City," that aimed to understand the "the maelstrom of modernization" that was creating a "completely new urban substance." The project has produced three jumbo volumes of text, photographs, maps, graphics, and statistics that chart the mutations of urban culture, the explosive urbanization in China's Pearl River Delta, and the global expansion of consumption. Assemblages of different materials rather than conventional books, these volumes embody in their form the fragmented, patched-together, runaway urbanism that they seek to represent. There is no prior theory that drives this investigation, only the premise that the paradigmatic European city of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provides little understanding for the emergent form. Consisting of the endless repetition of certain simple structural modules, the Generic City, according to Koolhaas, has spread across continents. "The definitive move away from the countryside, from agriculture, to the city is not a move to the city as we knew it: it is a move to the Generic City, the city so pervasive that it has come to the country." Spreading and sprawling, the Generic City liberates the city from the captivity of the center, from the straitjacket of identity. It self-destructs and renews according to present needs and abilities. It is free from history. The Generic City is the post-city being prepared on the site of ex-city." There is no doubt that certain urban forms-shopping malls, entertainment zones, multiplex theaters, atriums, and airports and hotels that double as cities unto themselves-have become a common sight in cities across the world. But Koolhaas gets so caught up in the present's proclamation of its novelty and singularity that he fails to interrogate it. Consider, for example, the case of Shanghai, the paradigmatic example of China's transformation by capitalist modernization. With its gleaming skyscrapers on the Bund, the maze of highway overpasses and bridges, efficient underground transportation, and the proliferation of generic shopping malls, restaurants, and cafés, the city evokes the power of newness. Change appears weightless, free from the burden of history. To be sure, there is a historical preservation movement and a revival of interest in the Shanghai of the 1920s-focused on its Art Deco architecture, cosmopolitan literature and cultural artifacts, and the gangster world. But this memory is selective; it skips over the city's imperial and communist history in order to draw a line of continuity between the cosmopolitan culture of "old Shanghai" and the global, contemporary city to suggest that the present is the reappearance of the past. This ransacks the past to suit the present chimera of novelty and dynamism. Ackbar Abbas writes that Shanghai exists today as a remake, "a shot-by-shot reworking of a classic, with a different cast, addressed to a different audience, not 'Back to the Future' but 'Forward to the Past.'" This remake glides over historical discontinuities and fuses the past and the present to create a single, spectacular image of Shanghai as a modern, global city. But cities have never been mere expressions of a singular logic or a dominant historical force-neither in the past nor in the present. To think of Paris as the embodiment of classic modernity, Los Angeles as the paradigmatic postmodern metropolis, and Shanghai as the typical expression of globalization is to simplify their complexity, smooth out their social and political contradictions. The excessive focus on "global cities" like New York, London, Tokyo, and Shanghai, and the ranking of cities according to their position on the scale of economic globalization also tends to flatten their urban processes and experiences and suggests that capital obliterates distinctions and functions without social and cultural differences.

Urban change is undeniable, but the historicist narrative of the rise and fall of the city is deeply flawed. Foucault wrote: "The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and suspension, of crisis and cycle, themes of ever accumulating past." Speaking this language of development, the discourse of the death of the city suppresses the spatiality of history. The history of the modern city as a space of porosity, multiplicity, difference, division, and disruption is concealed when urban change is represented as the unfolding of one historical stage to another, from the bounded unity and identity of the city of industrial capitalism to the "placeless" and "generic city" of globalization-from modernity to postmodernity. We should remember that "placelessness," now attributed to postmodernity, was once identified with industrial modernity. Thus, Marx spoke of capitalism's forceful expansion across all borders and frontiers in its relentless drive to transform everything concrete into abstract measures of value: "all that is solid melts into air." The language of temporal succession forgets this history and gets caught up in the present's self-proclamation of its novelty and singularity.


Excerpted from The Spaces of the Modern City
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Preface ix
Introduction by Gyan Prakash 1

Chapter 1: Streets, Imaginaries, and Modernity: Vienna Is Not Berlin by David Frisby 21
Chapter 2: The Global Spaces of Los Angeles, 1920s-1930s by Philip J. Ethington 58
Chapter 3: Architecture at the Ends of Empire: Urban Reflections between Algiers and Marseille by Sheila Crane 99
Chapter 4: The City in Fragments: Kaleidoscopic Johannesburg after Apartheid by Martin J. Murray 144

Chapter 5: Violence and Spatial Politics between the Local and Imperial: Baghdad, 1778-1810 by Dina Rizk Khoury 181
Chapter 6: From the Lettered City to the Sellers’ City: Vendor Politics and Public Space in Urban Mexico, 1880-1926 by Christina M. Jime´nez 214
Chapter 7: The City as Theater of Protest: West Berlin and West Germany, 1962-1983 by Belinda Davis 247
Chapter 8: Nuestro Pueblo: The Spatial and Cultural Politics of Los Angeles' Watts Towers by Sarah Schrank 275

Chapter 9: Morality, Majesty, and Murder in 1950s London: Metropolitan Culture and English Modernity by Frank Mort 313
Chapter 10: (Re)Imagining an African City: Performing Culture, Arts, and Citizenship in Dakar (Senegal), 1980-2000 by Mamadou Diouf 346
Chapter 11: Street Observation Science and the Tokyo Economic Bubble, 1986-1990 by Jordan Sand 373
Chapter 12: Spectacle and Death in the City of Bombay Cinema by Ranjani Mazumdar 401
Contributors 433
Index 437

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