Review- Graham, “Cities Under Siege”

Stephen Graham, “Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism” (2010) – If I had read this book when it came out, it would probably be a bigger deal to me. But events — none more than the civil war in Syria — have changed things. Mostly, to Graham’s credit, the last few years have seen an acceleration of the trends he saw- drone assassinations, the internet as surveillance machine, the increasing focus on borders between the spatial cores of global capitalism and their hinterlands, increasing focus on the part of militaries on fighting in “urban terrain.” What Syria has shown is that while adapting technology is important, old questions like “who’s willing to actually put their ass into the horrors of urban combat and fight effectively” and things like diplomacy still matter as much, if not more. At one point, IS and Jabhat-al-Nusra had a good answer, in the form of a shitty international brigade of jihadis, and the Assadists didn’t have a good counter. Then they picked up one- Hezbollah, Shia militias, and SAA given a new spine by Russian help.

So, it’s weird reading a book like this pre-Syria war, pre-Brexit, pre-… all kinds of things. Much of what it says is still relevant! But some of the stuff I would’ve liked to have seen a deeper dive on — like rural/suburban/exurban antipathy for cities and what that means for military operations in urban terrain — he doesn’t spend as much time with as he does with drones and other things everyone now knows about. Graham also way over-quotes- theorists, mostly, but also plenty of ordinary geographers and other social scientists making points he could just express and then cite their influence. He’s not a bad writer- like I used to say to undergrads, you can say it in your own voice! ***’

Review- Graham, “Cities Under Siege”

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