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he volume European Cities: Modernity, Race and Colonialism is a remarkable knowledge-building attempt dedicated to merging critical urban studies and critical race studies through the conversation between analysis conducted in core countries and semi-periphery countries of global capitalism from different regions. In their Introduction, the editors, Noa H. Ka and Giovanni Picker, who carefully prepared the book from the inception of the conference “Provincializing European Cities” from where it emerged, emphasize the authors' contribution to the field in at least two senses.
First, as a methodological tool, this collective volume enables urban studies research to establish three missing connections from this field. The link between historical and anthropological studies about the relevance of colonial urbanism for contemporary European cities and the sociology of urban Europe. The connection between the study of “race” and racism in contemporary European urban processes and the lack of attention to critical race in theories of European urbanism. And the nexus between the “postsocialist” cities and the "East-West slope."
Secondly, the volume’s contribution goes beyond adopting a critical race and decolonial perspective in studying the formation of the Western European urban. It is doing so by embracing its analytical paradigm to the context in which the “new Europe” was recrafted as a unified neoliberal capitalist system. As a result, the proposal to leave behind the developmentalist understanding of early modern Europe or the late capitalist European Union facilitates the identification of the processes by which Eastern Europe was created as “the dark side” of the EU. Such an endeavor is facilitated by the lens that once assisted us in comprehending the construction of the former colonies in contrast with the colonizer/civilizer European powers.
The above-mentioned features of the volume could be read as an implicit effort to recognize that racialization is an endemic feature of capitalism regardless of its historical phases or that the capitalist social order was racialized from its inception until now. Such an order economically requires various forms of racialized labor and culturally dictates the creation of racialized subjects in relation to which "the European" might always reiterate itself as "the normal."
Reconnecting European cities to global and historical processes is even more important for research claiming a decolonial perspective. The latter is usually committed to the discovery of non-European particularities and, in this way, contradicts the universalizing tendencies of critical urban theories. I would say that another implicit methodological provision can emerge from this endeavor that contributes to studying different forms of urbanity and urbanism not only as varied illustrations of global processes but also as understanding how peripheralized locals serve the interests of the core looking for markets, cheap labor force, or investment opportunities. This idea was not the authors' intention, and the book does not focus on it because it is dedicated to a provincializing reflection on urban theories; nevertheless, it can act as a potential bridge crossing the variegated directions followed in urban studies.
The main conviction of the editors and authors that urban studies need to be provincialized is also used as a structuring element of the book's chapters, which cover a whole range of geographies, times, and topics while they all deal with issues of “race,” racism, racial superiority, racialized communities, or antiracist struggles. Therefore, its three big analytical parts refer, successively, to the provincialization of historicism (with chapters on the "European city" from a socio-territorial perspective; on Parisian banlieues to address the politics of memory; on the nexus between urbanism and industrialization in Argentina); the provincialization of urban geography (including the analysis of the dynamics of conviviality in the divided city of Mitrovica, Kosovo; the entangled histories of colonialism and socialism in Cottbus, former East Germany); and the provincialization of the political (addressing this via the study of city politics leading to dislocation in two Mediterranean cities; politics of knowledge resulting in epistemic silences in the Portugal urban anthropological literature; and policies of migration and discrimination in accessing housing in Madrid; the politics of the material and representational making of a district in Hamburg).
The final chapter of the book completes its comprehensive critical endeavor with criticism about the insufficient ways the white supremacist Europe proposes to counterbalance centuries of imperial extraction, racial injustices of different kinds, the institutionalized precarity of people of color, and multiple forms of violence, via soft initiatives in terms of conviviality, multiculturalism, community organization, and participation. The writing style and politicized standpoint of the author, AbdouMaliq Simone, definitely have a great role in transforming the whole book into an enthralling and unforgettable example of urban studies. The call to abolish the European city as we know it – racialized in its economy, infrastructures, spatial planning, discourses, social gatherings, images, and sounds – is a powerfully provocative demand. It makes us reckon that "justice cannot be 'served' on the platter of the city-form; it is not a matter of accommodation, of availing real and resourced opportunities on the part of the oppressed to define what they want the city to be, but rather its very abolition" (Simone 2022: 259).
Simone (2022: 262) emphasizes that what is needed is a total reworking of “the operative notions of household, home, collective and livelihood,” and even more, “the continuous reframing of the financialized city as systematic theft.” He speaks about the need “to shift the locus of the economy away from expansive reproduction, with its logistical systems centered on maximizing the extraction of something from everything” (Simone 2022: 262), without naming that capital accumulation is the core engine of capitalism. However, the closing sentences of the book suggest to me the need to open up the decolonial and antiracist perspective on the European cities toward an anti-capitalist approach, which would be able to reconnect racism (and patriarchy) to class exploitation and the city to the larger capitalist social order. This could be the very way in which the abolition of the existing regime could result in a new societal order and political economy, where, as Simone (2022: 262) expects, the “extended social reproduction, childcare, marking, schooling, health, provisioning, calculating and working become the conjoint and coordinated responsibilities of multiple and intertwined institutions.”
Simone A (2022) Coda: toward urban provisioning. In: Ha NK and Picker G (eds) European cities. Modernity, race and colonialism. Manchester University Press, pp. 257-262.
Enikő Vincze is Professor in the Faculty of European Studies at Babeș-Bolyai University, Romania. Her research interests focus on nationalism, racism, feminism and intersectionality, socio-spatial marginalization and exclusion, uneven development, urban development, housing, real estate development. Enikő is a political activist on housing justice, involved in the local movement Căși sociale ACUM!/ Social housing NOW, and the national coalition Blocul pentru Locuire (Block for Housing). She is the first co-editor of Racialized Labour in Romania: Spaces of Marginality at the Periphery of Global Capitalism (Palgrave 2018). More recently, Enikő authored “The Mixed housing Regime in Romanian State Socialism”, in Money, Markets, Forms of Socialism, edited by Meleg Attila (Eszmelet, 2022), and “Manifestations of spatial injustice and institutional practices (re)producing them. A view on the neoliberal spatial planning regime creating territorial unevenness in Romania”, in Tér és Társadalom 35. évf., 4. szám, 202.