set of lessons on how to be aware of and how to respond to the many components of the urban world, Fragments of the City is essential reading for making sense of the contemporary conjuncture. On the one hand, it outlines a radical and unscripted understanding of how cities come to be and how they come to be otherwise. Emphasizing that the urban “is always plural and provisional” (McFarlane, 2021: 18), Fragments of the City starts with particular details and links them together without assuming from the outset any inherent structural logics or formulas or any final shapes and goals. In so doing, it calls into question many of the taken for granted epistemologies of urban studies, which so often connect the world’s dots into shapes that conform to preexisting beliefs. The book thus cuts a bold and original path into (and through) the field of critical urbanism, but does so in a manner that is also thoroughly modest and eclectic. Through “a range of methodological excursions” (McFarlane, 2021: 227), McFarlane asks compelling, poetic questions; patchworks vivid stories across different contexts, follows divergent lines of flight, and sounds out resonant concepts for theorizing a multiplicity of experiences and politics. On the other hand, the book is also more overtly pedagogical, demonstrating modes of attention and action—ways of seeing, walking, feeling, writing, making, thinking, playing, and living—that are attuned to the complex interplays of actual urban life. Heeding a call by David Kishik (2015: 95) “that we let the city change the way we think,” Fragments of the City shows the reader how to be receptive to modes of urban expression and communication that might not otherwise be recognized in conventional frames of city knowing and feeling. Not only then, does it advance critical urbanism as an intellectual project, but through cultivating novel sensibilities and subjectivities, it holds lesson on how to reflexively and ethically be in cities. 

The book is therefore performative. Rather than treating criticism as a matter of exposing, unveiling, or interrogating (or any of the other aggressive metaphors attached to ‘rigourous’ academic work), Fragments of the City is constructive and creative, dialogically engaging interlocutors in the very connective practices it analyses. By weaving together individual experiences and ideas with the fabric of the built world, McFarlane draws the reader into new material and imaginary entanglements. He provides a provocation and an example for how to engage urban scholarship in iterative world-making directions. Indeed, in both its form and its content, Fragments of the City is about increasing shared capacities for life through rearranging elements and reshaping constitutive relations. While the book presents a clear-eyed account of extreme forms of immiseration, dispossession, and indignity, it nevertheless remains irreducibly hopeful. Fragments of the City is veritably humming with the potential energy of collectives in the making. It is a challenging task to convey the discontents of contemporary urbanization and the severity of differentially experienced urban crises, while also emphasizing the margin of maneuverability that enables life to persist and sometimes even to thrive. McFarlane succeeds, forwarding a deeply pragmatic politics that exists in what Eve Sedgwick (2002: 147) once called the “heartbeat of contingency.” 

Fragments of the City presents two particularly salient sites of ever-changing urban possibilities. The first is the realm of aesthetics, wherein “artistic experiments in formation and reformation can provoke all kinds of politics” (McFarlane, 2021: 133). Across the seven main sections of the text, McFarlane frequently turns to the arts as a potential site of knowing and activating fragments. Many of the claims in the book, for example, centre around epistemological practices and the kinds of embodied, sensory, situated, and relational knowledges that are needed for apprehending the city and its incessant dynamics. Moreover, aesthetic practices—from visual arts to music to performance—are also mobilized as examples of how fragments can be effectively brought together and taken apart to disrupt, contest, and reformulate the status quo. For urban scholars, this emphasis on diverse knowledge forms and praxes raises a number of questions: What, if anything, is distinctive about art as a means to engage and politicize the urban today? How do artistic practices attuned to fragments, as opposed to totalities, reframe how we think about aesthetics, politics and political agency? And how can we as urban researchers and practitioners learn from and collaborate with artists in our attempts to perceive and change the world? 

The second and related site is that of density, described by McFarlane as “a lived and political set of processes in which the connections between fragments and densities are remade” (2021: 45). In Fragments of the City, a paradoxical situation underwrites the urban with density as both the condition and challenge of urban politics. Density denotes a cruel math of resource scarcity, inadequate infrastructure provision, and debilitating oppression. Living close often means the accretion of durable forms of racialized, gendered, ablest, and classist violence. Yet density also intensifies and multiplies interactions and connections in surprising ways. It is a precondition and a resource for social infrastructure and the aleatory encounters of people and things has the potential to furnish joyful capacity-increasing political engagements of all kinds. Fragments of the City thus focuses on the exigent question of how we might understand density with respect to all manner of political openings and closures, and it urges us to think about the relationship between fragments and density across varied contexts where the affordances of propinquity differ considerably. 

Fragments of the City hesitates to provide definitive answers. But through its focus on potent political formations, it helps us to glimpse not only new possibilities for more just urban futures, but also new pathways of urban change, of which we are all a part.



Kishik D (2015) The Manhattan Project: A Theory of the City. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 
Sedgwick EK (2002) Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Theresa Enright is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. She researches urban politics and governance, infrastructure, and social movements.