Cities Under Siege By Stephen Graham

Introduction by
Various Authors

Michael Katz organized a symposium on Stephen Graham's 2011 book, Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism at the 2011 annual meeting of the Social Science History Association in Boston. Read the reviews of panelists George Steinmetz, Alice O'Connor, and Jennifer Light.

Review by George Steinmetz Graham’s book powerfully evokes right wing revulsion against cities.  In the pages of the repellent City Journal, published by the right-wing Manhattan Institute, Detroit and other poor US cities are described as “feral” (Malanga, 2009). Plans for locking down the residents of these feral cities are based on military assaults on overseas cities. The conservative concept of the “failed state” is paralleled by the idea of failed cities. Immigration is described as an act of war; urban gangs are framed as insurgents.

Review by Alice O' Connor And yet, for all its attentiveness to the historical transformations, departures, and confluences that distinguish the new military urbanism from what has come before, there is an ahistorical quality to Graham’s analysis that makes it difficult to put conceptual boundaries around the new military urbanism and to discern what for historians in particular are essential issues of timing, agency, and intent. This has the effect of giving the new military urbanism more coherence and design as a project than it may warrant and of making it seem more impenetrable than it is.

Review by Jennifer Light Stephen Graham’s Cities Under Siege is a highly original and compelling work. As in many of his other projects, this book manages to integrate insights from a diversity of scholars and disciplines to tell a big picture story. Graham’s earlier Splintering Urbanism (2001, with Simon Marvin) used the phrase “athletically interdiscipinary” to describe its ambitions, a phrase that captures his accomplishments in Cities as well.

essays in this forum

Review by Jennifer Light

Stephen Graham’s Cities Under Siege is a highly original and compelling work. A clear strength of Cities Under Siege, and characteristic of Graham’s other projects, is the acknowledgement that there is a history to many of the phenomena he explores. But its frame for the subject – The New Military Urbanism – emphasizes change over continuity when my perspective on the story it lays out is one of more continuity than change.


Jennifer Light

Review by Alice O'Connor

As Stephen Graham notes in "Cities under Siege", over the past half century urbanization has encompassed a far greater and rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population and physical geography and is taking place on a scale unimagined in previous history. The world’s largest cities are now overwhelmingly located in the global South, far outside Wirth’s frame of reference. But the more profound—and alarming—transformation Graham traces is solidly anchored in the imperial cities of the global North.


Alice O'Connor

Review by George Steinmetz

"Cities Under Siege" is a fascinating and depressing overview of the ongoing militarization of urban space and the reorientation of the military toward urban warfare. Graham discusses the so-called boomerang effects by which security practices circulate between remote foreign peripheries and the northern homelands and between legitimate armies and their illegitimate enemies.


George Steinmetz