The urban battleground: explaining conflict in global cities.

AuthorHammer, Samantha
PositionCities and Sovereignty: Identity Politics in Urban Spaces - Book review

Cities and Sovereignty: Identity Politics in Urban Spaces

Diane E. Davis and Nora Libertun de Duren, editors

(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 264 pages.

When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010, people across the Arab world identified with him, a person trying to make a decent life for himself but hobbled by a repressive government. As Tunisia erupted into a successful revolution, citizens throughout the Middle East and North Africa were inspired to follow. Over the course of the uprisings, images of protesters fiercely battling government forces in reclaimed city squares exemplified the importance of urban spaces as arenas for power struggles that can redefine national sovereignty.

Cities and Sovereignty: Identity Politics in Urban Spaces, published in early 2011, was timed perfectly to lead the conversation about these urban uprisings, which have demonstrated both the salience of identity politics in conflict and the role of cities in negotiations between social groups. The volume's editors, political sociologist Diane E. Davis and urban planner Nora Libertun de Duren, argue that, contrary to scholarship suggesting that cities can breed tolerance, cities are and will continue to be incubators of identity-based conflict as globalization heightens their diversity. According to Davis and Duren, these conflicts have important implications for the authority of nation-states vis-a-vis international influences, local governments and interest groups. In their discussion, they modify the traditional definition of sovereignty, "supreme authority within a territory," to highlight the presence of "nested" sovereignties present within a given area. (1) The book's nine chapters present conditions under which, the editors believe, urban identity-based conflict will arise in the future and shift sovereignty arrangements by examining the relationship between identities, seats of power and the urban environment. These predictions are based on evaluations of conflicts in cities ruled by different types of regimes and case studies from the past 150 years, spanning geographically from Bilbao, Spain to Hanoi, Vietnam.

The volume's consistent emphasis on the built environment keeps disparate topics in discussions of conflict--nation-state sovereignty, identity formation and modes of governance--unified, if not simplified. The volume argues that the urban environment is not just a stage but also an actor...

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