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Seeing Like a City

Ash Amin, Nigel Thrift

ISBN: 978-1-509-51562-2 January 2017 Polity 216 Pages



Seeing like a city means recognizing that cities are living things made up of a tangle of networks, built up from the agency of countless actors. Cities must not be considered as expressions of larger paradigms or sites of human effort and organization alone. Within their density, size and sprawl can be found a world of symbols, bodies, buildings, technologies and infrastructures. It is the machine-like combination, interaction and confrontation of these different elements that make a city.

Such a view locates urban outcomes and influences in the character of these networks, which together power urban life, allocating resources, shaping social opportunities, maintaining order and simply enabling life. More than the silent stage on which other powers perform, such networks represent the essence of the city. They also form an important political project, a politics of small interventions with large effects. The increasing evidence for an Anthropocene bears out the way in which humanity has stamped its footprint on the planet by constructing urban forms that act as systems for directing life in ways that create both immense power and immense constraint.

‘Amin and Thrift are a magnificent duet, conjuring for the reader a sensorium of the intersecting forces affecting and shaped by the sociotechnical systems making up the urban. Here, cities are the locus through which to rethink the very composition of our world and how we might remake, with reinvestment in the provisioning of public goods, a more judicious, viable place within it.’
AbdouMalique Simone, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity and Goldsmiths, University of London

‘This is a book that needed to be written. It takes us beyond the common notion of cities as settings, and pulls us into layer after layer of what constitutes the urban. Written in a highly conceptualized way, it gives us the full experience of theoria in its original meaning: seeing.’
Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, author of Expulsions

"With this book and their earlier Cities: Reimagining the Urban (2000), Amin and Thrift present a compelling theoretical argument and take an extreme position amongst those who resist the determinativeness and embrace the relationality of cities. [...N]ot to know its argument is to be uneducated in the world of urban theory. Still, this is not a book for the faint-hearted. It offers no reassurance [...] that change can be managed and all will be well. Rather, it challenges us to re-think our fundamental understandings of what we mean by a city."
Robert Beauregard, Urban Studies