Monthly Archives: October 2017

Post-Socialist Cities and Urban Theory

 Keywords: Urban theorypost-socialist citypost-socialism

Introduction

The main stimulus for this theme issue came from the perception shared by several scholars that “post-socialist” (or “post-communist cities”)11. “Post-socialist,” “post-communist,” and sometimes even “post-Soviet” are concepts that are used almost interchangeably in the literature, despite their slight differences in meaning. In this publication, as theme issue editors, we opt for “post-socialist,” not least because past debates concerned the “socialist” rather than the “communist” city. Even so, this does not amount to an endorsement of the “post-socialist city” concept per se. Because the post-socialist city is a widely used and understood concept, we will continue using it in the rest of this introduction, dropping the initial quotation marks which are intended to emphasize the somewhat contentious nature of the concept and of the associations that it carries. Our main focus is on post-socialist cities in Central and Eastern Europe, but many of the insights contained in this volume are relevant elsewhere, too.View all notes cities are poorly visible in the urban studies literature, and that when they are, they fail to have an enduring influence on broader debates. Yet the post-socialist city, like any other place on earth, offers a unique source of, and potential for, new ideas, deserving more attention and more active engagement not only by scholars with a stated interested in the region, but also by the academic community at large.

Framing this problem as a matter of conceptual and theoretical imports and exports, Sjöberg (2014Sjöberg, Örjan2014. “Cases on to Themselves? Theory and Research on Ex-socialist Urban Environments.” Geografie 119: 299319.[Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; see also Grubbauer 2012Grubbauer, Monika2012. “Toward a More Comprehensive Notion of Urban Change: Linking Post-socialist Urbanism and Urban Theory.” In Chasing Warsaw – Socio-Material Dynamics of Urban Change since 1990, edited by M.Grubbauer and J.Kusiak3560FrankfurtCampus Verlag. [Google Scholar]) recently concluded that imports of mainly Western-developed ideas into Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have occurred extensively, while little, if anything, has been produced or refined for export from the region to the global market of ideas. Sjöberg’s (2014Sjöberg, Örjan2014. “Cases on to Themselves? Theory and Research on Ex-socialist Urban Environments.” Geografie 119: 299319.[Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) concerns add on to the increasingly frequent calls for more globally inclusive urban studies, calls that are particularly voiced by scholars working in the postcolonial tradition (e.g. Robinson 2005, 2011a, 2011b, 2013Robinson, Jennifer2005. “Urban Geography: World Cities, or a World of Cities.” Progress in Human Geography 29: 757765.10.1191/0309132505ph582pr
Robinson, Jennifer2011a. “Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35: 123.10.1111/ijur.2011.35.issue-1
Robinson, Jennifer2011b. “Comparisons: Colonial or Cosmopolitan?” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography32: 125140.10.1111/sjtg.2011.32.issue-2
Robinson, Jennifer2013. “The Urban Now: Theorising Cities beyond the New.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16: 659677.10.1177/1367549413497696 
; Roy 2009Roy, Ananya2009. “The 21st Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory.” Regional Studies 43: 819830.10.1080/00343400701809665[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Jacobs 2012Jacobs, Jane2012. “Commentary – Comparing Comparative Urbanisms.” Urban Geography 33: 904914.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.904[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; McFarlane and Robinson 2012McFarlane, Colin, and Jennifer Robinson2012. “Introduction – Experiments in Comparative Urbanism.” Urban Geography 33: 765773.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.765[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), but that have in fact gained resonance within wider circles. What these scholars have in common is that they question the global reach of urban theory, and particularly of the unidirectional and parochial nature of the flow of urban knowledge from the West toward the “rest.” While they do acknowledge the value of, for example, the significant body of literature on the articulations of neoliberalism in cities across the world, these writers nevertheless criticize such work on the basis of it being rooted in the experience of a mere handful of cities that key urban thinkers have as their backyards – often islands of exceptionality scattered across (the northwestern quadrant of) a world of ordinary cities. Earlier versions of this critique had emerged already in the 1990s, when the dominance of Chicago and Los Angeles – the city “where it all comes together” (Soja 1989Soja, Edward1989Postmodern GeographiesLondonVerso. [Google Scholar]) – in urban theory supposedly silenced the voices of the sub-iconic and ordinary elsewhere (see Amin and Graham 1997Amin, Ash, and Stephen Graham1997. “The Ordinary City.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 22: 411429.10.1111/tran.1997.22.issue-4[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

The causes are certainly multiple, but four main explanations can be singled out. First, a resilient assumption permeating much research on post-socialist cities is that these cities are anomalous, subject to gradual correction with the return of “normal” economic relations rooted in a capitalist system, and as such, that they are ill-placed to inform broader urban theory. Such an assumption implies that there is, or should be, a final product (a post-correction city) liberated from all meaningful socialist legacies, its landscape “cleansed” (Czepczyński 2008Czepczyński, Mariusz2008Cultural Landscapes of Post-socialist CitiesAldershotAshgate. [Google Scholar]) of any socialist-era urban impurities. This way, the value of globally circulating urban knowledge may be expected to increase in parallel with the evaporation of the socialist past’s anomalous vestiges. Meanwhile, the concomitant transition process needs to be theorized, but it is a theorization that is conscribed in space and time to countries undergoing this process, and is thus hard to re-export. A prominent and useful example of such theorization is Sýkora and Bouzarovski’s (2012Sýkora, Luděk, and Stefan Bouzarovski2012. “Multiple Transformations: Conceptualising the Post-communist Urban Transition.” Urban Studies 49: 4360.10.1177/0042098010397402[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) multiple transformations conceptualization of urban transition, which allows for manifold and tortuous routes along a single broad trajectory from central planning and totalitarianism toward democracy and the market, providing the fresh canvas upon which (presumably slower) sociocultural and urban spatial transitions are subsequently drawn. In this perspective, having completed this three-stage transition, cities enter (or return to) the realm of ordinary theory. However, while the approach echoes the literature on double transition processes in Latin America during the 1980s, it overlooks, or at least downplays, the important “third” (Offe [1991Offe, Claus1991[2004]. “Capitalism by Democratic Design? Democratic Theory Facing the Triple Transition in East Central Europe.” Social Research 71: 501529. [Google Scholar]] 2004) and “fourth” (Kuzio 2001Kuzio, Taras2001. “Transition in Post-communist States: Triple or Quadruple?” Politics 21: 168177.10.1111/1467-9256.00148[Crossref][Google Scholar]) transitions – toward state and nation-building.

Similarly, second, such conceptualizations sustain discourses that frame post-socialist cities as lagging behind (cf. Robinson 2004Robinson, Jennifer2004. “In the Tracks of Comparative Urbanism: Difference, Urban Modernity and the Primitive.” Urban Geography 25: 709723.10.2747/0272-3638.25.8.709[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). They are in other words not just anomalous, but also non-modern, which effectively doubles their relative “difference” when seen through the lens of the principal First-World distilleries of urban thought. Accordingly, the need to “catch up” – against a backdrop of existing theory on First-World forerunner cities (Hirt 2012Hirt, Sonia. 2012Iron CurtainsMaldenJohn Wiley and Sons.10.1002/9781118295922[Crossref][Google Scholar]) – was a relatively unproblematic assumption during the 1990s – an assumption that became increasingly criticized later on (Hörschelmann and Stenning 2008Hörschelmann, Kathrin, and AlisonStenning2008. “Ethnographies of Postsocialist Change.” Progress in Human Geography 32: 339361.10.1177/0309132508089094[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ferenčuhová 2012Ferenčuhová, Slavomíra2012. “Urban Theory beyond the ‘East/West Divide’? Cities and Urban Research in Postsocialist Europe.” In Urban Theory beyond the West: A World of Cities, edited by T. Edensor and M.Jayne6574LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]; Hirt 2012Hirt, Sonia. 2012Iron CurtainsMaldenJohn Wiley and Sons.10.1002/9781118295922[Crossref][Google Scholar]).

Third, as both Robinson (2004Robinson, Jennifer2004. “In the Tracks of Comparative Urbanism: Difference, Urban Modernity and the Primitive.” Urban Geography 25: 709723.10.2747/0272-3638.25.8.709[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) and Roy (2009Roy, Ananya2009. “The 21st Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory.” Regional Studies 43: 819830.10.1080/00343400701809665[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) note, theory generated outside of this exclusive club, in general, tends to be viewed as a particularistic contribution to the description and understanding of what is past and elsewhere (see Peck [2015Peck, Jamie2015. “Cities beyond Compare?” Regional Studies 49: 160182.10.1080/00343404.2014.980801[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]] and Scott and Storper [2015Scott, Allen J., and Michael Storper2015. “The Nature of Cities: The Scope and Limits of Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39: 115.10.1111/ijur.v39.1[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]] for examples of similar critique toward the “new comparative urbanism” literature), and thus of little importance to other contexts. Post-socialist cities have a defining relation to the (socialist) past (see Hirt 2016Hirt, Sonia2016. “Once the Socialist City.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, SoniaHirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri TuvikeneEurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar]), representing a project of catching up, of reducing the imagined distance in both time and space with the West. Thus, they are a particularly interesting example of cities that are “elsewhere,” yet not so far, and that are “past,” but not quite,22. Reading Homi Bhabha’s Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse(1984Bhabha, Homi1984. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” Discipleship: A Special Issue on Psychoanalysis 28: 125133. [Google Scholar]) is particularly inspiring in rethinking the ambivalent meaning of post-socialist identity.View all notes and as such, they are hardly considered as sources of general theoretical input. Yet, “ordinary theory” (Peck 2015Peck, Jamie2015. “Cities beyond Compare?” Regional Studies 49: 160182.10.1080/00343404.2014.980801[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) is fraught with much the same problem, and Robinson (2011aRobinson, Jennifer2011a. “Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35: 123.10.1111/ijur.2011.35.issue-1[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 10) suggests that “most urban research is fairly parochial, with often quite locally derived conclusions circulating as universal knowledge.” Leitner and Sheppard (2016Leitner, Helga, and Eric Sheppard2016. “Provincializing Critical Urban Theory: Extending the Ecosystem of Possibilities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 228235.10.1111/1468-2427.12277[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 230) add on to this critique (based on the example of the Burgess concentric ring model) by noting that “certain local epistemologies may gain hegemonic status for reasons that have little to do with their universal validity” (230).

Finally, fourth, still relatively few scholars working in post-socialist countries have managed to reach out with their results, for various reasons, including language barriers, resource constraints, lack of library access to the international literature, and thus detachment of their work from current theoretical debates. Certainly, the overall situation has improved during recent years, but the improvements have not taken place in a geographically uniform way, leading to increased differences between and within particularly country contexts (see Timár 2004Timár, Judit2004. “More than ‘Anglo-American’, It is ‘Western’: Hegemony in Geography from a Hungarian Perspective.” Geoforum 35: 533538.10.1016/j.geoforum.2004.01.010[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ferenčuhová 2016aFerenčuhová, Slavomíra2016a. “Accounts from behind the Curtain: History and Geography in the Critical Analysis of Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 131146.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

From the above, it is clear that post-socialist cities may suffer from a kind of exclusion that is broadly similar to the situation that has been lamented by postcolonial scholars during the past 10–15 years in regard to cities in the Global South. Yet, as Tuvikene (2016aTuvikene, Tauri2016a. “Strategies for Comparative Urbanism: Post-socialism as a De-territorialized Concept.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 132146.10.1111/1468-2427.12333[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) cautions, these cities run the risk of double exclusion – from mainstream theory and from the postcolonial critique. Calls have been made “to rethink the list of “great” cities” (Roy 2009Roy, Ananya2009. “The 21st Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory.” Regional Studies 43: 819830.10.1080/00343400701809665[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 820), to “provincialize” urban theory (Leitner and Sheppard 2016Leitner, Helga, and Eric Sheppard2016. “Provincializing Critical Urban Theory: Extending the Ecosystem of Possibilities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 228235.10.1111/1468-2427.12277[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), to “de-provincialize” it (Mbembe and Nuttall 2004Mbembe, A., and Sarah Nuttall2004. “Writing the World from an African Metropolis.” Public Culture 16: 347372.10.1215/08992363-16-3-347[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]),33. In this case, “provincializing” and “de-provincializing” are not to be seen as each other’s opposites. Mbembe and Nuttall (2004Mbembe, A., and Sarah Nuttall2004. “Writing the World from an African Metropolis.” Public Culture 16: 347372.10.1215/08992363-16-3-347[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) and Leitner and Sheppard (2016Leitner, Helga, and Eric Sheppard2016. “Provincializing Critical Urban Theory: Extending the Ecosystem of Possibilities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 228235.10.1111/1468-2427.12277[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) use the term “provincializing” in somewhat different ways.View all notes and most importantly, to engage with cities on their own terms and in their entireties (Robinson 2005Robinson, Jennifer2005. “Urban Geography: World Cities, or a World of Cities.” Progress in Human Geography 29: 757765.10.1191/0309132505ph582pr[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), which requires “light and revisable” theory (Robinson 2016aRobinson, Jennifer2016a. “Comparative Urbanism: New Geographies and Cultures of Theorizing the Urban.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 187199.10.1111/1468-2427.12273[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) – and perhaps also realizing that theories are subject to geographical and temporal limitations and that the days of all-encompassing theory are gone (Leitner and Sheppard 2016Leitner, Helga, and Eric Sheppard2016. “Provincializing Critical Urban Theory: Extending the Ecosystem of Possibilities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 228235.10.1111/1468-2427.12277[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

Thus far, few have responded to these calls departing from the experience of cities located to the east of Berlin and to the north of the 40th parallel. Perhaps this region includes few – or none – of the new great cities that Roy (2009Roy, Ananya2009. “The 21st Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory.” Regional Studies 43: 819830.10.1080/00343400701809665[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) talks about, but it was and still is a land of great cities, as Chauncy Harris (1945Harris, Chauncy D.1945. “The Cities of the Soviet Union.” Geographical Review35: 107121.10.2307/210935[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) observed more than 70 years ago in relation to the Soviet Union. Instead, what we may observe is a dramatic increase in studies rooted in Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Indian cities. Within this journal, which started off as in 1960 as Soviet Geography, followed by PostSoviet Geography (1992–1995), and PostSoviet Geography and Economics (1996–2002), the Chinese city research trend is particularly evident among the articles that might fall under a broad definition of urban geography, including its historical branch: since 2005, out of 26 such articles,44. This figure excludes articles that provide statistical overviews of general urbanization trends, and other works of similar character.View all notes 12 focus on Chinese cities and 7 on cities in Russia, of which 5 are based on the case of Saint Petersburg. Of the remaining seven articles, two are on Indian cities, one is on Kiev, one on Vilnius, one on Vietnamese cities, and two cover broadly the post-Soviet region and “world cities,” respectively. Clearly, part of the explanation lies in China’s (and India’s) demographics – each of these two countries carry far greater weight than the whole CEE region taken together in this respect – but, as McFarlane and Robinson (2012McFarlane, Colin, and Jennifer Robinson2012. “Introduction – Experiments in Comparative Urbanism.” Urban Geography 33: 765773.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.765[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 767) note, changes in the global balance of power certainly play their part too. And funding, of course.

This incipient recalibration of the geography of urban knowledge production comes with the risk of (re)producing dominant islands of theory on the one hand, and typological thinking about the rest of the planetary archipelago of cities on the other (see Nijman 2007Nijman, Jan2007. “Introduction – Comparative Urbanism.” Urban Geography 28: 16.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Robinson 2013Robinson, Jennifer2013. “The Urban Now: Theorising Cities beyond the New.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16: 659677.10.1177/1367549413497696[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). However, this risk can be forestalled by sharpening our comparative vision and by thinking in a de-territorialized manner (Tuvikene 2016aTuvikene, Tauri2016a. “Strategies for Comparative Urbanism: Post-socialism as a De-territorialized Concept.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 132146.10.1111/1468-2427.12333[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; see also Tuvikene, Alves, and Hilbrandt 2016Tuvikene, TauriSusana Neves Alves, and Hanna Hilbrandt2016. “Strategies for Relating Diverse Cities: A Multi-sited Individualising Comparison of Informality in Bafatá, Berlin and Tallinn.” Current Sociology. doi:10.1177/0011392116657298.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), by thinking relationally (Ward 2008Ward, Kevin2008. “Editorial – Toward a Comparative (Re)Turn in Urban Studies? Some Reflections.” Urban Geography 29: 405410.10.2747/0272-3638.29.5.405[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), and by paying attention to particular aspects of cities (Robinson 2016bRobinson, Jennifer2016b. “Thinking Cities through Elsewhere: Comparative Tactics for a More Global Urban Studies.” Progress in Human Geography 40: 329.10.1177/0309132515598025[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Perhaps this strategy will allow the post-socialist city to be released from its partly imposed, partly self-induced, exile. The works included in this theme issue take assertive steps in this direction, and their authors formulate ambitions to theorize post-socialist urbanity, proposing several strategies to (re-)connect post-socialist cities to urban theory.

Thus, this theme issue brings together contributions that connect critical reviews of the research, empirical studies, and theoretical discussions in the field, with traditional and contemporary debates in urban theory. Three main challenges emerge: (1) the content and relevance of central concepts, (2) the role of the socialist past in shaping the present and future, and (3) the contribution of the post-socialist world in theorizing the nexus between social change and urban space.

The three challenges

The first – conceptual – challenge is approached from two angles in this issue. First, three short contributions collected in the “conceptual forum” (Ferenčuhová 2016bFerenčuhová, Slavomíra2016b. “The ‘Socialist City’ Pitfalls.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, Sonia HirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri Tuvikene.Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar]; Hirt 2016Hirt, Sonia2016. “Once the Socialist City.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, SoniaHirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri TuvikeneEurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar]; Tuvikene 2016bTuvikene, Tauri2016b. “The Conceptualization of Post-socialism.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, Sonia HirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri TuvikeneEurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar]) discuss the concept of the post-socialist city. More critical assessments of terms such as post-socialism, transition, and legacy then appear throughout the issue. Second, several articles debate the problem that the academic field of urban studies has faced since its early years, which is that of the transferability of theories and concepts among different cities and contexts. The authors discuss post-socialist cities as places where theories originating (predominantly) in research on Western cities are applied, but also as the context in which new theories or critical views on internationally debated topics may possibly emerge (Bernt 2016Bernt, Matthias2016. “How Post-Socialist is Gentrification? Observations in East Berlin and Saint Petersburg.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 565587.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Borén and Young 2016Borén, Thomas, and Craig Young2016. “Conceptual Export and Theory Mobilities: Exploring the Reception and Development of the ‘Creative City Thesis’ in the Post-socialist Urban Realm.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 588606.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ouředníček 2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

The second challenge relates to the role of the socialist (and pre-socialist) past, including representations thereof, in defining the present-day conditions in post-socialist cities. Writing on urban development and planning in socialist central Europe, Musil (2001Musil, Jiří2001. “Vývoj a Plánování Měst ve Střední Evropě v Období Komunistických Režimů: Pohled Historické Sociologie.” [Urban Development and Planning in Central Europe under Communist Regimes: The Perspective of Historical Sociology.]Sociologický Časopis/Czech Sociological Review 37: 275296.[Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 275) suggested that cities are best approached from a Braudelian longue durée perspective, emphasizing their long-term historical development and continuities rather than the sudden changes they may have experienced. The articles included in this volume debate the importance of the inherited urban infrastructures for the present day, but they also analyze the ideological uses of the representations of the socialist past in current political discourses in post-socialist countries. Together, they illustrate that referring to history, and challenging its dominant narratives, supports our understanding of the contemporary situation (Bouzarovski, Sýkora, and Matoušek 2016Bouzarovski, StefanLuděk Sýkora, and Roman Matoušek2016. “Locked-in Post-socialism: Rolling Path Dependencies in Liberec’s District Heating System.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 624642.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Chelcea and Druţă 2016Chelcea, Liviu, and Oana Druţă2016. “Zombie Socialism and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 521544.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ouředníček 2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

The third challenge refers to the classical problem of research on socialist and post-socialist cities, which is how to make sense of, and to theorize, the relation between social change and urban space (Bouzarovski, Sýkora, and Matoušek 2016Bouzarovski, StefanLuděk Sýkora, and Roman Matoušek2016. “Locked-in Post-socialism: Rolling Path Dependencies in Liberec’s District Heating System.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 624642.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Golubchikov 2016Golubchikov, Oleg2016. “The Urbanization of Transition: Ideology and the Urban Experience.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 607623.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ouředníček 2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). This issue clearly remains important in stimulating new ideas and new conceptual tools in urban studies, reaching well beyond the field of research on post-socialist cities.

The conceptual challenge

This collection starts by opening the first of the three themes in the conceptual forum, which assesses the relevance of the theme issue’s central concept – the post-socialist city. By doing so, it elaborates on a longstanding discussion that has been taking place among urban scholars interested in CEE, which is whether, and to what extent “post-socialist” still makes sense to describe and understand what has been happening in this region’s cities over the past 30 years. While the debate is an old one (see Hann, Humphrey, and Verdery 2002Hann, ChrisCarolineHumphrey, and Katherine Verdery2002. “Introduction: Postsocialism as a Topic of Anthropological Investigation.” In Postsocialism – Ideals, Ideologies and Practices in Eurasia, edited by C. Hann128LondonRoutledge.[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Hörschelmann 2002Hörschelmann, Kathrin2002. “History after the End: Post-socialist Difference in a (Post)Modern World.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 27: 5266.10.1111/tran.2002.27.issue-1[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], to name just a few contributors), and some scholars might roll their eyes at the prospect of re-chewing gum that has already lost its flavor, there are three main reasons for which a continued discussion is warranted.

First of all, far from dissipating into oblivion, “post-socialist” (or post-communist, post-Soviet, etc.) remains widely used as an adjective to describe CEE (and not only) societies and the changes that are still taking place within them. As recently as the last year or so, journal articles have been published on “cycling in the post-socialist city” (Barnfield and Plyushteva 2016Barnfield, Andrew, and Anna Plyushteva2016. “Cycling in the Post-socialist City: On Travelling by Bicycle in Sofia, Bulgaria.” Urban Studies 53: 18221835.10.1177/0042098015586536[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), “experiencing post-socialism” (while running in Sofia, Barnfield 2016Barnfield, Andrew2016. “Experiencing Post-socialism: Running and Urban Space in Sofia, Bulgaria.” European Urban and Regional Studies. doi:10.1177/0969776416661015.[Crossref][Google Scholar]), and on “regeneration projects in Central and Eastern European post-communist cities” (Hlaváček, Raška, and Balej 2016Hlaváček, PetrPavelRaška, and MartinBalej2016. “Regeneration Projects in Central and Eastern European Post-Communist Cities: Current Trends and Community Needs.” Habitat International56: 3141.10.1016/j.habitatint.2016.04.001[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), as well as on various post-socialist urban phenomena and on urban phenomena that have taken place during the post-socialist period. Of course, there are also numerous publications that do not make use of the post-socialist qualifier, but the point is that, far from being dead, post-socialism is alive and well in current scholarship.

Second, the discussion on the meaning and value of the concept of post-socialism in urban research has neither been concluded, nor has it been conclusive. To the contrary, if anything, the debate has been re-invigorated during recent years, and several of the contributors to this volume have been at the forefront of this trend within urban studies. One of the trickiest problems that needs to be tackled is how to make sense of the fact that the two main transitions associated with the post-socialist epoch – democratization and marketization – are far from complete. What is more, within the former Soviet Union (minus the Baltic States), one of them (democratization) actually peaked during the late Gorbachëv era; that is, during late socialism. Since then, democracy has retreated in almost all of the former Soviet Union (Hale 2016Hale, Henry E. 2016. “25 Years after the USSR: What’s Gone Wrong?” Journal of Democracy 27: 2435.10.1353/jod.2016.0035[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), and it is increasingly being eroded in central Europe. This sorry insight destabilizes much of the theoretical work on post-socialist cities because it deprives it of one of its key assumptions. For example, Sýkora and Bouzarovski’s (2012Sýkora, Luděk, and Stefan Bouzarovski2012. “Multiple Transformations: Conceptualising the Post-communist Urban Transition.” Urban Studies 49: 4360.10.1177/0042098010397402[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) aforementioned multiple transformations model is based on the optimistic assumption that the key political transformations were already in place by the early 1990s and had a clear trajectory, and that this provided the ground for subsequent transformations at other levels, the sociocultural and the urban.

Debating the concept of the post-socialist city very often turns into a problem of general relevance in the social sciences. This is related to the fact that the concepts we use are also used and defined outside of academia, often with particular ideological connotations (see Hann, Humphrey, and Verdery 2002Hann, ChrisCarolineHumphrey, and Katherine Verdery2002. “Introduction: Postsocialism as a Topic of Anthropological Investigation.” In Postsocialism – Ideals, Ideologies and Practices in Eurasia, edited by C. Hann128LondonRoutledge.[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Kuus 2004Kuus, Merje2004. “Europe’s Eastern Expansion and the Reinscription of Otherness in East-central Europe.” Progress in Human Geography 28: 472489.10.1191/0309132504ph498oa[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Hörschelmann and Stenning 2008Hörschelmann, Kathrin, and AlisonStenning2008. “Ethnographies of Postsocialist Change.” Progress in Human Geography 32: 339361.10.1177/0309132508089094[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Wiest 2012Wiest, Karin2012. “Comparative Debates in Post-socialist Urban Studies.” Urban Geography 33: 829849.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.829[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). As Castells (1976Castells, Manuel1976. “Theory and Ideology in Urban Sociology.” In Urban Sociology: Critical Essays, edited by Ch GPickvance6084LondonTavistock Publications. [Google Scholar], 60) explained, “[e]very science … consists of a mixture, which sometimes varies according to circumstances, of ideology and theory.” The conceptual and theoretical debates on the post-socialist city raise our awareness of this intermingling, analyzing its influence on the state of the art produced in academia, and several contributions to this volume engage with this complication (Chelcea and Druţă 2016Chelcea, Liviu, and Oana Druţă2016. “Zombie Socialism and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 521544.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ferenčuhová 2016bFerenčuhová, Slavomíra2016b. “The ‘Socialist City’ Pitfalls.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, Sonia HirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri Tuvikene.Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar]; Golubchikov 2016Golubchikov, Oleg2016. “The Urbanization of Transition: Ideology and the Urban Experience.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 607623.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

In addition, the articles collected in this volume illustrate how concepts such as post-socialism, path-dependency, or legacy can be used in new ways, strengthening their analytical value, making them relevant beyond the field of study within which they usually reside, and allowing them to become “exportable” products (Sjöberg 2014Sjöberg, Örjan2014. “Cases on to Themselves? Theory and Research on Ex-socialist Urban Environments.” Geografie 119: 299319.[Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) within the international market of urban theory (see, for example, Tuvikene 2016bTuvikene, Tauri2016b. “The Conceptualization of Post-socialism.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, Sonia HirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri TuvikeneEurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar] or Ouředníček 2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Meanwhile, other articles in this issue see the potential for critical contributions to existing theories (such as that of gentrification, see Bernt 2016Bernt, Matthias2016. “How Post-Socialist is Gentrification? Observations in East Berlin and Saint Petersburg.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 565587.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; or on the “creative city,” see Borén and Young 2016Borén, Thomas, and Craig Young2016. “Conceptual Export and Theory Mobilities: Exploring the Reception and Development of the ‘Creative City Thesis’ in the Post-socialist Urban Realm.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 588606.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), as a result of their being processed within the relatively uncharted “post-socialist” region.

The socialist past

The second challenge that emerges from research on post-socialist cities, and which figures prominently in this collection, is inextricably linked to the conceptual challenge discussed above: the socialist past and its legacies are now (back?) on the table (see, for example, the contributions in Beissinger and Kotkin’s [2014Beissinger, Mark, and Stephen Kotkin, eds. 2014Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern EuropeCambridgeCambridge University Press.[Crossref][Google Scholar]] recent edited book, and legacy arguments abound among the interpretations of the past few years’ authoritarian rebound in CEE). A proper analysis of socialist legacies means two things: (1) that we have a proper and detailed understanding of the actual workings of Soviet-type systems (and not just assumptions about it, see Ferenčuhová 2016aFerenčuhová, Slavomíra2016a. “Accounts from behind the Curtain: History and Geography in the Critical Analysis of Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 131146.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]); and (2) that a legacy effect (rather than a mere correlation) can actually be demonstrated (Kotkin and Beissinger 2014Stephen Kotkin, and Beissinger, Mark2014. “The Historical Legacies of Communism: An Empirical Agenda.” In Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, edited by M.Beissinger and S.Kotkin127CambridgeCambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781107286191[Crossref][Google Scholar]). Within the urban context, the salience of legacy arguments becomes particularly evident when referring to memory politics, but legacies are now being revisited across a wide range of areas within post-socialist urban studies and far beyond. Demonstrated socialist legacies enhance the value of the concept of post-socialism – for what is post-socialism without socialism? (Hirt 2016Hirt, Sonia2016. “Once the Socialist City.” In Conceptual Forum: The ‘Post-socialist’ City, SoniaHirtSlavomíraFerenčuhová, and Tauri TuvikeneEurasian Geography and Economics 57: 497520. [Google Scholar]) – but they call for a greater exploration of the concept. In this respect, it is useful to distinguish between Russia (and to some extent the other authoritarian countries in the Former Soviet Union) on the one hand, and the remainder of the post-socialist countries. Indeed, Alexander Etkind (2014Etkind, Alexander2014. “Post-soviet Russia: The Land of the Oil Curse, Pussy Riot, and Magical Historicism.” Boundary 2 41 (1): 153170.10.1215/01903659-2409712[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 155) suggests that “the unprocessed memory of the catastrophic Soviet past still keeps Russia in its interminable post-Soviet condition,” whereas Chelcea and Druţă (2016Chelcea, Liviu, and Oana Druţă2016. “Zombie Socialism and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 521544.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) argue that it is the constant processing of socialist memory that keeps Romania on its interminably undisputed neoliberal trajectory. Post-socialism, understood this way, is characterized by the continued presence of elements of socialism itself, rather than by their gradual (or rapid) demise and disavowal – it is past-socialism in the present.

Moreover, the articles collected in this volume suggest that we need to rethink the main historical turning points of the post-1989/1991 period and that these should not be taken for granted. Bouzarovski, Sýkora, and Matoušek (2016Bouzarovski, StefanLuděk Sýkora, and Roman Matoušek2016. “Locked-in Post-socialism: Rolling Path Dependencies in Liberec’s District Heating System.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 624642.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) stress the need to better reflect both the socialist (and pre-socialist) times’ material legacies (such as urban infrastructures) and the political and economic changes that took place along the 1990s in our understanding of post-socialist cities. Similarly to Bernt (2016Bernt, Matthias2016. “How Post-Socialist is Gentrification? Observations in East Berlin and Saint Petersburg.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 565587.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), their analysis challenges the representation of the years 1989/1991 and of the subsequent reforms as the single or principal milestones to be considered in explanations of “post-socialist” urban development.

Post-socialism, social change, and urban space

Finally, the third challenge is that of formulating new insights into the relationship between urban space and social change based on the experiences of post-socialist cities, and the authors in this volume represent different perspectives on this account. Using the urban margins of Czech cities as source of inspiration, Ouředníček (2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) highlights the relative stability of the dominant urban development patterns; accordingly, he challenges the approaches that ascribe pivotal importance to the events that took place during the years of rapid political change, which lose sight of the more durable historically formed urban structures. On the other hand, a different picture – that of important changes having taken place during the socialist period – seems to emerge at the scale of the specific parts of cities, such as urban margins: Bouzarovski, Sýkora, and Matoušek (2016Bouzarovski, StefanLuděk Sýkora, and Roman Matoušek2016. “Locked-in Post-socialism: Rolling Path Dependencies in Liberec’s District Heating System.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 624642.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) consider the new “socio-technical lock-ins” that appeared during the post-socialist period and as part of the on-going transformations in the city of Liberec (Czech Rep.), emphasizing how the material urban environment has been used strategically by political and economic actors to create new path-shaping outcomes. Relatedly, Golubchikov (2016Golubchikov, Oleg2016. “The Urbanization of Transition: Ideology and the Urban Experience.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 607623.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) formulates an important appeal to scholars writing on post-socialist cities by introducing the notion of urbanization of transition, which articulates “the centrality of the urban in the spectacular post-socialist dynamics” (p. 620).

The contributions

The three challenges that frame this issue on the “post-socialist city and urban theory” emerge – implicitly or explicitly – in all contributions, and at times the connections and intersections between them become especially evident. The authors present conceptual debates and theoretical insights that are based on relevant empirical material or on thorough overviews of the literature. Some of the contributions have an explicitly comparative perspective, whereas others rely on single case studies.

Chelcea and Druţă (2016Chelcea, Liviu, and Oana Druţă2016. “Zombie Socialism and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 521544.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) elaborate on the issues opened up by the conceptual forum, connecting them to the empirical reality. In order to understand and explain the character of neoliberal capitalism in CEE, which they recognize as harsher and “more capitalist” than anywhere else in Europe, the authors introduce the notion of “zombie socialism.” They show how the ghost of socialism is exploited by political elites in post-socialist European countries to push through reforms or to facilitate the state’s withdrawal from the provision of social security. Using the example of housing, Chelcea and Druţă (2016Chelcea, Liviu, and Oana Druţă2016. “Zombie Socialism and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 521544.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) illustrate how claims for social security are labeled as “socialist,” and thus backward, non-democratic, non-progressive, or simply shameful. Accordingly, the socialist “zombie” is mobilized to create pressure on the labor force to accept the costs of economic “progress.” Armed with this argument, Chelcea and Druţă (2016Chelcea, Liviu, and Oana Druţă2016. “Zombie Socialism and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 521544.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) propose new uses for the concept of post-socialism, stressing its associations with socialism, as well as its role in contemporary ideology. Thus, they suggest that neoliberalism in CEE should be examined with greater sensitivity to the specific meanings and connotations associated with the socialist past and with the capitalist economy in its post-socialist guise.

Martin Ouředníček (2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) considers the mobility of concepts and theories between prevailingly Western urban theory and post-socialist cities. Looking back at the 1990s, he explains how concepts and theories produced by research on Western cities found their way into Czech urban studies, becoming adopted by researchers seeking to grasp and even predict the future development of cities in the post-socialist era. His overview of almost three decades’ worth of geographical research on Prague demonstrates the value of these concepts and theories, as well as their limitations when applied unreflectively to the new context. Using the example of the urban margins of Prague (and of other Czech cities), and particularly of the socialist-era housing estates, he argues that the imported concepts are frequently unsatisfactory and that there is a clear need for new conceptual tools that may have wider relevance in urban theory. In addition, Ouředníček (2016Ouředníček, Martin2016. “The Relevance of ‘Western’ Theoretical Concepts for the Investigation of the Margins of Post-socialist Cities: The Case of Prague.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 545564.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) more or less explicitly suggests that empirical research should remain high on the agenda, as we are still missing plenty of facts. This responds to past criticism that studies on post-socialist cities tend to favor empirical work at the expense of the theoretical contribution (see, for example, Timár 2004Timár, Judit2004. “More than ‘Anglo-American’, It is ‘Western’: Hegemony in Geography from a Hungarian Perspective.” Geoforum 35: 533538.10.1016/j.geoforum.2004.01.010[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

Matthias Bernt (2016Bernt, Matthias2016. “How Post-Socialist is Gentrification? Observations in East Berlin and Saint Petersburg.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 565587.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) proposes a slightly different opinion on the issue of the transfer of concepts. In his empirical examination of gentrification in East Berlin and in Saint Petersburg, he shows how the post-1989/1991 political reforms within the domain of housing have impacted on the material environment, accelerating – or holding back – the process of its regeneration. By comparing two dissimilar cities, the article critically assesses the concept of gentrification in its value and capacity to explain urban changes across different contexts. Bernt proposes using gentrification as an umbrella term for locally specific urban social transformations where the displacement of poorer households takes place in tandem with the entry of better-off groups within a context of heightened economic investment in the area. Such a broad definition captures the idiosyncrasies of gentrification across a wide spectrum of contexts, including “post-socialist cities,” while giving the latter the necessary space to engage in wider theoretical conversations on the topic.

Borén and Young (2016Borén, Thomas, and Craig Young2016. “Conceptual Export and Theory Mobilities: Exploring the Reception and Development of the ‘Creative City Thesis’ in the Post-socialist Urban Realm.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 588606.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) recognize the critical role that research on post-socialist cities may play in responding to internationally circulating theories and concepts. Their article discusses the hitherto marginal position of research on post-socialist cities in relation to the Anglo-American stronghold of urban theory, problematizing its schematizing effects. Using the example of the creative city discourse and theory, the authors propose a more thorough explanation of the sidelining of post-socialist cities in urban studies, suggesting the need to consider “the patterns in academic knowledge production” (p. 602) in order to understand this condition. They also discuss the requirement and expectation to produce transferable theories within urban studies (and in academia at large), based on rules of knowledge production that are construed as global, as well as the mobility of the very policies associated with the idea of the creative city.

The final two articles use research on post-socialist cities to formulate insights into the relation between urban space and social change and propose strong theoretical proclamations. Oleg Golubchikov (2016Golubchikov, Oleg2016. “The Urbanization of Transition: Ideology and the Urban Experience.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 607623.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) formulates at least two crucial challenges that should resonate in future research on post-socialist cities. First, he reminds us that “urbanization is a major institutional dimension of transition, not simply its playground” (p. 620), meaning that the attention of urban scholars should revert to their traditional object of inquiry and that cities are social and material realities where neoliberal capitalism and its social relations are produced, with far-reaching impacts. Second, Golubchikov (2016Golubchikov, Oleg2016. “The Urbanization of Transition: Ideology and the Urban Experience.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 607623.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) questions the geographical limitations of the extant theories of “transition,” the validity of which being conscribed by the boundaries of the post-socialist states, while promoting an understanding of transition as a “totalizing project of planetary reach” (p. 607). Through this lens, transition is seen as a process whereby neoliberal capitalism goes global and which transforms and seizes the historically formed materiality and social relations present in post-socialist countries.

Similar to other contributions, the article by Bouzarovski, Sýkora, and Matoušek (2016Bouzarovski, StefanLuděk Sýkora, and Roman Matoušek2016. “Locked-in Post-socialism: Rolling Path Dependencies in Liberec’s District Heating System.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 624642.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) analyzes the situation in the mid-sized Czech city of Liberec, where the prices that local inhabitants pay for district heating are extremely high in the national context. The authors identify the causes of this situation in the combined effects of the socialist-era heating infrastructure, of the privatization and local administration reforms in the 1990s, and of the (vested) interests of the local political and business spheres. The authors also contribute to the conceptual debates within research on post-socialist cities. In a critical response to the conventional path-dependency perspective, they develop the idea of “path-shaping” post-socialist transformations (Pickles and Smith 1998Pickles, John, and Adrian Smith1998Theorising Transition: The Political Economy of Post-communist TransformationsLondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]), stressing the role of the years of the political and economic reforms in shaping subsequent developments. Bouzarovski, Sýkora, and Matoušek (2016Bouzarovski, StefanLuděk Sýkora, and Roman Matoušek2016. “Locked-in Post-socialism: Rolling Path Dependencies in Liberec’s District Heating System.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 57: 624642.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) propose the notion of “rolling path-dependencies” to reflect the multi-layered determination of the present-day situation. This notion, which refers to the general path-dependency concept, may well bear fruit beyond the post-socialist context, and it may be relevant to research on other cities undergoing changes linked to important historical events or transformations.

Conclusion

The starting point for this theme issue was the observation – challenged by various contributions to this volume – that research on post-socialist cities has yet to escape from the periphery of contemporary urban theory.

This volume takes several important steps toward the center of urban theory and away from its margins by critically responding to wider debates and by producing new knowledge that is rooted in research on post-socialist cities. First, there are attempts to (re)define key concepts that have been used in the field (for example, legacy, post-socialism, transition, path-dependency), and to discuss their value for urban theory in general, rather than in relation to CEE alone. Concepts such as “post-socialism” or “transition” are ascribed global relevance in their capacity to relate cities across the globe to one another. Second, some of the authors signal that new concepts may emerge inductively, based on empirical research conducted in specific parts or on particular aspects of post-socialist cities, particularly when a close connection to the socialist past appears to be present (as in the housing estates). Third, established and globally circulating concepts and theories (e.g. gentrification or the creative city) can be critically discussed and developed through research on post-socialist cities. Many of these concepts have already been in use to describe and analyze the CEE context, but the attempts to actually add onto them (to “re-export” them, in Sjöberg’s [2014Sjöberg, Örjan2014. “Cases on to Themselves? Theory and Research on Ex-socialist Urban Environments.” Geografie 119: 299319.[Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]] language) have been few and far between. Fortunately, this has been changing in a favorable direction recently, and the articles included in this volume represent an additional significant effort. Here, post-socialist cities are not presented as the anomalies of urban theory, but as places where important knowledge can be generated, favoring critical discussions of the (center’s) state of the art.

Finally, research on post-socialist cities is sensitive to the ideological side of urban life, and perhaps more so than within urban studies at large. Several contributions to this issue link an analysis of ideology with research on the material and social structures of cities. Moreover, this sensitivity extends to the concepts and categories used, including, but not limited to, the category of post-socialism. We consider this to be one of the greatest strengths and potentials of research on post-socialist cities, and it comes with the benefit of an enhanced awareness of the political and ethical dimensions of our work.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Acknowledgment

Slavomíra Ferenčuhová acknowledges the support from Project No. MUNI/A/1114/2015, “Society and its dynamics: qualitative and quantitative perspective” (SPOJKA).

 

Notes

1. “Post-socialist,” “post-communist,” and sometimes even “post-Soviet” are concepts that are used almost interchangeably in the literature, despite their slight differences in meaning. In this publication, as theme issue editors, we opt for “post-socialist,” not least because past debates concerned the “socialist” rather than the “communist” city. Even so, this does not amount to an endorsement of the “post-socialist city” concept per se. Because the post-socialist city is a widely used and understood concept, we will continue using it in the rest of this introduction, dropping the initial quotation marks which are intended to emphasize the somewhat contentious nature of the concept and of the associations that it carries. Our main focus is on post-socialist cities in Central and Eastern Europe, but many of the insights contained in this volume are relevant elsewhere, too.

2. Reading Homi Bhabha’s Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse (1984Bhabha, Homi1984. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” Discipleship: A Special Issue on Psychoanalysis 28: 125133. [Google Scholar]) is particularly inspiring in rethinking the ambivalent meaning of post-socialist identity.

3. In this case, “provincializing” and “de-provincializing” are not to be seen as each other’s opposites. Mbembe and Nuttall (2004Mbembe, A., and Sarah Nuttall2004. “Writing the World from an African Metropolis.” Public Culture 16: 347372.10.1215/08992363-16-3-347[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) and Leitner and Sheppard (2016Leitner, Helga, and Eric Sheppard2016. “Provincializing Critical Urban Theory: Extending the Ecosystem of Possibilities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 228235.10.1111/1468-2427.12277[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) use the term “provincializing” in somewhat different ways.

4. This figure excludes articles that provide statistical overviews of general urbanization trends, and other works of similar character.

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Planetary Gentrification


Loretta Lees: My aim in this talk is to unpack the Anglo-American hegemony in gentrification studies, and in so doing to question the notion of a global gentrification. 

Book Review: Planetary Gentrification by Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales

The first book in Polity’s ‘Urban Futures’ series, in Planetary Gentrification authors Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales bring together recent urban theory, postcolonial critique and a political economy perspective to offer a globalised take on gentrification. This book is a crucial synthesis of established approaches to gentrification and more recent theoretical developments and is also an excellent example of co-authored scholarship, finds Geoffrey DeVerteuil . 

Planetary Gentrification. Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales. Polity. 2016.

Find this book: amazon-logo

planetary-gentrification-coverWith the same three authors, Planetary Gentrification may be seen as a companion to the 2015 volume, Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement, giving a more unified discussion of how to join gentrification debates to current urban theory, of moving beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and ‘heartlands’ of gentrification theory production to embrace a truly cosmopolitan, globalised gentrification, both theoretically and empirically.

Essentially, the book connects to an ‘ontological awakening’ (5) that directly engages the recent theoretical ferment in urban studies, particularly ‘planetary urbanization’ and post-colonial critiques, set within an ascendant comparative urbanism while largely maintaining a political economy perspective in the confines of global capitalism. This book is therefore a stocktaking between a now global gentrification and the emerging panoply of new urban theories and approaches, bringing them into conversation to ‘advance the view that gentrification is becoming increasingly influential and unfolds at a planetary scale’ (4), globally generalised yet locally contingent and variegated. The book therefore hopes to shed considerable light on current urban restructuring, inequality and polarisation.

There is much to commend in Planetary Gentrification, particularly its ambitious scope and scale. It maintains a knife-edge tension between building on Global North gentrification theory but ensuring a relational approach, opening gentrification up to new perspectives and theories to better frame the rise of ‘spectacular urbanization’ and real estate-led mega-development, mega-infrastructure and mega-upgrading. Along the way, this is an excellent example of collegiate production, rather than extensive and globe-spanning travel by one scholar.

planetary-gentrification-image-4Image Credit: Greenpoint Gentrification (Brenden CC BY SA 2.0)

Three insights in particular stand out. The first is the sense that quaint notions of gentrification as an individual preference have been thoroughly replaced by the state drive towards the privileging of real estate values, producing remarkably mimetic landscapes across the globe. This state-led financialisation of real estate is fuelling new-build gentrification, particularly in the Global South. The state has now become the central agent of gentrification, imposing a global gentrification blueprint through zero-tolerance policing, creative city and mixed communities discourses, heritage preservation policies and slum gentrification in places such as Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro.

The second insight is the rejection of the central city-suburban binary, in which gentrification only occurs in the former, via the revival of older theories of the rent gap and the slum to promote new understandings of a far more spatially disparate gentrification. Finally, the authors argue that the book not only sheds light on the neglected and misrecognised spaces of the urban Global South, a point which many of the key thinkers of comparative urbanism (Sue Parnell, Jenny Robinson, Colin McFarlane) emphasise, but also on the class exploitation inherent in the displacements of gentrification, which is more in line with those who contribute to older debates on gentrification and displacement (Tom Slater, Elvin Wyly).

However, the very wide-ranging conceptual and empirical scope of the book itself leads to inevitable overreach and blind spots. The explicit combination of ‘planetary urbanization’ and post-colonial critique is an example of unintentional incommensurability. Rather than being complementary, the two theories are actually opposing, emerging from very different ontologies and politics, the former totalising while the latter much more about everyday life and everyday theory. Such a Panglossian approach points to the pitfalls of too eagerly absorbing the range of recent urban theory – some produced so hastily that their ‘new’ insights are actually recycled from older theories that have fallen into disuse. For example, the LA Schoolwas at the very least insightful about the need to take seriously the polycentric nature of late-twentieth-century urbanism – and yet in the drive for the new, this intellectual debt is forgotten.

I also struggled with the conflation of East Asia – places such as Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul – with the Global South. Surely there is a better way to incorporate areas that have been neglected by Global North theory, but which do not sit comfortably with the other low- and middle-income nations of the world. Along these lines of better unpacking the Global South, there is little investigation into the diversity of experience within the Global North itself, which is presented as a monolithic template – what about places that are more polycentric like Los Angeles? While I absolutely agree with the emergence of multiple centralities currently structuring the gentrification process, gentrification still retains an enduring attraction to the dominant centre, of being in close proximity and access to it. The importance of a residual centrality therefore means we must be careful about proposing the notion of tabula rasa urbanism and gentrification, just as we need to be wary of tabula rasa theory production.

Finally, the state is presented as the agent of gentrification, but can it not also be an agent of anti-gentrification, of propping up barriers to it? This relates to the section in Chapter Five that offers a uniformly revanchist, zero-tolerance state-promoting gentrification – yet, this is not always true, as one can have gentrification without revanchism and revanchism without gentrification. My own work on incipient gentrification in Downtown Los Angeles shows that the local state both encouraged gentrification but also continued to support non-commodified land uses – specifically the Skid Row service hub – that throw up barriers to all-consuming gentrification. There can never be complete and total gentrification as long as residuals from the pre-gentrification era – the so-called commons – remain spatially resilient, presenting an intriguing alternative to outright ‘resistance’ that the authors address in the final section of the book.

In conclusion, and despite these critiques, Planetary Gentrification advances a crucial synthesis between the more established contours of gentrification and the recent developments in urban theory, particularly planetary urbanisation and post-colonial critique, set within a comparative and relational framework. This synthesis is the main contribution of the book, and sets it apart from the sometimes overly-empirical nature of the field, useful in building up a ‘geography of gentrification’ yet lacking a more crosscutting, theoretically robust framework.