INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN AND REGIONAL RESEARCH
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— BOOK REVIEWS
Julie-Anne Boudreau 2017: Global Urban Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press
Is there a specifically urban way of acting politically? This very big question is at
the heart of Julie-Anne Boudreau’s Global Urban Politics––she asks it explicitly early on
(p. 13) and then, in multiple other ways, throughout the rest of the book. The answer, of
course, is yes––not only is there a ‘specifically urban way of acting politically’, but also
‘living in a world of cities … makes it necessary to rethink the political process altogether’
Of course ‘rethinking’ politics, as the author invites us to do, also means
redefining what can be considered political. The book’s central contribution is
Boudreau’s proposition for an ‘alternative’ ﬁeld of urban political studies––in which
she elaborates upon her conception of a politics that is caught up in movements and
mobilities, rather than merely systematically. These politics are not only static, linear
or rational. Rather they are created, caught up and embodied in the quickenings,
encounters and capacities that are characteristic of urban life (or ‘urbanity’, as Boudreau
sometimes calls this mode, after Lefebvre.) Thus, Boudreau delineates global urban
politics in excess of what is usually referred to as ‘political’ ––namely the ‘modern liberal
idea of democratic deliberation’––and instead locates these politics in ‘visceral registers
of action’ (p. 175) such as aect, pre-cognitive action and the more-than-human. Most
concretely, according to Boudreau the political forms outlined in this book ‘illustrate
how forces of informalization … are directly challenging the ideal of state modernity’ (p.
172): that is, they are an embodied politics that is no longer state-centric––although she
does also remind us that ‘the urban logic of political action does not mean the state is
no longer important’ (p. 177).
These ideas, of course, are not parthenogenetic to Boudreau’s urban theory––
they are present in recent work by (among others) process philosophers, aect theorists
and site ontologists, who have been exploring similar ideas in geography and elsewhere.
Boudreau cites broadly, and the book extensively and energetically situates these ideas
along a continuum of work on urban political theory. Thus, it succeeds in being both a
convincing primer on global urban politics and a work of advanced theory, as the author
manages to work on multiple simultaneous registers. This book (like many from Polity)
is thus interesting for diverse readers, from students to senior academics to generally
interested readers outside the discipline.
In the introduction, the author arms her commitment to a conception of the
‘urban’ as condition, not location. ‘The urban is not the city’, she warns––rather it is to be
understood as ‘a speciﬁc mode of relation to space, time and aect, marked by mobility,
intense interdependence, discontinuous spaces that carry emotional signiﬁcance, and
multiple temporalities’ (p. 10). What follows is a nuanced and detailed elaboration of
this politics that is both ‘global’ and ‘urban’, interwoven throughout the rest of the book
with empirical examples from the author’s ﬁeldwork (spanning the globe and lasting
more than a decade) in response to that initial question.
The comprehensive opening chapter is argued so assuredly that its central
concept, which is totally radical (politics isn’t just what we thought it was) reads
almost as a fait accompli, setting the agenda for a sea change of space, time and logic