What Is the Urban?

Registers of a World Interior

AbdouMaliq Simone

AbdouMaliq Simone is an urbanist and researcher whose work focuses on various powers, cultural expressions, governance and planning discourses, spaces and times in cities across the world. He is Research Professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, a Visiting Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths College and Visiting Professor at University of Cape Town. He holds research affiliations with the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta and the University of Tarumanagara. 

Key publications include In Whose Image?: Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan (University of Chicago Press 1994) and For the City Yet to Come: Changing Urban Life in Four African Cities (Duke University Press 2004), City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads (Routledge 2009) and Jakarta, Drawing the City Near (Minnesota 2014).

Blackness and the Urban Inoperable

What has happened to the “black city.” What has happened to those places of murky solidarities, arcane institutions, secret practices and compressed lives? From Mumbai to Chicago to Salvador to Jakarta, various vernaculars have designated the “black city” as something impenetrable but replete with an erotic captivation, as something full of squalor but unaccountable generativity—the inhabited uninhabitable.  Increasingly the black city is being effaced or leveraged. Its specificity is disqualified, its dynamics characterized as fundamentally implosive.  It is now made almost completely invisible, in expulsion to far peripheries, through dilution, or simply extinguished. If its empirical body, its “thingness” or demographics disappear, it may be necessary to return to the very mechanics of the inscription that designated this city as “black”, and perhaps find something in the sheer technicity of these mechanics to think how the blackness lives on. How it is operationalized in the inoperable.

The urban, far from being a locus of redemption, is instead that through which the human may not be that of a self-reflecting individual subject but a force field of oscillating collective enunciations, affect, and being-with that circumvent all available terms of recognition. Black life, otherwise historically condemned to finitude, to not exceed anything but itself as an expendable other or as the epitome of calculated life—as property, as welfare cost, as correctional probability—promises the infinity of the incomputable. 

For relational configurations constantly emerge that are incapable of conveying the predictability that otherwise synaptically connects detached stacks and socio-temporal layers in the city. While being conjured through unique elicitations, such sets of urban relations assert themselves more like inconsistent or even heterogeneous potentialities that never quite make it in the open. And, still, they do not disappear. 


Iowa State University

Department of Architecture

April 4-5, 2016