Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Conurbation, or what Merriam-Webster defines as “an aggregation or continuous network of urban communities," is a suggestive word and it’s one that Malise Ruthven quotes Robert D. Kaplan as using in her review/essay on his The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (“Will Geography Decide Our Destiny,” The New York Review of Books, 2/21/13) Kaplan could be called a political scientist, but anyone who has read him in The Atlantic knows that his métier is harder to designate. He’s a journalist, a political scientist and travel writer all in one. He is the confidante of those who possess power across a wide spectrum of ideologies and he's also a spokesman for realpolitik and a latter day Machiavellian. In summarizing Kaplan’s ideas,  Ruthven underlines the importance of cartography in the modern understanding of political power and identity. However, he emphasizes that Kaplan’s book suggests that “the world may be returning to where it was before the era of imperial mapping.” Ruthven quotes Kaplan thusly, “vast cities and megacities have formed as rural dwellers throughout Eurasia, Africa, and South America migrate toward urban centers from the underdeveloped countryside. As a consequence the mayors and governors of these conurbations can less and less govern them effectively.” Isn’t that a good description even of the banlieues of Paris, where the legacy of ruthless French colonization has left its mark on a population of disenfranchised immigrants? These areas of poverty in the City of Light periodically erupt into violence which the local authorities can barely suppress. Ruthven later quotes Kaplan to the effect that “Radical Islam is, in part, the story of urbanization over the past half-century across North Africa and the Greater Middle East…It is the very impersonal quality of urban life, which is lived amongst strangers, that accounts for intensified religious feeling.” There is a kind of poetic justice at work in Kaplan’s analysis. Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth return to destroy the creation of their oppressor, the modern nation state.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.