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Cities, Security and Vulnerability

This theme brings together a wide range of innovative and interdisciplinary research broadly concerned with the politics of risk, security and vulnerability in cities across the world.


The theme's starting point is to view contemporary cities as complex spaces and systems through which environmental, social, political, technological, biological and 'natural' risks are managed, distributed, and represented, often in extremely biased and contested ways. The processes sustaining cities - the construction of housing, the sourcing of food, water and energy, uneven struggles over the planning and management of resources - -both reshape 'natural' ecologies at international scales and bring into being a complex politics of risk, security and vulnerability. Indeed, in a rapidly urbanising world, many of the world's major technological, biological, social and ecological threats - viruses, resource shortages, organised violence - - now operate both transnationally and locally, transmitted as they are through the very infrastructures and circulations sustaining urban life. These circulations increasingly dramatically blur easy separations of the 'local' and 'global', 'urban' and 'rural', or 'human' and 'non-human'.

Introducing Research in this Theme

This theme thus works to overcome traditional disciplinary divides between discussions of 'social', 'biological', 'political', 'natural' and 'technological' aspects of risk and security. In achieving this, the theme is developing powerful new analyses of the fundamental importance of cities and urbanisation to our world.

Drawing on the latest social and political theory, building state-of-the-art empirical research projects, and linking directly to a wide range of international policy debates, work in this theme offers timely interventions for a rapidly urbanising world. With debates proliferating about the 'securitisation' of urban life and the quest to build 'reslilience' into cities in the face of resource crises, climate change, the threats of political violence, our purpose in this theme is to develop critical, innovative and topical books, papers and projects which feed directly into policy-relevant debates about the challenges of forging resilient urban spaces in equitable and just ways.

Current work in this wide-ranging theme includes:

  • Security, vulnerability and resilience in Global South Cities:  A large body of research across the  cities of the Global South addressing the shaping of informal cities by their residents, the vulnerabilities experienced by such residents to  poverty, health problems, infrastructural marginalisation, as well as erasure, eviction and homelessness. Research here is also exploring the ways in which fast-growing informal settlements, as well as refugee settlements,  are often vulnerable to extreme environmental risks as well as organised and drug-related and political violence. The emphasis here is on the extraordinary resilience of many informal settlements, and their communities, in the face of extreme insecurities (Stephen Graham, Peter Kellett, Suzanne Speak,)
  • Cities and Nation building: Research addressing the intersections of architecture, planning and nation building, with a particular interest in Turkey. Research here is exploring how the political and spatial aspects of nation building play out at various scales in architectural. symbolic and military ways with   (Zeynep Keyzer).
  • Science, bio-security and cities: Environmental problems and controversies  surrounding the regulation of animal production and processing as ‘vital systems’, ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘metabolic infrastructure’ sustaining urbanised societies (Andrew Donaldson)
  • Cities and food security: Research connecting broader strategic concerns about urban food security the social inequalities related to the food system (Jane Midgley).
  • Cities and energy security: Policy-relevant research on the intersections of energy security and urban built form in British cities (Carlos Calderon)
  • Security and the vertical view: Work on urban theories and practices in the post-war period addressing issues of atmospheric security, thought in the broadest sense.  This work is linked to the history of aerial views of cities and the development of imaging technologies , the vertical bombing of urban areas, and the recent proliferation of unmanned surveillance and military drones (Stephen Graham).
  • The ‘new military urbanism’: Critical research on the urbanization of state and military security agendas associated with the ‘war on terror’, the conceptualization of ‘assymetric’ warfare and the propagation of violence against and through systems of urban infrastructure. Related to this are projects addressing local government efforts at critical infrastructure planning and emergency preparedness planning (Stephen Graham).