Second World Urbanity

My colleague, Daria Bocharnikova, and I have launched a new scholarly project, “Second World Urbanity: Between Capitalist and Communist Utopias.” Our project aims to bring together scholars of socialist cities, past and present, to explore the evolution of the socialist cityscape over the course of the 20th century to the present. The first stage of this project will be a virtual meeting in mid-summer 2012 to plan a major conference and its themes. See below our project description and feel free to contact me with ideas, feedback, and inquiries about participating.

An apartment building on the Karl-Marx-Allee, a major thoroughfare of socialist urbanity, in Berlin in 2008.

Second World Urbanity: A Project Prospectus

This project aims to bring together scholarly contributions on the various endeavors in the Second World to conceive, build, and inhabit a cityscape alternative to the segregated spaces of capitalist cities and the atomized world of suburbia. It will pay close attention to the tensions between global challenges and locally driven agendas that made architects, planners, and ordinary dwellers alter socialist modernity according to more particular interests. The work of imagining and designing urban space was undeniably a powerful instrument of forging Socialist modernity. In recent years, a growing number of scholars from a variety of disciplines have studied Socialist planning and its aftermath after the collapse of state socialist regimes in 1989/1991. This volume is also an attempt to reflect on the contributions scholars of urban history can make to scholarship on state socialist regimes more generally. What do we – urban historians and historians of architecture – have new to say on the history of the Second World? What are the new research questions that our subfield has generated in recent years?

As a venue for opening conversation about the new approaches to urbanity and planning, this project does not plan to restrict geographic boundaries to the Eastern Bloc. On the contrary, transnational, comparative, and global approaches are encouraged. We propose to think of socialist urban planning from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union to China and Cuba as a distinct (and multifaceted) division of global urban planning trends. Just as the geographic scope is broad so, too, is the volume’s intended chronological reach, which will span the early post-World War II period through the collapse of state socialism and beyond to the present day. Topics will be considered from a variety of perspectives, ranging from (but not limited to) the history of professional networks and institutional organization, monumental projects, mass housing schemes, transfers of technologies and styles, the organization of public and private spaces, the political engagement of urban planning professionals, the treatment of gender, ethnic, and class differences in the socialist cityscape, the role of the state, the ideological premises of urban schemes and visionary projects, everyday life, urban residents’ (mis)uses of planned urban spaces. Papers from all disciplines in the social sciences and humanities will be considered. The ultimate goal of the project is to publish participants’ papers in a conference volume.

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