ESALA Research Seminar: Stephen Graham

  • Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 13:00 to 14:00

  • Minto House, Elliot Room
    20-22 Chambers Street
    EH1 1JZ

This week’s speaker, Stephen Graham, is Professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. He has an interdisciplinary background linking human geography, urbanism and the sociology of technology. Since the early 1990s, Prof. Graham has used this foundation to develop critical perspectives addressing how cities are being transformed through remarkable changes in infrastructure, mobility, digital media, surveillance, security, militarism and verticality.  

Prof. Graham’s work has been extremely influential across a wide range of urban, technological, social and political debates across the world. It has been translated into sixteen languages. His books include Splintering Urbanism; Telecommunications and the City (both with Simon Marvin); the Cybercities Reader; Cities, War and Terrorism; Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructures Fail; and Infrastructural Lives (with Colin McFarlane). 

Prof Graham’s 2011 book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism was nominated for the Orwell Prize in political writing and was the Guardian’s book of the week. His latest research focuses on the political aspects of verticality and develops an explicitly three-dimensional perspective on the politics of geography and materiality both above and below the earth’s surface. 

Prof Graham’s major new book on this them - Vertical: The City From Satellites to Bunkers (Verso) - was published in November 2016.

Vertical Noir: Histories of the Future in Urban Science Fiction

Unerringly, across its whole history, urban science fiction has offered up imagined cities that operate about remarkably similar and highly verticalised visions. These are heavily dominated by politics of class, resistance and revolution that are starkly organized around vertically stratified and vertically exaggerated urban spaces.

From the early and definitive efforts of H.G. Wells and Fritz Lang, through J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel High Rise, to many cyberpunk classics, this seminar - the latest in a series in City on the vertical dimensions of cities - reflects on how vertical imaginaries in urban science fiction intersect with the politics and contestations of the fast-verticalising cities around the world.

The seminar has four parts. It begins by disentangling in detail the ways in which the sci-fi visions of Wells, Lang, Ballard and various cyberpunk authors were centrally constituted through vertical structures, landscapes, metaphors and allegories.

The seminar’s second part then teases out the complex linkages between verticalised sci-fi imaginaries and material cityscapes that are actually constructed, lived and experienced. Stressing the impossibility of some clean and binary opposition between ‘factual’ and ‘fictional’ cities, the seminar explores how verticalised projects, material cities, sci-fi texts, imaginary futures, architectural schemes and urban theories mingle and resonate together in complex, unpredictable and important ways which do much to shape contemporary urban landscapes.

The third section of the seminar explores such connections through the cases of retro-futuristic urban megaprojects in the Gulf and forests of towers recently constructed in Shanghai’s Pudong district.

The seminar’s final discussion draws on these cases to explore the possibilities that sci-fi imaginaries offer for contesting the rapid verticalisation of cities around the world.

Take me to all events in the ESALA Research Seminar series 2016 - 2017