The fire this time: Grenfell, racial capitalism and the urbanisation of empire

Danewid, Ida (2020) The fire this time: Grenfell, racial capitalism and the urbanisation of empire. European Journal of International Relations, 26 (1). pp. 289-313. ISSN 1460-3713

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Over the last few years, an emergent body of International Relations scholarship has taken an interest in the rise of global cities and the challenges they bring to existing geographies of power. In this article, I argue that a focus on race and empire should be central to this literature. Using the Grenfell Tower fire in London as a starting point, the article shows that global cities are part of a historical and ongoing imperial terrain. From London to New York, São Paulo to Cape Town, Singapore to Cairo, the ‘making’ of global cities has typically gone hand in hand with racialized forms of displacement, dispossession and police violence. Drawing on the literature on racial capitalism, as well as Aimé Césaire’s image of the ‘boomerang’, I show that these strategies build on practices of urban planning, slum administration and law-and-order policing long experimented with in the (post)colonies. By examining the colonial dimensions of what many assume to be a strictly national problem for the welfare state, the article thus reveals global cities as part of a much wider cartography of imperial and racial violence. This not only calls into question the presentism of scholarship that highlights the ‘newness’ of neoliberal urbanism. In demonstrating how global cities and colonial borderlands are bound together through racial capitalism, it also exposes the positionality of scholars and policymakers that seek to counter the violence of neoliberalism with a nostalgic return to the post-1945 welfare state. As the Grenfell fire revealed, the global city is less a new type of international actor or governance structure than an extension and reconfiguration of the domestic space of empire.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Depositing User: Ida Danewid
Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2019 11:15
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2020 10:45

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