This article seeks to contribute to the debate on the proposal to decentre urban theory and to develop postcolonial urban studies, and on the related issue of the geography of the production and circulation of knowledge. It focuses on how scholars writing about post-socialist cities explain why their sub-field has so far contributed little to urban theory, and it proposes an alternative—historically informed—perspective on the issue. Based on an analysis of the ties and exchanges that existed between urban studies in Central and Eastern Europe and ‘West-based’ urban theory and research during the state-socialist period, this article argues that the recognized current position of research on post-socialist cities in relation to international urban scholarship has important historical parallels with the period prior to 1989. The article thus underlines the need to include a historically informed analysis of geography of knowledge production in critical thinking about urban theory and in the project of cosmopolitan urban studies. The capacities of researchers in different localities to contribute to this project are various and shaped by the history of the discipline. The conditions and perspectives in and from which researchers contribute to urban theory should therefore be taken into account if the project of cosmopolitan urban studies is to succeed.