Three Metals and the ‘Post-Socialist City’: Reclaiming the Peripheries of Urban Knowledge


Urban theory has long been in the grip of a handful of cities and, despite the recent recalibration of the catalogue of cities that inform it, the emerging geographies of urban studies remain skewed, at the expense of cities often referred to as ‘post-socialist’. This essay considers the notion of the ‘post-socialist city’, suggesting that it inadvertently poses limits to our imagination, parochializing research, pauperizing its theoretical capacity, and limiting its potential for comparison by automatically organizing differences into the preconceived categories of what it is and what it is not. It is proposed that the concept (re)produces artificial boundaries that consign ‘post-socialist’ urban research to the peripheries of urban knowledge, joining the vast ranks of ordinary cities that fail to meet the criteria of relevance or admissibility embedded in the hegemonic theorizations stemming (mainly) from the northwest quadrant of the world map. Using the example of an extremely peripheral city in Kazakhstan, this essay argues that research on the ‘post-socialist city’ should turn its focus to relations, networks and flows while simultaneously dropping the ‘post-socialist’, which (re)produces differences vis-à-vis the supposed normality of the ‘Western’ city––differences that are either imagined, exaggerated, misrepresented, outdated or imposed.