Lay methodological regionalism to rest: Posting ‘postsocialism’ in urban studies

With its strong commitment to critical theory and a non-parochial perspective, IJURR took a particular interest in both state socialism and Eastern Europe from the very beginning. The new journal set out to “compare and contrast … problems of urban and regional development as they occur in widely differing situations and social systems” but “derive from processes which operate on an international level … in rich and poor, socialist and capitalist countries alike” (Editorial statement, 1977: 1). In this spirit, IJURR published important debates and contributions (among others, by Manuel Castells, Jiri Musil, Ray Pahl, Chris Pickvance, Ivan Szelenyi) that tried to counter the capitalist-socialist dichotomy, which characterized most studies at the time by talking about housing inequalities, the state, and bureaucratic management instead.

Equally important was bringing non-Eastern European urbanism into the generally Eurocentric discussion of socialism.[1] Bridging the capitalist-socialist divide, however, proved more difficult and has taken longer than expected. State socialism made Eastern Europe a political category, and with it created a most perverse methodological regionalism that consciously or unconsciously conflated region and political bloc. State socialism ended long ago but its importance has lingered uncannily in ‘postsocialist’ urbanism. Let me offer a provocative analogy here. Fascism was defeated in 1945, and by the sixties hardly anyone talked about postfascist Germany or Europe. Why do we keep talking about postsocialism a quarter of a century after the end of socialism? We have to admit that we do not really have sound intellectual reasons to do so. While using postsocialism was understandable in the 1990s, and I would say even a progressive reaction to the dominant transitology literature at the time, the emphasis on continuity is questionable today, as Chris Pickvance recounts in this anniversary discussion. It hinders efforts to outline a more inclusive and better nuanced general theory. Paradoxically, I have been writing about postsocialism not because I am interested in postsocialism itself but primarily because I am interested in the possibility of a general urban theory that can provide a conceptual and historical account of Eastern European cities while avoiding the pitfalls of merely temporal and/or spatial compartmentalization. The long-overdue move beyond the ‘post-’ of postsocialism may well be the first step in this process, and this would also offer a much-needed fresh starting point to the post-post-socialist generation of young urban scholars.

What I propose is a focus on and a renewed commitment to critical theory with the mutations of capitalism at its analytical centre. As we all know from Lefebvre, the production of space is at the very core of understanding contemporary capitalism, so urban theory is absolutely central to a critical theory of society. However, the spatiality of capitalism is highly uneven. With neoliberal globalization today, we face the imperative of thinking about uneven development even more profoundly. A more refined theory of uneven development gives us a unique chance to strive for a better understanding of what socialist urbanism was and how urban processes that we hastily describe with the shorthand of postsocialist urbanism unfold.

Forty years after its foundation, and still committed to both critical theory and a non-parochial perspective, IJURR could have an instrumental role in understanding both the region and the question of state socialism better by placing them in a longer and broader perspective, laying methodological regionalism to rest, and reinserting Eastern Europe in the spatiality and historicity of global capitalism. Such re-orientation may not result in a truly democratic and inclusive politics of how urban knowledge is produced, but it can certainly make urban theory better.

Judit Bodnar

IJURR Editorial Statements

IJURR Editorial
Julie-Anne Boudreau, Matthew Gandy and Maria Kaika (2015) Volume 39.1

Reflections on the Academic and Economic Environment
Julie-Anne Boudreau and Maria Kaika (2013) Volume 37.6

IJURR: An Editorial Statement
Jeremy Seekings and Roger Keil (2009) Volume 22.3

The Origins of the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies, or the Advantages of Owning the Title and Having Charitable Status in the Running of Journals
Chris Pickvance (1998) Volume 22.4

IJURR: Policy Statement
Patrick Le Galès, Susan Fainstein and Linda McDowell (1998) Volume 22.1

IJURR: looking back twenty-one years later
Michael Harloe, Enzo Mingione, Chris Pickvance and Edmond Preteceille (1998) Volume 22.1

Founding Editorial Statement
Michael Harloe (1977) Volume 1.1


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