The Architecture of Passive Revolution

My latest article is now published — ‘The Architecture of “Passive Revolution”: Society, State and Space in Modern Mexico’Journal of Latin American Studies (requires subscription). There is a detailed discussion of the piece at the Progress in Political Economy (PPE) blog.

My article asserts a focus on monuments as a way of revealing the history of the modern state and the political economy of the urban landscape. Delivering an analysis of the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City my central argument is that the ways in which the state organises space in our everyday lives through the streets we walk, the monuments we visit, and the places where we meet can be appreciated through two key thinkers – Antonio Gramsci and Henri Lefebvre – about space and the modern state.

This article analyses the political economy of Henri Lefebvre’s concept of ‘state space’ with specific attention directed towards the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, completed in 1938. The conditions of modernity can be generally related to the spatial ordering of urban landscapes within capital cities conjoining the specifics of national identity with imitative processes. Antonio Gramsci captured such sentiments through his understanding of the condition of ‘passive revolution’. The key contribution of this article is to draw attention to forms of everyday passive revolution, recognising both cosmopolitan and vernacular aspects of modern architecture in relation to the Monument to the Revolution. A focus on the Monument to the Revolution thus reveals specific spatial practices of everyday passive revolution relevant to the codification of architecture and the political economy of modern state formation in Mexico. These issues are revealed, literally, as vital expressions in the architecture of everyday passive revolution in modern Mexico.

Spanish abstract: Este artículo analiza la economía política del concepto de Lefebvre del ‘espacio estatal’ con atención específica en el Monumento a la Revolución en la Ciudad de México, terminado en 1938. Las condiciones de la modernidad pueden relacionarse en general con el ordenamiento espacial de los paisajes urbanos al interior de las capitales definiendo lo que es específico de la identidad nacional con procesos imitativos. Antonio Gramsci capturó tales sentimientos por medio de su entendimiento de la condición de la ‘revolución pasiva’. La contribución clave de este artículo es el llamar la atención a las formas de revolución pasiva cotidiana, reconociendo tanto los aspectos cosmopolitas como los vernáculos de la arquitectura moderna en relación al Monumento a la Revolución. Un enfoque en el Monumento a la Revolución, entonces, revela las prácticas relevantes espaciales específicas de la revolución pasiva cotidiana con la codificación de la arquitectura y la economía política de la formación estatal moderna en México. Estos temas se revelan, literalmente, como expresiones vitales en la arquitectura de la pasiva revolución cotidiana en el México moderno.


An anti-racist right to (protest in) the city: voices and thoughts from St. Louis

Photo by Kierstan Carter

Last night, St. Louis City police officers arrested 126 protestors. These arrests came after previous ones last Friday, September 29, including the arrest of faith leader Rev. Darryl Gray, who police threw to the ground, pepper-strayed, and arrested. These also arrests came after police arrested 22 people on Saturday, September 23, during protests in the St. Louis Galleria, the local St. Louis County mall. Those arrested at the mall included faith leader Rev. Karla Frye (a black grandmother who white male officers–as documented in widely circulated photos–tackled to the ground); many have called those actions by the police, now being investigated by the ACLU, a police riot. These actions also came after police arrested an undercover cop, Air Force officer, medical student, and St. Louis Post Dispatch reporter during the first weekend of protests, on Sunday, September 17, using a tactic called kettling, rounding up a block-length swath of people.

This iteration of protests began September 15, 2017, when a judge ruled that Jason Stockley, former St. Louis police officer who killed Anthony Lamar Smith, was not guilty of first-degree murder. (Stockley elected to have a judge, not a jury, decide his fate: more on the case here). Since the verdict, protesters have marched daily in the city and in the county—in streets, in front of the St. Louis City Police Department, in shopping malls, and in front of St. Louis City and Country jails where some protestors have been detained.

Photo by Kierstan Carter

I asked a few protestors who attended demonstrations to share their thoughts and pictures: they exist in this post (and I thank Kierstan Carter, Jennifer Gallinat, Sabrina Odigie, and Matthew Thompson for sharing these). A question that many protestors get: what are you protesting for? Among a multiplicity of answers–for Black Lives, for racial equity, for juridical and legislative changes to ensure both–another answer comes from No Justice! No Profit! No Justice! No Profit! — a recent rallying cry. Many of have marched and chanted to disrupt economic regimes that contribute to racial injustices too common to many in the region.

There are also questions that embed that query–what are you protesting for?–within the space of the city, especially within the St. Louis region. What urban logics (racist divestment, neoliberalism, austerity) are they protesting against? What urban logics are they protesting for? What kind of city are we protesting for? A right to the city? A right to remember, and push against, racist logics in the city? A right to protest with our bodies in the city? A right to (imagine, fight for, and build) an anti-racist city?  Here are some more questions and thoughts.

What kind of city are we protesting for? A right to remember, and push against, racist logics in the city?

“If you understand 1917, you should have a different understanding of what is happening now.” This Anne Walker, an East St. Louisian historian and Director of Freedom Trails, Legacies of Hope, said last week at “Centennial: Remembering the 1917 East St. Louis Massacre.” The forum, hosted by Washington University in St. Louis, made space to remember what has been long forgotten by many in the region: a century ago, in 1917, East St. Louis endured what many call a “race riot”—what others suggest should be remembered as a pogrom or massacre. According to Mary Delach Leonard:

On July 2-3, 1917, mobs of white people, angered over labor issues, roved through the city, assaulting African-Americans and burning their homes and businesses.

Although the official death toll was 48 — 39 blacks and 9 whites — historians believe more than 100 people died and hundreds were injured, including women and children.

At the forum, I learned of the horrific things the mostly white mob did to black people, including to black women and children: beating and burning them to death. This week, horrified by the massacre in Las Vegas, I am also reminded by many historians that the curious phrasing used for contemporary mass shootings (such as “worst modern mass shooting”) owes itself to what many fail to remember: pre-WWII massacres in the United States. Clear Lake (1850), Sand Creek (1864), Rock Springs (1885), Wounded Knee (1890), East St. Louis (1917), Elaine (1919), Tulsa (1921). These were massacres committed by mostly white mobs who often killed hundreds of Native American, black, and Asian people.

In her 2011 Social & Cultural Geography article, “On plantations, prisons, and a black sense of place,” geographer Katherine McKittrick writes: “A black sense of place draws attention to the longstanding links between blackness and geography. It brings into focus the ways in which racial violences (concrete and epistemic actions and structural patterns intended harm, kill, or coerce a particular grouping of people) shape, but do not wholly define, black worlds” (947). Considering a black sense of place in St. Louis asks us, as East St. Louisan Anne Walker did, to think about connections between the 1917 massacre of black residents in East St. Louis, and the recent protests in St. Louis.

Photo by Matthew Thompson

Protester Sabrina Odigie wrote me:

I attended the protests on Friday and Saturday because I am fed up with black murder, which, to be clear, is different from black death. Despite the love our nation claims to hold for us, it still, time and time again with cases like Anthony Lamar Smith and Kenneka Jenkins and Sandra Bland, proves that it still sees black folk as disposable. Unless we are athletic beasts or musical geniuses, America doesn’t care. I wanted to add my voice to the thousands that agree that all black lives are valuable. I protested to show that change will come, but she won’t be sending invitations. Change will not ask politely for us to make room for it and wait for us to get ready. No one is ever ready for change because change is not comfortable. We must demand it and sacrifice for it. It is not romantic. Change is hard and takes time, energy, and an internal power that some of us don’t know we have. It also starts with the individual, but when enough individuals come together as we did with the protests, the nation doesn’t just watch. It begins to listen.

McKittrick also writes: “these ongoing acts of violence against particular cultures and communities are disturbingly familiar acts; the slain and displaced bodies are (vaguely or distinctly, depending on perspective) reminiscent of those working to death for a plantation economy that thrived on the interlocking workings of violence, black dispossession, and land exploitation” (952). How might today’s protests animate and confront past and present anti-black geographies?

Photo by Matthew Thompson

What kind of city are we protesting for? What can the protesting body do?

Last year my colleague, dance scholar Amanda Graham instructed “Body Moves”; she began the course’s “The Body in Protest” unit, with, as she wrote, “a discussion of the protests currently taking place across the nation and the world.” She provided her class with a list of “what protesting can do,” and also shared this list on Facebook (where I first read it), asking friends add points. Her list included that protest:

– allows for people who have a common issue to gather in public space;
– redefines public space for assembly, dialogue, expression instead of silence, isolation, violence;
– connects people’s hearts, feelings and voices energetically;
– gives us practice in trusting our intuition, collectively;
– interrupts the “normal” way of being in public space when normal is protecting oppressive ways of being.
– is a form of collective communication: shows the national what is concerning locally, and international community solidarity and outrage through media, social media;
– helps those most impacted feel like they have support, a voice, even when state-controlled media, education systems, are silencing/isolating stories of oppression and violence.
– practices a protected right under the constitution: freedom of assembly.
– practices being in solidarity
– is a way to garner masses to for social, political, economic change, a space to envision.

[What else does protest do? Feel free to add thoughts in the comments.]

Photo by Matthew Thompson

Photo by Kierstan Carter

Graham’s class read Susan Leigh Foster’s 2003 Theatre Journal article “Choreographies of Protest.” In the article, Foster, a choreographer and dance scholar, articulates meanings made of protesting bodies. They are as she writes:

a vast reservoir of signs and symbols … capable of both persuasion and obstinate recalcitrance. … At this moment in history when bodies gather primarily at shopping malls and when protest is frequently conducted through the on- line circulation of petitions, I want to argue that this physical interference makes a crucial difference. Approaching the body as articulate matter, I hope to demonstrate the central role that physicality plays in constructing both individual agency and sociality. (395)

Protesting bodies, as Foster suggests, function powerfully as both symbolic and physical, obstinate forces. Her formulation also begs questions: What symbols are put onto differently raced bodies? How do those symbols further the potentials of protests, especially of protests confronting racism?

Photo by Matthew Thompson

Photo by Matthew Thompson

Photo by Kierstan Carter

Jennifer Gallinat, who is white, attended the “White Allies” protest on September 21, 2017. It took place in downtown St. Louis, starting at Kiener Plaza (which faces the Arch and the Old Courthouse, a site that prominently features the story of Dred and Harriet Scott’s life). Protestors then walked a few blocks towards Busch Stadium (baseball field where the Cardinals play), which that evening hosted a Billy Joel concert. “I saw a bunch of white people,” Gallinat first told me about the protest that drew approximately 500 people. She continued:

There were certainly crowds watching us, and there was this moment where, we were chanting “white silence is violence.” … [T]here was just a weird awareness of, when you’re chanting, how words just start to cease having meaning. They just become these syllables or shrieking noises. It’s a ritual of engaging with those in power, and it doesn’t even matter that the words start to become incoherent. But, there’s this, perhaps, an innate human need to express our outrage, our desires, our demands, and it has to be done. It can’t just be an internal dialogue, it has to be witnessed.

Gallinat’s thoughts dialogue with Susan Leigh Foster’s ideas on the power of the protesting body as both symbolic and physical. Gallinat also told me:

There was definitely no riot gear. There was a shit ton of bike cops, but I think every single bike cop in the existence of humanity was there.

Afterwards I went home and watched the news: I’m just very frustrated with the narrative. A quote from Malcolm X had popped up in my Facebook memories about, “If you’re not careful, they’ll have you hating the ones who are oppressed, and loving the ones that do the oppressing.” Even just listening to the newscasters. I feel like protest has become now, this negative word. That’s why I actually try to say “civic demonstration,” representing First Amendment rights. We’re slowly stripping away the Bill of Rights. It’s slowly being stripped from us, and we seem to be just fine and dandy. Even the news, fine and dandy with that. We’re just, we’re accepting it.

The symbolic and physical body is a reminder of the First Amendment right of assembly. But the crowd’s overall whiteness–and how they were treated by the police in contradiction to the racially mixed, predominately black protestors days earlier and later who were often kettled, pepper sprayed, and arrested–further suggests a troubled symbolic power of the raced protesting body. In a St. Louis American article, “Privilege at the protest: ‘White allies’ demonstrate without incident outside of Billy Joel concert at Busch Stadium,” Kenya Vaughn wrote:

It was inspiring, almost breathtaking, to hear hundreds of white people march through downtown St. Louis – on a night where more than 40,000 people, mostly white, came downtown to see Joel– and proclaim that “black lives matter.” But it was just as disheartening, and frustrating, to see what happened – or didn’t happen – as they stood boldly on behalf the injustices that black people endure.

They were free to block the street, free to chant and voice their frustration with systemic racism and police brutality against people of color. And after they were done, they were free to go home. None of the tactics that protestors have been terrorized with since the start of non-stop protests in response to Jason Stockley’s first-degree murder acquittal – or a few years before in Ferguson – were a part of the program.

The irony wasn’t lost on the few black people who stood on the sidelines in support of the white people for black lives. “Man, if we were up there like that, we woulda been pepper sprayed, chased off and arrested by now,” a member of The Lost Voices, a group of protesters from Ferguson, said as the protestors carried on.

Whose bodies have a right to the city?  Whose bodies are given the right to (protest, fight for, and imagine) an anti-racist city? How might we build an anti-racist city with those most excluded from their rights to the city?

Photo by Matthew Thompson





Historical Archive for Tourism

The Center for Metropolitan Studies at the Technical University in Berlin houses a unique archive on tourism. The Historisches Archiv zum Tourismus is dedicated to collecting historical materials related to travel and tourism for the purpose of promoting interdisciplinary research. It is the world’s largest archival collection of this type. Though the primary focus is on 19th- and 20th-century materials on tourism in middle Europe, there is also information on other periods and geographical areas.

Interested scholars should inquire about using the collection via e-mail and additional information can be found at the archive’s website:

Why can’t he see it? Marshall Berman on Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man


By Gareth Millington

I had known it existed for a few years but I only recently got around to tracking down and reading Marshall Berman’s review of Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man (1977). The review was published in The Nation in August 1977, just over forty years ago, thereby chronologically placing the article somewhere between Berman’s first book The Politics of Authenticity (1970) and his best-known work All That Is Solid Melts into Air (1982). Even though Berman was not the most prolific of authors, this article is, to my knowledge, little known. Given its quality I’m surprised it didn’t made it into either Berman’s Adventures in Marxism (1999) collection or this year’s posthumous collection Modernism in the Streets. As such, it remains something of a rarity; indeed, I took pleasure in finally ‘unearthing’ and reading the piece.  I’d been told the review was fairly acerbic, and having previously read Berman’s review of Mike Davis’ City of Quartz (also in The Nation), I could well believe this. Marshall Berman shows a generosity of spirit in his own work, reserving this most of all for regular, everyday city dwellers or  in his interpretations of his beloved Marx, Nietzsche and Rousseau. His contemporaries—especially fellow ‘critical’ urban scholars—are often given much shorter shrift.

sennett cover

Berman’s review of Sennett is an important piece; an entertaining piece, too. It’s only in retrospect that the value of a review article becomes apparent, but it’s rare to see an intellectual heavyweight go up against another as is the case here.  The review has relevance for our own political times, and for our cities too; whether we are thinking about Catalans voting for independence, NFL superstars protesting against police brutality or anti-austerity marches in London. The arguments in this piece are relevant anywhere that people have chosen or have felt compelled to articulate their personal experiences or express their convictions in the public realm of the city.

Many readers will be familiar with Sennett’s book. It is a staple in the canon of urban sociology and continues to shape debates in urban studies on public space. It’s difficult, though, to move away from the verdict that while the book has a compelling thesis and is, unquestionably scholarly and erudite, it is also, well, a little bit stuffy. Sennett venerates ‘impersonal relations’ and is firmly against the kind of self-absorption, or ‘narcissism’ which he sees as a product of the 1960s. He warns against the ‘tyrannies’ of intimacy, claiming that public and intimate life have become worryingly confused, causing us increasing dissatisfaction with both. For example, Sennett (1977) writes, ‘[m]asses of people are concerned with their single life-histories and particular emotions as never before; this concern has proved to be a trap rather than a liberation’ (ibid: 5). Moreover, ‘[…] people are working out in terms of personal feelings public matters which properly can be dealt with only through codes of impersonal meaning’ (ibid: 5). Sennett prefers earlier incarnations of metropolitan life when there was stricter separation between private and public lives and where people wore ‘masks’ or performed ‘roles’ in public life rather than presenting themselves and judging the merits of others as ‘feeling individuals’. Sennett argues that the freedom to feel is much greater when one’s personality and one’s identity in society are unambiguously separated.


There is a clear tension between Sennett’s thesis and the position Berman had already outlined in The Politics of Authenticity. For Berman, the wearing of masks in public and the schism between what is said or performed and what one truly thinks or feels is a barrier to leading an authentic life. The pursuit of authenticity is important to Berman. To struggle with and against this contradiction is, he argues, one of the hallmarks of a modern life.

The review begins with (faint) praise for the ambition and provocative nature of Sennett’s book. Berman is impressed that Sennett takes in not only forms of drama staged in theatres, but also those that unfold on the streets, cafés, parks and public spaces of the city. Berman also approvingly notes Sennett’s scholarly, yet vivid depictions of the costumes, masks and public performances of urban life in centuries past. For Berman (1977: 118) though, ‘Sennett’s theoretical scheme is a kind of Paradise Lost, only without any Miltonic promises of redemption at the end’. This is because for Sennett the Golden Age of urban life belongs in Paris and London during the 18th-century. Ever since however, the book reads as if ‘[w]estern values have evolved in a wholly disastrous way, from a public to a private centre, from impersonality to intimacy, from performance to self-revelation […]’ (ibid). Moreover, ‘Sennett’s theory insists that once people begin to think about their feelings, it’s impossible for them to think or care about anything or anyone else’ (ibid: 120).

Berman is confused by Sennett in relation to when or how the proposed Fall takes place, or why people began to get serious about their inner lives. On the latter point, to Berman’s mind, the answer is obvious. It is suffering and injustice that cause an outpouring of emotional life, creating a release that enhances rather than diminishes public life. Fundamentally, people become unwilling to suffer alone or in silence. Acts of sharing and recognition lead to learning, protest and revolution. This was also the case in the 18th-century as is evident in the philosophy of Rousseau or the fiction of Samuel Johnson, sources that Berman suggests Sennett ignores or misrepresents. Sennett is too concerned with the forms that public life takes, rather than examining its content and trying to decipher what people are trying to express. Berman argues that even during Sennett’s favoured century, people knew how to see through the most splendid facades, including their own. No mask was ever worn without a sense of playfulness or irony. Berman’s summation, ‘is that Sennett sees none of this. As far as he is concerned, the Age of Revolution marks the burial of public man, not his rebirth’ (ibid: 119).

Berman is left exhausted by the middle part of the book, complaining how we are forced to accompany Sennett on a monochromatic tour through 19th and 20th-century Paris and that never has an American in Paris had such a miserable time. A social theory that grinds something so flat, dull and grey into the city of Paris and the inspirational art that celebrates it is an ‘environmental crime’, writes Berman. However, Berman is more engaged by the final sections of the book where Sennett eloquently affirms the values of city life. The problem is that he doesn’t budge from his point that the quality that animates urban life is impersonality. Once more, Sennett’s argument is that our current fear of impersonality has a deleterious effect on our cities, causing us to retreat into ethnic enclaves and/or the politics of community and defensive belonging. Berman finds this suggestion too high-minded:

Can a man really love the city if he can’t stand the people in it? His [Sennett’s] attack on localism is grossly abusive to those involved in it. He can’t imagine any reasonable motives on their part—e.g. a belief that locality is the only level at which most of us can participate actively, take initiative in making policy, exert some effective control over events and live a public life.

Sennett’s unfortunate example of ethnic enclavism is the Jews of Forest Hills in Queens. From this point on, the gloves come off and Berman gets up close, even accusing Sennett of getting bored by his own ideas. It is fascinating to read this caustic encounter between scholars who were, at the time, New York contemporaries (Sennett at NYU and Berman at City College). I wonder what kind of frosty relations existed between the two when, inevitably, their paths crossed at seminars or events in the city. I’m also interested in what shared acquaintances, friends and colleagues made of the review; did they sympathise with Sennett? Perhaps they felt Berman was correct but ultimately went too far? Berman willingly positions himself as the underdog in this review, just as he did in his later contretemps with Perry Anderson in the New Left Review in 1984. He does this here mainly to mock Sennett’s tendency to look down on those who share their personal troubles in public; all this from Sennett’s NYU office on Washington Square, where, confusingly,

[…] at any given moment, he is surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people of every race and age, acting and interacting, harmonizing and improving […] But none of this, alas, happens in Sennett’s city; as far as he is concerned, nothing like this has happened for the last 200 years. I picture him trudging through the square, wrapped up in his theory that all modern men are wrapped up in themselves […] (ibid: 121)

The last line is a killer. Berman concludes the review by asking why Sennett is unable to see how the public life that does exist in our cities can rescue us from our personal sorrows and anxieties and renew our strength to fight against injustice. The barrier, Berman surmises, is his theory. Berman detests theories that downgrade the critical potentials of individual social actors (his criticisms of Weber and Foucault in All That is Solid… are, let’s say, unrestrained). Sennett’s theory in The Fall… falls into this category. It decrees that all roads are blind alleys, that the rich variety of modern life is illusory, that contemporary urban life is all one big wasteland (ibid: 121). His theory always wins. It is self-fulfilling; shutting down a vast contemporary array of urban activities (that are all political in the broadest sense) without ever seeking to acknowledge or understand their meaning. Berman’s reading of Sennett is that everything that can be valued about city life belongs to a time that can never be recovered. In contrast, as we now know from All That is Solid…, Marshall Berman views modernism is an ongoing rather than outdated theme of contemporary life. It’s promises still exist to be fulfilled rather than abolished.


Berman, M. (1977) ‘Facades at Face Value’, The Nation, August 6 1977

Sennett, R. (1977) The Fall of Public Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

EU Mobility Week: Inside the Sofia Metro

The European Union’s Mobility week is a continent-wide event that opens doors to mobility and transport operations for all citizens for free from 16th – 22nd of September. The 2017 edition of European Mobility week has been organised under the theme of clean, shared and intelligent mobility. The slogan is ‘Sharing gets you further’. The use of shared forms of transport can reduce costs and lower carbon emissions. The idea is to also encourage meetings between new people and make journeys more sociable. The thinking behind mobility week 2017 is to enable the public and local officials to experience the benefits of shared mobility. The week consists of 2,422 towns and cities with 605 mobility actions registered.


In Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, the Metro opened their doors to anyone who wanted to learn more about how the system operates and the new third line which is due to open in 2019. The third line will have 14 new stations built and will connect to lines 1 and 2 in 2 existing stations. The Sofia Metropolitan began operation on January 28, 1998. In July 2016, the metro opened the interconnection between lines 1 and 2. There are 35 stations and the total route length of 40.0 kilometres (24.9 mi) is among the top 30 of the most extensive European metro systems. The Metro provides fast connections between the densely-populated districts of Lyulin – Mladost (Line 1) and Nadezhda – Lozenets (Line 2). In April 2015 Line 1 was extended to Sofia Airport terminal 2.


The Mobility Week tour started at the Metro head office. It began by a tour of the control room for line 1 and 2 as well as the police security control booth. We observed how the lines are monitored and the trains instructed throughout the line. We also received a detailed presentation about the construction of the third line. It is a big construction that will traverse the city north-east to south-west. At present the number of passengers the Sofia metro carries daily is 350,000 with the third line it is anticipated the metro will carry 500,000 passengers. The construction entails 1000 workers building 16 stations (including 2 stations that are extensions of two on Line 1 and 2) and will generate 600 new jobs in the city.


The metro dates to the State-Socialist regime of Bulgaria. As such, the original two lines can be seen as socialist infrastructure. The new line presents an interesting counter point, as it has been built to European and not Soviet designs and operations; the new cars will be European rather than Soviet. The metro offers a window through which to explore the uses, adoption, and contestations of socialist and post-socialist infrastructure as they work in unison. Urban projects such as the metro showcase the competing urban cultures that continue to be at play and drawn into conversation over time and space.


For more info on Mobility Week:

For more info on the Sofia Metro:

Pictures awaiting endorsement