Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quote: Early Example of Oppression the Canadian Way

Looking north of the border, the fact that Canada was able to pacify the Indigenous peoples of half a continent on a virtually nonexistent military budget cannot be understood without taking into account how British officials have always used the threat of warfare and its attendant starvation south of the border to control Native populations in Canada. In a sense Canada piggybacked off of American Manifest Destiny, using the starvation and territorial limitation brought about by the destruction of the buffalo and the Indian wars to the south to force treaties on captured populations in the north, all the while maintaining a posture of innocence and denial about the fundamentally violent nature of the colonial process in Canada.

-- Bonita Lawrence, "Real" Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood, p. 30, emphasis in original

Monday, April 27, 2009

Video: Prefigurative Politics in Social Movements

I've embedded a 10 part series showing a panel from the recent Left Forum in New York City. The panel is called "Building New Social Relations: Prefigurative Politics in Movements."

The speakers are:
  • Chair: Andrew Cornell, American Studies, New York Univeristy
  • Chris Dixon, History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Cindy Milstein, Institute for Anarchist Studies
  • Deborah Gould, Sociology, University of Pittsburth
  • Harjit Sing Gill, Institute for Anarchist Studies

Chris Dixon, who speaks in Parts 2 and 3, currently lives here in Sudbury and is active with Sudbury Against War and Occupation. He speaks about his PhD research, which involved interviewing 50 anti-authoritarian activists from cities across the U.S. and Canada. All of the speakers are really good, and well worth taking the time to watch!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review: Tortured People

[Howard Adams. Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization, The Revised Edition. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books Ltd., 1999.]

I believe that the point of reading is the transformation of the reader. There are other kinds of experience that are more powerfully transformative, certainly, but few that give as useful a window into what is not here, what is not now. This means that there are ways you can be changed by a good book that nothing else could offer; however, it also means that reading in ways to resist or undermine that potential for liberatory movement in self in that "self + text" moment is really, really easy.

Some of the most politically important books for such change are also the hardest -- I'm speaking of my own past experience but also in general. Whether through their directly presented content or in a more situated way based in where you're reading from, they rub your nose in contradictions. They force you to acknowledge that something in who you are, what you think, what you do, what you desire, who you aspire to become, cannot hold. It is not just that it brings to the surface internal inconsistency -- I'm not convinced such inconsistency per se is always a bad thing -- but it forces you to confront inconsistency that matters, that is a source of anguish, but that is deeply enough embedded in some social contradiction or sedimented self that no easy path to resolution is apparent.

Those of us who by and large benefit from the way things are, at least at the most obvious level, tend to enter adulthood with a whole range of delusionary configurations-in-self -- thoughts, narratives, beliefs, feelings, or however you want to chop self up to be able to talk about it -- that, in a bunch of different ways, reconcile us to the way things are. Undoing that is the work of a lifetime, and can only go so far unless change is social and not just at the level of consciousness. Nonetheless, reading can be a vital tool on this journey.

Tortured People is the final book by radical Métis scholar Howard Adams. Its bluntness and frankly revolutionary politics mean that many, particularly among those of us who have never experienced traumas of racism and colonization, would be unlikely to let it in far enough to do much changing. But if it can get by that gatekeeping mechanism, its seventeen short, plainly written essays are rich in the raw materials for evoking painful but potentially edifying contradictions in consciousness.

Many of the book's themes are quite similar to those in Prison of Grass. It includes painful moments from Adams' own experiences as a colonized man, an analysis of the control of the colonized via forced internalization of ideology, and in a briefer and smoother form than his earlier book a crucial retelling of elements of pre-20th century indigenous, particularly Métis, histories of oppression and resistance. He offers short, incisive critiques of pillars of relations of white supremacy such as ideologies of eurocentrism and covnentional history. Of particular interest, he provides one of the only written accounts I've ever come across of radical indigenous struggle in Canada in the '60s and '70s, with a particular focus on Saskatchewan, where he himself was involved. Different readers will encounter in different essays moments of challenge to cherished illusions, particularly if the idea of the Canadian state and its attached nation as anything other than benevolent is a novel one for them.

One of the most important ideas that Adams makes central to both books is the quite explicit argument that decolonization on Turtle Island simply cannot happen without radical social change that goes far beyond indigenous people. Or, put another way, that indigenous anti-colonial struggle must be understood as autonomous but that those engaged in it will, at a certain point, need to build links to those struggling for social transformation in other ways. I like the fact that this point is made overtly, because I think in many different contexts and for some very different reasons it is often underemphasized. However, I think there is still plenty of room to debate about what that broader social change might look like. Particularly when discussing "the National Question," Adams draws quite explicitly on Lenin. While my sense is that the particular essay where he does this was aimed at the white socialist left, to make the twin points that revolutionary transformation is necessary and that indigenous peoples engaging in radical nationalist struggle is not some betrayal of class struggle, I have some serious reservations about relating to Lenin in this relatively uncritical way. This ties into other places in the book where it implies, though often does not state quite so directly, a particular kind of marxist vision for social transformation. I certainly don't want to just dismiss the traditions that draws on, but I also think it is important to emphasize that the details of how change will happen must emerge in the course of dialogue, questioning, and struggle.

For me, though, the toughest part of Adams' analysis is his unrelenting attack on the neocolonial forms of settler domination that have become so much more central since the uprisings of the '60s and '70s. He repeatedly calls out indigenous elites as collaborators and state-funded indigenous organizations as participating in the oppression of their peoples. He welcomes indigenous cultural revival as essential to creating both a framework and unity for the necessary political struggle, but warns that much of what happens today under the banner of Aboriginal culture ends up being a kind of distracting indulgence in symbols detached from their former material basis and from the needs of struggle -- a kind of impotent cultural nationalism supported by the state because it neutralizes the real political threat represented by indigeneity even as it seems to give expression to difference.

I think that analysis is crucial, but it is hard for me to know exactly what to do with it. For instance, witnessing puritanical denunciation in the context of the white-dominated left, often of people who are actually getting much more done than the denouncers ever have, made me wary of categorically writing off the contradictory but subversive potential for critical, strategic engagement with state funding or other supposedly "impure" choices. There are often important opportunities for resistance and subversion mixed in with the very real problems. And looking at the choices of indigenous activists I respect very much who are doing what they can to meet devastating need in their urban communities with the only resources that are out there, who on earth am I to do anything other than support them? Yet Adams is quite firm that seeing the struggles of his people as anything less than a struggle for national liberation (in the context of broader revolutionary class struggle) is a betrayal (and you didn't, for instance, see the ANC applying for grants from the South African apartheid government). And beyond the even larger dose of "who on earth am I" that applies to that position, I agree -- in my own way, and from where I sit -- that it is imperative never to lose focus on the fact that indigenous struggles with the Canadian settler state are national liberation struggles requiring broad and fundamental social transformation.

Adam's analysis forces me to confront how the social contradictions imposed on indigenous peoples by neocolonialism create all sorts of dangerous opportunities for a white leftist version of colonial arrogance at one extreme or a functional support for neocolonialism that claims to be supporting liberation at the other. This is not some intellectual problem that can be easily transcended with new and creative thinking; it is a product of the material conditions under which indigenous peoples struggle, and the awful choices forced upon them by colonization. Adams has made his choices, as an indigenous revolutionary caught up in these contradictions, about how to navigate them. Knowing his choices makes the problems clearer to me, but doesn't necessarily make my own choices, given my own experiences of privilege and my politics, any clearer. However, I have the sense that an important ingredient for moving forward for white radicals wishing to support indigenous struggle involves challenging some of our most basic assumptions and ways of work when it comes to social change.

That is, when confronted with contradictions evoked for me by this book (though certainly not only by this book) it became clear that certain things cannot hold. And that is the most acute challenge that my particular reading of Tortured People evoked -- a forceful reminder of the way in which meaningful political work is, by definition, messy, painful, and impure, and how it is a conceit of privilege to imagine that it can be anything else. That's what challenged me. But part of what is useful about this book, I think, is that it provides the raw material and the clear vision to evoke different sorts of challenges for people approaching it from other places.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quote: "Canada's a Liar"

We Aboriginals are dying every day in greater numbers than the colonist population because we are the colonized. Starvation is the life of the oppressed; it is as natural to us as sleeping. It is the disease that makes up our life and wipes out our existence. This is the capitalist system and our legacy of suppression and death. Life is a constant ordeal; we struggle just to stay alive on the edge of survival. Is this really living? Are we not merely lingering until we expire? Like a road map to the grave, the signs are clear: sunken dark eyes, sallow complexion, swollen lips, bleeding gums, emaciated limbs and a swollen belly. It is the curse of dying slowly, day by day, hour by hour. This is not the life of some unknown person in some unknown third-world country. This is the life of the Aboriginal in Canada. The land of the strong, the free and the horrid capitalist, semi-democracy and quasi-humanity. The nation that cheers and applauds its international nature made of humanitarianism, human rights, anti-apartheid, aid to the suffering third-world Native masses. Bullshit -- Canada's a liar. It's hypocritical and two-faced. Look in Canada's back yard, its crimes, inequities and injustices are there to see. Of course, all this is hidden. That is one of the main occupations of Canada's capitalist governments to keep the grisly offenses, and ugly injustices hidden from view especially from the international scene.

-- Howard Adams (from Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization, final page of "Introduction")

Monday, April 20, 2009

Review: Prison of Grass

[Howard Adams. Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View, Revised Edition. Calgary: Fifth House Publishers, 1989. (Original edition published in 1975.)]

This book is an anti-colonial classic. Written by radical Métis scholar and Red Power movement veteran Howard Adams, its politics and writing place it in the tradition of the great national liberation texts of the mid-20th century authored by the likes of Fanon and Memmi.

Like other authors in that tradition, Adams roots his analysis in accounts of brutally painful personal experiences of living as a colonized individual in the context of colonial social relations. He grew up in a French Métis community in Saskatchewan. His internalization of the messages and values of the colonizers led him to flee, resist, hate his indigenous heritage as a young adult. Ultimately, though, he embraced his heritage and confronted the personal pain of colonization rather than futilely trying to escape it. He became an important leader in indigenous liberation struggle in Canada, particularly in the '60s and '70s, and a radical anti-colonial voice through his positions at the University of California and the University of Saskatchewan.

Much of the book focuses on retelling certain key aspects of Canadian history in a decolonized way. He talks about the origins of the fur trade and the ways in which it distorted and shifted indigenous ways of being in the central part of the continent long before the beginning of sustained settler colonialism. He talks about the role of Christianity and education, both past and present, in perpetuating colonization. He talks about the ossification of indigenous cultures -- how colonization can detach cultural symbols from actual power over collective ways of being and doing, and turns them into spectacle for the colonizer's consumption and for the colonized's entrapment. He particularly focuses on reanalyzing the uprisings of 1870 and 1885 in what was to become central Canada, rescuing them from the empty colonial stories that we learn in mainstream history classes and demonstrating the ways in which they were class and national liberation struggles. Particularly interesting to me was his insistence that in both instances there were moments of significant common cause between Cree, Métis, and white inhabitants of the prairies during these struggles -- ended by the Ottawa regime making concessions to split off important layers of the white settler population, and by the lack of functional unity among resistance forces.

He also talks about contemporary colonization during the period in which he was writing. This includes the significant role played by indigenous buy-in to the supposed superiority of white middle-class ideals with respect to everything from beauty to comportment to political culture, and the need for any anti-colonial struggle to work at rooting out that internalized self-hatred. He talks about the failures of indigenous leadership and the role of government funding in coopting radical struggle. He argues very strongly for nationalism as a potentially positive force. He recognizes that there are harmful versions of nationalism, which can co-opt and remove colonized people from political struggle, but he argues that a radical nationalism infused with class politics is key to anti-colonial struggle in Canada. It is particularly at this point, though throughout the book as well, that it would have been interesting to see more attention to issues of gender oppression and sexuality. He argues for indigenous militants mobilizing their communities in local struggles, which he envisions as eventually becoming connected to each other and to class struggles in the broader society, leading ultimately to an anti-colonial and socialist revolution.

Along with a welcome, energizing clarity about new-to-me aspects of Canada-the-colonial, this book also left me with considerable uncertainty about how exactly to relate to it in a lot of ways. It speaks historical truths that are no less relevant today. It speaks of then-contemporary realities that have shifted a bit in form in the intervening decades, but are largely the same in their fundamentals. Yet it is still a product of a particular moment.

Part of the power of this particular kind of national liberation politics in the 1970s, I think, was that it connected struggles on Turtle Island to struggles against colonization, capitalism, and imperialism around the world -- struggles and movements that were ongoing, that were alive, and that had the feeling of relentless momentum in the direction of victory. Though that is an important tradition for radicals anywhere to remain connected with, the context is vastly different today.

I also find it difficult to fairly evaluate some of the ways in which certain leftist political language and ideas are used in the book. Perhaps some of that is his deliberate revolutionary bluntness tweaking my still-middle-class sensibilities. However, part of it is that the book's use of certain notions around things like "class" and "revolution" feel kind of schematic. Which is to say, I have the sense that his use of those ideas convey vitally important things for anti-colonial struggle in North America, but I also get the feeling that there is more to say, more to understand, more to name in order to advance contemporary organizing, both in indigenous and in settler-dominated contexts. Certainly there is something very powerful in his vision of the necessary connection between indigenous liberation struggles and other struggles, but I think we need to deliberately hold onto uncertainty and questioning as we move forward rather than embracing some sort of doctrinaire blueprint, revolutionary socialist or otherwise. If we hold his particular usages somewhat loosely, we can learn from them; if we hold them too tightly, we will be trapped by them.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: Claiming Space

[Cheryl Teelucksingh, editor. Claiming Space: Racialization in Canadian Cities. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2006.]

Thanks to the work of critical geographers and others, recent decades have seen increasing attention to the ways in which social relations happen in and through space, and to the ways that the physical landscape in which they happen shapes social relations. This includes, of course, social relations of racialization and white supremacy, which are the subject of this book. Space in this understanding is not just blank physicality, but has a complex character shaped by mechanisms of formal control, perception, imagination, experience, and social organization.

When people of a particular kind of radical bent hear the words "space" and "struggle," some jump straight to images of barricades. Certainly that sort of struggle over space is not unimportant, as are other forms of directly confrontational, grassroots mobilization. But most of the time and for most spaces, their character is determined (at least in an immediate sense) in much more everyday ways that are less obviously overt and collective but are very much socially organized. Those of us who are most likely to be privileged by this sort of everyday oppression often have many ingenious strategies to avoid seeing it as struggle -- or, sometimes, seeing it at all. A final way in which space is contested, which is not quite either of the above but can incorporate elements of both, is institutional struggle. This is more obviously collective but it lacks grassroots mobilization, or contains mobilization within strict bounds, and is channeled through institutions that are bound up in relations of ruling.

In thinking and writing about struggles over space, there are at least two tendencies that are worth making visible and taking into account. One I've already mentioned: the tendency of some privileged activists (some white men and others) to valourize only certain kinds of struggle based on a political or emotional investment in the tactics involved and to disregard the importance of other moments and modes of struggle, particularly the everyday. Even when we don't openly dismiss the importance of oppression and resistance at the everyday level in our rhetoric, often our practices fail rather spectacularly to recognize the necessary integration of the everyday with the overtly collective and confrontational.

The other relevant tendency has to do with the social relations of academic knowledge production. One feature of that process is that even when those individuals doing the producing are committed to and involved in struggles for social justice, often the knowledge that results from their academic work is not most directly oriented to the needs of ongoing grassroots struggles. Certainly the best stuff can be appropriated by movements, and I am of the opinion that there is far more politically great stuff in the work of lefty academics than many community-based people have the time or inclination to unearth. But doing that work is often not a simple enterprise, often not because of any failure of vision or politics on the part of activists in the academy but because of the institutional realities that shape what gets produced.

All of that is to set the context for my puzzlement about certain features of this book -- which is to say, what is there is (mostly) good, but what is absent is still a bit surprising.

For instance, take the first chapter, in which the editor sets the context for the book. It lays out some basic concepts around racialization and around spatial analysis, presumably to ground readers for the rest of the book. It introduces the specific pieces. It has some good, sharply critical analysis of state multiculturalism. I quite like its use of the example of Dundas Square in Toronto to illustrate the ways in which urban space gets shaped in racialized ways, and gets contested. Yet it would not be too hard to write something that accomplished all of the necessary tasks that any introductory essay must accomplish while also painting a more politically pointed and rousing picture of the historical trajectory of the racialization of space in Canada, and of the multiple levels at which racialized people and their allies intervene in and struggle with that process.

Part of the explanation for why a somewhat more muted approach was taken may be what Teelucksing identifies as the "variety of perspectives on claims to space by racialized people in Canada" expressed in the different contributions. Her intro has to set the stage for all of those perspectives, after all. This variety can be understood in a number of ways, but what really struck me was the spectrum from inclusionary politics to transformative politics. And, yes, I recognize that such labels inevitably simplify and can end up being quite unfair, but I think they get at some important aspects of the pieces in this collection.

By "inclusionary," I mean struggles over space that have to do with carving out a niche, often an institutional niche, that certainly claims space for the group in question but that leaves underlying social relations -- that is, in part, white supremacy organized through state multiculturalism -- more or less unchallenged. Kelly Amanda Train's essay on the building of a Sephardic Jewish community centre in Toronto and Anastasia N. Panagakos' essay on the main Greek community organization in Calgary were the most obvious members of this category for me. They talked about efforts that were very important to those involved but, at least in these tellings, felt like they involved claiming space in the context of accepting the broader order.

Other contributions felt like they contained (at least in ways more legible to me) a greater attention to naming and troubling the oppressive character of social relations in Canada somewhat more broadly. For instance, Glenn Deer drew connections between local settler histories in Richmond, British Columbia, and a "moral panic" by white settler populations when an influx of newcomers from China in the 1990s seemed to be making white anglophone dominance of certain spaces less absolute. This panic played out mostly in the context of the media. Cathy van Ingen wrote the only piece concerned with indigenous people in the volume -- it talks about the efforts of an urban reserve community in Edmonton to take various economic and urban developments measures, including building a casino and resort on reserve land. More particularly, it talks about the resistance by surrounding white-dominated affluent neighbourhoods and white-dominated municipal authorities to the plan.

However, my favourite essays of the volume did not tend to deal with institutional struggles at all. They were much more about the relationship between social relations and the constitution of everyday experience in ways that felt, at least at the level of sensibility, focused on transformation. Though they did not necessarily focus on the collective and confrontational moments of struggle, it felt to me like they were oriented entirely towards the sorts of problems we need to understand in creating transformation through the entire range of moments that constitute struggles for justice and liberation:

  • Awad Ibrahim looks at the ways in which youth from continental Africa engage in the construction of new selves in their new, Canadian spaces, in ways that do not involve a rejection of their African heritage but rather a synthetic dialogue between who they already know themselves to be and the Blackness into which they are racialized (and which they actively take up) in the Canadian context.

  • Jenny Burnam challenges the conventional ways in which academics have conceptualized immigrant communities in Canadian cities, with the endless and unhelpful musings about "assimilation" and "retention" and so on, by looking at the city through the lens of diaspora. Though white supremacy remains, the critical mass of living and fluid diasporic communities in a city like Toronto create new kinds of spaces and new opportunities for living, creating, and resisting, that older frameworks fail to express.

  • Rinaldo Walcott starts from a footnote in Franz Fanon and talks about the documentary Divas: Love Me Forever about Black drag queens in Toronto, and talks about the scope for Black gay men to intervene in both the crisis of Black masculinity and the white domination of queer space. (Btw, if any of my Sudbury comrades read this and happen to have that film, I'd be interested in borrowing it...)

  • Leeno Luke Karumanchery wrote the last essay in the book, a powerful examination of the pervasive everyday trauma that is part of existing as a racialized person in almost every space within Canada. I have some uncertainties and further questions about his project of infusing social and anti-oppression analysis into discourse/practices organized around ideas of "mental health." However, as I found with the book he co-wrote that I read many years ago, his detailed and relentless analysis of the everyday traumas of racism present a grim reality that we white activists and radicals need to understand and wrestle with in much more fundamental practical ways than is currently the case in most spaces, or we will continue to reproduce harm and to fail in our struggles for social transformation.

Despite this breadth of material, including some that I found to be important and powerful, I was surprised that certain issues were not mentioned, or came up only in brief passages in essays focusing on other things. I was surprised there was nothing about the direct action struggles of the Iroquois people of the Six Nations to prevent the further colonization of their traditional territory by white-owned businesses wishing to build housing developments. I was surprised there was only a page or two about the ways in which the Canadian national security state has, both before and since 9/11, shaped how Muslims of various racial backgrounds experience urban and other spaces. I was surprised there was nothing about the ongoing struggles by racialized -- particularly Black and indigenous -- communities with respect to racist policing and how that shapes the character of urban space. I was also surprised there was little about gentrification, an issue in which social relations of racism tend to play a more complex role in Canada than stock examples of the process sometimes assume but which is nonetheless deeply racialized.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sudbury Teens Should Do Direct Action "Read-In" At Public Library

The main branch of the Sudbury Public Library has decided to deal with a small number of disruptive individuals by banning all teenagers from their facility during weekdays, according to a Sudbury Star article.

The background is that a small number of young people have been, in the words of manager of libraries and heritage resources Claire Zuliani, "quite disruptive. They have little respect for our property and our staff. To the point where some of our staff are afraid to come to work."

Okay, fair enough, that needs to be dealt with somehow, though I think reports about fear of youth, who often get unfairly stigmatized as dangerous, should be examined with a bit of a critical eye. And as Sudbury Secondary student Kyle Chapados is quoted as saying, "But it's not fair to the rest. How many were really causing these problems? There seems like there could be a better way of dealing with it than just banning all students."

Exactly. An individual is a problem? Ban them from the library for a year, then. But, no, Zuliani insists on using rhetoric based in youth as a class being a problem. For instance, she says, "We've had kids break into cars." Do you know that it is these same kids who have been disruptive inside? Has someone been charged and convicted? If so, how is a ban going to convey something that conviction for breaking into the car has not done? If not, how do you know it was a kid? Or are you just assuming that it is a young person? She even uses the inflammatory language of "take back our library," again keeping in mind this is used in the context of all youth being banned from the place during certain hours. Lovely.

Apparently, youth who are using the library in ways of which management approves will be allowed back in at some point, but it is unclear when or under what conditions. The people who will be most affected by this will, of course, be the vast majority of young people who use the library space in non-disruptive ways. The article says that Zuliani expects that the ban will teach young people some respect, which is ridiculous. It will probably teach the handful of people who have been disruptive very little, and it will teach the rest that libraries hate teenagers, or maybe that public space is not meant for youth. Which are just great lessons for our public libraries to be teaching.

I think it would be great if a group of youth were to address this by taking some direct action. Get a group together, both teenagers and older folks. Go in to the public library en masse, sit down silently and start reading. Be polite, follow whatever code of conduct they have, but refuse to leave. Have someone fax the media just as your group is entering the library. Have supporters outside with signs saying things like, "Youth are not the problem" and "It's my library too," and have spokespeople outside to deal with the media when they show up.

And if you need some help figuring out the logistics, I know some people who have some experience with that sort of thing.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Video: Angela Davis on How Change Happens

Check out this video of legendary African-American radical and academic Angela Davis delivering a speech at UC Davis in 2006. She talks about imagination, about memory, about struggle, about feminism, and about how social change happens.

(Found via this post.)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Review: Evil Paradises

[Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, editors. Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism New York: The New Press, 2007.]

As is so often the case, my ambivalence about this book is not really about it per se but about a lack of fit between it and the particular needs I brought with me to the reading.

Evil Paradises is a collection of essays in which "visionary thinkers reflect on the capitalist 'utopias' being constructed in cities, deserts, and even in the middle of the sea" in the era of neoliberalism. The contributions span the distance from architectural reflection to snappy journalism to relentless marxist sociology and politics to a kind of pro-urban anti-nostalgia. They also range from Cairo to Beijing to Orange County, from Ted Turner's many ranches to the middle of the sea.

I was brought to this book my own ongoing work related to social movement history in Canada. The next-to-last chapter that I need to write is going to be about one or several indigenous struggles in urban contexts in Canada. I haven't quite decided how I'm going to approach it, yet, so for now and the next little while I'll be focused on reading -- about cities, about the history of indigenous struggle in Canada, and about the combining of the two. In the books that are focused on cities, what I'm looking for is ideas and tools for talking about the urban and the ways that cities shape our lives. I felt I got plenty of that from the last book I read, Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, even though it didn't mention Canada. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the current volume was nearly as rich in appropriable ideas, at least for my purposes. This may have been because of its focus on the ways in which the rich are transforming space, particularly urban space, for their own benefit, rather than the impacts of and resistances to such transformations by oppressed people.

I did find some stuff that I think will be useful to me, in my own current chapter or in other contexts. Timothy Mitchell's chapter on neoliberalism in Egypt was mostly not useful (though it was definitely interesting), but his discussion of the ways in which nonmarket relations are inherently a part of the relations of the capitalist market felt quite important. I also think I will be able to use stuff from the essays by Marco D'Eramo and Don Mitchell that talk in different ways about the privatization of public spaces in core capitalist countries.

Most of the essays, though, were interesting but not useful. For instance, it was quite fascinating to read Mitchell's account of how neoliberalism actually happened in Egypt in the late '90s -- a level of detail often missing in left discourse on the topic. Mike Davis' piece on the vast capitalist excess that is Dubai was just kind of astounding to me. I also was interested in the piece on the impact of the Olympics on Beijing, the global marketing of imagined pieces of California in various cities as illustrated in a gated suburb in Hong Kong, the post-Sandanista elite reclamation of Managua, and Patrick Bond's essay on post-apartheid neoliberalism and resistance to it in Johannesburg.

Perhaps the most enjoyable pieces were also the least academic. Rebecca Schoenkopf edited a left-liberal weekly, a la The Village Voice, in ultra-rich, ultra-conservative Orange County, until it got bought by a right-wing chain. Her witty, weary reflections on the O.C. and in particular on the reality show known as The Real Housewives of Orange County were delightful. Even better was sci-fi novelist China Mieville's cutting mockery of libertarian fantasies -- a handful of which are connected to actual projects that claim to be intending to realize the dream but which never seem to move forward -- of floating cities on the sea.

So there is lots of neat stuff in this volume, along with some that is less gripping. And, as I said, much of the muting of my enthusiasm for it has to do with not finding what I had hoped to gain from it rather than broader flaws in it. However, I wonder if part of why its ability to inspire me was limited had to do with the tendency of some marxists, some academics, and some marxist academics to be so enthralled with describing the nefarious, dazzling workings of capital that talk of resistance kind of falls by the wayside. Capital as self-aggrandizing spectacle is kind of turned on its head and shown to be horrific, but it is left as spectacle. That can be interesting. But it often feels like it isn't terribly useful.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]