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Tajbakhsh, Kian. The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Urban Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
Though coming almost exclusively from an urban theory background, Tajbakhsh has written a piece that I suspect will become a pivotal addition to cultural landscape studies in the near future, particular for those interested in the psychic landscape. Frustrated by the “primacy of class” in Marxian urban theory, Tajbakhsh calls instead for an understanding of identity as derivative of “the patterning of social relations across urban space,” which, he argues, creates disruption or “spacing”—Derrida’s term and Tajbakhsh’s preference—that precludes the definition of identity as the result of any one experience or “space” (3). He sets identity, space, and structure as the three essential dimensions of critical social theory. The first three, of four, chapters respectively examine Marxian urbanism’s class/urban dialectic as found in the works of three of the theory’s primary proponents. The final chapter sets forth the importance of “hybridity and spacing” in everyday life, ultimately suggesting that the city is “not so much a territory or a place as it is a promise, a potential, built on an ethics of respect for the hybrid spaces of identities” (183). Ably shifting between deconstructionism, “Habermasian systems theory”, and feminist theory, Tajbakhsh has written a very important critique of previous urban theory that, while not always entirely ground-breaking (as in the chapter that advocates the gendering of space), is consistently thought provoking. For those looking for a theory-intensive work on urban theory, particularly one that engages substantially in a critical conversation with Marxian urbanism, this will be an extremely important addition to your reading list. [E. White]