Cover page

‘Ugo Rossi offers a highly original analysis of the current urban condition. The book plays imaginatively on the complex relationships linking cities, neoliberal capitalism and globalization, and extracts from these materials a remarkably informative and incisive diagnosis.’

Allen J. Scott, University of California, Los Angeles

‘Reading contemporary global capital from the perspective of the city, Ugo Rossi's Cities in Global Capitalism presents a critical geography, rich in analysis and haunted with spectral figures. Rossi shows how the city – the site of historical struggle, artistic and social innovations, and revolutionary uprisings – has been shaped by capital and its state partners with new spatial inequalities, potentialities, and peripheries. As the city once again becomes the destination for the global rich, economic innovation becomes a leading edge of gentrification and the abandoned warehouses of Fordist production become the ghost towers haunting the urban sky – vast areas the mega rich own but rarely inhabit as the ever-expanding homeless below pass by.’

Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Columbia University

Cities in Global Capitalism presents an impressive tour de force on the mutually reinforcing relationship between cities, on the one hand, and the capitalist system on the other. Sifting through a wide range of work from across numerous disciplines, Ugo Rossi's account of the contemporary global urban condition is conceptually sophisticated, geographically nuanced and historically sensitive!’

Kevin Ward, University of Manchester

‘Ugo Rossi's book is a clear and illuminating overview of the complex relationships between globalized capitalism and urban spaces. A valuable contribution to the project of critically reflecting on our contemporary condition.’

Nick Srnicek, author of Platform Capitalism and Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

Series page

Urban Futures series

  1. Talja Blokland, Community as Urban Practice
  2. Julie-Anne Boudreau, Global Urban Politics
  3. Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin & Ernesto López-Morales
  4. Planetary Gentrification
  5. Ugo Rossi, Cities in Global Capitalism
Title page

Copyright page


While my interest in the transformations of contemporary capitalism – the crisis of Fordism and the transition to post-Fordist societies – dates back twenty years ago now, to the mid-1990s, when I was studying Political Sciences at the University Orientale of Naples, I have been thinking more specifically about the relationship between cities and capitalism over the last six or seven years. I first approached this theme when I received an invitation from the editor of the Encyclopedia of Urban Studies, Ray Hutchison, to write two entries: one on the ‘capitalist city’ and another on ‘Manuel Castells’ (Rossi, 2010a; Rossi, 2010b). While my previous work had dealt with conceptual issues related to the theorization of urban economic development in post-Fordist and neoliberal times, this invitation led me to systematize my understanding of the evolution of critical urban theory from the 1970s onwards. At the same time, during the last ten years in my research I have been dealing with a set of categorizations, such as the creative city, the smart city and the start-up city, which have stimulated my reflections on the urban realities of contemporary capitalism.

Whereas the ideas presented here draw on this long-term engagement with the conceptualization of post-Fordist capitalism and its relationship to the urban phenomenon, this book has been written over a much more concise period of time, approximately one year, starting in the spring of 2015 and ending in the summer of 2016. During this year, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts as well as to discuss drafts of the chapters of the manuscript with different colleagues and students. In April 2015, I organized a session on the ‘urban political in late neoliberalism’ at the annual conference of American Geographers in Chicago along with Theresa Enright, who teaches at the University of Toronto in Canada. Theresa has read drafts of some chapters of my manuscript, providing very useful feedback. Over the last few months, with Theresa I have shared reflections on the ambivalence of post-crisis global capitalism and the urban condition, which I have started presenting in this book and would like to develop further in the coming years. In May 2015, I was invited by Bernd Belina to teach a seminar on ‘Southern European cities in the global recession’ as part of his Master's course on the ‘Geographies of Globalization’ in the Institute of Human Geography at the Goethe University of Frankfurt, in Germany. My conversations with Bernd, with the other members of the department and with the students enrolled in the seminar provided me with a lively intellectual environment which helped me sharpen my ideas, particularly my understanding of the crisis of 2008, which is at the centre of this book. In Frankfurt I also met Sami Moisio, when we were both visiting the human geography department. In April 2016, Sami invited me to lecture in his urban geography course at the University of Helsinki, in Finland, and to present my work to the department when I was in the very final stages of the writing process. This presentation gave me the opportunity to clarify the structure of the book, particularly the meaning of the terms being used as titles of the chapters.

In December 2015, I presented my research at the geography department of the University of Leuven, Belgium, invited by Manuel Aalbers within the framework of his Master's course on ‘the political economy of urban development’, taught along with Chris Kesteloot. The political economy environment of Leuven and the provocative questions posed by Manuel and Chris, and by Stijn Oosterlynck of the University of Antwerp (invited as discussant), as well as by the students, helped me clarify my ideas about an understanding of knowledge-intensive capitalism drawing on political economy approaches but also going beyond them. I also thank Manuel for carefully reading different parts of the manuscript, particularly the drafts of chapters 1 and 3.

I am also grateful to Lisa Björkman, of the University of Louisville in the United States, who took the time to read drafts of different chapters of the book and provided important suggestions. With Lisa, in March 2016 I organized a one-week field trip for graduate students in Naples, which focused on the politics of urban infrastructure in post-recession times, particularly looking at the rise of commons-oriented social movements. Her enthusiasm and her ‘external’ viewpoint on the city in which I grew up and started my academic path have helped me appreciate the importance of studying cities in the South, including the European South, in order to understand contemporary urbanism in today's transitional times. During the field trip in Naples I also exchanged my ideas with Andrea Varriale, who is a PhD student in urban studies at the Bauhaus University of Weimar, in Germany. Andrea generously read my manuscript and provided very useful comments. I also want to thank Lauren Rickards, who teaches at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, with whom I share the editorship of the Dialogues in Human Geography journal, particularly its book forum section, for our ongoing conversation about the need for intellectually engaged books in the social sciences and geography most particularly, at a time in which academia increasingly resembles a production line for journal articles.

In Turin, where I am based, I received extensive feedback on the manuscript from Alberto Vanolo and from Anna Paola Quaglia and Samantha Cenere. The latter are my PhD students in the Urban and Regional Development programme of the Politecnico and the University of Turin, where I teach a course on ‘critical and reflexive methodologies in urban studies’. With Alberto, we have never stopped exchanging ideas on cities and urban studies since we wrote a book together more than six years ago, whose English-language version is titled Urban Political Geographies: A Global Perspective (Rossi and Vanolo, 2012). Supervising the work of both Anna Paola and Samantha in a relationship of mutual exchange is an important learning opportunity for me, particularly as regards the technology-led transformations of urban economies and societies on which both their dissertations touch.

During the writing process, I benefited tremendously from the support and advice of my editor Jonathan Skerrett, as well as from the criticism and recommendations of three anonymous referees who reviewed the first version of the manuscript. I am also very grateful to Helen Gray, the copy-editor of this book, for her scrupulous and highly competent work on the manuscript. It goes without saying that I am solely responsible for the final outcome. Last, but obviously not least, I dedicate this book to Rebecca, my daughter, who gives me the energy to think beyond today and tomorrow, and to Elisabetta, whose love and intellectual advice are of incommensurable value.

This book is an original piece of work, but in some parts it draws loosely on my previous texts. Earlier and much shorter versions of chapters 2 and 4 were published in Italian in 2014 as ‘Gli spazi urbani nell'economia contemporanea’ and ‘Geografie del capitalism globale’ respectively, in a book mainly intended for pedagogical purposes (Geografia Economica e Politica), which I co-authored as an individual contributor along with my colleagues at the University of Turin: Sergio Conti, Paolo Giaccaria and Carlo Salone. Chapter 3 in some parts draws on a text entitled ‘Neoliberalism’ (Rossi, forthcoming), included in a book edited by Mark Jayne and Kevin Ward. The paragraph on the dispossessed city in chapter 5 partly reproduces a section of an article that appeared in Progress in Human Geography (Rossi, 2013a).