Erin Y. Huang is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. Her work often explores the interdisciplinary dialogue among Marxist geography, postcolonial theory, feminist theory, cinema and media studies, and Sinophone Asia. She is the cofounder of Asia Theory Visuality—an intellectual platform that harbors collaborative thinking on experimental and theoretical approaches to Asian Studies.
Urban Horror: Neoliberal Post-Socialism and the Limits of Visibility
Erin Y. Huang
Duke University Press
Many people ask me how the concept of “urban horror” was conceived. I always reply that it is derived from Engels’s description of an industrial horror in his book-length Marxist phenomenological study of the English factory town Manchester in the nineteenth century. “Horror” occupies such an important place in Marxist thought, especially in an early text belonging to Marxist urban theory. Yet the significance of a social affect born in the era of industrialization remains underexplored. How does capitalist industrialization also industrialize our feelings and sensations? How do we understand “horror” as a sentiment of resistance in political theory?
Often characterized as difficult, dense, and chaotic, The Production of Space is definitely one of the most influential books in the recent decades, during which time the competing global systems of capitalism and socialism fundamentally restructured every aspect of human and non-human life through “space.” Yet rather than directly importing a French text written during the Cold War into my writing and thinking that focus on the neoliberal, post-socialist present, I am most intrigued by the possibility of bringing Lefebvre into conversation with “Asian” urbanization. It is not for the purpose of providing an orientalized urban history, but to map out the continuities and connections between the capitalist and socialist mode of producing space.
Written by anthropologist Aihwa Ong, this is a study of various operations of neoliberalism as exception in the rising Asian economies of China and Southeast Asia—in other words, the “Asian” iteration of neoliberalism that challenges the dominant narrative of post-capitalist neoliberalism in Euro-America. A striking analysis the book offers is the practice of zoning, or the creation of economic and political zones of exception in the form of Special Economic Zone, Special Administrative Region, and science and industrial park in post-Cold War Asian countries. This practice is especially important for (post)socialist countries like China, since it allows what essentially is a centralized authoritarian political regime to flexibly and strategically participate in the global market through the deployment and management of these pockets of exception.