Terrorism and the City

deadline for submissions: 
July 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Kristen Skjonsby / Pacific and Ancient Modern Language Association (PAMLA)
contact email: 

This panel invites papers that address how terrorism, whether historically or contemporarily, engages with and within the city. Sociologist Saskia Sassen argued in “When the City Itself Becomes a Technology of War” that asymmetrical military strategy has turned the space of the city itself into a technology of warfare. She writes that asymmetric warfare, the military strategy that defines U.S. engagement with terrorist cells across the world, are “partial, intermittent and lack clear endings…They are one indication of how the center no longer holds – whatever the center’s format: the imperial power of a period of the national state of our modernity” (36).

In Terrorism, Risk and the City: Towards Urban Resilience, Coaffee points to the ways in which logistical imperialism undergirds the paramilitary tactics used in asymmetrical warfare in domestic cities. To do so, Coaffee uses Ulrich Beck’s concept of the “Risk Society,” loosely defined as a response to an increasingly globalized world and its seemingly boundaryless, uncontrollable calamities. Risk is economically, socially, and politically articulated by the media and government in terms of “Other” outside countries, groups, corporations, or individuals. This dynamic serves the transition into new modernity, fueled by “the logic of industrial production and distribution [that] is increasingly tied to the social production of risk” (68). In essence, the speed of innovation outpaces our institutions’ ability to protect the West. This sense of vulnerability is experienced most acutely in cities, where the State and local government converge to secure an increasingly-surveilled city life.

This panel seeks to explore these questions: How does contemporary literature or other forms of storytelling engage with Sassen’s claim that terrorism reveals a kind of void within the State or colonial power? What is being revealed, how is the city portrayed, and how do storytellers respond?