Tag Archives: Radicalisation

Two book reviews of “The Radicals’ City”

Recently two reviews of my book with Ralf Brand “The Radicals’ City: Urban Environment, Polarisation, Cohesion” were published. The first, brief one appeared in Urban Design, Issue 129, Winter 2014. The other, more thorough, was published on the Arab Studies Institute e-zine Jadaliyya.

The Jadaliyya review, authored by Jihad Farah, is very engaging and thought-provoking as it tries to pinpoint the role of urban design within the situation in those Middle Eastern cities that are experiencing socio-political transition as well as division, waves of radicalisation and outright violence.

Jihad Farah’s only critique to the book is that the case studies are descriptive and lacking some depth, including treating the groups studied as organic entities rather than highlighting their nuances. This critique is not suprising. Although based on 100+ interviews as well as data elicited through participatory photography, the original project at the basis of the book was – for its nature and duration – broad and to a certain extent exploratory, rather than ethnographically specific and in-depth. Through 4 intense but brief fieldwork sessions of 2 weeks in each city, our goal was to identify urban dynamics connected to dynamics of polarisation and radicalization that are transferable to different contexts and – most importantly – relevant to different audiences.

Jihad Farah’s piece is a very good read for those who are trying to make sense of the ongoing Middle Eastern situation not only from a political perspective, but also – very importantly – from a spatial one.

Sara Fregonese

Book podcast: The Radicals’ City

On 26/03/2013 I posted about the new book “The Radicals’ City: Built Environment Polarisation, Cohesion” that I co-authored with Ralf Brand. Ashgate is about to publish it this Summer, but you can preview the table of contents and the introduction on their website.

While waiting for the book release, I have recorded a podcast about with The University of Birmingham’s Ideas Lab. It lasts about 10 minutes and contains some empirical cases encountered during the fieldwork at the basis of the volume.



Sara Fregonese


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Forthcoming book: The radicals’ city

After submission in Autumn 2012 (see post on 11/10/2012), the proofs are complete and the new book co-authored with Ralf Brand on radicalisation, social cohesion and the urban built environment is now in print and forthcoming in July (28 July for Amazon.co.uk).

Ashgate has a page with the book description and contents:  http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781409451600 and endorsements by Caroline Moser and Stuart Croft.

The regular price of the hardback is £ 55, but it’s £49 through the publisher’s website. It is also available in e-book and pdf. The price is quite good for both academics and practitioners, especially considering that the book contains 115 (yes, 115) colour images.

The activities of the ESRC-funded research project that inspired the book can be viewed at www.urbanpolarisation.org.


Sara Fregonese

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The Lion in the Room. Or, how to cope during tough times in Beirut.

Beirut is certainly one of the cities where geopolitical processes are most entwined in its everyday life.

A video has just been released, showing the Chase Restaurant in Sassine Square in Beirut, at the moment of the explosion of the car bomb which on Friday 19 October killed General Wissam al Hassan, Head of the intelligence branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

Video of the moment of the explosion at Sassine Square.

Last Friday, the delicate relationship between Lebanon and neighboring Syria, the attempts to expand the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, and the renewed polarisation of the Lebanese political and sectarian scene since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005, all materialised in this powerful blast. It came from a car bomb parked in a narrow street between a bank and some residential buildings, adjacent to the lively Sassine Square, the heart of traditional Christian Beirut, but now becoming more and more populated with Shi’a middle class residents.

After the bomb, came the funeral, and after the funeral, came the protest for the government to resign, and for the first time since the Lebanese civil war, the Ottoman-epoch Government building, the Serail, came under violent attack by demonstrators.

There are clear leads connecting this bomb with Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad (Assad in Arabic means ‘Lion’). Last Summer, General Al-Hasan ordered the arrest of former minister of information Michel Samaha. Wiretapping and intelligence agents had caught Samaha plotting with the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau Ali al-Mamlouk  to bring explosives into Lebanon and blow up Sunni political exponents.

Yesterday the French foreign minister declared that a Syrian involvement is ‘probable’.

While the geopolitical balance of the region is once more in question after Friday, the everyday geopolitics of Beirut and other polarised cities like Tripoli in the north of the country develop with street protests, burning barricades, shooting, and the resurgence of the lines of contention that remain latent in those areas where the population is politically polarized and more susceptible to being radicalised.

Part of living in Beirut consists of such tough times, when moving around and feeling safe in the city is a continuous negotiation and adaptation of one’s routines and habits.

Among the many coping mechanisms is a user-generated mobile application called Ma2too3a (in arabic: ‘cut’). Created by the CEO of Larochesoft, Mohammad Taha, Ma2too3a works by posting notifications about roads that are cut (ma2too3a) not only because of traffic jams, but above all because of checkpoints, demonstrations, burning tires, shooting and so on. In August 2012, Taha was in talks with the Interior Ministry and fire department in Beirut to have it officially launched and plans were for it to reach the Android market. It is nicely designed and when an event terminates, a red rose appears indicating that the road is free.

The app is the twenty-first century version of the 1970s radio announcers who in Beirut updated the population about the situation in the streets and the position of snipers.

Living through (often very negative) change is part of the everyday life of a city like Beirut. Ma2too3a is the example of dual-use technologies that truly can help cities and communities be resilient in times of conflict.

In the face of the lion in the room.

Sara Fregonese

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New book

Less than a month ago I had the pleasure to complete yet another collaboration with Ralf Brand from the University of Manchester. We submitted the manuscript for our joint-authored volume The radicals’ city: urban environment, polarisation, cohesion. It will be published by Ashgate in 2013. It also contains an epilogue written by Jon Coaffee from the University of Birmingham.

The book derives from the ESRC project “The built environment: mirror and mediator of radicalisation?” which ran at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre from 2007 to 2010.

The argument at the basis of the book is that social processes like stereotyping, polarisation, and even radicalisation or open conflict do not happen in a spatial void. Instead, they are part of complex socio-technical processes. In our cities, the built environment functions as symbolic, affective, everyday agent that influences social tension or cohesion.

Over the course of several months, we explored these dynamics with interviews and participatory photography projects in four cities: Amsterdam, Beirut, Belfast, and Berlin. There was also a mobile exhibition to present the project to the public.

The ultimate objective of this visually and empirically rich book is to assist policy makers, planners, architects, urban designers and ordinary citizens in creating urban spaces that are conducive to the friendly encounter of different social groups, thus helping to tackle the ground conditions of societal polarisation and gear it instead towards cohesion.

You can read more about the book in this leaflet, which you will also find at Ashgate’s bookstands at conferences:

Sara Fregonese

See also: Fregonese, S. and Brand, R. (2009) “Polarisation as socio-technical phenomenon. A bibliographical review”, Journal of Urban Technology 16(2-3): 9-34. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10630730903278546

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