You are here

Urban Theory

Urban Theory
A critical introduction to power, cities and urbanism in the 21st century

May 2014 | 312 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
What is Urban Theory? How can it be used to understand our urban experiences? Experiences typically defined by enormous inequalities, not just between cities but within cities, in an increasingly interconnected and globalised world. This book explains:
  • Relations between urban theory and modernity in key ideas of the Chicago School, spatial analysis, humanistic urban geography, and ‘radical' approaches like Marxism
  • Cities and the transition to informational economies, globalization, urban growth machine and urban regime theory, the city as an “actor”
  • Spatial expressions of inequality and key ideas like segregation, ghettoization, suburbanization, gentrification
  • Socio-cultural spatial expressions of difference and key concepts like gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and “culturalist” perspectives on identity, lifestyle, subculture
  • How cities should be understood as intersections of horizontal and vertical – of coinciding resources, positions, locations, influencing how we make and understand urban experiences.
Critical, interdisciplinary and pedagogically informed - with opening summaries, boxes, questions for discussion and guided further reading - Urban Theory: A Critical Introduction to Power, Cities and Urbanism in the 21st Century provides the tools for any student of the city to understand, even to change, our own urban experiences.
Urban Studies and Urban Theory

What is Urban?

What is Theory?

And So What on Earth is Urban Theory?

The Chicago School and Urban Ecology

Urban Geography and Spatial Analysis

The Community Power Debate

Humanistic (Urban) Geography

‘Radical' Approaches

The Legacy of Previous Theories and Their Challenges

Cities as Actors in a Globalising Economy

Urban Decline and Obsolescence

Urban Economic Renaissance


The Rediscovery of Agency Within Urban Theory

Introducing American Urban Political Economy

Urban Regimes and Growth Machines

The Normative Dimension

Critiques and Applications

Inequalities Versus Differentiations: Vertical and Horizontal Paradigms

Cities as Sites of Resources: Space and Inequalities




Ghettoization as a Spatial Process of Marginalization

Neighbourhood Effects: Spatial Profit and Disadvantage

The Cultural Turn

The City as a Realm of Community and Lifestyle

The Subcultural Thesis

The Representational City: Public Space

Cultural Diversity: Identities in Public Space

Conclusion: Cities as Matrix of Resources

The 'Crisis' in Urban Theory Revisited

The Performance of Theories

The Commensurability of Theories

Theory, Politics and Practice

A New Urban Agenda?


Just when we need it most, urban theory seems to be failing us. This book explains why we need it.

Jamie Peck
University of British Columbia

Harding and Blokland address the vaunted “crisis” in urban theory with a thoughtful assessment of extant theories in terms of performance, commensurability, and critical engagement. In a conversational and lively tone, they view theories of inequality, public space, identity, power, agency, and culture through the lens of “relaxed urban theory.” Excellent overview for scholars and engaging classroom material.

Susan E. Clarke
University of Colorado at Boulder

Inspired by Peter Saunders’s non-spatial urban thinking, Harding and Blokland’s book provides a provocative, wide-ranging and comprehensive treatment of concepts geared to understand cities, and is a compulsory addition to any urban student’s intellectual arsenal in a period of renewed interest in urban theory.

Roger Keil
York University, Canada

Urban theory is said to be in a mess. Proceeding with great analytical clarity, this book introduces a relaxed definition of urban theory that enables the reader to make sense of the non-linear, variegated world of urban theory as it has developed over time and through the application of different disciplines, methods and epistemologies. In reviewing all the major conceptualisations of urban theory, Harding and Blokland provide clear insights into recent developments and the controversies and critiques they have provoked. The book is a pedagogical tour de force for students and scholars alike.

Patrick Le Galès
Sciences Po

I have adopted several chapters from this book for my Urban Identities module as either essential or supplementary seminar reading including
What is Urban Theory, The Chicago School and Urban Theory, and the Cultural Turn. These chapters reflect very well the module content and provide a useful outline of existing theories and approaches to Urban studies.

Dr Anna Pechurina
School of Social, Psychological & Comm, Leeds Beckett University
August 8, 2016

I think this book gives a perfect and understandable review about current and older theories and research in urban sociology about urban developments, particularly residential development"s and what they mean for cities. I adopt this book as mandatory literature for my new Urban Studies master-degree course: "The City as Habitat

Dr Erik Snel
Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam
November 18, 2015

Its a unique book that taks about urban theories with a very interesting method.

Dr Indjy Mohamed shawket
Urban Studies , Modern academy for engineering and technology
January 14, 2016

Really excellent introduction to the field. Very broad in scope but also detailed with some good examples and advice on further reading. Well written, accessible, engaging. I think this is a great book!

Dr Victoria Melangedd Redclift
Department of Sociology, Surrey University
September 3, 2015

It is a very interesting book for students and researchers on urban topics. I use this book for my lessons.

Mr Josep Boira
Department of Geography & History, University of Valencia
March 22, 2015

an excellent introduction to theoretical issues in urban geography and urbananism

Mr Richard Kotter
Geography & Environmental Management, Northumbria University
December 12, 2014

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter One: What is urban theory?

Alan Harding

Alan Harding is Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice at the University of Liverpool Management School in the UK. Previously, he held posts at Manchester, Salford and Liverpool John Moores universities. His research interests are in urban and regional development, governance and policy and he has acted as an advisor on these issues for a wide range of leading agencies with interests in this field. More About Author

Talja Blokland

Talja Blokland (1971) is an urban sociologist who has worked at Yale University, the University of Manchester and various Dutch universities. Since  2009, she has held the chair of Urban and Regional Sociology at Humboldt University in Berlin. Her publications include Urban Bonds (Polity 2003), Networked Urbanism (edited with Mike Savage, Ashgate 2008) and various articles on race and ethnicity in the city, poor neighbourhoods, urban violence, gentrification, urban middle classes and neighbourhood relations and everyday interactions. More About Author