Imperial Debris and the City
Although Stoler’s essay does not address cities and urbanism in any explicit way, numerous connections are suggested by her focus on the material and social afterlives of empire—that which resides in both infrastructures and cityscapes and well as in the “microecologies of matter and mind.” A key question the essay poses is: “How do imperial formations persist in their material debris, in ruined landscapes and through the social ruination of people’s lives?” (194). Stoler pays clear attention, not just to the psychic and social residues of empire, but also to the sites, landscapes, and spaces of imperial decay and ruin. These are not ruins of empire in a “figurative sense,” but rather the “zones of vulnerability that the living inhabit and to which we should attend” (200). Such a concrete, spatial orientation lends itself to analyses that could identify the urban dimensions of imperial formations in the present. However, the essay comes close to treating the urban as merely a spatial context or container, perhaps equal to any other, in which the ruins of empire reside. How might we go further to consider the degree to which cities are primary destinations, productions, or receptacles of and for the imperial formations and ruinations that Stoler describes?