Jini Kim Watson


On her book The New Asian City: Three-Dimensional Fictions of Space and Urban Form

Cover Interview of May 28, 2012


A broader aim of this book is to provide a counter-narrative to simplistic accounts of East Asian economic development, especially ones that rely on wrong-headed notions like “Confucian Capitalism” or the “natural” efficiency of the Asian worker.

Rather, what was taking place was a very singular arrangement of forces involving the political and urban legacies of colonialism, Cold War-backed authoritarian governments, the advent of export-led development, and changing relationships between country and city.  The complexity—and brutality—of that story needs to be understood so that we can properly understand how this region differentiated itself from the rest of the developing world under conditions that could not, and perhaps should not, always be repeated.

In a related sense, the book also functions as a pre-history to our current moment of globalization in which all nations and economies are imagined to be intimately linked as never before, albeit on very uneven terms. What we forget is how these differing terrains—the First World, the different tiers of the developing world—were actively produced and created, largely through the mechanisms of colonialism and in the decades of decolonization following World War II.

The New Asian City is the story of how one region of the world developed from a subordinate position vis-à-vis the West, but it is not the only story possible or available. Only by understanding the complex ways that these three sites modernized and reconceptualized their urban fabric can we understand their remarkable development from colonial territories to Asian “miracles.”

Finally, one further goal of this book is to open up new analytic pathways with which to study those latest of Asian miracles, China and India.  As I hope The New Asian City demonstrates, the narratives of those megastates—the ongoing battles between city and country, local forms of settlement and migration, and their emerging global and regional roles—must also be excavated and retold in “three-dimensional” form.