Forgotten framework?

While working through a number of projects at the moment —from fellowship applications to magazine pitches— I’m awash with material and ideas, and yet one theme keeps bubbling up: The theory of feral cities.

In 2003, Richard J. Norton published a journal article in the Naval War College Review which dealt with security challenges in complex urban environments he loosely defined as “a metropolis with a population of more than a million people in a state the government of which has lost the ability to maintain the rule of law within the city’s boundaries yet remains a functioning actor in the greater international system.” This, he claimed, should be known as a “feral city”.

Norton’s concerns stems from his assertion that, despite modern military might, current capabilities are insufficient to deal with the myriad challenges of densely populated urban environments in which law enforcement cannot patrol, residents/citizens are unregistered, and informal power structures come to dominate how the city lives and breathes.

The article, now more than a decade old, has inspired a few security experts (such as the inimitable David Kilcullen) to think broadly about the military capacities/capabilities for addressing feral cities, but I wonder why the theory hasn’t been more effectively explored given its potential applicability in places like Lagos, Mexico City, Rio, or Dhaka.

Any reader come across the use of this term more recently?


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