Under contemporary conditions, there is no singular hinterland of “the” city. How, and by whom, has the planetary hinterland been forged, and how can it be conceptualized?
City-building is a process of sociospatial concentration, but its preconditions and consequences stretch far beyond the city’s immediate environs. The term “hinterland” is used here to demarcate the variegated non-city spaces that are swept into the maelstrom of urbanization, whether as supply zones or impact zones. Such spaces include settlements (cities, towns, villages), land-use configurations (industrial, agrarian, extractive) and ecologies (terrestrial, oceanic, subterranean, atmospheric). We refer to explorations of such spaces, and their role in urbanization processes, as engagements with “the hinterland question.” In the age of planetary urbanization, this position is untenable: city/hinterland relations lie at the heart of the contemporary urban problematique. And yet, these relations are today undergoing mutations that necessitate not only a repositioning of the hinterland question into the core of urban research and practice. but its radical reconceptualization. How, and by whom, has this planetary hinterland been forged? What are its social, political, institutional, regulatory and ecological preconditions? What are its major contradictions, crisis-tendencies and vulnerabilities? Can the massive sociotechnical capacities it has unleashed somehow be harnessed to support more just, democratic, nonviolent, culturally vibrant and ecologically sane forms of collective existence? Are there alternative forms of urbanization, planetary or otherwise, and can their sociometabolic dynamics be reflexively designed, negotiated and institutionalized through political agency? Or, will the violent, profit-driven illogics of planetary urbanization continue to degrade, erode and destroy the fabric of social, political and ecological existence? These are among the most urgent dimensions of the hinterland question in the capitalocene.