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Building the Ark: The Life and Legacy of Mike Davis with Ruth Wilson Gilmore & Owen Hatherley

Ruth Wilson Gilmore & Owen Hatherley join the Verso Podcast to discuss Mike Davis and the geography of struggle.

30 May 2024

Building the Ark: The Life and Legacy of Mike Davis with Ruth Wilson Gilmore & Owen Hatherley

VersoBooks · Building the Ark: The Life and Legacy of Mike Davis | Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Owen Hatherley


This week on The Verso Podcast we’re looking at the unflinching work of Mike Davis - born in 1946 and sadly passing away in 2022. He began as an organiser who was radicalised by the civil rights movement in the US, only coming to writing much later in life after stints working as a truck driver and meat cutter - among other things. As an urban theorist and historian, his studies of class, power, race, empire and the city were hugely influential throughout his lifetime, shaping many writers’ and activists approach to the fundamental organising questions of - what does power look like, how does it operate, and how can it be wrestled back into the hands of the global working classes. 

Sometimes referred to as ‘the prophet of doom’ due to his unwavering commitment to scrutinising the systems of misery and violence on which capitalism depends for its survival, it was a title that never sat well with him. Whilst Mike’s field of study ranged from the famines of the British Empire, to the slums of the modern mega-city - he looked at pandemics and climate disasters, proxy wars, prisons and surveillance infrastructure - for Mike none of this was ever in service of disaster-mongering, but rather to equip ourselves to better understand what must be done in the face of such calamity. 

Mike had a longstanding relationship with Verso extending back to the 80s. His many books include Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the US Working Class, The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu, and the Plagues of Capitalism, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Planet of Slums, Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx's Lost Theory, and more besides - all published by Verso Books

In this episode Eleanor Penny is joined by Owen Hatherley and Mike’s close friend and comrade Ruth Wilson Gilmore, to think with his ideas on how to build a future, how to resist, and - to borrow a phrase from one of his later works - who will build the ark. 

Ruth Wilson Gilmore is Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she is also Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. Her works include Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, Opposition in Globalizing California, as well as Abolition Geography: Essays towards liberation - published by Verso Books.

Owen Hatherley is a writer and the culture editor at Jacobin Magazine. His writing appears regularly in outlets such The Guardian, the London Review of Books, Architects Journal and Architectural Review. His books include Militant Modernism, Red Metropolis: Socialism and the Government of London, Landscapes of Communism, as well as Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances - published by Verso Books. 

Join us next time for an episode on critical feminism and police abolition with Leah Cowan and Lola Olufemi.

We are also excited to share that The Verso Podcast will also be hosting an upcoming live podcast event and crossover episode alongside The Dig podcast on Friday the 26th of July at the Union Chapel in London - featuring Jeremy Corbyn, Laleh Khalili, Daniel Denvir of The Dig, and our very own Eleanor Penny, in a discussion about internationalism, the fight against the global far right, and the rise of the Palestine solidarity movement.

Get your tickets here!

We will also be welcoming the Macrodose podcast as an opening act to this event. Writer and broadcaster Dalia Gebrial will be joined by political scientist Thea Riofrancos, climate justice activist Asad Rehman and anthropologist Jason Hickel to discuss the decline of the unipolar world, the climate crisis and green colonialism, and the future of global capitalism. 

Join us in the aftermath of the upcoming UK general election for an evening of discussions where we will collectively grapple with the state of global politics in the era of instability we now inhabit. 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast - you won’t want to miss out on any of our forthcoming episodes over the next few months - featuring even more of the world’s leading activists, scholars, and thinkers. 

If you enjoyed this show please consider leaving a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts - it really helps us out!

See all Verso Podcast episodes here. Listen via your preferred podcast platform.

Works by Mike Davis

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Works by Owen Hatherley

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Works by Ruth Wilson Gilmore

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Ecology of Fear
Counterpointing Los Angeles’s central role in America’s fantasy life – the city has been destroyed no less than 138 times in novels and films since 1909 – with its wanton denial of its own real his...
The Monster Enters
In his book, The Monster at Our Door, the renowned activist and author Mike Davis warned of a coming global threat of viral catastrophes. Now in this expanded edition of that 2005 book, Davis expl...
Set the Night on Fire
Histories of the US sixties invariably focus on New York City, but Los Angeles was an epicenter of that decade’s political and social earthquake. L.A. was a launchpad for Black Power—where Malcolm ...
Old Gods, New Enigmas
Old Gods, New Enigmas is the highly-anticipated book by the best-selling author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums. Mike Davis spent years working factory jobs and sitting behind the wheel of an...
City of Quartz
No metropolis has been more loved or more hated. To its official boosters, "Los Angeles brings it all together." To detractors, LA is a sunlit mortuary where "you can rot without feeling it." To Mi...
Prisoners of the American Dream
Prisoners of the American Dream is Mike Davis’s brilliant exegesis of a persistent and major analytical problem for Marxist historians and political economists: Why has the world’s most industriall...
Planet of Slums
According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, Mike Davis explores the future of a radically u...
Late Victorian Holocausts
Examining a series of El Niño-induced droughts and the famines that they spawned around the globe in the last third of the 19th century, Mike Davis discloses the intimate, baleful relationship betw...
Buda's Wagon
On a September day in 1920, an angry Italian anarchist named Mario Buda exploded a horse-drawn wagon filled with dynamite and iron scrap near New York’s Wall Street, killing 40 people. Since Buda’s...
Magical Urbanism
Winner of the 2001 Carey McWilliams AwardA CONTEMPORARY CLASSIC, Magical Urbanism focuses on how Latinos are attempting to translate their urban demographic ascendancy into effective social power. ...
Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances
From the grandiose histories of grand state building projects to the minutiae of street signs and corner pubs, from the rebuilding of capital cities to the provision of the humble public toilet, Cl...
The Ministry of Nostalgia
In this brilliant polemical rampage, Owen Hatherley shows how our past is being resold in order to defend the indefensible. From the marketing of a “make do and mend” aesthetic to the growing nosta...
A New Kind of Bleak
This is what austerity looks like: a nation surviving on the results of what conservatives privately call “the progressive nonsense” of the Big Society agenda.In a journey that begins and ends in t...
A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain
Back in 1997, New Labour came to power amid much talk of regenerating the inner cities left to rot under successive Conservative governments. Over the next decade, British cities became the laborat...
Abolition Geography
Gathering together Ruth Wilson Gilmore's work from over three decades, Abolition Geography presents her singular contribution to the politics of abolition as theorist, researcher, and organizer, of...

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