Politics of Survivability: How Military Technology Scripts Urban Relations

  • Fadi Shayya

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis scrutinises the spatialisation of contemporary urban warfare by embracing a symmetric perspective to the study of military technologies and its potential to script urban relations. While urban and architectural studies are at the forefront of engaging with such pressing issues, the predominant Critical approach remains largely social constructivist and anthropocentric. Technologies are treated as passive projections of Power; they neither break down nor evolve, and they lack agency relating users and environments. Rather than embracing the grand narratives that explain established power structures and social systems, we emphasise the need to study the spatialisation of urban warfare as a process that can be better unpacked at the level of the daily functioning of military technology. At that level, what becomes a vital matter of concern, a disputed issue is survivability. Exploring survivability allows us to examine the mundane relational politics connecting soldiers’ bodies to technical objects and urban landscapes, configuring new relations between humans and nonhumans. The thesis offers an analysis of military armoured vehicles as dynamic and evolving technical objects, and it traces through their functioning and breakdowns a relational politics of survivability that is instigated at that mundane level of urban warfare. Notably, we trace such associations to the MRAP-type vehicles sought after by the U.S. military to restore survivability and negotiate the deadly threat of detonations during the aughts wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. The analysis shows how survivability becomes a disputed issue, a matter of concern, that underpins the military’s technical and doctrinal development. We demonstrate how power cannot be projected without considerations for the survivability of soldiers, equipment, and missions/systems. Such survivability is the outcome of two crucial and interdependent processes: the technical development of concrete armour concepts, materials, and technologies; and the sociotechnical associations between the soldiers and the armoured vehicles. We analyse the former in utility patents that document resolving the armour’s antagonisms in a series of heterogenous inventions, and the latter in military publications, governmental policy documents, and secondary sources that connect the work of humans and nonhumans. While utility patents help us explain technical improvements and lineages in the lab, the military publications and other sources help us explain the deployment of the vehicles in the field and the challenges and breakdowns they encounter, be they combat or non-combat related. Moreover, we analyse the associations of architectural and urban characters related to the armoured vehicles, examined here as mobile fortified enclosures, connecting soldiers’ bodies to different environments in a versatile relational way. The thesis thus makes three contributions to debates in urban studies, architectural humanities, and STS: 1) It advances the epistemological position that survivability is intrinsically connected to the functioning of military technical objects; 2) it expands on the relational theory of the architectural and the urban as a way of connecting, where armoured vehicles extend the scope of architectural and urban research beyond the figure of the static building; 3) it answers a methodological question about employing technical objects to study the spatialisation of urban warfare and the reduction of the landscape into terrain. All three contributions advance a pragmatist perspective on a relational politics of survivability through human-nonhuman interdependency.
Date of Award31 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlbena Yaneva (Supervisor) & Leandro Minuchin (Supervisor)


  • survivability
  • Simondon
  • Actor-Network Theory
  • sociotechnical
  • armoured vehicles
  • warfare
  • militarization
  • technology
  • architectural
  • urban
  • relational politics

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