In his introduction to Global Undergrounds Geoff Manaugh tries to get to grips with the allure of subterranean spaces. He recognises that ‘the underground lends itself well to mythology’ and posits that even ‘if our cities didn’t have undergrounds, we would need to invent them’ in our popular imagination. Later in the volume, Stephen Graham is more cutting in his take on the cultural resonance of the underground:
As the surface environments of many cities become burnished with the identikit accoutrements of stage-managed spectacle, homogenised corporate consumption and gentrified stone-blasted ‘heritage’, urban tourists now flock in increasing numbers to ‘shadow architectures’ of bunkers, tunnels and subterranean spaces packaged as ‘authentic’ tourist sites, as part of the wider growth of so-called dark tourism.
The editors of Global Undergrounds have taken our fascination with the sub-surface world as their starting point for looking at 80 interesting places around the world. As the first academic survey of its kind, each entry is refracted through the lenses of social and cultural theory, with rich historical context provided by each individual contributor. Dobraszczyk, Galviz and Garrett eschew the traditional geographical ordering, opting instead to group the sites by categories like ‘memory’, ‘resistance’ and ‘edges’, elevating Global Undergrounds above the many passive compendia of subterranea that have sadly proliferated in the past couple of decades.
Central to the book is the editors’ desire to push our understanding of these spaces beyond thinking of them as mere landscape quirks, highlighting the power struggles (economic, social, physical) that are represented by many of them. In this way Global Undergrounds is a reaction against the lazy listicle ‘top 10 nuclear bunker’-style lists that litter books and the web, making it a very timely intervention in a hugely undertheorised field of study.
The staggering diversity of the places in this book is represented by a cross-section of the best entries, which include the Pyongyang Metro system, Stockholm’s Atomic Bomb defences, the Brighton Sewers and the Brescia Underground. These are sewn among a tapestry of defunct civil deference infrastructure, lost rivers, cities below cities, caverns, caves, mines, doomsday vaults, utility tunnels, catacombs and abandoned underground stations.
Although there are a few noticeable dips in quality on occasion—to be expected of a volume with more than 25 contributors—for the most part the articles are engaging and fall in line with the editorial vision of recontextualising underground places as more than just curiosities for sanitised tourism or uncritical gawking.