The urban riots of the USA in the late 1960s were some of the most powerful political events of that era. As well as drawing numerous responses from media, the civil rights movement, black nationalists, and groups such as the Situationist International, the uprising also triggered a range of research responses including some of the first computational models of cities. T.C. Schelling’s “Models of Segregation” attempted to provide a logical model for racial segregation and laid much of the groundwork for what later became agent-based modeling. Such work is expressed contemporarily for instance in the riot and insurgency modeling of J.M. Epstein and others. For the state, such events mark a schizophrenic relationship to the contingency of riot and how the algorithms play out in such a scenario. How can it govern events that both demonstrate and excite its power and also undermine it? This paper will propose a tracing of the genealogy of such models alongside a reading of other ways of using urban modeling in relation to the urban riots of that era and now. A parrallel reference point here will be the work of W. Bunge a quantitative geographer and spatial theorist. Bunge consistently argued that geometrical patterns and morphological laws express disadvantage and injustice under contemporary capitalism, and that identified patterns could be remedied by rational methods.
The history of computing, from G.W. Leibniz onwards, tangles with the problematic of developing rational approaches to complex, multi-dimensional problems with a high-degree of what J. Law describes as “messiness”. This paper will examine the ways in which rationality, or ratio, is positioned in relation to urban conflict as a means of discussing the relations between the city and software. The paper will develop a discussion of ratio in relation to questions of abstraction, reduction and empiricism. We are especially concerned to find a relationship between abstraction and the empirical that, by working with the materiality of computational systems recognises, and perhaps works with, the tendency to reduction(ism) but through which modes of abstraction may also work with the highly and complexly empirical.