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POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY: THE RIGHT TO THE CITY Week 9 Dr Alice Mah.

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Presentation on theme: "POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY: THE RIGHT TO THE CITY Week 9 Dr Alice Mah."— Presentation transcript:

1 POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY: THE RIGHT TO THE CITY Week 9 Dr Alice Mah

2 Lecture outline  Urban Politics  ‘The Right to the City’  Concluding discussion

3 Urban Politics: the setting and the stakes…  The city constitutes not only the ‘setting’ but also the ‘stakes’ of political contestation (Lefebvre)  ‘To think about politics and power is nearly always to invoke a set of spatial relations: from the surface of the body to the distribution of property, the spatial order of the senate chamber or the ‘theatre’ of war.’ (Tonkiss 2005: 59)  Double sense of politics: cities are not only locations in which politics take place but also objects of struggle in their own right, both in and over space  Urban spaces provide sites for political action and are themselves politicized in struggles over access, control, and representation

4 City limits?  Paul Peterson (1981: 4) has influentially argued that cities make little difference to power in general: “Cities cannot make war or peace; they cannot issue passports or forbid outsiders from entering their territory; they cannot issue currency; and they cannot control imports or erect tariff walls.” Peterson argues that cities cannot control allocational or redistributive policies and can only control developmental issues: policies for competing with other cities to attract investment Yet this argument: links to the Marxist idea of the city as a ‘growth machine’ and as a site of political struggle over developmental issues, which shows the importance of cities, presents a limited ‘formal’ view of politics as relating only to the nation-state rather than wider politics and power within social experience, and is challenged empirically by recent politics of rescaling of governance

5 Rescaling of governance  In the context of ‘post-democracy’ or declining ‘real’ democracy, new social movements (many urban-based), and expanding definitions of citizenship beyond the nation-scale (Jones 1999; Purcell 2002):  Governance is being rescaled such that institutions at supra and subnational scales are taking on greater powers  Increased autonomy of local governance institutions, accompanied by a shift in policy orientation from demand- oriented redistribution to supply-oriented competition  Declining democracy and accountability of new governance institutions, leading to increasing disenfranchisement of urban inhabitants: link to questions of urban citizenship and the ‘right to the city’

6 Analysing politics and power in the city  Role of cities in relation to development and capitalism (politics of cooperation, contestation, consent: pluralist, elite, or critical)  Question of political voice in the city: participation, empowerment, enfranchisement of residents  Cities as setting and stakes of political struggle  Cultural politics in the city: the politics of difference, role of urban social movements

7 Political Pluralism in the City  Pluralist view: 1950s and 1960s United States  Robert Dahl: analysis of the urban politics of New Haven, Connecticut; thought his view of the urban polity applied more generally to politics in modern democracies  urban politics and powers seen in terms of dominant institutions (economic, religious, political, art)  Weberian influence: specifies the crucial differences among class, status and parties in the operations of each sphere of accumulation and investment of basic resources  power is dispersed widely among the public, with different groups more powerful in relation to different spheres and issues

8 Political economy of the city: the city as a growth machine  1970s: political economists and neo-Marxists challenged the pluralist view  argument: not all voices are equal in the city, and power is not dispersed but rather urban politics favours those who support the city’s growth  Cities, like other forms of property and social relations under capitalism, are subject to commodification  Growth is beneficial for developers and property- owners but also for political officials who seek to expand their territory and to compete with other cities for investment  Key figures: Logan, Molotch, and Harvey

9 Social Justice and the City (1973)  Highly influential book informing shift from Liberal to Marxist understandings of urban politics and space  Harvey began his career as a ‘Liberal’ geographer, but he was profoundly influenced by appointment in 1969 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, working in an elite private university in a poor, racially divided city, with urban race riots in 1968 (Harvey’s writings on Baltimore anticipate urban issues raised in The Wire many years later…)  Social Justice and the City attempts to explain and address urban problems in two halves: ‘Liberal formulations’ and ‘Socialist formulations’, more convinced by the latter as a way of explaining and criticizing urban politics and dynamics

10 Harvey’s Marxist analysis of the city  Harvey expanded Marx’s analysis of capitalism, capitalist crisis, and capitalist contradictions to explicitly consider space, cities and geography, the production of cities and spaces, largely neglected in Marx’s writings (Limits to Capital 1982)  According to Harvey (various writings), cities are integral to both: 1. the creative destruction endemic to capitalism,& 2. the exercise of class power and resistance

11 Harvey: key concepts  Spatial fix (and spatial-temporal fix)  Time-space compression  Accumulation by dispossession  Production of space (along with Lefebvre)  Uneven geography of capitalism (along with Doreen Massey, Neil Smith)

12 Urban Social Movements: Castells  1970s and 1980s writings: applied new social movement theory to specific features of urban politics  Focus: politics that involved struggles going beyond the sphere of work and production  Often concerned with politics and equality and distributive justice, but also on issues of collective consumption in the city  Struggles over the spaces and politics of everyday life, the equity of different people’s ‘rights to the city’  Urban social movements share features with new social movements: emphasis on autonomy, self-management, direct action, participation  Politicize urban space: contestation between private and public property, development and environmental quality, interests of motorists against cyclists and pedestrians, tactics of occupation, protest, sabotage and play

13 Urban space and meaning  Late 1980s: Castells shifted attention from the politics of place to the politics of placelessness, of networks and flows, the emptying out of meaning from place through globalization and the ‘space of flows’ in the information society Wider arguments about the declining importance of place, and increasing importance of flows, networks, mobility, and information (Castells, Urry and Lash) Counter-arguments about the enduring importance of place, of belonging, and the intersection of the local and the global (Savage, Massey) Points to the idea that the politics of urban space is both material and symbolic, or representational: links to debates about the ‘right to the city’ as symbolic/abstract as well as material

14 The changing city1/2  Different theories about the politics of the city apply more or less to different historical ‘phases’, international regions, and types of cities (Orum 2001) Urbanisation, industrialisation: expansion of (western industrial) cities from the mid-19 th century, underpinned by ‘modern’ ideas of progress, development, growth and expansion 20 th century (particularly post-war) middle-class flight to suburbs, edge cities, hollowing out of downtowns (US), gentrification  Late 1960s urban crises (LA, NYC, Mexico City, Paris, et al.), social movements, Henri Lefevbre’s ‘right to the city’, failed 1968 uprising in Paris

15 The changing city2/2  1973 oil crisis, stagflation (post-Fordist and neo-liberal shift discussed in week 2): the neoliberal city, rescaling of governance, decline of democracy, intensified gentrification inequalities 1970s-1980s deindustrialisation and economic restructuring (Western industrialized countries): decline in the manufacturing sector (related to shift towards shift sector); impacts: derelict old industrial sites, job losses 1970s- present regeneration, ‘creative cities’, and entrepreneurial cities: attempts to reverse the effects of industrial decline, often accompanied with gentrification, egs. SoHo in NYC, Islington in London 1990s-present globalisation: rise of ‘global cities’ (Sassen 2000) as hubs in global capitalism (New York, Tokyo, London) and ‘mega-cities’ with populations of more than 10 million (Shanghai, Mexico City, Mumbai), increased global mobility and migration

16 The Right To the City

17 The Right to the City is…  ‘an empty signifier. Everything depends on who gets to fill it with meaning.’ (Harvey, Rebel Cities, p. xv)  ‘like a cry and a demand’, ‘a working slogan and a political ideal’, and has to be formulated as ‘a transformed and renewed right to urban life’… the right to difference in the city (Henri Lefebvre, The Right to the City, p. 158)  One of the main ideas motivating the 1968 Paris student movements and the New Social Movements

18 Lefebvre’s Right to the City  Criticized suburban and New town growth as ‘deurbanized’ urbanism; argued that a city needs a centre. (p. 84)  Criticism of urban renewal, gentrification, and argued that the same anti-urban planning approach also applied to suburban growth in North American because the new suburban dwellers remained urban, even though they were ‘unaware of it and believe themselves to be close to nature.’ (cited on p. 85).  Lefebvre’s idea was not a return to the old historic city but a ‘new praxis’: the ‘right to the city’…

19 The right to the city… “…should modify, concretize and make more practical the rights of the citizen as an urban dweller and user of multiple services. It would affirm, on the one hand, the right of users to make know their activities in the urban area; it would also cover the right to the use of the center; a privileged place, instead of being dispersed and stuck into ghettos (for workers, immigrants, the ‘marginal’ and even for the ‘privileged’.” (Lefebvre, 1991, The Production of Space, p. 34)

20 1968 ‘Right to the City’: politics in practice  May 1968: manifesto of the ‘right to the city’ employed in Paris student protests, to put Lefebvre’s ideas into practice.  Lefebvre supported the student protests but only in principle; he didn’t feel that the moment was ripe and didn’t participate on the barricades; criticized for not practicing what he preached.  May 1968 strikes linked more to Guy Debord’s (of the Situationists) Society of the Spectacle (1967)  idea that spectacular society as hyper-reified world of separation  ‘The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities’ (Thesis 49)

21 May 1968 protests in France: slogans

22 May 1968, Society of the Spectacle  “Society of the spectacle” was written on the walls of Paris and other French cities and towns in Problems that informed the student protests:  sterile, sexually and socially repressive educational environment  overcrowded classes  tough rules in student dorms, lack of freedom of movement  distant professors  widespread student alienation  university resources stretched  high youth unemployment  perception of the ‘university factory’: business and institutional rules, treated students as labour power in the making

23 Right to the City: between activism and academic scholarship  The ‘right to the city’ has become very influential for both activists and academics as a way of highlighting concerns about how neoliberalism erodes citizens’ rights to enfranchisement and appropriation  Yet it is abstract, a slogan with multiple contested meaning, and remains under-theorized (Purcell 2002, Marcuse 2009)

24 Concluding discussion: seminars questions  What does the ‘right to the city’ entail? How might it address (practically) the problems of disenfranchisement? What are the limits of this perspective? What is the contemporary relevance of this concept (as explored, for example, by Harvey in Rebel Cities?)  What are the challenges of attempting to combine concerns of activists and academics in questions of urban politics and social justice movements?  What should government, particularly local government, do when different groups want to use urban space in different ways?  How is it that cities, or parts of cities, come to be understood as a ‘problem’?  What difference does a subject position (re: gender, sexuality, class, or race/ethnicity) make for urban politics of social participation, representation, identity, and difference?


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