Resourceful cities
Berlin (Germany), 29-31 August 2013
Humboldt-University Berlin, Institute for Social Science, Dept. for Urban and Regional Sociology

Contentious mobilization, conflict and agonistic pluralism in urban development: transformative potentials and trajectories

The session addresses the issue of contestation and conflict in urban and metropolitan development in a twofold perspective: as a key to regaining the meaning of ‘the political’ in urban policy contexts, and as a potential resource for transformation and innovation of public policy.

Understanding antagonism and conflict as constitutive elements of social relations and as sources of its strength and ability to innovate has a long tradition in policy analysis and urban. The issue gains a new meaning, however, in relation to ‘post-democratic’ and ‘post-political’ practices that tend to fence-off pluralistic forms of political contestation from the domain of urban politics and urban development. In this sense, the issue requires to critically re-assess the relationships between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’ in urban contexts (e.g. Mouffe 2000; Rancière 2004, 2007).
A fundamental tension characterizes urban politics in this respect. On the one hand, its practices, discourses and institutions define a repertory of instruments and techniques, of dispositifs for defusing, domesticating and disciplining potentials for agonism. On the other hand, antagonism may develop and emerge at the margins of its practices, discourses and institutions, through the constitution of subject positions and collective forms of identification framed by and through its contestation. Urban politics hence co-defines the conditions for (ant-)agonism and the political opportunity structures for contentious actions and collective mobilization to emerge. Urban politics, far from possibly encompassing societal pluralism as far as to suppress the ‘the political’ and its antagonistic potential, stands in a mutual relationship with the latter, which requires to be analyzed in relational and co-evolutive terms.

The session attempts at critically combining these perspectives. Building on research on the dynamics of contentious politics and social mobilization (e.g. Melucci 1988; Tarrow 1998; McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001; Tilly and Tarrow 2006), it proposes to explore insurgent contention and conflict in concrete urban policy situations along the following dimensions:

  • the relationship between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’ as it is articulates at the micro-level of social interactions and political performativity;
  • the different forms and trajectories this relationship takes according to the reflexivity of actors and groups involved and their strategies of mobilization and influence; 
  • the outcomes of this relationship, intended as emergent, relational and co-evolutive constructs, possibly with material and normative consequences.

We look forward to analyses of differentials trajectories of contention and, in particular, of their potential for shifting outcomes from polarized antagonism into agonistic pluralism, with consistent effects on redistribution of resources and powers and possibly of policy innovation.

The session encourages contributions inquiring into contention and conflict in urban development, highlighting aspects such as:
- the nature and mode of emergence of antagonistic movements in relationship to specific urban development policies and to the ‘policy regimes’ in which they are embedded;
- the trajectories taken by cycles of contention around urban developments in terms of their co-evolutive patterns in relationships to responses from the policy environment;
- the dynamics, mechanisms and conditions by which modes of contestation and conflict may develop from forms of antagonistic polarization into forms of local policy transformation and innovation.

Session Organizer

Prof. Dr. Enrico Gualini, ISR – Department of Urban and Regional Planning TU Berlin – Berlin University of Technology, Hardenbergstr. 40a, 10623 Berlin, T: +49 (0) 30 314 28125, E: e.gualini@isr.tu-berlin.de

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