Exploring the contours of the right to the city: Abstraction, appropriation and utopia

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Butler, Chris
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Leary-Owhin, Michael E

McCarthy, John P

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2020
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Abstract

One of the most influential elements of Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space is his explanation of the abstract space of contemporary capitalism, which is marked by its tendencies towards homogeneity, fragmentation and hierarchical ordering. Lefebvre argues that abstract space can never totally suppress or resolve the contradictions which open up the prospect for new forms of spatialisation that challenge these tendencies. In particular, Lefebvre identifies the possibility of a ‘differential space’, oriented towards appropriation rather than domination, and the ‘right to the city’ as the central political means for the production of this spatial mode. One of the problems with the reception of the right to the city by many scholars and policymakers is the way in which it has often been subsumed within a positivist and bureaucratically reformist agenda, which inevitably undermines its most radical implications. In this chapter, it is argued that an adequate conceptualisation of the right to the city requires a rethinking of the relationships between abstraction, appropriation and utopia. It is only through viewing the right to the city as a demand for the political and aesthetic appropriation of space, which rejects both the violent abstractions of juridification and the moralistic repudiation of abstraction as such, that it is possible for this concept to be harnessed in struggles which challenge the artificial boundaries between the possible and the impossible.

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The Routledge Handbook of Henri Lefebvre, The City and Urban Society

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Other law and legal studies

Human geography

Social and political philosophy

Social Sciences

Geography

Regional & Urban Planning

Urban Studies

Public Administration

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Butler, C, Exploring the contours of the right to the city: Abstraction, appropriation and utopia, The Routledge Handbook of Henri Lefebvre, The City and Urban Society, 2020, pp. 457-466

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