The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 172

From false dawns to new beginnings: A tale of urban revolutions past, present and future

#172. From false dawns to new beginnings: A tale of urban revolutions past, present and future

4 December 2014

Author: Tim Wickson

Publication Date: December 2014

ISSN: 1474-3280

First drafted in 2012, this DPU working paper concerns the past, present and future potential of urban revolutions. Writing from the privileged position of a “prophet who looks back” (Galeano, 1973/2009, p.8) this paper first assesses the contemporary urban condition through the eyes of the 1960s idealists; establishing the 1968 revolutions, and Sartre's death knell of colonial dependency structures as a false dawn in the quest for the socially just city. Thereafter the paper concerns itself with unpacking neo-liberal ideology as a pervasive counter revolution committed to fragmenting opposing voices, yet systemically incapable of wrecking total distraction on the potential to revolt; before turning to the future potential of urban based revolution movements.

Riding on the bandwagon of global Occupy movements and early Arab Spring optimism, this paper puts forward a case for reconnecting the disciplines of history and development in order to further the cause of progressive urban change. The work champions an awareness of past betrayals, together with a commitment to “agonist in pluralism” (Mouffe, 2000) as a route forward for those interested in connecting the ninety-nine per cent. Frequently drawing on sources from popular culture, and ending with a word from Gotham City, the paper ranges broadly across space and time, offering snippets of case material from historic and contemporary cities in both the global North and South.


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