UCL Urban Laboratory


Annual Lecture 2012: Professor Margit Mayer

02 October 2012, 6:30 pm–8:00 pm

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Archaeology Lecture Theatre, UCL

Beyond austerity urbanism and creative city politics 

Annual UCL Urban Laboratory and CITY journal lecture, supported by the Bartlett School of Planning.

The talk looks at contemporary urban activism as it mobilizes around policies and conflicts characteristic of the comparatively privileged Western cities of the global North. It thus moves beyond 'Cities for People, not for Profit' by zeroing in on the specificities of urbanization processes and the reorganization of socio-spatial infrastructures, as well as their contestations, in one particular region of the ongoing, global and uneven development of capitalist accumulation.

By applying the framework of critical urban theory to the analysis of ongoing struggles in this region, it first identifies the particularities of neoliberal urbanism and its implications for (divisions and/or solidarities between) urban social movements (1), and secondly looks at the impact which the so-called Occupy movements that have rippled across cities in North America as well as Western Europe have had on urban protest (2).

1. As opposed to the previous Keynesian form of urbanism, when the Fordist city provided openings for struggles around improved collective infrastructures, neoliberal urbanism (thanks to intensified accumulation by dispossession) enhances socio-spatial polarization coupled with austerity politics, dismantling of social infrastructures, and stricter policing, while it also incorporates and harnesses many elements of urban alternative movements that feed cultural creativity and entrepreneurial activation. These dynamics create distances and sometimes collisions between more culturally oriented and more politically oriented activist groups, but also enforce affinities and solidarities between anti-privatization and anti-eviction struggles in the global South with those of (ethnically or migrant-based) organizing in the global North. 

2. The effect of and responses to the 2008 financial meltdown have aggravated social marginalization and polarization processes, exacerbated the housing crisis in many regions of the world, and enforced systemic austerity politics. This catalyzed the15M movement in Spain, which inspired similar "real democracy" movements of Indignados across Europe, as well as the Occupy movement in North America. Their powerful resistance energy has, after the eviction of occupied squares and plazas, in many cities turned to urban neighborhoods and community struggles and infused these heterogeneous contestations with a radical critique of financial and political power and with direct-democratic and prefigurative organizing styles. In this process, distances and divisions between a (racialized) "global proletariat" and progressive or radical middle-class based activists may come to the surface and begin to be respected and bridged.

Mayer, M.,  Social Movements in the (Post-)Neoliberal City. Civic City Cahier 1. London: Bedford Press 2010.

Mayer, M., Jenny Künkel, eds., Neoliberal Urbanism and Its Contestations - Crossing Theoretical Boundaries. London: Palgrave Publishers, 2012.

Brenner, N., Marcuse, P., Mayer, M., eds., Cities for People, Not for Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City. London: Routledge 2012.

Public lecture - all welcome. No RSVP necessary - first-come, first-served.