The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought

The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought

The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought

The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought

Synopsis

"The Promise of the City proposes a new theoretical framework for the study of cities and urban life. Finding the contemporary urban scene too complex to be captured by radical or conventional approaches, Kian Tajbakhsh offers a threefold, interdisciplinary approach linking agency, space, and structure. First, he says, urban identities cannot be understood through individualistic, communitarian, or class perspectives but rather through the shifting spectrum of cultural, political, and economic influences. Second, the layered, unfinished city spaces we inhabit and within which we create meaning are best represented not by the image of bounded physical spaces but rather by overlapping and shifting boundaries. And third, the macro forces shaping urban society include bureaucratic and governmental interventions not captured by a purely economic paradigm.

Tajbakhsh examines these dimensions in the work of three major critical urban theorists of recent decades: Manuel Castells, David Harvey, and Ira Katznelson. He shows why the answers offered by Marxian urban theory to the questions of identity, space, and structure are unsatisfactory and why the perspectives of other intellectual traditions such as poststructuralism, feminism, Habermasian Critical Theory, and pragmatism can help us better understand the challenges facing contemporary cities.

Excerpt

When I arrived in New York over fifteen years ago, I pursued two interests, one intellectual and one professional. A few words about the tensions between these two concerns will help to clarify the context of the book.

The first area of concern was stimulated by a renewed interest in the socialist ideas broadly understood and loosely built around the Marxian tradition, itself a broader development of specifically Marxist thought. This reexamination seemed particularly pressing at a time of increased social problems and inequality resulting from the conservative policies of the 1980s. Many progressive intellectuals and activists in the city turned to Marx and other critical perspectives in response to these conditions. Ultimately, many came to rethink, revise, reassert, or even reject Marxist solutions for social and political problems.

During this time, I was also involved professionally with communitybased organizations engaged in community planning and tenant organizing for affordable housing and other neighborhood-related issues. The mid-1980s were a particularly vibrant period for neighborhood and tenant organizing and grassroots initiatives for housing justice. The 1980s, especially in New York and other major cities, were the years when terms like “gentrification, ” “yuppies, ” “Donald Trump, ” “homelessness, ” and “skyrocketing rents” became for many familiar terms of discourse. By the mid-1980s, community-based organizations, most of which had . . .

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