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Political theory for cities



In 1900, only 16% of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2030, this will have reached 60% and by 2050 it will be 75%. There is a tradition of thinking about the challenges and goods of living in a modern city: Jane Jacobs, Louis Wirth and Lewis Mumford are urban-theorists whose name will be familiar to many (Jacobs 1963, Wirth 1938, Mumford 1938). Practitioners like Ebenezer Howard, Robert Moses and Baron von Haussman are also figures who resonate, respectively, with residents of England’s Garden Cities, New York and Paris (Berman 1988, 290 – 311, Harvey 1985, 63 – 220). Political theory, however, has yet to apprehend, in any sustained way, either the meaning or challenges of this demographic shift for our social, political, economic, and cultural lives. 

Given cities differ from each other in profound ways, it is unhelpful to speak of the city. In abstraction cities conceived in general ways have advantages over smaller units. However, once we turn to actual cities, these advantages come up against the considerable challenges posed by the increasing numbers of people living in cities, especially those living in the margins of urban life (Davis 2006). By developing normative tools to handle differences across diverse kinds of urban formations, political theory can help clarify both the advantages and the shortcomings of real urban life.

Possible topics/questions could include, but are not limited to:

  • Urbanization’s relation to key political concepts: What different understandings can we gain of toleration, democracy and community when we view them in terms of specifically urban politics?
  • The challenges of developing social movements, practices of resistance and direct political action in the teeth of urban strategies of containment.
  • How do we develop an interdisciplinary approach to political questions, connecting theory to urban policy concerns?

Relevant topics might include:

  • The balance between public-private housing provision in city-centres.
  • The growing proliferation of secessionary gated communities.
  • Environmental strategies in light of suburban sprawl.
  • The politics of privately-managed shared space, and its effects on the functions of space and its effects on vulnerable groups of people e.g. the homeless.
  • The economic, political and social effects of gentrification.
  • Connections between global cities and global justice.
  • Developments in the Majoritarian world, e.g. ‘subaltern urbanism’ (Roy 2011).

We welcome 500 word abstracts for presentations of 30 minutes on above/related themes. Please send abstracts to We welcome papers from individuals at all stages of their career and in all traditions.