a non-occidentalist west: learning from theories outside the canon
Towards a Critique of Lefebvre’s Production of Space: The Limits of Eurocentrism and Idealism
Lefebvre’s The Production of Space remains a highly influential and important text. So much so, that certain parts of its argument and implications are left unchallenged and underexplored. In this paper, I seek to deploy a critique of Lefebvre’s work on the production of space by focusing on his urban writings (1969; 1996; 2003; 2011). I aim to do so on two main fronts—historical and political. First, in historical terms with reference to Lefebvre’s Eurocentric understanding of history (Kipfer and Goonewardena, 2013; Dorsch, 2018); and second, with regard to political concepts such as ‘the right to the city’ and ‘lived space’.
My first position of critique is rooted in the work of Samir Amin (2009). As much as Lefebvre’s work has inspired notions such as ‘planetary urbanisation’ (Brenner, 2014; Goonewardena, 2018) and ‘planetary gentrification’ (Lees et al., 2016), his historical account in The Production of Space remains rooted in a Eurocentric imagination of Ancient Greece. Moreover, key to Lefebvre’s work on the urban is the primacy he ascribes to the events of 1968 and their aftermath. By drawing on Amin’s work and the general framework of world-systems analysis (see Wallerstein, 2011; Rodney, 2012), I provide a critique that highlights Lefebvre’s idealist conceptualisation of Europe and its history in relation to the history of capitalism, imperialism and the core-periphery relation.
My second point of critique is to do with Lefebvre’s political theorisations. Namely, I intend to focus on ‘the right to the city’ and ‘lived space’/ ‘representative space’ regarding which I argue that Lefebvre’s work relies on a formulation of meaningful political action that glorifies spontaneity and the idea of progress. While ‘the right to the city’ is broadly defined as ‘the right to be included in the centrality and movement of the city’, its actual political content remains vague and more often than not limited to an post hoc application of the term to social movements. This post hoc aspect, however, is a clear indication of the limits of the concept with regard to the actualities of struggle (see Ruddick et al., 2018). Moreover, this ‘right’ is unclear and limited in its application—with little to say about right to housing, labour struggle, or race, gender or disability inequalities. I intend to argue this is precisely because of Lefebvre’s understanding of the state, modernity and his lack of engagement with the material reality of struggle. By following Lefebvre faithfully, one is stuck with an understanding of social movements that is premised on an abstract schema.
In both aspects of my critique, I aim to draw on Marxist literature in the world-systems school of thought as well as examples of actual social movements and struggle. Ultimately, I seek to contribute to a more Marxist understanding of urban space that is truly global and critical of tendencies towards Eurocentrism and idealism.
Amin, Samir. (2009) Eurocentrism: modernity, religion, and democracy: a critique of Eurocentrism and culturalism. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.
Brenner, Neil. (2014) Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin: Jovis.
Dorsch, Sebastian. (2018). Rereading Henri Lefebvre’s La production de l’espace: Appropriation, Nature, and Time-Space in São Paulo Spatial History at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century. In Perspectives on Henri Lefebvre: Theory, Practices and (Re)Readings, Bauer, J. and Fischer, R. (eds). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. doi: 10.1515/9783110494983.
Goonewardena, Kanishka et al. (2008) Space, difference, everyday life: reading Henri Lefebvre. New York: Routledge.
Goonewardena, Kanishka (2018) ‘Planetary Urbanization and Totality’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36(3), pp. 456–473. doi: 10.1177/0263775818761890.
Kipfer, Stefan and Goonewardena, Kanishka. (2013) ‘Urban Marxism and the Post-colonial Question: Henri Lefebvre and “Colonisation”’, Historical Materialism, 21(2), pp. 76–116. doi: 10.1163/1569206X-12341297.
Lees, Loretta, Shin, Hyun Bang and López Morales, Ernesto. (2016) Planetary Gentrification (Urban Futures). Cambridge, UK: Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Lefebvre, Henri. (1969) The Explosion: Marxism and the French Revolution. Transl. by Alfred Ehrenfeld. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.
––––––––––. (1996) Writings on Cities. Transl. by Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas Cambridge, Mass, USA: Blackwell Publishers.
––––––––––. (2003) The Urban Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
––––––––––. (2011) The Production of Space. Transl. by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
Rodney, Walter. (2012) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press.
Ruddick, Sue et al. (2018) ‘Planetary urbanization: An urban theory for our time?’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36(3), pp. 387–404. doi: 10.1177/0263775817721489.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. (2011) Centrist liberalism triumphant, 1789-1914 (The Modern World-System, Vol. 4). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Postcolonizing Planetary Urbanization: Aníbal Quijano and an Alternative Genealogy of the Urban
Within the field of critical urban studies, building on Henry Lefebvre’s concept of “planetary urbanization” (2004 ), has been successful in highlighting how global capitalism deploys its forces by means of a powerful set of socio-spatial relations that spreads aggressively over the totality of the terrestrial surface (Brenner 2014; Brenner and Schmid 2015). However, as many critiques have convincingly shown, this all-encompassing approach prevents an understanding of local specificities, differences, and conflicts that mark the articulation of urban geographies globally, usually neglecting the Global South as a place where theory can be produced and practiced (Robinson 2006, Roy 2009; Ruddick et al 2018). This presentation explores the question of planetary urbanization by using a Latin American viewpoint, genealogically.
The paper offers a historical understanding of how planetary urbanization was understood in the “global periphery” of Latin America. It shows how Latin America somehow anticipated discussions that would be progressively prominent in the Western “centers” of knowledge production over the following years. More specifically, the discussion explores Aníbal Quijano’s work between 1966 and 1971 (mostly not translated into English), when the Peruvian sociologist he was appointed in CEPAL (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) and worked on a specific program on Urbanization and Marginalization. It will be shown how Quijano’s work, framed within Dependency Theory approach but with elements of significant originality, shares similarities and coincidences with some of the critical insights that Lefebvre would elaborate only a few years later.
The discussion thus proposes a reconstruction of the early history of the processes of planetary urbanization and its earliest enigmatic questions from the Latin American standpoint. What is at stake in this paper is a comparison between Quijano and Lefebvre, nor a claim saying that they expressed the same ideas. Instead, this reflection seeks to shed light on the spatialization of the urban question. By reconsidering urban theory through this spatial genealogy, the presentation aims to engage with a dialogue that is able to provide a “postcolonial lens” to planetary urbanization critique; namely, an invitation to decenter the geographies of urban studies.
Greta Scolari & Lorenzo De Vidovich
Manifold theories for a lexicon. How to navigate post-suburbia?
The paper intends to reflect to (post)suburbanization, seen as the complex combination of non‐centric population and economic growth with urban spatial expansion (Ekers et al., 2012). Studies in suburbs have increasingly proliferated over the past years (De Vidovich, 2019), even to overcome monocentric viewpoints of the “urban age”, towards the definition of a new epistemology of the urban (Brenner & Schmid, 2015).
Many theories have addressed the complex urban transformations providing novel insights and perspectives, such as post-metropolis (Soja, 2000, 2011), planetary urbanization (Brenner, 2014), extended urbanization (Monte-Mór, 2005; Castriota & Tonucci, 2018), and the recent focus on global suburbanisms (suburban ways of living) (Keil, 2013, 2017), which unfolds how life on the global urban peripheries is changing rapidly in a set of post-suburban constellations that provide novel insight into the urban condition (Keil, 2018).
Against this background, the concept of “post-suburbia” assumed a significance to navigate amongst the plethora of theories, conceptual nodes and issues of politics about suburbs, by providing a geographical and conceptual framework for political action (Keil & Young, 2011). Although post-suburbia has been deeply investigated in Europe referring to multiple place-making processes (Phelps et al., 2006), it is safe to say that its comprehensive understanding is incomplete in the European debate. We draw from an analytical observation of Italy to acknowledge the complexity of developing a post-suburban understanding (De Vidovich, 2021, forthcoming) able to grasp the contemporary suburbanization processes of a specific country by also providing reflections for worlding practices (Roy, 2011) about how post-suburbanization processes proceed. In this respect, we argue that post-suburbia enables to revisit the use of some consolidated concepts, such as “periphery”. However, to pursue this theoretical attempt we necessitate an adequate lexicon that integrates the aforementioned theories with other insightful recent contributions on the current social, spatial and environmental changes. In particular, we identify three further perspectives: the “assemblage theory” (McFarlane, 2011) to rethink the city in its political and normative identity, the “spatialized political ecology” (Tzaninis et al., 2020), which reframe the urbanization of the nature, and the “socioecological fix” (Ekers & Prudham, 2015), related to “fixed capitals” that shape socio-ecological processes of landscape transformations. Ultimately, we stress the relationship between infectious diseases and extended urbanization (Connolly et al., 2020) to disclose that COVID-19 is unevenly hitting many post-suburban areas across urban regions (Biglieri et al., 2020; Connolly et al., 2020). The paper attempts to set out and systemize this large body of theories that strengthen post-suburbia as an omni-comprehensive conceptual tool to observe suburbs and metropolitan peripheries, and the governance behind them. Albeit insightful in its past and recent development, post-suburbia is far from being a mainstream concept. In this regard, we place our reflection as a riposte to the question on the ways in which we may go beyond the use of mainstream concepts as a part of “variegated forms” in different geographies.
Biglieri, S., De Vidovich, L., & Keil, R. (2020). City as the core of contagion? Repositioning COVID-19 at the social and spatial periphery of urban society. Cities & Health, 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1080/23748834.2020.1788320
Brenner, N. (2014). Implosions/explosions: Towards a study of planetary urbanization. Jovis.
Brenner, N., & Schmid, C. (2015). Towards a new epistemology of the urban? City, 19(2–3), 151–182. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2015.1014712
Castriota, R., & Tonucci, J. (2018). Extended urbanization in and from Brazil. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36(3), 512–528.
Connolly, C., Ali, S. H., & Keil, R. (2020). On the relationships between COVID-19 and extended urbanization. Dialogues in Human Geography, 10(2), 213–216. https://doi.org/10.1177/2043820620934209
Connolly, C., Keil, R., & Ali, S. H. (2020). Extended urbanisation and the spatialities of infectious disease: Demographic change, infrastructure and governance. Urban Studies, 004209802091087. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098020910873
De Vidovich, L. (2019). Suburban studies: State of the field and unsolved knots. Geography Compass, 13(5), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12440
De Vidovich, L. (2021). Which Agenda for the Italian Suburbs? Debating a Marginal Condition in Few Steps. In C. Bevilacqua, F. Calabrò, & L. Della Spina (Eds.), New Metropolitan Perspectives (Vol. 178, pp. 135–146). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48279-4_13
De Vidovich, L. (forthcoming). The outline of a post-suburban debate in Italy. Archivio di Studi Urbani e Regionali
Ekers, M., Hamel, P., & Keil, R. (2012). Governing Suburbia: Modalities and Mechanisms of Suburban Governance. Regional Studies, 46(3), 405–422. https://doi.org/10.1080/00343404.2012.658036
Ekers, M., & Prudham, S. (2015). Towards the socio-ecological fix. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 47(12), 2438–2445. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518X15617573
Keil, R. (Ed.). (2013). Suburban constellations: Governance, land and infrastructure in the 21st century. Jovis Verlag.
Keil, R. (2017). Extended urbanization, “disjunct fragments” and global suburbanisms. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36(3), 494–511. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775817749594
Keil, R. (2018). After Suburbia: Research and action in the suburban century. Urban Geography, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2018.1548828
Keil, R., & Young, D. (2011). Post-suburbia and city-region politics. In N. A. Phelps & F. Wu (Eds.), International Perspectives on Suburbanization (pp. 54–77). Springer.
McFarlane, C. (2011). Assemblage and critical urbanism. City, 15(2), 204–224. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.568715
Monte-Mór, R. L. (2005). What is the urban in the contemporary world? Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 21, 942–948.
Phelps, N. A., Parsons, N., Ballas, D., & Dowling, A. (Eds.). (2006). Post-Suburban Europe. Planning and Politics at the Margins of Europe’s Capital Cities. Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Roy, A. (2011). Urbanisms, worlding practices and the theory of planning. Planning Theory, 10(1), 6–15.
Soja, E. W. (2000). Postmetropolis: Critical studies of cities and regions. Blackwell Pub.
Soja, E. W. (2011). Beyond Postmetropolis. Urban Geography, 32(4), 451–469. https://doi.org/10.2747/0272-36184.108.40.2061
Tzaninis, Y., Mandler, T., Kaika, M., & Keil, R. (2020). Moving urban political ecology beyond the ‘urbanization of nature’. Progress in Human Geography. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132520903350