What do cities have to do with democracy?

Scan 130330022-6Following up on the earlier post about the IJURR symposium on the theme Where is Urban Politics? I thought I should plug my own paper in this collection. My piece is titled ‘What do cities have to do with democracy?’ (the answer is that ‘it depends’; you’ll have to read the paper to find out what exactly it depends on). I have been giving a version of this paper as my default seminar presentation for about 4 years now, so I’m not quite sure what I will talk about if and when I’m next invited anywhere, but I do hope that this extensive pre-release touring of the paper will boost sales.

This paper is actually the last in a cluster that I have written on themes such as political agency, urban problemsideas of contestation, and the idea of ‘all affected interests’. When I finished this one (a while ago now), I realised that I really needed to write a book linking these together, since an 8000 word (or so) article is not enough space to elaborate the full sweep of the argument that I have in my head which connects these all together. So that’s what I am doing now, this summer, writing a book about democratic theory, notions of injustice, and the geographical imagination needed to develop open-minded inquiry into these themes – it’s preliminary title is Locating Democracy, contracted with the University of Georgia Press, in their Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation series. I’m saying this out loud and in public as a way of imposing some external discipline on myself, to help me along in the task of actually writing the book.

Anyway, anyway, in the meantime, here is the abstract from the IJURR paper:

“The relationship between urbanization and democratization remains under-theorized and under-researched. Radical urban theory has undergone a veritable normative turn, registered in debates about the right to the city, spatial justice and the just city, while critical conceptualizations of neoliberalism present ‘democracy’ as the preferred remedy for injustice. However, these lines of thought remain reluctant to venture too far down the path of political philosophy. The relationship between urban politics and the dynamics of democratization remains under-theorized as a result. It is argued that this relationship can be usefully understood by drawing on lessons from avowedly normative styles of political theorizing, specifically post-Habermasian strands of critical theory. Taking this tradition seriously helps one to notice that discussions of urbanization, democracy, injustice and rights in geography, urban studies and related fields invoke an implicit but unthematized democratic norm, that of all-affected interests. In contemporary critical theory, this norm is conceptualized as a worldly register of political demands. It is argued that the conceptual disaggregation of component values of democracy undertaken through the ‘spatial turn’ in recent critical theory reorients the analysis of the democratic potentials of urban politics around the investigation of the multiple forms of agency which urbanized processes perform in generating, recognizing and acting upon issues of shared concern.”

Radical Democracy

My previously advertised co-authored paper with Gary Bridge, Geographies of Radical Democracy, is now published for ‘real’, in print, in the latest issue of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. We have been sent a whole load of off-prints of the article – a long time since I have received any of those, it’s quite quaint really. Let me know if you want one!

Here is the abstract, again:

“There is significant interest in democracy in contemporary human geography. Theoretically, this interest has been most strongly influenced by poststructuralist theories of radical democracy and associated ontologies of relational spatiality. These emphasize a priori understandings of the spaces of democratic politics, ones that focus on marginal spaces and the destabilization of established patterns. This article develops an alternative account of the spaces of democratic politics that seeks to move beyond the stylized contrast of poststructuralist agonism and liberal consensualism. This alternative draws into focus the spatial dimensions of philosophical pragmatism and the relevance of this tradition for thinking about the geographies of democracy. In particular, the geographical relevance of pragmatism lies in the distinctive inflection of the all-affected principle and of the rationalities of problem solving. Drawing on John Dewey’s work, a conceptualization of transactional space is developed to reconfigure understandings of the agonistics of participation as well as the experimental institutionalization of democratic will. The difference that a pragmatist approach makes to understandings of the geographies of democracy is explored in relation to transnational and urban politics.”

Geographies of radical democracy

For anyone interested in this sort of thing, I have a new paper, co-written with Gary Bridge, just published on-line in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, which addresses how best to theorise about the relationship between democracy and geography. It develops the idea of agonistic pragmatism, and the notion of transactional space, and explores how the idea of ‘all affected interests’ may, or may not, provide the grounds for rethinking this relationship. It’s an attempt to expand a little the range of reference points, in geography and related fields, for discussions of ‘radical democracy’. You can access a pre-publication draft of the paper here, and the abstract is below:

“There is significant interest in democracy in contemporary human geography. Theoretically, this interest has been most strongly influenced by poststructuralist theories of radical democracy and associated ontologies of relational spatiality. These emphasize a priori understandings of the spaces of democratic politics, ones that focus on marginal spaces and the destabilization of established patterns. This article develops an alternative account of the spaces of democratic politics that seeks to move beyond the stylized contrast of poststructuralist agonism and liberal consensualism. This alternative draws into focus the spatial dimensions of philosophical pragmatism and the relevance of this tradition for thinking about the geographies of democracy. In particular, the geographical relevance of pragmatism lies in the distinctive inflection of the all-affected principle and of the rationalities of problem solving. Drawing on John Dewey’s work, a conceptualization of transactional space is developed to reconfigure understandings of the agonistics of participation as well as the experimental institutionalization of democratic will. The difference that a pragmatist approach makes to understandings of the geographies of democracy is explored in relation to transnational and urban politics.”

Agonistic pragmatism

News from the Political Theory blog  of a new book on democracy and pragmatism by Jack Knight and James Johnson, The Priority of Democracy.  It puts an emphasis on pragmatism as a tradition that focusses on issues of institutional design and experimentalism, but above all, places this focus within an understanding of politics as ineluctably about conflict and disagreement.

I’m drawn to the argument of the book because it sort of confirms the line of argument that I have tried to articulate in a paper co-written with Gary Bridge at Bristol, on agonistic pragmatism and the geographies of radical democracy. It’s taken us about four years to write, and it’s just now been accepted by the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, which is nice. Our piece develops the same themes of experimentalism and institutional design in order to displace a stylized contrast between post-structuralist agonism and consensual deliberation that shapes debates about democratic theory in spatial disciplines like geography and urban planning – and we try to spell out a distinctive approach to spatial questions that follows from this agonistic understanding of pragmatism, via a reconstruction of the principle of ‘all affected interests’ and the concept of transactional space. I’m not sure when our paper will actually be out in public, sometime in the next year hopefully, but in the meantime, the Knight and Johnson book makes me think we might not be barking up entirely the wrong tree.

Injustice in democratic theory

I have a new paper in Geoforum, just published online, titled Situating injustice in the geographies of democracy. It will be included in a special issue on space, contestation and the political, coming out of a workshop held in Zurich back in 2009, organised and now edited by Dave Featherstone, Benedikt Korf, Joris Van Wezemael. I’m not sure exactly when the whole issue will go live. My paper argues that contestation is rather more important to critical theories of deliberative democracy, broadly defined, than is usually acknowledged, and that it is understood in this work in ways that promise a more modest approach to thinking about the geographies of democratic politics than one finds in approaches that adopt a priori conceptions of what counts as ‘political’. It is one of a series of things I have been writing for the last couple of years on the topic of ‘all affected interests’, exploring how this idea from political science and political theory might be re-interpreted as the basis for thinking about geography and democracy; it’s the first of these pieces to actually get out into the world.

Assembling all affected interests: making midwifery visible

Here is a new campaign, Save Midwifery, using Facebook and Twitter to gather together and articulate disparate experiences of midwifery care, as part of broader mobilisations around maternity services, and beyond that around the future of public services. An interesting example of using these forms of media to give voice to highly dispersed, personal experiences and to mobilise them as part of a coherent politics of representation.