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The Politics of the Encounter

Urban Theory and Protest under Planetary Urbanization

Andy Merrifield

Publication Year: 2013

The Politics of the Encounter is a spirited interrogation of the city as a site of both theoretical inquiry and global social struggle. The city, writes Andy Merrifield, remains "important, virtually and materially, for progressive politics." And yet, he notes, more than forty years have passed since Henri Lefebvre advanced the powerful ideas that still undergird much of our thinking about urbanization and urban society. Merrifield rethinks the city in light of the vast changes to our planet since 1970, when Lefebvre's seminal Urban Revolution was first published. At the same time, he expands on Lefebvre's notion of "the right to the city," which was first conceived in the wake of the 1968 student uprising in Paris.

We need to think less of cities as "entities with borders and clear demarcations between what's inside and what's outside" and emphasize instead the effects of "planetary urbanization," a concept of Lefebvre's that Merrifield makes relevant for the ways we now experience the urban. The city—from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street—seems to be the critical zone in which a new social protest is unfolding, yet dissenters' aspirations are transcending the scale of the city physically and philosophically. Consequently, we must shift our perspective from "the right to the city" to "the politics of the encounter," says Merrifield. We must ask how revolutionary crowds form, where they draw their energies from, what kind of spaces they occur in—and what kind of new spaces they produce.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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PREFACE: The Personal and the Political: A Different Kind of Blue

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pp. ix-xxiv

The late Herbert Muschamp, onetime columnist at the New York Times, once suggested my and Henri Lefebvre’s work on the city sprang from a variation of what psychoanalyst Melanie Klein called “the depressive position.” Muschamp was one of America’s most infl uential (and controversial) architectural critics, a brilliant, exuberant urban commentator, a chip off Lefebvre’s own block. He and I became friends in 2002, around the time of the publication of my books...

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CHAPTER ONE: The Final Frontier: Planetary Urbanization

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pp. 1-16

Near the beginning of the “Perspective ou prospective?” chapter of Le droit à la ville, the Marxist urban studies godfather, Henri Lefebvre, alludes to the godfather of science fi ction, Isaac Asimov. The comment is barely a paragraph long and Lefebvre doesn’t elaborate. Yet even in its brevity Lefebvre’s remark is intriguing, and it has intrigued me for a while now. In this opening chapter,....

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CHAPTER TWO: Here Comes Everybody: Problematizing the Right to the City

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pp. 17-34

It’s in James Joyce’s dazzlingly inventive masterpiece, Finnegans Wake, published on the brink of World War II, where the acronym “HCE” first enters the scene, coined aft er the book’s antihero, a certain Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, barkeep and man of the world. Throughout Finnegans Wake, Joyce puns and plays with H. C. Earwicker, whose dreaming mind becomes the psychological...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Urban Consolidates: Centrality and Citizenship

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pp. 35-53

The city in history established itself from the cradle of absolute space, developed as an internal force that needed to expand and push outward in order to augment its power. The city in history has modifi ed and been modifi ed by successive modes of production, by advances in social and technical relations of production. Under capitalism, the city became the center of gravity; a whole...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Politics of the Encounter

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pp. 54-72

Some of the best and profoundest lines ever written about “the encounter” are Louis Althusser’s, done in the 1980s, during the fi nal, troubled decade of his life. At fi rst blush, these “later writings” seem to be a direct refutation of his earlier, famous (and infamous) structural Marxism of the 1960s, brilliantly voiced in texts like For Marx and Reading Capital; they seem to express Althusser’s own...

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CHAPTER FIVE: The Planetary Urbanization of Nonwork

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pp. 73-90

In 1968, in The Right to the City, Lefebvre said that the right to the city was a “cry and demand” for city life. Two years on, in The Urban Revolution, he said we should no longer think about cities but about “urban society.” Then two years on again, in La pensée marxiste et la ville, he’s back not only using the term “city” but also using it with a new twist, making the claim we’ve just...

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CHAPTER SIX: Revolutionary Rehearsals?

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pp. 91-113

The spark that triggers any irruptive, swerving encounter is like that first Jackson Pollock drip: suddenly the paint falls onto the giant canvas; things explode at ground level, on the floor, in the street; dense skeins of black and white swirls disrupt the field of vision; brown and silver nebulae dazzle; paint is layered on swiftly, like meteorites flashing across a white void. There’s neither beginning nor end here; entering is via some middle door, with no meaning other than...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Imaginary Pragmatics and the Enigma of Revolt

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pp. 114-134

To celebrate our becoming a minority, and to posit an almost-unimaginable parallel urban realm, only opens the door, likely a backdoor, to the faint possibility that there is an imaginary parallel urban realm out there, one yearning to be invented.1 In any flight through the wormhole to another political space-time dimension, into a minor space, physicists will tell you that enormous amounts of negative energy are required to force that hole open, to keep it open, and to ...


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pp. 135-154


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pp. 155-162

Further Reading

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pp. 163-164

E-ISBN-13: 9780820345819
E-ISBN-10: 0820345814
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820345291
Print-ISBN-10: 0820345296

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation