Call for action: engagée #6/7 “Radical Cities”

From our friends at engagée:

Cities are a place of repression, poverty and exploitation. Within the neoliberal order, cities labelled as smart are often laboratories of policing and control, racial profiling and state violence. And yet, cities are also a prefigurative space for political struggles and emancipatory practices. From the anarchist tradition to the social movements of the 20th century, the urban may be seen as a field for interventions because of its interconnected nature and the possibilities of building autonomous networks. It is therefore not a surprise that today citizens, activists and politicians are reformulating an interest in urban and local governing. Throughout Europe and beyond, we observe new forms of government at the municipal and city level, which are experimenting with democratic practices. These initiatives tackle corporate power and increase access to common goods like water, energy, housing and healthcare, as well as oppose privatisations, cuts in public services and the closure of borders.

By combining the ideas of Radical Democracy and Rebel Cities, the issue #6/7 of engagée aims to introduce and elaborate the concept of “Radical Cities”. Bearing in mind this twofold angle, the next edition will be a double issue to be published in May 2018. Thinking about the future of both urbanism and democracy, we ask:

What is rebel about Radical Democracy? What is radical about Rebel Cities? Can we envision a Rebel Democracy for Radical Cities?

Different political initiatives by neo-municipalist movements and civic platforms use the term radical democracy to frame their activities or as a title for a workshop. But what does it mean to be radical today? What are the different notions of radicalisation? What is radical philosophy and what can be understood of the tradition of democratic radicalism?

The program of the radical theory of democracy can be briefly summarized as follows: alternatives are possible and are necessary. This does not, however, tell us much about the practical effect of this theoretical tradition. Although the call for a new democratic horizon is ubiquitous, what is offered by certain existing radical theories of democracy seems rather timid. It is unclear if these radical theories of democracy are anchored in people’s everyday practices and experiences, which we contend is necessary in order to provide adequate answers to the limits of the capitalist and neoliberal order, austerity politics, the upsurge of nationalist government and right-wing movements. How can a radical theory of democracy acquire political relevance under the present social conditions?

If we do not want to derive radical democratic ideas merely from abstract thinking, we should evaluate them through the experiences of marginalised groups. If we agree that the radical theory of democracy cannot be left to a philosophical reflection, but must become practical – and spatial – in an experimental sense, how can we examine radical democracy as a critical and urban experimental activity? To what extent can the neo-municipalist movements and civic platforms such as Ahora Madrid, Barcelona en Comù, the city of Naples, Fearless Cities and European Alternatives or Plan C in the UK (just to name a few) be interpreted as a sign of the practical orientation of this theoretical tradition? Do the current municipal movements serve as examples of an innovative and experimental spirit of democratic innovation, of the possibility of new radical democratic beginnings? What would a Europe of cities look like? Or do we have to provincialize Europe because Radical Cities are rather a concept that fits better – or in different and specific ways – the fast growing (mega-)cities in Asia, Latin America and Africa?

In engagée #6/7 “Radical Cities” four axes will be explored: cities as a space for community building, cities as a place for refuge, cities as a place for radical experimental forms of democracy from below and cities as a process for re-thinking institutions.

Cities as a space for community building

  • What is “community” and how is it important to Radical Cities?
  • Is the establishment of communities bound to exclusion? What is an open community?
  • What makes community possible within the impossibility of building community on categories such as “origin”, “race” or “culture”? Can community be founded on something?

Cities as a place for refuge

  • Can cities invent and implement radical politics of migration? (sanctuary cities, refuge cities, fearless cities, urban citizenship…)
  • Networks of solidarity, squatted buildings, protest marches, occupations and (un-)official regulations: which radical democratic practices emerge in cities concerning migration?
  • What does migration look like in Radical Cities?

Cities as a place for radical experimental forms of democracy from below

  • How do cities and social platforms reinvent democracy as a form of radical experimental democracy?
  • How can forms of democracy from below oppose and reverse the negative effects of national and European austerity policies?
  • Can a radicalisation of democracy produce and organise the commons and can these enhance democratic practices?

Cities as a process for re-thinking institutions

  • To what extent do squats, social centres, radical councils, people’s assemblies and third sector organisations re-think institutions and forms of governance?
  • How does today’s urbanisation transform institutions?
  • How can new institutions bring about social change and re-configure cities?

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