Jazzberry Blue, New York

The Right to the City: Space, Capitalism, and Urban Life (In-Person)

Instructor: Andy Battle
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

What is the city? What is it for? And what does it mean to have a “right” to it? From New York to Buenos Aires to Berlin, modern cities have been transformed, often under slogans like “revitalization,” into sites of extraction, their public spaces and resources expropriated for the benefit of an  affluent few. Private interests have acquired a determining hand in the concrete situation of modern cities, in terms of real estate, transportation, services, commodities, and more. In response, progressive social theorists and urban activists have often turned to what Henri Lefebvre called in 1970 “a cry and a demand” for a “renewed right to urban life.” Between the dispossession of the predominantly poor and working class inhabitants of cities and urban “redevelopment” by and in the interests of the wealthy, cities have become a battleground, a site of conflicts that play out along the classic fault line Marx observed, between production for use—what Lefebvre referred to as the production of the œuvre, of our lives as a collectively authored work—and production for exchange, or production that aims implacably at accumulation. The right to the city—as both “working slogan and political ideal” as per David Harvey—amounts to a claim to shape urban life according to the needs and desires of those who inhabit it and, at the same time, “a right to change ourselves by changing the city.” How does an understanding of the city as the terrain of struggle move our thinking—and our collective endeavors—beyond our immediate experience and into the realm of social production and, ultimately, transformation? What does it mean to have a Right to the City?

Starting from the premise that the urban is not a place but a network of social relationships, we will survey various local and historical expressions of the “right to the city,” from Padua, Italy in the 1970s to New York City today and beyond, asking: How has urban space been transformed by industrial and financial capitalism? What does it mean to propose, as Lefebvre has, that “society has been completely urbanized”? What use are common dichotomies like urban/rural or urban/suburban? How can we conceive of the city as a collectively authored work? With the help of texts by Lefebvre, David Harvey, Kristin Ross, Walter Benjamin, Amy Starecheski, Silvia Federici, Neil Smith, Verónica Gago, Neil Gray, Andy Merrifeld, and Neil Brenner, we will attempt to develop a concept of the city that is adequate to its ongoing transformations. How might the right to the city become more than an ideal, but a tool at hand for practical struggle?

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 17 — December 15, 2022
4 sessions over 5 weeks
On Thursday, November 17th, class will meet at Property is Theft, a community and event space located at 411 South 5th Street, Brooklyn, 11211. The remaining three classes will be held at BISR Central. And, class will not meet Thursday, November 24th (Thanksgiving).


Registration Open

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