“Right to the City” and the Structure of Civic Organizational Fields: Evidence from Cape Town

  • Mario Diani
  • Henrik Ernstson
  • Lorien Jasny
Original Paper


This article proposes a network analytic approach to the role of frames in shaping the structure of civic organizational fields. Adopting a perspective from the global South, it looks at the impact of the expression “Right to the city” (RTC) over alliance building among civil society actors, exploring patterns of collaborative ties among 129 civil society organizations active in Cape Town from 2012 to 2014. The article addresses two broad questions: What is the relation between RTC and other frames that are also frequently invoked to describe urban struggles and issues? Does the RTC frame affect the structure of urban civic organizational fields in significant ways? Data suggest that while RTC plays a significant role in local civil society, it is neither the only interpretative frame that Capetonian civic organizations draw upon to characterize their activity, nor the more salient. “Urban conservation,” especially tied to nature conservation and environmental issues, actually shapes the structure of local organizational fields in a sharper manner. This is, however, a potentially more divisive frame, rooted as it is in the apartheid legacy that still shapes urban dynamics in the city.


Civic organizational fields Urban environment Right to the city Collective action frames Inter-organizational alliances 



Data for this paper come from The CIVNET Study, an investigation of networks of citizens’ organizations in Cape Town, conducted between 2012 and 2014 under the leadership of Henrik Ernstson, in the context of the project “Socioecological Movements and Transformative Collective Action in Urban Ecosystems (MOVE),” funded by the Swedish Research Council—Formas (Contract 211-2011-1519). We are grateful to Formas for its support and to the Voluntas editors and reviewers for their comments.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology & Social ResearchUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly
  2. 2.The University of ManchesterManchesterUK
  3. 3.KTH Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden
  4. 4.University of ExeterExeterUK

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