, Volume 58, Issue 2–3, pp 99–108 | Cite as

Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant

  • Mark Purcell


Much current activism and scholarship has raised concern that the various processes of neoliberal restructuring are threatening democracy. More specifically, researchers in geography and other social sciences have stressed that political and economic restructuring in cities is negatively affecting the enfranchisement of urban residents. Much recent research and writing has explored progressive responses to this perceived disenfranchisement in cities. One popular trend has been a fascination with the idea of the `right to the city' as a way to respond to neoliberal urbanism and better empower urban dwellers. I argue that the right to the city holds promise, but that in the literature the idea remains both theoretically and politically underdeveloped. It remains unclear (1) what the right to the city entails or (2) how it might address current problems of disenfranchisement. This paper examines the right to the city in greater depth. It does so by offering a close reading and analysis of the intellectual roots of the idea: the writings of Henri Lefebvre. I suggest that Lefebvre's right to the city is more radical, more problematic, and more indeterminate than the current literature makes it seem. The paper concludes by suggesting that the right to the city does offer distinct potential for resisting current threats to urban enfranchisement. However, the right to the city is not a panacea. It must be seen not as a completed solution to current problems, but as an opening to a new urban politics, what I call an urban politics of the inhabitant.

cities citizenship democracy globalization governance 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agnew J., 1997: The dramaturgy of horizons: geographical scale in the’ Reconstruction of Italy’ by the new Italian political parties, 1992–95. Political Geography 16: 99–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amin A., 1994: Post-Fordism: models, fantasies and phantoms of transition. In: Amin A. (ed.), Post-Fordism, pp. 1–39. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  3. Brenner N., 1999: Globalisation as reterritorialization: The re-scaling of urban governance in the European Union. Urban Studies 36: 431–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brenner N., 2001: The limits to scale? Methodological reflections on scalar structuration. Progress in Human Geography 25: 591–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brodie J., 2000: Imagining democratic urban citizenship. In: Isin E. (ed.), Democracy, citizenship and the global city, pp. 110–128. Routledge, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Buroni T., 1998: A case for the right to habitat. Paper presented at a conference on Seminar on urban poverty, Rio de Janeiro, May.Google Scholar
  7. Capron G., 2002: Accessibility for ‘modern urban public spaces’ in Latin-American cities: Physical appearances and socio-spatial pertenencies. Paper presented at a conference on Rights to the city, Rome, May.Google Scholar
  8. Castells M., 1977: The urban question: a Marxist approach. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  9. Cities for human rights, 1998: Conference in Barcelona. October.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Purcell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations