This chapter explores the impact neoliberal urbanism has had on the conflicts and contestations that have erupted across European cities over the last decade. After presenting the concept of neoliberalization and its uneven implementation within Europe, it delineates the characteristic features of neoliberal urbanism, highlighting in particular the strategies with which cities respond to global pressures and crisis developments. City managers have intensified and innovated regeneration and upgrading policies, deliberately valorizing real estate and public space, and politicians have turned, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, to more austere policies and new strategies to displace undesired uses and groups from vibrant parts of the city. As tensions and conflicts have emerged around all of these strategies, different forms of urban resistance have emerged, which themselves have been shaped by the very restructuring processes and policies that the contestations—to varying degrees and in more and less articulate forms—oppose. The third section of the chapter deepens some observations about the contestations around neoliberal urbanism: first, how the field of urban activism has become both larger and more heterogeneous in response to the particularities of urban neoliberalization; second, how struggles against urban upgrading have taken on a variety of forms, covering the spectrum from Right to the City networks and their well-organized campaigns all the way to violent uprisings; and, finally, how the massive societal upheaval that erupted in Greece and Spain provided a context for new grassroots solidarity initiatives to build ‘another city’. The concluding section resituates these findings, particularly the challenge thrown up by the heterogeneity of the contemporary forms of urban resistance, within the conceptual framework of neoliberalization and its being overcome by ‘deep societalization.’
- Real Estate
- Urban Movement
- Enclosure Strategy
- Urban Spectacle
- Urban Social Movement
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Competing conceptualizations, such as, e.g., those presented by Joseph Stiglitz, who equates neoliberalization with a world-wide homogenization of regulatory systems, or by Elmar Altvater (2009) and Brand and Sekler (2009), who see neoliberalism as having come to an end in August 2008, are less helpful in this regard.
They conceive neoliberalization as one among several tendencies of regulatory change that have been unleashed across the global capitalist system since the 1970s, and describe its three major features as follows: (1) It prioritizes market-based, market-oriented or market-disciplinary responses to regulatory problems; (2) it strives to intensify commodification in all realms of social life; and (3) it often mobilizes financial instruments to open up new arenas for capitalist profit-making.
When Spain, Portugal and Greece joined the Eurozone, their industries lost competitiveness, the effects of which didn’t make themselves felt as long as real estate booms made up for the losses. This credit- and speculation-driven development led to vastly expanding corruption, which seriously impaired the respective governments’ capacity to act, and EU policies exacerbated these structural problems by supporting traditional elites.
Participants of the early anti-austerity demonstrations in Northern European countries, according to various surveys, came mainly from ‘the usual suspects’, such as unions, leftists, anti-globalization, ESF, anti-racist organizations, Occupy and Blockupy, and the Left Party (della Porta, 2015; Peterson, Wahlström, & Wennerhag, 2013).
These phases, which roughly, but not everywhere, correspond to the decades indicated, are well described in Peck, Theodore, and Brenner (2009), and austerity urbanism in Peck (2012). The correspondences between these phases and the respective urban movements are presented in Mayer (2012, pp. 65–69) and Mayer (2013, pp. 6–10).
Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain.
It would require a different analysis to account for the significance of right-wing, populist and xenophobic movements, which have also expanded in the context of, and are sometimes directed against, neoliberal austerity.
Cf. the new draconian Spanish safety law, which was passed in June 2015 in direct response to some of the anti-austerity protests sweeping across Spanish cities. Now, demonstrators participating in unauthorized protest near ‘sensitive’ locations can face fines of as much as €600,000 (Minder, 2015; Streck, 2015).
This strand of RttC activism has rather depoliticizing effects, as explained in Mayer (2012).
Both anti-capitalist and conservative groups are concerned with the protection of public space and national heritage against what they perceive as exploitative neoliberal interests. Jacobsson (2015, p. 281) shows that this oscillation between progressive and regressive claims among urban movements reflects the ambivalence that characterizes the ‘post-socialist condition’.
Almost a third of the adult Greek population took part in the 2010 anti-austerity protests (Rüdig & Karyotis, 2013).
Both this record-high abstention rate and the extraordinary number of blank ballots (2.5 %) reveal the enormous disappointment with and rejection of party politics among broad layers of the Greek population questioning neoliberal policies.
Most are full-service clinics, and all are run entirely by volunteers, from doctors and nurses to pharmacists and technical support. Each treats anywhere from a few thousand to over 12,000 people a year.
The minister of health has now prepared legislation to permit access to health care for the uninsured, to be voted on in parliament in December 2015. In case the troika prevents passage, solidarity clinics are planning nationwide actions.
Spanish unemployment was 27 % at the peak of the economic crisis in early 2013. It has since come down to 23.8 % of the active population in July 2015, but the rate for the under-25-year-olds continues to be around 50 %.
PAH called for demonstrations against evictions in 41 cities in late September, and in mid-October, after the Occupy movement has taken off in the USA, a global day of action of the ‘outraged’ took place:, includingdemonstrations in more than 900 cities in 80 countries.
Marea Blanca, the white tide, emerged at the end of 2012 against cutbacks in public health, as well as the green tide in education.
For example, the political responses to the foreclosure and banking crisis have been massive bank bailouts and central banks around the world making cheap credit available, with the ECB embarking on quantitative easing only in 2014. These cheap interest rates meant that enormous amounts of fresh liquidity flooded the global financial system, which, while subsidizing private investors out of bankruptcy, produced a tide of surplus capital, most of which has turned to speculative investment in stocks, bonds and, once again, real estate.
AKP: Zeitschrift für alternative Kommunal Politik. (2011). Städte unterm Sparkommissar. 6/2011.
Altvater, E. (2009, January). Postneoliberalism or postcapitalism? The failure of neoliberalism in the financial market crisis. Development Dialogue, 51, 73–87.
Becker, S., Beveridge, R., & Naumann, M. (2015). Remunicipalization in German cities: Contesting neo-liberalism and reimagining urban governance. Space and Polity, 19(1), 76–90.
Beckett, K., & Herbert, S. (2010). Banished. The new social control in urban America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Belina, B. (2010). Stadt regieren mittels Raumproduktionen im Namen der Sicherheit. derive, No. 4041, pp. 53–58. Retrieved from http://www2.uni-frankfurt.de/42234038/04_print
Belina, B. (2013). Germany in times of crisis: Passive revolution, struggle over hegemony and new nationalism. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, 43(3), 275–285.
Birke, P. (2010). Herrscht hier Banko? Die aktuellen Proteste gegen das Unternehmen Hamburg. Sozial. Geschichte Online, 3, 148–191.
Birke, P., Hohenstatt, F., & Rinn, M. (2015). Gentrification, social action and ‘role playing’: Experiences garnered on the outskirts of Hamburg. International Journal of Action Research, 11(1–2), 195–227.
Brand, U., & Sekler, N. (2009, January). Postneoliberalism: Catch-all word or valuable analytical and political concept?—Aims of a beginning debate. Development Dialogue, 51, 5–13.
Brenner, N., Peck, J., & Theodore, N. (2010). After neoliberalization? Globalizations, 7(3), 327–345.
Brenner, N., & Theodore, N. (2002). Cities and the geographies of actually existing neoliberalism. Antipode, 34(3), 349–379.
Clark, E. (2014, September) Neoliberalization of housing and gentrification in Sweden. Lecture at conference ‘Gentrification—What is it, how it works and how to resist it’, City Museum, Gothenburg.
della Porta, D. (2015). Social movements in times of austerity. Bringing capitalism back into protest analysis. Cambridge/Malden: Polity Press.
Dragojlo, S. (2015). Giant Duck becomes Belgrade resistance symbol, BalkanInsight. Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/giant-duck-becomes-belgrade-resistance-symbol-09-25-2015
Eick, V., & Briken, K. (Eds.). (2014). Urban (in)security. Policing in the neoliberal crisis. Ottawa: Red Quill Books.
Feher, M. (2015). On the neoliberal condition. Lecture at conference ‘Neoliberalism+Biopolitics’, University of California at Berkeley, February 27–28. Retrieved from https://kpfa.org/episode/against-the-grain-july-15-2015/
Flesher Fominaya, C. (2015). Contemporary resistance to crisis and austerity: Some reflections on dynamics, challenges and opportunities. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from https://austerityprotests.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/contemporary-resistance-to-crisis-and-austerity-some-reflections-on-dynamics-challenges-and-opportunities/
Harvey, D. (2006). Spaces of global capitalism. Towards a theory of uneven geographical development. London/New York: Verso.
Henley, J. (2015). Greece’s solidarity movement: “It’s a whole new model and it’s working”, The Guardian, January 23.
Hodkinson, S. (2012, October). The new urban enclosures. CITY, 16(5), 500–518.
Holtkamp, L., & Kuhlmann, S. (2012). Die armen Städte: Ein Problemaufriss. Der moderne Staat. Zeitschrift für Public Policy, Recht und Management, 5(1), 43–46.
Jacobsson, K. (Ed.). (2015). Urban grassroots movements in central and eastern Europe. Franham: Ashgate.
Kuper, S. (2013). International cities are turning into “Elite Citadels”. Financial Times. Retrieved June 17, 2013, from http://www.businessinsider.com/global-cities-too-expensive-paris-2013-6?IR=T
Lefebvre, H. (1967). The right to the city. In E. Kofman & E. Lebas (Eds.), Writings on cities (pp. 63–184). London: Blackwell.
Leontidou, Lila (2010) ‘Athens in the Mediterranean “movement of the piazzas”: Spontaneity in material and virtual public spaces,’ CITY, 16(3), 209–312.
Lill, M. (2015). Trügerische Ruhe im bedrohten Paradies? Zur Entwicklung von Ressentiments und rechtsextremen Stimmungslagen im Alltagsbewusstsein der Deutschen—Empirische Befunde und Erklärungsansätze. Berlin: RLS. Retrieved from http://www.rosalux.de/fileadmin/rls_uploads/pdfs/sonst_publikationen/rls_onl_Truegerische_Ruhe_150106_Max-Lill.pdf.
Mayer, M. (2010). Punishing the poor—A debate. Some questions on Wacquant’s theorizing the neoliberal state. Theoretical Criminology, 14(1), 93–103.
Mayer, M. (2012). The “right to the city” in urban social movements. In N. Brenner, P. Marcuse, & M. Mayer (Eds.), Cities for people, not for profit (pp. 63–85). New York: Routledge.
Mayer, M. (2013). First world urban activism: Beyond austerity urbanism and creative city politics. City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action, 17(1), 5–19.
Mayer, M. (2016). Creative city policy and social resistance. In J. Wang, T. Oakes, & Y. Yang (Eds.), Making cultural cities in Asia (pp. 234–250). New York: Routledge.
Mayer, M., & Künkel, J. (2012). Introduction: Neoliberal urbanism and its contestations—Crossing theoretical boundaries. In J. Künkel & M. Mayer (Eds.), Neoliberal urbanism and its contestations. Crossing theoretical boundaries (pp. 3–26). London: Palgrave.
McNevin, A. (2006). Political belonging in a neoliberal era: The struggle of the Sans-Papiers. Citizenship Studies, 10(2), 135–151.
Merrifield, A. (2013). Intervention—“Whose City? The Parasites”, of course…. Antipode Foundation.org. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://antipodefoundation.org/2013/06/18/intervention-whose-city/
Minder, R. (2015). Spain’s new public safety law has its challengers. New York Times, June 30.
Müllender, B. (2013). Gemeindepleite. Zu ernst fürs Kabarett. die tageszeitung, June 20, p. 5.
Peck, J. (2012, December). Austerity urbanism: American cities under extreme economy. CITY, 16(6), 626–655.
Peck, J. (2013) ‘Pushing austerity: State failure, municipal bankruptcy and the crises of fiscal federalism in the USA.’ Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. doi:10.1093/cjres/rst018
Peck, J. (2014). Pushing austerity: State failure, municipal bankruptcy and the crises of fiscal federalism in the USA. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 7(1), 17–44.
Peck, J., & Theodore, N. (2012). Reanimating neoliberalism: Process geographies of neoliberalisation. Social Anthropology, 20(2), 177–185.
Peck, J., Theodore, N., & Brenner, N. (2009). Neoliberal urbanism: Models, moments, mutations. The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 29(1), 49–66.
Peck, J., Theodore, N., & Brenner, N. (2012). Neoliberalism resurgent? Market rule after the great recession. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 111(2), 265–288.
Peters, D., & Novy, J. (Eds.). (2012). Railway station mega-projects and the remaking of inner cities in Europe, Built Environment, 38(1).
Peterson, A., Wahlström, M., & Wennerhag, M. (2013). Is there new wine in the new bottles? Participation in European Anti-Austerity Protests 2010–2012. In ECPR General Conference, Bordeaux.
Petzold, T. (2015). The normalization of austerity through law and scale. The case of Germany. In Nordic Geographers Meeting, Tallinn.
Pleyers, G., & Sava, I. N. (Eds.). (2015). Social movements in central and eastern Europe. Bucharest: Editura universitatii din bucuresti.
Poblocki, K. (2012). The politics of scale and right to the city movements in Poland. In INURA Conference (June), Tallinn, Estonia.
Poulios, D. (2014). Reclaiming Athens: Crisis, urban movements and urban politics. Marie Jahoda summer school: Public Spaces in Transition, Vienna.
Rolnik, R. (2013). Late neoliberalism: The financialization of homeownership and housing rights. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), 1058–66.
Rüdig, W., & Karyotis, G. (2013). Beyond the usual suspects: New participants in anti-austerity protests in Greece. Mobilization. An International Quarterly, 18(3), 313–330.
Saric, D. (2012). Urban renewal, entrepreneurialism and the right to the city: A research of the social actors and their contestation gentrification in post-socialist Zagreb. MA thesis, Central European University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Budapest, Hungary.
Schierup, C.-U., Ålund, A., & Kings, L. (2014). Reading the Stockholm riots—A moment for social justice? Race & Class, 55(3), 1–21.
Schipper, S., & Schöning, B. (2016). Urban austerity: Impacts of the global financial crisis on cities in Europe. Berlin: Verlag Theater der Zeit. 2015.
Schmitt-Beck, R. (2013). Euro-Kritik, Wirtschaftspessimismus und Einwanderungsskepsis: Hintergründe des Beinah-Wahlerfolgs der Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) bei der Bundestagswahl 2013. Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen, 1, 94–112.
Slater, T. (2011, December). Manufacturing ignorance: The Centre for Social Justice and Welfare Reform in Britain. New Left Project. Retrieved from http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/manufacturing_ignorance_the_centre_for_social_justice_and_welfare_reform_in
Smith, N. (2002). New globalism, new urbanism: Gentrification as global urban strategy. Antipode, 34(3), 427–450.
Streck, R. (2015). In Spanien trat ein Gesetz in Kraft, das allseits als Knebelgesetz bezeichnet wird. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/45/45321/1.html
Streeck, W. (2015). The strikes sweeping Germany are here to stay. The Guardian, May 22.
Truger, A., & Teichmann, D. (2014, May). IMK-Steuerschätzung 2010–2014. Kein Spielraum für Steuersenkungen. IMK Report, No. 49. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from http://www.boeckler.de/pdf/p_imk_report_49_2010.pdf
Vradis, A., & Dalakoglu, D. (Eds.). (2011). Revolt and Crisis in Greece. Between a present yet to pass and a future still to come. Oakland, Baltimore, Edinburgh, London: AK Press.
Wacquant, L. (2008). Urban outcasts. A comparative sociology of advanced marginality. New York: Polity.
Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Watt, P. (2013). “It's not for us". Regeneration, the 2012 Olympics and the gentrification of East London. CITY. Analysis of Urban Trends, 17(1), 99–118.
Zelik, R. (2015). Mit Podemos zur demokratischen Revolution? Krise und Aufbruch in Spanien. Berlin: Bertz+Fischer.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2016 The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s)
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Mayer, M. (2016). Neoliberal Urbanism and Uprisings Across Europe. In: Mayer, M., Thörn, C., Thörn, H. (eds) Urban Uprisings. Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-50509-5_2
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
Print ISBN: 978-1-137-50492-0
Online ISBN: 978-1-137-50509-5