Learning from urban conflict

Diane Davis and Nanke Verloo

Conflicts around land use, urban design, neighborhood regeneration, ethnic diversity, access to public goods, and a range of socio-spatial “rights to the city” can directly challenge urban governance. Such conflicts can play out among citizens, between citizens and governments, or between governments and other institutions. They may involve violence, or they can be more routinely advanced through other means, including the ‘weapons of the weak’. The transgressive value of conflict is that it can help citizens mobilize around an oppositional goal; at the same time, it is in the very moment of contestation that the legitimacy of government is revealed or undermined. Conflict can therefore be understood as a negotiation of authority, even as it provides a unique lens to question what is governable or ungovernable, and from whose vantage point. All this raises the question of what we can learn from urban conflicts. What insights do conflicts provide as we seek to understand both the theory and the practice of governance, the struggles of everyday urban life, and how they affect the form, nature, and experience of cities?

This stream invites papers that focus on processes or outcomes of urban conflict in cities of the Global North and South. Urban conflicts can take place at a variety of scales: from the street-level, to the neighborhood, to the city at large, or even the regional level. Depending on the scale, protagonists may hold different capacities or advance unique strategies to contest the governance, meaning, and livability of the city. Whether emanating from the experiences of in- or exclusion, unequal living conditions, imbalanced power dynamics, marginalization from local decision-making, or other conditions, conflict can reveal the logic of urban governance, help make sense of difference and belonging, or contribute to a rethinking of urban planning processes and city design goals. We seek papers that use a multiplicity of methodologies and perspectives to examine conflict as lens for generating knowledge about the contested reality of cities and how they are governed.