Protest and resistance in the contemporary metropolis: towards ‘super-diverse’ urban social mobilizations?

Paola Briata and Claire Colomb

In this stream we would like to invite contributions to build a comparative perspective on the transformation of urban social mobilizations, and on emerging forms of urban political action, resistance and transgression in large, super-diverse metropolises. Specifically, we are looking for empirical and theoretically-informed investigations of how highly diverse, heterogeneous and disparate groups or individuals in the city have begun to create new coalitions, mobilizations and networks with others ‘unlike them’ - connecting actors and resources across space (Nicholls et al. 2013) - in response to the transformation of their neighbourhood (or city at large). The stream is embedded in two strands of contemporary debates in urban studies:

  • First, recent scholarly contributions on urban social movements and collective mobilizations in cities have highlighted a transformation of the scope, agendas and modes of action of such mobilizations in the face of particular forms of ‘neoliberal urbanism’ and ‘austerity politics’ (Leitner et al. 2006; Nicholls 2008; Mayer 2009; 2013). Notwithstanding the fact that urban social mobilizations are shaped by path-dependent trajectories of transformation influenced by time- and place-specific local opportunity structures and combinations of state-market-civil society relations, these scholars have identified the emergence across many locales of new types of movements and coalitions which bridge across apparently diverse and heterogeneous groups to challenge, inter alia, the consequences of the neoliberalization of policies in various fields (Leitner et al., 2006; Mayer, 2009). The US-based ‘Right to the City’ Alliance is one such example, or emerging coalitions between place- and worker-based social movements (Greenberg and Lewis, 2016).
  • Second, there have been growing debates about the implications of the increasing ‘super-diversity’ present in large contemporary metropolises (Vertovec 2007; 2010; Tasan-Kok et al. 2013). Such debates have, so far, mostly focused on the challenges arising from increasing forms of social, ethno-cultural and economic diversity and how urban policies, planning and governance mechanisms respond to them. Existing research has also focused on every day experiences of living in super-diverse urban contexts. But there seems to be a paucity of research on how highly ‘diverse’, heterogeneous social groups may start to work together (or not) in new forms of urban social mobilizations and collective action in a changing urban context. In some metropolises, for example, the housing crisis and gentrification pressures have intensified so much that this may trigger the emergence of new coalitions - cutting across class, lifestyle, ethnicity and occupation - between various groups who wish to ‘stay put’ and join forces to fight for their survival in the city. This would support the hypothesis made by Mayer (2013) that new coalitions bridging the gap between the ‘materially dispossessed’ and ‘culturally disenfranchised’ are emerging.

We are thus interested in how (new) forms of collective action, networks of activism and resistance, and urban social mobilizations are built across heterogeneous socio-economic, ethnic and other groups in super-diverse metropolises. Which developments and processes trigger the development of such mobilizations? Which challenges and opportunities do the actors of such mobilizations face in seeking to bridge across heterogeneous and diverse groups? To what extent are they reaching out to groups beyond the ‘usual suspects’ often identified as playing a dominant role in social mobilizations (e.g. educated middle class or organised working class activists)? How and why do new actors previous not (or little) engaged in urban mobilizations come to play a new role - e.g. artists and cultural producers who contest the ‘creative city narrative’ (Novy and Colomb 2013)? Which old and new ‘repertoires of contention’, modes of action and transgression do they use to challenge, resist and change dominant modes of urban development and governance? Comparative studies across different urban contexts are particularly welcome.


Greenberg, M. and Lewis, P. (eds) (2016) The City is the Factory: Social Movements in the Age of Neoliberal Urbanism. Ithaca: Cornell University Cornell.

Leitner, H., Peck, J., and Sheppard, E. S. (eds) (2006) Contesting neoliberalism. New York: Guilford Press.

Mayer, M. (2009) The ‘Right to the City’ in the context of shifting mottos of urban social movements, City, 13(2): 362-74.

Mayer, M. (2013) First world urban activism. Beyond austerity urbanism and creative city politics, City, 17(1): 5-19.

Nicholls, W. (2008) The urban question revisited: the importance of cities for social movements, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32(4): 841-59.

Nicholls, W., Miller, B. and Beaumont, J. (eds) (2013) Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Novy, J. and Colomb, C. (2013) Struggling for the right to the (creative) city in Berlin and Hamburg. New urban social movements, new spaces of hope?, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(5): 1816-38.

Tasan-Kok, T., van Kempen, R., Raco, M. and Bolt, G. (2013) Report 1a Towards Hyper-Diversified European Cities: A Critical Literature Review. Brussels: European Commission. Online:

Vertovec, S. (2007), Super-diversity and its implications, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6): 1024-54.

Vertovec, S. (2010) Towards post-multiculturalism? Changing communities, conditions and contexts of diversity, International Social Science Journal, 61(199): 83-95.