Right to the city, right to memory

Grégory Busquet and Sophie Didier

The proposed stream wishes to explore the relationship between urban social movements articulated around the Right to the city and the issue of memory, understood here as a potential means of legitimizing urban citizens' place in the city, practices, and access to decision making processes. Within a global context of memory inflation mentioned by Henri Rousso, the specific dimension of memory-making at city and neighborhood scales, seemingly increasingly disconnected to national state-centric narratives and celebrations with their implied demonstrations of power, appears as a new register of action for urban struggles and deserves careful critical assessment. Collective memory claims can thus weave together the building of local cultural identities and justice, with the intervention of very different stakeholders. Yet, the ambivalence of memory-making should also be taken into consideration, especially when the operation takes place in contexts of social and ethnic diversity such as happens in large metropolises around the globe (for instance, the link between indigeneity and memory, or the issue of migration and alternative memory-making, should be questioned in the stream).

The stream is open to several theoretical positions with regards the issue of memory, which can be fused with a diversity of scalar approaches:

  • Proposals can probe the link between individual and collective memory : following the work of Maurice Halbwachs, they will interrogate the creation, the formalization and the mobilisation of neighborhood memory in emancipatory movements, paying particular attention to the agents and the media creating and operating within the memory-making field. In the developing urban world for instance, the role of NGOs and international cultural institutions in this process could be interrogated.
  • Proposals can also probe the link between collective memory and historical (i.e. "official") memory, following Pierre Nora's classic work. In a context of "memory wars" (such as the discussions and conflicts around slavery which took place in France in the late 2000s), different means of contesting and promoting the idea of alternative memories to that celebrated by the State are now a given, in various political contexts (see for instance for African states: Fouéré, 2010). Yet, how these alternative memories are articulated and transmitted meaningfully at city and neighborhood level, and how they can be remobilized in the service of urban emancipatory projects is a totally different issue which needs probing.
  • Finally, proposals can focus on the issue of forgetting (Connerton, 2011), as a necessary exercise in the process of collective remembering: what is kept silent in these processes of memory making could be understood as a means to build forms of consensus at neighborhood level for instance, illustrating the selection process at hand in memory-making processes and their capacity to help build coalitions at other organizational levels.

Paul CONNERTON (2011) The spirit of mourning. History, memory and the body, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marie-Aude FOUÉRÉ (2010) "La mémoire au prisme du politique", Cahiers d'Études Africaines, 1 (197), pp.5-24.

Maurice HALBWACHS (1925) Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire, Paris : Alcan.

Pierre NORA (ed) (1984–1992) Les lieux de mémoire, vol. I-III, Paris : Gallimard.

Henri ROUSSO (2007) “Vers une mondialisation de la mémoire”, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'Histoire, 2(94), pp. 3-10.