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The Promise of the City

The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought

Kian Tajbakhsh
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 244
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn7k2
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  • Book Info
    The Promise of the City
    Book Description:

    The Promise of the Cityproposes a new theoretical framework for the study of cities and urban life. Finding the contemporary urban scene too complex to be captured by radical or conventional approaches, Kian Tajbakhsh offers a threefold, interdisciplinary approach linking agency, space, and structure. First, he says, urban identities cannot be understood through individualistic, communitarian, or class perspectives but rather through the shifting spectrum of cultural, political, and economic influences. Second, the layered, unfinished city spaces we inhabit and within which we create meaning are best represented not by the image of bounded physical spaces but rather by overlapping and shifting boundaries. And third, the macro forces shaping urban society include bureaucratic and governmental interventions not captured by a purely economic paradigm. Tajbakhsh examines these dimensions in the work of three major critical urban theorists of recent decades: Manuel Castells, David Harvey, and Ira Katznelson. He shows why the answers offered by Marxian urban theory to the questions of identity, space, and structure are unsatisfactory and why the perspectives of other intellectual traditions such as poststructuralism, feminism, Habermasian Critical Theory, and pragmatism can help us better understand the challenges facing contemporary cities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92464-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-34)

    This is a book about ways of thinking about cities and city life. Specifically, it is about the potential of cities to offer men and women the ability to comprehend and master the complex, multicultural realities of the modern world. It is also about the ways in which the city and its components—markets, governments, communities, public spaces, individuals’ social networks—can thwart and limit this aspiration. More specifically, it is an analysis and a critique of the idea of the city in that strand of urban social theory that has looked to Marx for its theoretical and philosophical foundations....

  6. CHAPTER 1 Marxian Class Analysis, Essentialism, and the Problem of Urban Identity
    (pp. 35-71)

    In the Introduction, I showed how our conceptions of identities and the city are related in important ways, proposing that conceiving of the urban in terms of “spacing” is useful in understanding the idea of the hybridity of identities. I suggested that we not define the city in terms of atomistic individuals engaged in a rational strategic game, the way economists and political scientists tend to do, or in terms of an organic community, or as the arena of class antagonism.

    Instead, I believe the notion of hybrid identities offers a more compelling, if less developed, non-essentialist (or at least...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Beyond the Functionalist Bias in Urban Theory
    (pp. 72-112)

    In the Introduction and the first chapter, I showed how the dilemmas of Marxian urban theory resulted principally from its inability to accommodate the sociological reality of new urban movements within the Marxian bipolar class model. One way to resolve the impasse would be to reassert the power of Marxism to subsume the new realities within the matrix of historical materialism. David Harvey’s work adopts this solution through the development of what he calls a “historical-geographical materialism.”¹

    The comparison between Castells and Harvey is instructive. As we saw, a certain amount of anxiety over the political and theoretical consequences of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Toward the Historicity and Contingency of Identity
    (pp. 113-161)

    In the previous two chapters, I critiqued two different attempts to develop a foundation for Marxian urban theory. As with all intellectual work, Castells’s and Harvey’s projects each were influenced (although not determined in any simple way) by the national, historical, and disciplinary contexts within which they were undertaken. Castells’s initial formulation, developed within the sociological tradition and linking processes of collective consumption, space, and urban conflict to what he argued was a new phase of state-led capitalist development, was very clearly marked by the specificities of the French political economy, which was characterized by strong state capacity and its...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Difference, Democracy, and the City
    (pp. 162-184)

    Ideally, scholarly work can be cast as journey from “explanation” to “response.” Whereas explanation tends toward monologue, exposition, and critique, response is an invitation to carry on the conversation with the widest range of interlocutors—in the public sphere, if you will. Radical democratic ideas are clearly inspired by this goal of openness to the voice, dignity, and autonomy of the other, of not decrying the fact that there are more questions than answers. I follow writers such as Marshall Berman, Richard Sennett, Iris M. Young, and others in thinking that the complex modern city is connected in important ways...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 185-214)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 215-226)
  12. Index
    (pp. 227-229)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)