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The Urban Revolution

Henri Lefebvre
Translated by Robert Bononno
Foreword by Neil Smith
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Urban Revolution
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 1970, The Urban Revolution marked Henri Lefebvre’s first sustained critique of urban society, a work in which he pioneered the use of semiotic, structuralist, and poststructuralist methodologies in analyzing the development of the urban environment. Although it is widely considered a foundational book in contemporary thinking about the city, The Urban Revolution has never been translated into English—until now. This first English edition, deftly translated by Robert Bononno, makes available to a broad audience Lefebvre’s sophisticated insights into the urban dimensions of modern life.Lefebvre begins with the premise that the total urbanization of society is an inevitable process that demands of its critics new interpretive and perceptual approaches that recognize the urban as a complex field of inquiry. Dismissive of cold, modernist visions of the city, particularly those embodied by rationalist architects and urban planners like Le Corbusier, Lefebvre instead articulates the lived experiences of individual inhabitants of the city. In contrast to the ideology of urbanism and its reliance on commodification and bureaucratization—the capitalist logic of market and state—Lefebvre conceives of an urban utopia characterized by self-determination, individual creativity, and authentic social relationships.A brilliantly conceived and theoretically rigorous investigation into the realities and possibilities of urban space, The Urban Revolution remains an essential analysis of and guide to the nature of the city.Henri Lefebvre (d. 1991) was one of the most significant European thinkers of the twentieth century. His many books include The Production of Space (1991), Everyday Life in the Modern World (1994), Introduction to Modernity (1995), and Writings on Cities (1995).Robert Bononno is a full-time translator who lives in New York. His recent translations include The Singular Objects of Architecture by Jean Baudrillard and Jean Nouvel (Minnesota, 2002) and Cyberculture by Pierre Lévy (Minnesota, 2001).

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4373-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xxiv)
    Neil Smith

    This translation into English of Henri Lefebvre’s classic if contested text is long overdue.La Révolution urbainefirst appeared in 1970, in the aftermath of the May 1968 uprising in Paris. Cities around the world from Detroit to Tokyo, Prague to Mexico City, were the scene of major revolts, connected less through any organizational affiliation than through political empathy linking highly diverse struggles, and as the 1960s culminated in worldwide challenges to capitalism, war, racism, patriarchy, imperialism, and the alienation of modern urban life, the book was inevitably received as a political testament to the possibilities for fundamental political and...

  4. 1 From the City to Urban Society
    (pp. 1-22)

    I’ll begin with the following hypothesis: Society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: Anurban societyis a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future.

    The above definition resolves any ambiguity in the use of our terms. The words “urban society” are often used to refer to any city or urban agglomeration: the Greek polis, the oriental or medieval city, commercial and industrial cities, small cities, the megalopolis. As a result of the confusion, we have forgotten or overlooked the social relationships (primarily...

  5. 2 Blind Field
    (pp. 23-44)

    In this book I have not, for the most part, followed the historical method as it is generally understood. Superficially it may appear that I have been describing and analyzing the genesis of the city as object and its modifications and transformations. But my initial concern has been with a virtual object, which I have used to describe a space-time axis. The future illuminates the past, the virtual allows us to examine and situate the realized. The breakdown of the preindustrialist and precapitalist city caused by the impact of industry and capitalism helps us understand the conditions and antecedents of...

  6. 3 The Urban Phenomenon
    (pp. 45-76)

    From this point on I will no longer refer to the city but to the urban. Having introduced the concept of the urban and its virtual nature in chapter 2, I would now like to analyze the phenomenon in the context of the “real” (the quotes around the world “real” reflect the fact that the possible is also part of the real and gives it a sense of direction, an orientation, a clear path to the horizon).

    Today, the urban phenomenon astonishes us by its scale; its complexity surpasses the tools of our understanding and the instruments of practical activity....

  7. 4 Levels and Dimensions
    (pp. 77-102)

    In analyzing the urban phenomenon, we can make use of the common methodological concepts of dimensions and levels. These concepts enable us to introduce a degree of order into the confused discourse about the city and the urban, which mixes text and context, levels and dimensions. Such concepts can help to establish distinct codes, either juxtaposed or superimposed, for decrypting the message (the urban phenomenon considered as message). They serve as lexical items (readings) in urban texts and writing, or maps, and as “urban things,” which can be felt, seen, and read in the environment. Does this mean there are...

  8. 5 Urban Myths and Ideologies
    (pp. 103-114)

    There is little doubt as to the existence of agrarian myths or their ideological extension. Although the myths of the agrarian age are not necessarily agrarian myths, they incorporate elements (themes, signifying units) borrowed either from nomadic and pastoral life or nonagricultural productive activity (hunting, fishing, artisanship). There are no specific dates attached to the use of these myths. Here I define the myths of the agrarian age not by the agricultural nature of their themes, figures, and characters but by the fact that they respond to the questions and problems of a peasant society (predominantly agricultural, even if it...

  9. 6 Urban Form
    (pp. 115-134)

    What exactly is the essence, or substance, of the urban phenomenon? Until now, I have not provided a definition based on substance or content. The associated functions, structures, and forms (in the usual sense of the word), although necessary, have not appeared sufficient to define the term. We have cataloged, located, and observed the growth over time of the political and administrative function, the commercial function, the productive function (artisanal, manufacturing, industrial) within the classical city. These functions have a twofold character: with respect to the territory that urban centers administer, dominate, and cover with networks, and with respect to...

  10. 7 Toward an Urban Strategy
    (pp. 135-150)

    Contemporary theory would, to some extent, have been familiar to Marx. Radical criticism was already clearing a path to thought and action. Marx, as we know, used as his starting point German philosophy, English political economy, and contemporary French ideas about revolutionary action and its objectives (socialism). His critique of Hegelianism, economic science, and history and its meaning enabled Marx to conceive of capitalist society both as a totality and as a moment of total transformation. Negativity would give rise to a new form of optimism. For Marx the negativity of radical critique coincided, theoretically and practically, with that of...

  11. 8 The Urban Illusion
    (pp. 151-164)

    We can now provide anobjectivedefinition of urbanism, which is officially defined as the “physical trace on the land of human dwellings of stone, cement, or metal.” We now have the conceptual tools for a radical critique of an activity that claims to control the process of urbanization and urban practice and subject it to its order. Our perception of this activity differs from the way it perceives itself: simultaneously art and science, technology and understanding. This unitary character is illusory, however. In fact, urbanism, when examined closely, breaks into pieces. There are several urbanisms: the urbanism of humanists,...

  12. 9 Urban Society
    (pp. 165-180)

    The concept developed earlier as a (scientific) hypothesis can now be approached differently. I hope that readers will have a better understanding of it now that it has been freed somewhat of its earlier theoretical status. However, the process is far from complete, and it would be dogmatic to claim that it was. To do so would mean inserting the concept of an “urban society” into a questionable epistemology that we should be wary of because it is premature, because it places the categorical above the problematic, thereby halting, and possibly shifting, the very movement that brought the urban phenomenon...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-188)

    Throughout this book I have examined various aspects of the urban problematic. However, one of the most disturbing problems still remains: the extraordinary passivity of the people most directly involved, those who are affected by projects, influenced by strategies. Why this silence on the part of “users”? Why the uncertain mutterings about “aspirations”—assuming anyone even bothers to consider them? What exactly is behind this strange situation?

    In this book I have criticized urbanism as ideology and institution, representation and will, pressure and repression, because it establishes a repressive space that is represented as objective, scientific, and neutral. It is...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 189-196)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)