Castells' The City and the Grassroots: 1983 and today

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Castells’ definition, developed in The City and the Grassroots, of urban social movements as movements which combine struggles over collective consumption with those for community culture and political self-determination, reflects the dynamics of movements in the 1960s and 1970s — which have since undergone a series of transformations. In spite of these transformations and fragmentations, Castells’ analysis remains relevant to contemporary studies of urban movements. One of its legacies is the identification of the conflict lines along which, still today, the major urban contestations take place, even though most of the individual movements no longer converge in one multi-class actor intent on urban social change. The issue of collective consumption is more topical than ever in the current conjuncture, as public infrastructure and services are curtailed, and as local as well as supra-national manifestations of the anti- globalization movement are zeroing in on the neoliberalization of the public sector. Also, Castells’ highlighting of the contesting of state power has proved prophetic, not only in the continued presence of autonomous strands in the varied protests against commercialization, privatization, surveillance and exclusion, but also because it implies a sharp critique of the limitation of the civic engagement discourse currently in vogue.

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  • Byron Miller

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