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Chapter 20: Urban social movements
Few observers in the 1970s would have anticipated the extent to which cities have currently become a theatre of global transformation. The numerous disruptions they have witnessed – not just in socioeconomic but also in sociopolitical and urban terms – are once again raising the question of what type of city we want to live in. Socio-spatial segregation and a trend toward privatization of public spaces, for instance, are not new phenomena, yet the practices with which such processes are associated nevertheless hinge on major changes in the scales, spaces and content of economic activity, which some are quick to associate with new urban forms (Sassen, 2011). A related issue is the recent mobilizations in many cities around the world, which have rekindled the debate on the nature of class conflict in capitalism. This was one result of the 2011 ‘Occupy’ movement at any rate. Spreading to ‘951 cities in 82 countries around the world’ (Castells, 2012, p. 4), these struggles shed new light on social inequity and have led, if not to a rethinking, at least to a re-examination of both collective action and the nature and scope of urban social movements. Although social movements and collective action around certain central urban issues such as housing date back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Lawson, 1986), the notion of ‘urban social movement’ did not appear in the literature until 1972.
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