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

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9780520222786: The Promise of the City: Space, Identity and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought
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The Promise of the City proposes 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.

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This text proposes a new theoretical grounding for the study of cities and the people who live and work in them. Finding the contemporary urban scene too complex to be encompassed by Marxian social analysis and other conventional approaches, the author offers a threefold, interdisciplinary approach linking agency, space, and structure. First, he says, urban identities need to e viewed in terms of hybridity, reflecting neither atomistic nor communitarian ideals bur rather a shifting spectrum of cultural and economic influences. Second, the layered, unfinished city spaces we inhabit and within which we create meaning are best represented by the active idea of spacing. and third, the structuring aspect of society yields to the notions of system-lifeworld polarity more readily than to a purely economic paradigm. The author 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 Marxism urban theory to the questions of identity, space, and structure are unsatisfactory and why the perspectives of other intellectual traditions can help us understand the challenge

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"An outstanding contribution to urban scholarship. . . . [Tajbakhsh] moves us beyond essentialist views of cities as simple arenas of class struggle to a more complex and nuanced view of cities as spaces for encounters with difference and otherness and, as such, sites that transform the meanings of actors' identities."--Michael Peter Smith, author of "City, State, and Market"

"I am sure this book will be influential in shaping the discourse on urban social theory in the near future."--Tridib Banerjee, coauthor of "Urban Design Downtown"

"In this ambitious work, Kian Tajbakhsh addresses the fundamental issues confronting urban theory today. His aim is no less than to reconcile concepts of structure and identity within the contemporary city. Using the analytic frames of spacing and hybridity, he advances our theoretical knowledge of the multiple, overlapping fields that constitute urban life. Everyone seeking to understand the socio-spatial dialectic through which urbanism is constituted will benefit from the insights of this book." --Susan S. Fainstein, author of "The City Builders

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