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The Post-Political City

Erik Swyngedouw
School of Environment and Development
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL

Tel: 00-44-(0)7956879213

December 2006
(Revised and final version: March 2007)

Published in: BAVO (2007) Urban Politics Now Reflect Series, Netherland Architecture
Institute (NAI)-Publishers, Rotterdam.
“Well, my dear Adeimantus, what is the nature of tyranny? It’s obvious, I

suppose, that it arises out of democracy” (Plato, The Republic)

The polis is dead. Long live the creative city! While the city is alive and thriving (at least

in some of its spaces), the polis, conceived in the idealized Greek sense as the site for

public political encounter and democratic negotiation, the spacing of (often radical)

dissent, and disagreement, and the place where political subjectivation literally takes

place, seems moribund. This figure of a de-politicized (or Post-Political and Post-

Democratic) city in the late capitalist order will be leitmotiv of this contribution. Taking

our cue from Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Žižek, Chantal Mouffe, Mustafa Dikeç, Alain

Badiou and assorted other critics of the cynical radicalism that has rendered critical

theory and radical political praxis impotent and infertile in the face of the de-politicising

gestures that pass for urban policy and politics in the contemporary neo-liberalising late

capitalist police order, we shall attempt to re-centre the political in contemporary debates

on the urban.

We proceed in four steps. In the fist part, we explore the evacuation of the political from

the plane of immanence that defines the very possibility of the polis and the concomitant

consolidation of an urban post-political arrangement, characterised by the rise of a neo-

liberal governmentality that has replaced debate, disagreement and dissensus with a series

of technologies of governing that fuse around consensus, agreement, and technocratic

management. The second part dissects the depoliticised condition of the late capitalist

city, arguing that the urban frame has been thoroughly, and perhaps fatally, infested by an

ordering that is thoroughly post-political and post-democratic. In the third part, we

maintain that the post-political consensual urban police order revolves decidedly around

embracing a populist gesture, one that annuls democracy and must, of necessity, lead to

an ultra-politics of violent disavowal and, ultimately, to the foreclosure of any real spaces

of engagement. The final part attempts to recover the notion of the political and of the

political polis from the debris of contemporary obsessions with consensual (participatory)

governing, technocratic management, and neo-liberal urban polic(y)ing. We maintain that

the incoherencies of the contemporary urban ordering, the excess and the gaps that are

left in the interstices of the post-political urban order permits thinking through, if not

materially widening and occupying, genuinely political urban spaces.

The Late Capitalist Urban Police

“The end of the socialist alternative, then, did not signify any renewal of

democratic debate. Instead, it signified the reduction of democratic life to the

management of local consequences of global economic necessity. The latter, in

fact, was posited as a common condition which imposed the same solutions on

both left and right. Consensus around these solutions became the supreme

democratic value” (Rancière 2004a: 3-4).

The late capitalist urban policy (or police) order, we maintain, is not only one that is

predicated on the elimination of dissent, but more importantly, forecloses the political,

evacuates ‘the litigation of the sensible’, and, through that, produces what Rancière and

others define as a post-political and post-democratic constitution. Before we embark on

dissecting this post-political condition, we shall briefly outline the contours of the late

capitalist police order.

Urban polic(y)ing in the European city, in the context of the implementation of

consensual neo-liberal socioeconomic policies, brought about critical shifts in domains

and levels of intervention and in the composition and characteristics of actors and agents,

institutional structures, and policy instruments. For cities, changing fortunes means

coming to terms with the consequences of socio-economic dislocation wrought by the

reorganization of production and demand globally, the transnational networking of

companies and individuals, the flows of global hot money, and the fast restructuring (and

often dualisation) of labour markets. To meet the challenges posed by these new socio-

economic realities, the polic(y)ing agenda of cities has been drastically redefined. The

new urban agenda reflects, on the one hand, a shifting policy focus away from regulatory

and distributive considerations towards the promotion of economic growth and

competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and creativity (Oatley 1998; Roberts and Sykes 2000).

This strategic turn on the urban agenda is part and parcel of a critical reappraisal of the

form, functions and scope of urban policy and of the rise of a new mode of urban

governance (Brindley, Rydin, and Stoker 1989; Healey et al. 1995; Swyngedouw 2005b).

While a variety of competing styles of governance still provide for a great deal of

differentiation, urban regeneration is increasingly framed in a common and consensual

language of competitive creativity, flexibility, efficiency, state entrepreneurship, strategic

partnerships, and collaborative advantage (Healey 1997; Jessop 1998; 2002; Albrechts

From the late 1980s onwards, after the initial successes of large scale urban re-

development projects in Boston, Baltimore, and Barcelona, urban development strategies,

aimed at re-positioning cities on the map of globally competitive metropolises, have

strongly relied on the planning and implementation of Large-scale Urban Development

Projects (UDP) to lead economic regeneration. These emblematic projects are now

present all over the urban and regional landscape and are the material expression of a

developmental logic that views them as major leverages for generating future growth and

attracting investment capital and consumers. Berlin’s Potzdammer Platz, Amsterdam’s

South Axis, Rotterdam’s Kop van Zuid, Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, or London’s bid

to stage the Olympic Games are just a few examples of the sprawling number of cities

that have pursued such tactics. In particular, such projects have become an integral part of

neo-liberal policies to replace more traditional redistribution-driven approaches. The

search for competitive redevelopment has become the leading objective of the new urban

polic(y)ing in an attempt to reassert the position of cities in the consolidating global

economy (Swyngedouw, Moulaert, and Rodriguez 2002). Enhancing urban competitive

advantage is seen as largely dependent on improving and adapting the built environment

to the accumulation strategies of a city’s key elites and plugging the city into cutting edge

transnational economic and cultural elite networks.

Therefore, physical reconstruction and economic recovery tend to go hand in hand and,

very often, are perceived as quasi-simultaneous processes: mega-projects are viewed as

providing a solid foundation for fostering future growth and functional transformation. At

the same time, urban revitalization is projected beyond the cities’ limits and linked to

regional recovery and internationalization strategies (Moulaert, Rodriguez, and

Swyngedouw 2002). The implementation of such new urban policy rests crucially on the

formation of a set of new formal and informal institutional and governance arrangement

that engage in the act of governing outside and Beyond-the-State. In sum, a new police

order of governing and organising social relations accompanies the emergence of new

urban landscapes (Mitchell 2002; Jessop 1998; Pagden 1998; Hajer 2003b; Whitehead


Governance as an arrangement of Governing-beyond-the-State refers to the institutional

or quasi-institutional organization of governing that takes the form of horizontal

associational networks of private (market), civil society (usually NGO), and state actors

(Swyngedouw 2005a). They provide for a much greater role in policy-making,

negotiation, administration, and decision-making of private economic actors on the one

hand and parts of civil society on the other in self-managing what until recently was

provided or organised by the national or local state. These forms of apparently

horizontally organised, rhizomatic, and polycentric ensembles in which power is

dispersed are increasingly prevalent in rule making, rule setting and rule implementation

at a variety of geographical scales (Hajer 2003a: 175). They can be found from the

local/urban level (such as development corporations, ad hoc committees, stakeholder-

based formal or informal associations dealing with urban social, economic,

infrastructural, environmental, or other matters) to regional scales and the transnational

scale (such as the European Union, the WTO, the IMF, or the Kyoto protocol

negotiations) (Swyngedouw 1997). Such ‛participatory’ modes of governance have been

depicted as a new form of governmentality, that is “the conduct of conduct” (Foucault

1979; Lemke 2002), in which a particular rationality of governing is combined with new
technologies, instruments, and tactics of conducting the process of collective rule-setting,

implementation, and policing. The urban scale has been a pivotal terrain where these new

arrangements of governance have materialised (Le Galès 2002; Brenner and Theodore

2002). This, so we argue, brings with it a transfiguration of the urban ‘police order’ in the

direction of a post-political and post-democratic consensus.

Schmitter (2002: 52) defines governance as “a method/mechanism for dealing with a

broad range of problems/conflicts in which actors regularly arrive at mutually satisfactory

and binding decisions by negotiating with each other and cooperating in the

implementation of these decisions”. Governance-beyond-the-State systems are

presumably horizontal, networked, and based on interactive relations between

independent and interdependent actors who share a consensual view of objectives and

problems and a high degree of trust, despite internal conflict and oppositional agendas,

within selectively inclusive participatory institutional or organisational associations. The

mobilised technologies of governance revolve around reflexive risk-calculation (self-

assessment), accountancy rules, and accountancy based disciplining, quantification and

market-led benchmarking of performance (Dean 1999; Donzelot 1984). As Lemke (2002:

50) argues, this announces “a transformation of politics that restructures the power

relations in society. What we observe today is not a diminishment or reduction of state

sovereignty and planning capacities, but a displacement from formal to informal

techniques of government and the appearance of new actors on the scene of government

(e.g. NGOs), that indicate fundamental transformations in statehood and a renewed

relation between state and civil society actors”. This encompasses a threefold re-

organisation (Swyngedouw 1997; 2004). First is the externalisation of state functions

through privatisation and de-regulation (and decentralisation). Both mechanisms

inevitably imply that non-state, civil society or market based configurations become

increasingly involved in regulating, governing and organising a series of social,

economic, and cultural activities. Second is the up-scaling of governance whereby the

national state increasingly delegates regulatory and other tasks to other and higher scales

or levels of governance (such as the EU, IMF, WTO, and the like), and, third is the down-

scaling of governance to “local” quasi-autonomous and multi-stakeholder based practices

and arrangements that create greater local differentiation combined with a desire to

incorporate new social actors in the arena of governing. This includes processes of

vertical decentralisation toward sub-national forms of governance.

These three processes of re-arranging the relationship between state, civil society and

market simultaneously re-organise the arrangements of governance as new institutional

forms of Governance-beyond-the-State are set up and become part of the system of

governing, of organising the ‘conduct of conduct’. This restructuring is embedded in a

consolidating neo-liberal ideological polity. The latter combines a desire to politically

construct the market as the preferred social institution of resource mobilisation and

allocation, a critique of the ‘excess’ of state associated with Keynesian welfarism, and a

social engineering of the social in the direction of greater individualised responsibility

(Harvey 2005). Of course, the new modalities of governance also involve the

mobilization of a new set of technologies of power, which Mitchell Dean (1999)

identifies as technologies of agency and technologies of performance. While the former

refers to strategies of rendering the individual actor responsible for his or her own

actions, the latter refers to the mobilisation of benchmarking rules that are set as state-
imposed parameters against which (self-)assessment can take place and which require the

conduct of a particular set of performances. These technologies of performance produce

‘calculating individuals’ within ‘calculable spaces’ and are incorporated within

‘calculative regimes’ (Miller 1992). Barbara Cruikshank (1993; 1994) refers in this

context to the mobilisation of ‘technologies of citizenship’, which are defined as “the

multiple techniques of self-esteem, of empowerment and of consultation and negotiation

that are used in activities as diverse as community development, social and

environmental impact assessment, health promotion campaigns, teaching at all levels,

community policing, the combating of various kinds of dependency and so on” (Dean

1999: 168). Ironically, while these technologies are often advocated and mobilised by

NGOs and other civil organizations speaking for the disempowered or socially excluded

(Goonewardena and Rankin 2004), these actors often fail to see how these instruments

are an integral part of the consolidation of an imposed and authoritarian neo-liberal police

order, celebrating the virtues of self-managed risk, prudence, and self-responsibility

(Burchell 1996; Dean 1999). In sum, a new urban police order with a new ‘partition of

the sensible’ and a reworked distribution of places and functions arises (Rancière 2000a).

This urban police order vitally revolves around a consensual arrangement in which all

those that are named and counted can take part, can participate. While there may be

conflicts of interest and opinion, there is widespread agreement over the conditions that

exist (the partition of the sensible) and what needs to be done, i.e. the creation of a

competitive, creative, innovative and global urbanity. These new arrangements of

Governance-beyond-the-State are deeply consensual. It is exactly such consensual and

apparently inclusive (at least for those who have voice, who are counted, and named)

order that is defined as the post-political condition. This is what we shall turn to next.

The Post-Political Condition

“In post-politics, the conflict of global ideological visions embodied in different

parties who compete for power is replaced by a collaboration of enlightened

technocrats (economists, public opinion specialists, …) and liberal

multiculturalists; via the process of negotiation of interests, a compromise is

reached in the guise of a more or less universal consensus. The political (the space

of litigation in which the excluded can protest the wrong/injustice done to them),

[is] foreclosed … It is crucial to perceive … the post-political suspension of the

political in the reduction of the state to a mere police agent servicing the

(consensually established) needs of the market forces and multiculturalist tolerant

humanitarianisms” (Žižek 2006: 72).

In what follows, we shall argue that the late capitalist urban police order as outlined

above forecloses (or at least attempts to) politicization and evacuates dissent through the

formation of new forms of governmentality, of a particular partition of the sensible that

revolves around consensus, participatory negotiation of different interests, and the

acceptance of neo-liberal cosmopolitan globalization as the undisputable state of the

situation (Badiou 2005a).

There is indeed a widespread consensus that the urban condition needs to be taken

seriously, and that appropriate managerial-technological apparatuses can and should be

negotiated to avoid the urban maelstrom to sink into catastrophe, economic decline, and

social disintegration. At the same time, of course, there is hegemonic consensus that no

alternative to liberal-global hegemony is possible. Not only is the public arena evacuated

from radical dissent, critique, and fundamental conflict, but the parameters of democratic

governing itself are being shifted, announcing new forms of autocratic governmentality

(see Swyngedouw 2005a). Slavoj Žižek and Chantal Mouffe, among others, define the

post-political as a political formation that actually forecloses the political, that prevents

the politicization of particulars (Žižek 1999a: 35; 2006; Mouffe 2005): “[p]ost-politics

mobilizes the vast apparatus of experts, social workers, and so on, to reduce the overall

demand (complaint) of a particular group to just this demand, with its particular content –

no wonder that this suffocating closure gives birth to ‘irrational’ outbursts of violence as

the only way to give expression to the dimension beyond particularity” (Žižek 1999b:

204). In Europe, in particular, such post-political arrangements are largely in place.

Post-politics is thus about the administration (policing) of social, economic or other

issues, and they remain of course fully within the realm of the possible, of existing social

relations. “The ultimate sign of post-politics in all Western countries”, Žižek (2002: 303)

argues, “is the growth of a managerial approach to government: government is

reconceived as a managerial function, deprived of its proper political dimension”. Post-

politics refuses politicisation in the classical Greek sense, that is, as the universalization

of particular demands that aims at “more” than negotiation of interests. Politics becomes

something one can do without making decisions that divide and separate (Thomson
2003). A consensual post-politics arises thus, one that either eliminates fundamental

conflict or elevates it to antithetical ultra-politics. The consensual times we are currently

living in have thus eliminated a genuine political space of disagreement. However,

consensus does not equal peace or absence of fundamental conflict (Rancière 2005a: 8).

Difficulties and problems, such as re-ordering the urban, that are generally staged and

accepted as problematic need to be dealt with through compromise, managerial and

technical arrangement. “Consensus means that whatever your personal commitments,

interests and values may be, you perceive the same things, you give them the same name.

But there is no contest on what appears, on what is given in a situation and as a situation”

(Rancière 2003b: §4). The key feature of consensus is “the annulment of dissensus …..

the ‘end of politics’” (Rancière 2001: §32). Of course, this post-political world eludes

choice and freedom (other than those tolerated by the consensus). The only position of

real dissent is that of either the traditionalist (those stuck in the past that refuse to accept

the inevitability of the new global neo-liberal order) or the fundamentalist. The only way

to deal with them is by sheer violence, by suspending their ‘humanitarian’ and

‘democratic’ rights. The post-political relies, therefore, on either including all in a

consensual pluralist order and/or on excluding radically those who posit themselves

outside the consensus. For the latter, as Giorgio Agamben (2005) argues, the police order

suspends the law; they are literally put outside the law and treated as extremists and

terrorists. This form of ultra-politics pits those who ‘participate’ in the consensual order

radically against those who are placed outside, like the sans-papiers or the marginalized.

The riots in Paris in the fall of 2005 and the responses to this event were classic violent

examples of such urban ultra-politics (see Dikeç 2007).

Late capitalist urban governance and debates over the arrangement of the city are not

only perfect expressions of such a post-political order, but in fact, the making of new

creative and entrepreneurial cities is one of the key arenas through which this post-

political consensus becomes constructed, when “politics proper is progressively replaced

by expert social administration” (Žižek 2005a: 117). The post-political consensus,

therefore, is one that is radically reactionary, one that forestalls the articulation of

divergent, conflicting, and alternative trajectories of future urban possibilities and


Urban Populism as Symptom of Post-Democracy.

In this post-democratic post-political era, adversarial politics (of the left/right variety or

of radically divergent struggles over imagining urban futures for example) are considered

hopelessly out of date. Although disagreement and debate are of course still possible,

they operate within an overall model of consensus and agreement. The Post-Political

condition articulates, therefore, with a consensual populist political tactic as the conduit

to instigate ‘desirable’ change. Urban polic(y)ing is a prime expression of the populist

ploy of the post-political post-democratic condition (Crouch 2004). Put differently, a

depoliticized urban populism has become a key symptom of the post-democratic

institutional consensus. We shall briefly chart the characteristics of populism (see, among

others, Canovan 1999; Laclau 2005; Mouffe 2005; Žižek 2005b; Swyngedouw 2007) and

how this is reflected in mainstream urban concerns.

First, populism invokes ‘THE’ city and ‘THE’ people as a whole in a material and social

manner. All people are affected by urban problems and the whole of urban life as we

know it is under threat from potential catastrophes (like globalization, non-

competitiveness, uncontrolled immigration). As such, populism cuts across the

idiosyncrasies of different forms and expressions of urban life, silences ideological and

other constitutive social differences and papers over fundamental conflicts of interest by

distilling a common threat or challenge. Second, urban populism is based on a politics of

‘the people know best’ (although the latter category remains often empty, unnamed),

supported by an assumedly neutral scientific technocracy, and advocates a direct

relationship between people and political participation. It is assumed that this will lead to

a good, if not optimal, solution. Third, populism customarily invokes the specter of

annihilating apocalyptic futures if no direct and immediate action is taken. If we refrain

from acting (in a technocratic-managerial manner) now, our urban future is in grave

danger. It instils a sense of millennial angst and existentialist urgency. Fourth, populist

tactics do not identify a privileged subject of change (like the proletariat for Marx,

women for feminists, or the ‘creative class’ for neo-liberal capitalism), but instead invoke

a common condition or predicament, the need for common action, mutual collaboration

and co-operation. There are no internal social tensions or generative internal conflicts.

Instead the enemy is always externalised and objectified. Populism’s fundamental fantasy

is that of a threatening Intruder, or more usually a group of intruders, who have

corrupted the system. The ‘immigrant’ or ‘globalization’ stands here as classic examples

of fetishised and externalised foes that require dealing with if a new urbanity is to be

attained. Problems therefore are not the result of the ‘system’, of unevenly distributed
power relations, of implicit or explicit silences and marginalization, of the networks of

control and influence, of rampant injustices, or of a fatal flow inscribed in the system, but

are blamed on an outsider, a ‘pathological’ syndrome that can be cut out without

affecting the functioning of the system. Fifth, populist demands are always addressed to

the elites. Urban populism as a project always expresses demands to the ruling elites; it is

not about changing the elites, but calling on the elites to undertake action. A non-populist

politics is exactly about obliterating the elite, imagining the impossible, nicely formulated

in the following Žižekian joke: “An IRA man in a balaclava is at the gates of heaven

when St Peter comes to him and says, 'I'm afraid I can't let you in'. 'Who wants to get in?'

the IRA man retorts, 'You've got twenty minutes to get the fuck out.'” Sixth, no proper

names are assigned to a post-political populist politics (Badiou 2005b). Post-political

populism is associated with a politics of not naming in the sense of giving a definite or

proper name to its domain or field of action. Only vague concepts like the creative city,

the competitive city, the inclusive city, the global city, the sustainable city replace the

proper names of politics. These proper names, according to Rancière (1995) are what

constitutes a genuine democracy, that is a space where the unnamed, the uncounted, and,

consequently, un-symbolised become named and counted. Seventh, populism becomes

expressed in particular demands (get rid of immigrants, lower taxes, increased

‘participation’) that remain particular and foreclose universalisation as a positive urban

project. In other words, the urban problem does not posit a positive and named socio-

environmental situation, an embodied vision, a desire that awaits its realisation, a fiction

to be realised.
Democracy’s Location: the Return of the Polis

In light of the above discussion, what would constitute a proper political democratic

sequence? For Jacques Rancière a proper political gesture is about enunciating dissent

and rupture, literally voicing speech that claims, in the name of equality, a place in the

order of things, demanding “the part for those who have no-part” (Rancière 2001: 6);

politics disrupts the police order -- “a refusal to observe the ‘place’ allocated to people

and things (or at least, to particular people and things)” (Robson 2005: 5). ‘Politics’ is

juxtaposed here to ‘the police’. The latter refers to the existing order of things and is, in

Rancière’s words, ‘a partition of the sensible’ (Rancière 2001: 8). In this sense, the police

refers to “all the activities which create order by distributing places, names, functions”

(Rancière 1994: 173); it “refers to an established order of governance with everyone in

their ‘proper’ place in the seemingly natural order of things” (Dikeç 2005: 174)). For the

police order, “society consists of groups dedicated to specific modes of action, in places

where these occupations are exercised, in modes of being corresponding to these

occupations and these places” (Rancière 2000a: 21). As Mustafa Dikeç (2007: ch. 2: 5)

maintains, “[t]he police, therefore, is both a principle of distribution and an apparatus of

administration, which relies on a symbolically constituted organization of social space, an

organization that becomes the basis of and for governance. Thus, the essence of the

police is not repression but distribution – distribution of places, peoples, names,

functions, authorities, activities and so on – and the normalization of this distribution”.

If the supervision of places and functions is defined as the ‘police’, “a proper political

sequence begins, then, when this supervision is interrupted so as to allow a properly

anarchic disruption of function and place, a sweeping de-classification of speech. The

democratic voice is the voice of those who reject the prevailing social distribution of

roles, who refuse the way a society shares out power and authority”. (Hallward 2003:

192). It is, Rancière maintains, the voice of “floating subjects that deregulate all

respresentations of places and portions” (Rancière 1998: 99-100):

“In the end everything in politics turns on the distribution of spaces. What are

these places? How do they function? Why are they there? Who can occupy them?

For me, political action always acts upon the social as the litigious distribution of

places and roles. It is always a matter of knowing who is qualified to say what a

particular place is and what is done to it” (Rancière 2003a: 201).

Both police and politics are eminently spatial, revolve around spatiality and temporality.

As Rancière maintains:

“Political activity is whatever shifts a body from the place assigned to it or

changes a place’s destination. It makes visible what had no business being seen,

and makes heard a discourse where once there was only place for noise; it makes

understood as discourse what was once only heard as noise” (Rancière 1998: 30).

“Politics acts on the police” (Rancière 1998: 33) and “… revolves around what is

seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent

to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time” (Rancière

2006: 13).
Proper politics then is about reconfiguring space; to produce spaces of enunciation and

speech which hitherto were only heard as noise: “The principle function of politics is the

configuration of its proper space. It is to disclose the world of its subjects and its

operations. The essence of politics is the manifestation of dissensus, as the presence of

two worlds in one” (Rancière 2001: Thesis 8). Of course, a political sequence takes place

in the space of the police, by “rephrasing and restaging social issues, police problems and

so on”, it is the disruption of the police order (Rancière 2003c: 7). Space becomes

“political in that it … becomes an integral element of the interruption of the ‘natural’ (or,

better yet, naturalized) order of domination through the constitution of a place of

encounter by those that have no part in that order. The political, in this account, is

signaled by this encounter as a moment of interruption, and not by the mere presence of

power relations and competing interests” (Dikeç 2005: 172).

Of course, “… the police and politics are enmeshed. In other words, the spaces of politics

are enmeshed with the space of the police. If politics puts the police ordering of space to

an egalitarian test, then politics is possible not despite the police, but because of it.

‘Politics acts on the police’, Rancière (1998: 33) writes, “[i]t acts in the places and with

the words that are common to both, even if it means reshaping those places and changing

the status of those words.” Politics proper acts on the police space, from the police space,

and through the police space. It, however, acts not in the police space, but in between

spaces that are not determined by the police, that have no place in the police space.

Politics consists in a reconfiguration, in a “series of actions that reconfigure the space

where parties, parts, or lack of any parts have been defined” (Rancière 1998: 30). These
in-between spaces are the “intervals of subjectification: intervals constructed between

identities, between places and locations” (Dikeç 2005: 181-182).

Governance-beyond-the-State as the late capitalist urban police order evacuates proper

democratic politics from the places of public encounter; it sanitizes spaces by placing

discontent outside the police order and locating it in its proper space – suspended and

silenced. Proper democracy, in contrast, is “the symbolic institution of the political in the

form of the power of those who are not entitled to exercise power – a rupture in the order

of legitimacy and domination. Democracy is the paradoxical power of those who do not

count: the count of the ‘unaccounted for’” (Rancière 2000b: 124). The consensual

techno-managerial urbanity “is thus not another manner of exercising democracy … [It]

is the negation of democratic basis for politics: it desires to have well-identifiable groups

with specific interests, aspirations, values and ‘culture’ … Consensualist centrism

flourishes with the multiplication of differences and identities … [T]he larger the number

of groups and identities that need to be taken into account in society, the greater the need

for arbitration. The ‘one’ of consensus nourishes itself with the multiple” (Rancière

2000b: 125). A genuine egalitarian and democratic political sequence necessitates an

intervention in the police order:

“[T]he political act (intervention) proper is not simply something that works well

within the framework of existing relations, but something that changes the very

framework that determines how things work …. [A]uthentic politics … is the art
of the impossible – it changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’

in the existing constellation (emphasis in original)” (Žižek 1999b: 199).

A genuine politics, therefore, is “the moment in which a particular demand is not simply

part of the negotiation of interests but aims at something more, and starts to function as

the metaphoric condensation of the global restructuring of the entire social space” (Žižek

1999b: 208). It is about the recognition of conflict as constitutive of the social condition,

and the naming of the urban spaces that can become. It is literally about demanding the

impossible, making the impossible happen. The political becomes the space of litigation

(Žižek 1998), the space for those who are not-All, who are uncounted and unnamed,

disagree with the part assigned by the ‘police’ (symbolic, social and state) order. As

Diken and Laustsen (2004: 9) put it: “[p]olitics in this sense is the ability to debate,

question and renew the fundament on which political struggle unfolds, the ability to

radically criticise a given order and to fight for a new and better one. In a nutshell, then,

politics necessitates accepting conflict”. A radical-progressive position “should insist on

the unconditional primacy of the inherent antagonism as constitutive of the political”

(Žižek 1999a: 29).

A true politics is a democratic political community conceived as “[a] community of

interruptions, fractures, irregular and local, through with egalitarian logic comes and

divides the police community from itself. It is a community of worlds in community that

are intervals of subjectification: intervals constructed between identities, between spaces

and places. Political being-together is a being-between: between identities, between

worlds …. Between several names, several identities, several statuses” (Rancière 1998:
137-138). Rancière’s notion of the political is characterised in terms of division, conflict,

and polemic (Valentine 2005: 46). Therefore, “democracy always works against the

pacification of social disruption, against the management of consensus and ‘stability’ ….

The concern of democracy is not with the formulation of agreement or the preservation of

order but with the invention of new and hitherto unauthorised modes of disaggregation,

disagreement and disorder” (Hallward 2005: 34-35). The new urban governmentality in

its populist post-political guise is the antithesis of democracy, and contributes to a further

hollowing out of what for Rancière and others constitute the very horizon of egalitarian

democracy as a radically heterogeneous and conflicting one.

Therefore, as Badiou (2005a) argues, a new radical politics must revolve around the

construction of great new fictions that create real possibilities for constructing different

urban futures. To the extent that the current post-political condition, which combines

dystopian urban visions with a hegemonic consensual neo-liberal view of social ordering,

constitutes one particular fiction (one that in fact forecloses dissent, conflict, and the

possibility of a different future), there is an urgent need for different stories and fictions

that can be mobilized for realization. This requires foregrounding and naming different

urban futures, making the new and impossible enter the realm of politics and of

democracy, and recognizing conflict, difference, and struggle over the naming and

trajectories of these futures. Urban conflict, therefore, should not be subsumed under the

homogenizing mantle of a populist globalization/creative city discourse, but should be

legitimized as constitutive of a democratic order.

The post-political ‘glocal’ city is fragmented and kaleidoscopic. Mundial integration

unfolds hand in glove with increasing local differentiations, inequalities and combined
but uneven development. Within the tensions, inconsistencies and exclusions forged

through these kaleidoscopic yet incoherent transformations, all manner of frictions,

cracks, fissures, gaps, and ‘vacant’ spaces arise (Swyngedouw 2000); spaces that,

although an integral part of the ‘police’ order, of the existing state of the situation, are

simultaneously outside of it. These fissures, cracks, and ‘free’ spaces form ‘quilting’

points, nodes for experimentation with new urban possibilities. It is indeed precisely in

these in-between spaces -- the fragments left unoccupied by the ‘glocal’ urban police

order that regulates, assigns, and distributes -- that all manner of new urban social and

cultural practices emergence; where new forms of urbanity come to life (Swyngedouw

and Kaika 2003). While transnational capital flows impose their totalising logic on the

city and on urban polic(y)ing, the contours of and possibilities for a new and more

humane urban form and live germinate in these urban ‘free’ spaces. These are the sort of

spaces where alternative forms of living, working, and expressing are experimented with,

where new forms of social and political action are staged, where affective economies are

reworked, and creative living is not measured by the rise of the stock market and pension

fund indices. Ed Soja (1996) defines these spaces as Thirdspace, the living in-between

space that emerges through perception and imagination; a space that is simultaneously

real and imagined, material and metaphorical, an ordered and disordered space. Of

course, for the elites, such ‘thirdspaces’, spaces of unchecked and unregulated

experimentation, re-enforce the dystopian imaginary of cities as places of chaos,

disintegration and moral decay; excesses that need containment or from which one flees

(Baeten 2001). But of course, it is exactly these spaces where hope, new promises,

freedom and desires are actively lived. In these cracks, corners, and fissures of the
contemporary fragmented networked city looms and ferments a new hybrid conglomerate

of practices, often in the midst of deepening political exclusion and social

disempowerment. These are the radical margins that are an essential part of twenty-first

century democratic urbanity. And it is exactly these practices that urgently require

attention, nurturing, recognition, and valorisation. They demand their own space; they

require the creation of their own material and cultural landscapes, their own emblematic

geographies. These are the spaces were the post-political condition is questioned and

practices of radical democratization experimented with. Such experimentations “modify

the map of what can be thought, what can be named and perceived, and therefore also of

what is possible” (Rancière, in Lévi et al. 2007: 4). They contribute to the making of

alternative mappings and cartographies of the thinkable, the perceptible, and,

consequently, the possible and doable. Their realization requires considerable urban and

architectural imagination and creativity. Most importantly, this demands a rethinking of

the meaning of citizenship in the direction of the recognition of the multiplicity of

identities, the rhizomatic meanderings of meanings, practices, and lives. It also demands

the development of visionary urban programs by and for these new ‘glocal’ citizens of

the polis, those that are simultaneously decidedly local and shamelessly global; those that

too often are excluded from the post-political and post-democratic consensus that governs

our contemporary cities. This re-centring of the polis as the space of dissensus and

disagreement, with its places for enunciating the different and the staging of the voices of

those unheard or unnoticed, is exactly the site from where proper urban democratic

politics emerge.

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