History, Memory, and Time in Contemporary Urban Contentions

In The City and the Grassroots, Manuel Castells writes that “cities are are the products of history, both of the urban forms and functions inherited from the past, and of the new urban meanings assigned to them by conflictive historical change.” He further explains that “cities are not in history, they are history” (335). Despite this recognition of history’s place in urban social movements, analyses of conflictive historical change and inherited forms and functions have not been central to the study of urban contention. Social movement scholars and historical sociologists, on the other hand, have demonstrated that contemporary politics are shaped by the social processes of remembering and forgetting, as well as by the sequences and cycles of historical events. Drawing on these insights, we propose that urban struggles are shaped by ongoing negotiations and meaning making through time, and we suggest that temporal and historical analysis can deepen our understanding of the city as a contested terrain.

 This stream invites papers that include temporality, history, and memory in studies of urban social movements. Papers may examine, for example:

  • how inherited urban forms, functions, and institutions structure possibilities and opportunities for collective action.
  • how urban actors (residents, workers, community organizations, local politicians, police, and other state officials) draw on their experiences of past struggles to shape subsequent encounters.
  • ways that movement actors invoke collective memories of past contentions through narratives, symbols, and other processes of meaning-making to frame contemporary contentions.
  • how sites and spaces imbued with historical meaning are utilized as strategic sites of contestation.

We invite papers that draw on case studies and empirical analyses of contentions from cities, regions, and neighborhoods around the world to demonstrate urban social movements as the products of history. 

Liza Weinstein, Northeastern University l.weinstein@northeastern.edu

Meghan Doran, Northeastern University m.doran@northeastern.edu