Neoliberal urbanism and the (un)desired citizen-subject: Mechanisms, strategies, resistance

The urban is a strategic site of/for neoliberalism. Not only are cities localized arenas in which national projects of economic restructuring take shape, but neoliberal principles currently dominate, indeed monopolize, policy agendas in urban administrations across both the Global North and South (Peck, Theodore and Brenner, 2009). Manifested through municipal plans of action, the contemporary dual grip of neoliberalism sets in motion a process of subject making through which some groups are deemed desirable, even necessary for the growth-oriented urban agenda while others, conceived as development-inhibitors are – discursively and materially – pushed over. At the same time, neoliberal strategies are being contested in various place-specific forms, ranging from urban riots to classical protest mobilizations, to the building of (counter-)coalitions and the ‘quite encroachment of the ordinary’ (Bayat, 2010) and it is not clear whether current dynamics of resistance will be incorporated into the neoliberal project or point towards the limits of neoliberal flexibility.

In this session, we seek theoretical and empirical contributions that illustrate the mechanisms by which (un)desirable subjects – such as refugees, gentrifiers, skilled migrants, business entrepreneurs and the urban poor – to name just a few contested categories – are (re)produced in both discourse and practice by various actors operating within the neoliberal city as well as the strategies they deploy in resisting or otherwise conforming with them. We wish to encourage researchers working in different geographical contexts and employing a wide range of qualitative methodologies to submit papers dealing with issues including – but not limited to – the following:

  • Urban ‘development’ programs (e.g., branding, revitalization) and un/desirable subjects
  • Urban governance and un/desirable subjects
  • The politics of claims-making by un/desirable subjects
  • Un/desirable subjects and race/gender/ethnic/class identities
  • Non-state actors and the production of un/desirable subjects
  • The role of the state in producing un/desirable urban subjects
  • Strategic resistance by/towards un/desirable subjects
  • Neoliberal urbanism between flexibility and crisis


Nir Cohen, Bar Ilan University

Henrik Lebuhn, Humboldt University

Oren Yiftachel, Ben Gurion University of the Negev