Activists in the Making: Urban Movements, Political Processes and the Creation of Political Subjects


A constant and largely unquestioned characteristic of contemporary studies of urban movements is their conception of the activist ‘subject’— the reflective agent or ‘doer’ who participates in, and shapes, urban movements. Whereas it has become increasingly common in other scholarly research to regard the subject as a contingent, context‐specific outcome or creation, studies of urban movements have not been swayed. The latter, even as they proceed to conceptualize more and more of the urban scene in terms of malleable ‘processes’ rather than inert ‘structures’, have continued to regard the makeup of the activist subject as universal and invariable. This article, in contrast, proposes and explores a different approach. Through a review of the recent urban movements literature, a focused consideration of potentially complementary literatures, and a demonstrative case study, this article aims to show that it is possible and indeed worthwhile to examine how political subjects are contingently remade both prior to, and through, their active participation in contentious urban politics. The remaking of political subjects, it concludes, is often central to the formation and achievements of urban movements. Devoting increased attention to this process — alongside other, already‐recognized political processes — could, therefore, promote a richer, more complex understanding of activism and the ever‐changing city.