Re‐reading Castells: Indifference or Irrelevance Twenty Years On?


This essay considers the relevance of The City and the Grassroots to contemporary debates within critical urban analysis. It argues that the book addresses many of the same empirical topics as more recent scholarship, but that shifts in the kinds of questions asked about those topics may make the book seem less relevant to contemporary debates. In particular, Castells’ attempt to abstract from local experience to understand the process of political and social change in something specifically ‘urban’ may be at odds with the goals of contemporary research and of researchers outside Europe, many of whom attempt to provide a differentiated analysis attuned to context and the positionality of agents within social movements. So, while the book makes important contributions to theoretical and empirical arguments because of its deep and rich comparative analysis, intellectual debates and approaches over the past 20 years may have shifted focus.