The Symbiosis of the Urban and the Political


Historically, the urban was the condition of possibility for the political, but the symbiosis of the two has been concealed by the rise of the state and the concomitant development of the social sciences. The effort to recover the connection by denoting a separate domain of ‘urban politics’ is self‐defeating, because it re‐instantiates an ontology of the political that consigns the urban to the domain of ‘low’ politics. The dominant ontology suggests that ‘high’ politics — the most serious politics or politics proper — is always in the domain of states and empires, and that everything else is subject to it. This view is constantly reaffirmed by the political theory that underpins the state system and the modern social sciences. Nevertheless, a different ontology of the political is always already implicit in the concept of the city, understood as a local phenomenon and a global way of life. To see the political through the city is to notice how proximate diversity stimulates self‐organization and self‐government, generates politics in and between authorities in different registers, and defers the sovereignty claims it produces. On this view, the urban is neither high nor low, but is instead the very form of the political, encompassing states and empires as much as anything else.