In contrast to more traditional debates about voting patterns, local versus state administrations, and individual rights and participatory democracy, this article addresses the question of urban politics through an analysis of subject formation. By taking subject formation as the analytical focus, research questions about ‘politics’ shift from traditional ones about local or state government and the development of consensus, for instance, to ones about the constitution of subjects who are governed and govern themselves in particular ways. Using the emergence of two increasingly commonplace subject forms in contemporary China — urban professionals and volunteers — as examples, the article considers how modes of self‐regulation become political problems and also how subjects may be of the urban as well as located in the urban. The problematizations of socialist state planning have led to new governmental rationalities and technologies that not only produced new subject positions, but also new urban spaces, landscapes, economies and lifestyles. From this view, the article is an intervention into discussions about the ‘where’ of urban politics. It also argues that it is critical to examine politics as problematization and normalization if we are to understand what is at stake in the constitution of potential ‘communities of action’.