The Vortex of Rights: ‘Right to the City’ at a Crossroads


The right to the city concept has recently attracted a great deal of attention from radical theorists and grassroots activists of urban justice, who have embraced the notion as a means to analyze and challenge neoliberal urbanism. It has, moreover, drawn considerable attention from United Nations (UN) agencies, which have organized meetings and outlined policies to absorb the notion into their own political agendas. This wide‐ranging interest has created a conceptual vortex, pulling together discordant political projects behind the banner of the right to the city. This article analyzes such projects by reframing the right to the city concept to foreground its roots in Marxian labor theory of value. It argues that Lefebvre’s formulation of the right to the city — based on the contradiction between use value and exchange value in capitalist urbanism — is invaluable for analyzing and delineating contradictory urban politics that are pulled into the vortex of the right to the city. Following Lefebvre’s lead in such an analysis, however, reveals certain limitations of Lefebvre’s own account. The article therefore concludes with a theoretical proposition that aims to open up space for further critical debate on the right to the city.