Monday, November 22, 2010

CITY feature: Edward W. Soja and justice struggles in the contemporary world.

The following is a guest post from Andrea Gibbons, co-editor at the journal CITY: Analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. CITY's current issue features leading urban theorist Edward Soja and his most recent book, Seeking Spatial Justice (Minnesota 2010), in which Soja argues that justice has a geography and that the equitable distribution of resources, services, and access is a basic human right. Soja delivers a lecture today at University College London in connection with this special CITY feature (in which a number of authors respond to Soja's work) and also in connection with the launch of CITY's brand-new website.


Co-editor, CITY

Edward Soja has long been a recognized -- not to mention provocative -- presence in the field of geography. Known as much for his linguistic inventiveness as for his radical left critique of the radical (and not so radical) left, many of us have followed his work with interest from his first articles through Postmodern Geographies (1989), Thirdspace (1996), and Postmetropolis (2000). Soja has been both a contributor to CITY and a source of theory for other contributors seeking to bring together the cultural and the political. As always, in Seeking Spatial Justice (2010) we find a remarkable generosity in his work and a sense of excitement, which has been criticized by some and praised by others.

In our collection of responses from both academics and activists to his latest book, we wanted to open up the field to both critical reflection and inspiration, and a number of the commentaries are indeed critiques. We see the current special feature as an ideal and highly complementary follow-up to our previous special issue, ‘Cities for People, Not Profit,’ edited by Peter Marcuse, Neil Brenner, and Margit Meyer. Soja’s work has the merit of going beyond a dominant strain of political economy found at the center of the ‘New York School’ to add a very useful (sometimes extravagant) cultural dimension to urban thinking. He argues for an ontological rethinking of urban theory, one that privileges the spatial dimension as much as the historical or social, thereby creating what he calls a ‘trialectic.’

The discussion that this makes possible between more traditional explanations of injustice and social struggle have been invaluable, and we hope the debate sparked anew within December’s pages of CITY will not only help enrich various strands of critical theory, but also bring the worlds of practice and theory closer in dialogue.

Seeking Spatial Justice has indeed been useful to this end, given its focus on the activism, organizing, and coalition building now taking place in Los Angeles. There are two responses in the upcoming issue from community organizers who were present for the founding of the U.S. Right to the City Alliance (and more to follow in later issues). Both explore, and not uncritically, the meaning of geography in their own struggles for justice in L.A. and Virginia, and both set forward topics around which theory and practice could fruitfully be brought together.

It is fair to say that inspiration truly overflows throughout, with the ideas in Soja’s work refracted back through multiple theoretical lenses and practical struggles. There is a piece on the London campaign for the living wage in all of its complexity, and a second on the unlikely partnerships of unions and community groups to preserve green space in Sydney. Another response looks at the rise of the BNP in Britain, and demands we attempt to understand how the far right is thinking spatially and organizing the working class. The final piece moves far beyond Soja’s work itself to engage with Hardt and Negri, and explore the meaning of the commons.

It has been a very exciting feature to pull together, and in every sense fulfills CITY’s tagline, as the analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.


Read the latest issue of CITY.

Find out more about Soja's Seeking Spatial Justice.

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