Lefebvre and Urbanization

First appeared in Society and Space

Without a doubt, Henri Lefebvre’s work is seductive. He was the first person to transcribe Marxian discourse into spatial terms, demonstrating that space becomes an abstract category necessary for the reproduction of capitalist relations. He is also one of the few thinkers of his time to devote a large proportion of his writings to the city, viewing it as an instrument of the capitalist state and the prime site in which everyday life is captured and behaviors commodified. And unlike many other thinkers, he dared to push his work into forms of praxis that sought new, emancipatory spaces and experimental practices. Today, amidst ever expanding interests in urban space and its worldwide entanglements with neoliberal politico-economic forms, together with growing movements like Occupy or Los Indignados, his legacy is impossible to ignore. Already having influenced a generation in the 1980’s to take up the city as an object of thought and site of resistance, there seems to be a renaissance of Lefebvre’s work today. The translation of this small text to English will sit alongside a series of other recent and forthcoming publications, translations and compilations of his work. All of this comes amidst a growing recognition of the urban as a specific category of space given over to increasingly interrelated sociological, philosophical and ecological and political inquiries. In fact, this is perhaps what makes Lefebvre’s work so seductive: he was able to see the city as the space in which all such inquiries not only could but indeed had to be posed simultaneously. To this œuvre, we can now add the small, contemplative text, ‘Dissolving city, planetary metamorphosis’—a text whose title alone seduces inasmuch as it resonates with contemporary observations on what Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid have called ‘planetary urbanization’.

Yet just as the translation and publication of a text by a distinguished figure like Lefebvre is call to celebrate his contribution, it is also a moment to address its limitations. More than anything, what this brief article makes clear is the vagueness with which Lefebvre had always understood the notions of the city and the urban as well as the urgent need we have today to clarify the latter.


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