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date: 28 June 2022

A Postcolonial Approach to the Right to the Citylocked

A Postcolonial Approach to the Right to the Citylocked

  • Lucas OlivieraLucas OlivieraFederal University of Bahia
  •  and Bruna TrianaBruna TrianaFederal University of Bahia


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.

A postcolonial approach to the right to the city involves the intersection of two multifaceted topics, both of which have yielded an extensive body of scholarship. On the one hand, a postcolonial perspective conceives the production of knowledge as a process connected to the colonial matrix of power, which resulted in a narrow and West-centered understanding of the world. On the other hand, the right to the city, a political slogan associated with the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre, focuses on rebalancing the power over urbanization processes, by embracing citizens’ prerogatives to participate in decision-making concerning the city. To begin with, tackling the debate on the right to the city from the standpoint of postcolonial spaces includes exploring a range of social, political, economic, cultural, and spatial axes that offer renewed engagements with the “urban question” from across the social sciences and humanities. In this sense, it is essential to question the universal grammar of the “city,” considering urban changes and local variations, as well as the metrocentric tendencies in urban studies, such as the concentration on large cities based on a normative and Eurocentric conception of urbanity. A postcolonial approach to the right to the city takes the variety of processes, experiences, projects, spatialities, and agencies into account, and considers theoretical, epistemological, and political proposals from the Global South. Critical urban theory, for instance, has analyzed varied contexts, time, and places to determine current patterns of urbanization under global capitalism and their far-reaching consequences for contemporary urban life, especially for groups at the margins. At the same time, subaltern urbanism, whether led by political and social movements or scholars, has drawn attention to how colonialism and imperialism have profoundly shaped city landscapes and positioned urbanism within a singular script centered on Western capitalism, modernization, and progress. Both perspectives outline a postcolonial call to rethinking and decentering the debate on the right to the city, confronting topics related to contemporary urban dynamics. These topics may include, but are not limited to, new designs of citizenship and agency; center–periphery relations; multifaceted processes of city-making not restricted to the Western system of meaning; urban precarity, housing displacement, and gentrification; environmental racism; and the consequences of housing injustice in different geographical contexts.


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