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Veranstaltungsreihe: Monday Lecture

The Ground-Zero of Politics: Musings on the Post-Political Polis

The city offers a privileged scale for dissecting the social body, for rummaging through the innards of our most intimate fantasies, desires, and fears.


Mo., 30.01.2012
17:00 Uhr - 19:00 Uhr


Mohrenstraße 60.Institutsgebäude

“There is a shift from the model of the polis founded on a centre, that is, a public centre or agora, to a new metropolitan spatialisation that is certainly invested in a process of de-politicisation, which results in a strange zone where it is impossible to decide what is private and what is public” (Agamben 2006).

The city offers a privileged scale for dissecting the social body, for rummaging through the innards of our most intimate fantasies, desires, and fears; for excavating the signs of the city’s political condition. As the ancient Greek polis was for Aristotle and Plato the experimental site for the performance of civic and political life, the contemporary city also holds for us the key to unlocking the contours of the present political constellation.

It is indeed unmistakably so that the city has undergone radical change over the past two decades or so, most dramatically in its modes of urban governing and polic(y)ing. We shall argue that, while the city is alive and thriving at least in some of its spaces, the polis, conceived in the idealized Greek sense as the site for public political encounter and democratic negotiation, the spacing of (often radical) dissent, and disagreement, and the place where political subjectivation emerges and literally takes place, seems moribund. In other words, the ‘political’ is retreating while social space is increasingly colonised by policies (or policing). The suturing of social space by consensual managerial policies and the evacuation of the properly political (democratic) dimension from the urban   -- what will described below as the post-political condition --  constitutes what I would define as the ZERO-ground of politics. The leitmotiv of this contribution will indeed be the figure of a de-politicized Post-Political and Post-Democratic city.

Taking my cue from recent urban transformations in the UK and elsewhere, I shall argue that urban governance at the beginning of the 21st century has shifted profoundly, giving rise to a new form of governmentality in the Foucaultian sense of the word, one that is predicated upon new formal and informal institutional configurations – forms of governance that are characterized by a broadening of the sphere of governing, while narrowing, if not suspending, the space of the properly political. Urban governing today is carried by a wide variety of institutions and organizations. It operates through a range of geographical scales, and mobilizes a wide assortment of social actors, including private agents, designers, architects, and planners, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, corporations, and the more traditional forms of local, regional, or national government. I shall characterize these new regimes of policing the city as Governance-beyond-the-State. It is a governance regime concerned with policing, controlling and accentuating the imperatives of a globally connected neo-liberalized market economy. This new ‘polic(y)ing’ order reflects what Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Rancière define as a post-political and post-democratic constitution. In other words, contrary to the popular belief that these new forms of neo-liberal urban governance widen participation and deepen ‘democracy’, I shall insist that this post-political condition in fact annuls democracy, evacuates the political proper – i.e. the nurturing of disagreement through properly constructed material and symbolic spaces for dissensual public encounter and exchange – and ultimately perverts and undermines the very foundation of a democratic polis. This regime exposes what Rancière calls the scandal of democracy: while promising equality, it produces an oligarchically instituted form of governing in which political power seamlessly fuses with economic might and a governance arrangement that consensually shapes the city according to the dreams, tastes and needs of the transnational economic, political, and cultural elites. Proper urban politics fosters dissent, creates disagreement and triggers the debating of and experimentation with more egalitarian and inclusive urban futures, a process that is wrought with all kinds of tensions and contradictions but also opens up spaces of possibilities and insurgent activities. Exploring these will constitute the final part of this contribution.

Weitere Informationen

Veranstalter: Großbritannien-Zentrum
Referenten: Professor Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography, The University of Manchester
Unterstützt von: Stiftung Luftbrückendank
Leitung: Professor Dr. Gesa Stedman

Zur Website der Veranstaltung


Catherine Smith
Telefon: 2093 99040
Fax: 2093 99042

Raum: 105, 1. Etage