Publication in Political Geography

Conflicts and contention increasingly challenge the capacity to govern the city. Social conflicts are not only problematic but also reveal a sense of active citizenship and engagement. Agonistic theories argue that governments should embrace contention to improve democracy, but this notion has rarely been made tangible in a framework of analysis. This paper proposes the ‘social-spatial narrative’ (SSN) framework to analyze if, when, where, and how conflicts can create opportunities to strengthen urban democracy. The SSN framework analyzes the social geography and political significance of street-level encounters in processes of urban conflict. It unravels exactly how the micropolitics of citizenship interacts with policy practices at the street-level. Narratives reveal the perspectives of stakeholders, but in order to study how some actors establish power and others get excluded, I argue for a social-spatial approach to critical moments. Critical moments may create liminal moments to (re)negotiate meaning, relationships and repertoires of action. The potential of conflict lies in the dramaturgy of these critical moments, which are therefore pivotal vantage points for critical reflection on the repertoire of urban politics. The paper coalesces theories from conflict studies, geography, and public policy to examine conflict empirically through case studies. I illustrate the framework with a case study in Amsterdam that addresses when and where opportunities to engage plural voices in decision making have emerged, and how local officials have missed these opportunities.

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