As Chantal Mouffe and others have argued, conflict is part and parcel of democratic politics; it is something to be embraced more than eliminated, and in fact it may be impossible to live without conflict in a world of difference.[1]  This appears ever more the case in the contemporary era, as we see a surge in conflicts and protests in which citizens pit themselves against each other or the state, often in response to local policies or spatial interventions related to inequities in cities and the built environment. Many of those involved in mobilizations or protests around these issues do not necessarily aim to dismantle the state, but rather, are seeking opportunities to negotiate transformative change with their neighbors or institutions of power. Even among those who seek to radically challenge unjust social and spatial conditions or abusive institutional practices, some form of negotiated engagement often results. There is, however, very little systematic theorization of the longer-term impacts of such conflicts, and the conditions under which contestation and struggle in and over the built environment will transform political, social, and spatial practices as opposed to reinforce existent power structures and conditions of socio-spatial exclusion and privilege.

The aim of this Special Issue is to contribute to a better understanding of conflict and contradiction as potential forces for urban transformation. Our contribution is based on four distinct aims. First, we build on the literature in conflicts studies to argue that the transgressive value of conflict can help citizens mobilize around an oppositional goal and thereby cause social change (Coser, 1957; Oberschall, 1978; Verloo, 2018b). Scholars and government actors generally approach conflict as a problem that requires to be managed or controlled (Lan, 1997; Mouffe, 2000, 2014). Situations of conflict are understood as a risk; they might destabilize the existing order, question established power relations, or criticize normalized forms of inequality. Although these risks should be acknowledged, they also may hold the potential to produce transformative change. Therefore, we seek to get a better grip of the spaces of agency that exist or get shaped in episodes of conflict, and how they may enable transformation in people, places, or institutions. 

Read the full special issue here

[1] According to Mouffe (2016: 1), “Conflict in democratic societies cannot and should not be eradicated since the specificity of modern democracy is precisely the recognition and the legitimation of conflict. What democratic politics requires is that the others are not seen as enemies to be destroyed, but as adversaries whose ideas would be fought, even fiercely, but whose right to defend those ideas will never be put into question. To put it in another way, what is important is that conflict does not take the form of an ‘antagonism’ (struggle between enemies), but the form of an ‘agonism’ (struggle between adversaries). We could say that the aim of democratic politics is to transform potential antagonism into an agonism.