Urbanizing Political Concepts for Analyzing Politics in the City

Nir Barak, Avner de Shalit

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Given the changing and increasingly central role that cities play in private and social lives, this chapter suggests a reconsideration of the theoretical concepts commonly applied in analyzing cities’ political dynamics and the social relations therein. The overall rationale is that not only do the meanings of fundamental political concepts such as equality, liberty and democracy change over time, but they are also contingent upon the political unit and the institutions analyzed. Consequently, political theory must not only examine the nature and importance of these concepts but principally indicate how they are materialized through governmental institutions. Therefore, while some scholars might subscribe to the view that in order to theorize about politics in the city all one needs to do is apply theories which originally relate to the state to the context of the city, we suggest that this is not the right approach. Thus, this chapter suggests that the time is ripe for scholars to consider the canon of political and legal philosophy vis-à-vis the city, which is primarily grafted in relation to the state and its institutions. To be clear, we do not undermine the significance of state and international institutions. Rather, we humbly suggest that ‘seeing like a city’ is different from ‘seeing like a state’. The question leading our inquiry regards how our theorizing of fundamental political concepts changes when theoretical primacy is accorded to the social and institutional form of the city instead of, say, the state. We lay the foundations for this task and provide additional justifications for our premise. Subsequently, we propose a city-based analysis of three central political concepts – equality, liberty and democracy – and conclude our discussion with open questions for further research.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook on International Law and Cities
EditorsHelmut Philipp Aust, Janne E. Nijman
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781788973281
ISBN (Print)9781788973274
StatePublished - Aug 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Urbanizing Political Concepts for Analyzing Politics in the City'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this