uurimusi arhitektuurist ja teooriast
investigations on architecture and theory

Volker Eick. Neoliberalism and Urban Space

In the following[1] I introduce the concept of neoliberalism or neoliberalization as it has been deployed by the Regulation School and others within the field of political economy. I relate this to globalization and the urban environment, and more particularly to the changing role and the growing importance of cities. That is a crucial aspect, because ever since the 1980s cities have played an increasingly important role under and for contemporary neoliberal globalization. I then proceed with some questions regarding activism and the neoliberal glocalization, as I think the term glocalization is a more appropriate term to describe contemporary worldwide processes affecting cities.

Neoliberalism and Neoliberalization: Globalization as Glocalization
What is neoliberalism and how does it differ from its predecessor liberalism? Neoliberalism is understood here in a broad sense as a principle, originally derived from the work of the 18th and 19th century classical liberal scholars including Smith, Hume, and Locke among others. Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman were the most prominent scholars of the 20th century to revive these ideas in their purest form but it was not until the late 1970s and 1980s that the ideas became guiding principles for the social policy of Western Europe and North America. To better understand neoliberal ideology it would be useful if we first outline the main principles of liberalism adopted later by neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism, as the prefix suggests, is based on the Liberalism of 17th century (and onwards) related to names, among others, such as Smith, Hume, Locke; followed by, in the 20th century, scholars such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman (Harvey, 2005). Its main principles are

  • individual autonomy;
  • the market as the most effective/efficient instrument for distribution of goods and social wealth;
  • a non-interventionist state since the nation state is perceived as the obstacle against individual autonomy and market efficiency.

Neoliberalism is not »a hermetically sealed monolithic structure« (Peck/Tickell, 2007) in the sense of an ideology to be applied as a monolithic set of principles but rather should be treated as »actually existing neoliberalism« (Brenner/Theodore, 2002), that is a broad range of actual practices which are producing neoliberalism or even neoliberalisms. Neoliberalization is understood here as a process that describes an ideological and political project against the Keynesian Fordist Welfare State emerging in the early 1950s to the 1960s. In more detail:
The first principle is that (neo)liberalism is premised on individual autonomy and even though classical liberal theories differ in a number of ways yet they are relatively unified in situating this principle at the core of any liberal society. The second important principle of (neo)liberalism is that the market is enforced as the most efficient and normatively ideal way to distribute goods and to solve social problems. And third, the state is viewed as the potential impediment to both the individual autonomy and the market efficiency and should thus be as non-interventionist as possible. So we have the individual, we have the market, and we have the state – the individual is in the centre, the market is the most efficient thing and the state in this ideology should be non-interventionist as much as possible.

Nevertheless, neoliberalism does not imply the vanishing of the nation state but rather its »hollowing out« if I refer to the term used by Bob Jessop. This means that the nation state would delegate or transfer some of its responsibilities to the local level – and to the institutions and organizations above the national level such as the IMF, the G8, the European Union, and so forth.

To describe it from a different angle, neoliberalism in action is not based on the vanishing of the state – instead it is the practical »hollowing out« of the nation state, i.e. glocalization, and subsequently, the growing importance of scales above and below the nation state; neoliberalism has nothing to do with a non-interventionist state – instead it involves, among other processes, devolution and decentralization orchestrated by the (local) state; vice versa, neoliberalism is not a solely market-led society – instead it is sustained, among other organizing principles, through governance, public-private partnerships, pluralization of stakeholders; finally, neoliberalism is not a purely ideological project – but in practice, entails »neo-Schumpeterian« economic policies such as a supply-side orientation, privatization, competitiveness, (re)commodification, deregulation, and workfare. In other words, neoliberalism does not necessitate a non-interventionist state but instead a state, be it a local state or a national state, which is decentralizing, reorganizing itself into different scales where it then promotes the concept of neoliberalism. And neoliberalism does not suggest a solely market-led society; instead it requires governance, public-private-partnerships, and pluralization which do not necessarily mean that the state is becoming more democratic but that there are more stakeholders than before. And finally, in reality neoliberalism is not a purely ideological project. Instead, it entails the so-called »neo-Schumpeterian« (Bob Jessop) economic policies such as supply-side orientation, competitiveness, deregulation, privatization, (re)commodification and finally workfare, which is currently a very prominent, let’s say, ›reform‹ in Germany.

A segment of critical scholarship on neoliberalism is particularly concerned with the understanding of neoliberalism stemming from the shift of focus from its ideology toward its actually existing praxis. In other words, those scholars are interested less in the intellectual lineages of liberal thought than in the way that such ideas filter through theory to practice. Moreover, there are diverse geographical scales on which neoliberalism unfolds and one of these scales is, of course, the urban.

One particularly useful concept in the literature is the notion that ›the actually existing neoliberalism‹ is more of a highly contingent process than a final product – as it is often framed within the neoliberal ideology. Some colleagues of mine, like Nik Theodore, have described this process as a dialectical one, in a sense that it is constituted by the conflicting tendencies towards destruction of structures already in existence and construction of new ones. Neoliberal destruction discloses in the removal of the so-called Keynesian (referring to John Maynard Keynes) amenities such as public housing, public space and the like, of policies such as redistributed welfare and food stamps in the case of the US, and of institutions such as the labor unions in the UK, the US department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the like. And finally, this process subverts established Keynesian agreements; among them, to name just two, the Fordist labor arrangements enabling continuous negotiations between the unions and the companies that the state would oversee, and second, the federal government’s redistributions to the Länder in the German case (or states in general), to municipalities and cities. In many countries the amount of money redistributed from the national to the local scale is now decreasing or has become a much more complicated issue. On the other hand, neoliberalization implies the establishment of new institutions and practices or the co-optation of the existing ones with the ultimate goal of reproducing neoliberalism in the future. That might lead to government business consortia, to legislative amendments, for example initiating workfare policies, or to different types of public-private partnerships.

Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell have depicted this evolution in a slightly more, if you will, linear way, arguing that neoliberalism consists of three phases: a proto phase, a roll-back phase and finally, a roll-out phase. Whereas proto neoliberalism refers to the theoretical stage of initiating neoliberalization, the two subsequent phases encompass the development of neoliberalism as praxis. During the roll-back phase that is reactive in its essence, Keynesian policies and formations are dissolved to make way for the second pragmatic phase of the neoliberalization, the roll-out phase that involves proactive neoliberal practices and ideas.

I would like to highlight two of the concepts listed above, the »employment relations« (specific for the proto phase) and the »de-unionization« (occurring in the roll-back phase). If we consider what happened in the 1980s in the UK, then we could clearly discern an aggressive attack against the unions including the use of police mobilization. In that sense, it was not merely a political or ideological fight but moreover, it was a de-unionization campaign with the ultimate goal to destroy the unions altogether, even though that is too strong a statement to which I will come back later. Whereas in the roll-back phase the power of the unions was destroyed, in the roll-out phase the »flexibility« approach was adopted so that corporations could change working hours, decrease wages, and try to shift any negotiations into dictates.

The second example might be »social policy« in regard to which the roll-back would relate to the decrease of welfare money, whereas the roll-out brought into play a new concept coined in the US as »workfare.« Within its regulatory framework, people were still entitled to unemployment benefits and welfare benefits BUT under the condition they have to work and the work they are forced to accept does not need to correspond to their professional skills or work experiences. The dictate behind this concept is: If you want to be supported by the state because you ran out of work, you ought to take any job we offer you. That is an entirely new concept that was never in operation before; therefore, we can say, it was rolled out under neoliberalism.

Globally, scholars like Bob Jessop suggested that this restructuring of the Keynesian urban policy had the aggregate effect of hollowing out the nation state, decreasing its role as an institutional buffer between localities and the global economy. With the reduction of the national interventions, for example in housing, local infrastructure (like water-conduit or sewerage), in welfare, etc., localities are forced to either finance such spheres of action and intervention themselves or abandon them entirely.

Erik Swyngedouw (1997, 2004) deems this larger process as glocalization, as a simultaneous shift – upwards, to the global economy and its institutions and downwards – to the local level. The regulatory power previously held or exercised by the nation state, therefore, vanishes. Given its geographically and temporally contingent nature however, this process affected different national contexts in different ways, so that under neoliberalism cities or countries do not necessarily become identical or even similar. The aggressive roll-back of the welfare state took place first in the US, preceding similar developments in Canada, in the UK, and even in Germany. And in all countries, one can think of examples of the roll-back phase being incomplete within some sectors and relatively complete within others. The roll-back phase, or the destruction of the Keynesian interventions, and the roll-out phase or the implementation of more proactive neoliberal policies are thus highly contingent, incremental, uneven, and to a large extent incomplete. The depicted policy landscape is highly segmented in terms of geography and in terms of social policy and concentrations of remaining Keynesian amenities such as public housing. In the German case public housing still exists alongside roll-out liberal policies such as workfare. This kind of policies might be enforced in some countries and not in others, or even within one country they might be more advanced in one city compared to another.

Thus, while it is useful to suggest that policies in North America and Europe are increasingly dominated by a unified, relatively simple set of ideas concerning the individual autonomy, the role of the state, and the role of the market, the institutional manifestation of neoliberalism as another relatively simple set of ideas is apparently highly uneven between and within countries, mainly due to the different ways through which these ideas are processed into policies.

Yet, Smith (1996) argues that for a better understanding of the neoliberal transformation of cities it would be useful to substitute the term neoliberalism with the more specific term »revanchist urbanism« that he coined. One of the most well known examples of »revanchist urbanism« is the policy of the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani – the »Mussolini of Manhattan« as he has once been entitled by the New York Times – of tracking down the »homeless people who had invaded New York« (his, Giuliani’s, own words). Such policies are worldwide distributed under different headings such as the concept of fixing Broken Windows or the so-called Zero Tolerance approach – in the meantime, Smith (2007) developed the concept of »urban revanchism« further to the global level (»global revanchism«) under the headline of ›the war on terror‹.

And finally, David Harvey summarized the nature of the neoliberalization process in the following fashion:
»We can […] interpret neoliberalization either as a utopian project to realize a theoretical design for the reorganization of international capitalism or as a political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites. […] I argue that the second of these objectives has in practice dominated. Neoliberalization has not been very effective in revitalizing global capital accumulation, but it has succeeded remarkably well in restoring, or in some instances (as in Russia and China) creating, the power of an economic elite. The theoretical utopianism of neoliberal argument has […] primarily worked as a system of justification and legitimation for whatever needed to be done to achieve this goal« (Harvey, 2005: 19, emphasize in original).

Harvey, in another paper, goes on,

»We can […] examine the history of neoliberalism either as an utopian project providing a theoretical template for the reorganization of international capitalism or as a political project concerned both to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and the restoration of class power. […] I argue that the last of these objectives has dominated. Neoliberalism has not proven good at revitalizing global capital accumulation but it has succeeded remarkably well in restoring class power. As a consequence, the theoretical utopianism of neoliberal argument has worked more as a system of justification and legitimation for whatever had to be done to restore class power: The principles of neoliberalism are quickly abandoned whenever they conflict with this class project« (Harvey, 2006: 149).

So Bob Jessop, in particular, develops the argument that as neoliberalism plays out differently in time and space, one might think about neoliberalism in different forms, all of them attempting to adjust and to sustain capitalism – although the latter may seem a contradiction in itself. Therefore, he came out with four different forms, which should be perceived as idealized forms to be used as analytical tools rather than as indispensably existing forms of neoliberalism.

Before explicating these forms, I will briefly explain what is at stake when we talk about Bob Jessop’s term of a »Schumpeterian Workfare Post-National Regime«. Bob Jessop used the term »SWPN« to suggest, first and foremost, that one important feature of neoliberalization was the »creative destruction« that Schumpeter mentioned, namely the way capitalism constantly invents itself by destroying its old manifestations and by replacing them with new realms of accumulation, new forms of regulation, new institutions and so forth.

Workfare signalizes a profound change in the employment system characteristic for the welfare state in the sense that it allows for welfare benefits only if those who are unemployed and capable of working, indeed do work, no matter if they do community work, low-wage work or even unpaid work. In the US for example, undertaking community work is even a precondition for having access to public housing, what in Europe would be defined as social housing or subsidized housing, and similar patterns apply for the UK. Within the US system of social welfare even young mothers are obliged to work in order to receive benefits. In addition, if they are younger than 18 they either have to be married or if not they have to stay at their parents’ home in order to receive benefits. With this Welfare Reform – into operation since 1996 and popularized by the former US-president, Bill Clinton as »ending welfare as we know it« – another law came into force, limiting the maximum time one is allowed to get welfare benefits to five years. In Germany, and that refers to the unevenness of the worldwide neoliberal project that I have been talking about, the respective workfare regime only started in 2004 when the so-called Hartz laws were passed. Not only did that law introduce the workfare principle stipulating work-readiness as the precondition for receiving welfare benefits but it also endowed employment officers with the power to deny or to grant access to housing based on the apartment size and the monthly rent. That means if you are unemployed you get social benefits from the state but the state also has to pay for your housing; so if the employment office – in this case the so-called JobCenter for long-term unemployed – decides that your flat is too large or too expensive it can and will make you move out. In other words, unemployed people could be forced to move into cheaper, hence more remote areas, mainly in the outskirts of the cities. So here again the direct link between neoliberalization and the city becomes apparent.

The term ›post-national‹ refers to the situation in which the nation state is no longer the only decisive entity to rule over the wide range of policy fields but is bound to the decisions or at least suggestions made by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the G8, and other global agencies.

And finally, the term ›regime‹ instead of ›state‹ clarifies that it is no longer the nation state alone who decides what policy steps need to be taken; instead, various private stakeholders ranging from companies, non-profit organizations, voluntary organizations, special policy bodies (development agencies, foundations, etc.) take part in the decision-making on different scales – supra-national, national, regional, local and even neighborhood levels. One widely known form of decision-making is the public-private partnerships and, referring to the urban in particular, one might think of shopping malls, sports stadiums, railway stations, and the like, all of which are mass private property developments – and want to have a say in urban development and urban management. And one might also think of the concept of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) that has already been established in the late 1960s in the US and from there transmitted through the UK to continental Europe. BIDs according to Christian Parenti (1999: 96-97) can be described as »private, self-taxing urban micro states, that do everything from cleaning the streets, to guide tours, to float bonds, and arrest beggars.« BIDs are deployed by the urban business elites and, as Parenti goes on, they »embody all the power and privileges of the state, yet bear none of the responsibilities and limitations of democratic government.« A BID is a body of business members representing the business elite of the city, basically in downtown, and deciding what is to happen in the public space (for an overview see Töpfer et al., 2007).
So let us go briefly through the four forms of neoliberalism as outlined by Bob Jessop:

So neoliberalism in its purest form was first developed in Chile in 1973 under the guidance of the liberal Chicago Boys (see Harvey 2005) after the proto-neoliberalizing phase. Currently we can observe the re-emergence of such purest form within the political economy of Iraq where, among other conflicts, due to the struggles for control over the oil resources, for example, unions as well as strikes are not allowed – let alone the mass killings that include »Iraqi residents of Fallujah slaughtered by US marines with globally banned phosphorus bombs and agent orange, Iraqi women raped and killed by the same US units«, as Neil Smith (2007) recently puts it. So the purest form of neoliberalism is very often interlinked to what David Harvey (2006) calls »accumulation by dispossession« and if we look at the US foreign policy we will see that war as well often goes hand in hand with it.

One variation of this purest form of neoliberalism is what Bob Jessop defines as neostatism which we might discern in France – and once the elections there are over we will know better how it plays out. It probably will stir up a very different kind of neoliberalization processes than those we know by now (a current – November 2007 – look into the news shows us ›neoliberalism Sarkozy-style‹ with its special aggression against the unorganized and organized working class, and his appealing attempt to be as provocative as possible on the globalized world market and its respective governments).

The third form of neoliberalism is neocorporatism which might apply to Germany in some respects but obviously no longer with regards to its last characteristic, the high taxation to finance social investment. This used to be a topic of high importance in Germany but not anymore whereas the rebalancing of competition and cooperation or the widening range of private, public and other ›stakeholders‹ are currently still very important issues in Germany.

And finally, we have neocommunitarianism which from my point of view turns out to be a flanking mechanism within the game of roll-back neoliberalism from the late 1980s up to the early 1990s. And I think that this holds true especially on the city scale, at least in Western Europe where basically every country has programs aiming at social stabilization, social integration, empowerment, self-responsibility, self-reliance and support. The effect of those agendas, especially in the so-called disadvantaged areas, is that urban space is now policed by programs such as the New Deal for the Communities in the UK, the Socially Integrated City program in Germany, or the Big Cities program in The Netherlands.

It are those programs that are of some relevance for urban activism and research as they are aiming at, as I will show later, to ›define‹, ›integrate‹, ›absorb‹, and ›control‹ not only ›the‹ community but also create a specific kind of ›activism‹ that easily can lead to atavism and aspiration – not experienced before in the northern countries. Such programs aim at ›defining out resistance‹ as they are trying to ›designing out crime‹.

Another program that I want to mention in this context, even though it is not focused on the ›disadvantaged areas‹ but on the so-called remote areas, is the Broedplaatsen [speak: bru:d-pla:t-sun] program also in The Netherlands. By contrast to the above mentioned programs, it aims at attracting new developers for waterfront development by encouraging the so-called young urban creative class to move in. And what inevitably comes to one’s mind here is Richard Florida’s book on »The Rise of the Creative Class« which is not even worth the paper it is printed on. So, for a given period of time, land is handed over to the creative class (reduced or even no rent, subsidies by the city of Amsterdam) and once the area becomes attractive due to these pioneers of gentrification, as I would like to call them, it will be taken over either by the state or the city municipality and sold to the urban elites. So in this development process cities are taking advantage of artists, architects, urban planners and generally speaking, of their creativity and making it profitable.

The Urban: a truly contested terrain
Let us come back now to the global and the local scale. What we are experiencing – and the term of some importance here is Location! Location! Location! – is a growing international, national, inter-regional, inter and inner urban competition. By this, globalization and localization are merging to what has been called ›glocalization‹.
In as much as the nation state loses importance in the decision-making process, it has in the neoliberalizing process evolved responsibilities to the local level, local scale. Today nation states and state policies are increasingly outplayed on this local level due to the intensified competition among cities that unfolds on different scales – in the case of Central European countries, cities like Vienna, Budapest and Berlin are heavily competing with each other to become the locations of big international companies and of the strongest headquarter economies, the chief labor force and so forth. The same struggles take place among the world or the so-called global cities which are competing for hosting the leading companies, channeling capitals through their respective stock exchanges, and introducing the most current technologies, the most suitable examples being obviously London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and São Paolo.

At the very same time, this means that if a city is striving to become a global city as in the case of Berlin, the urban government should make sure that the city centre, being the shop window or the business card of the city, is in good shape and is not stained by the presence of drug-addicts, homeless people, and other ›undesirables‹. To achieve such a goal the city ought to behave like a company and become highly competitive; this includes the management of all the outcomes or devastations due to the neoliberalization process. Another part of it is aiming at making such outcomes (homelessness, poverty, unemployment, etc.) less noticeable, or even invisible. Which at the very same time means that the urban forms of government have become entrepreneurialized – with a strong emphasis on economic efficiency and low taxes (for the corporations, of course), but also on individual responsibility, morality, and duties (for the working class and the urban poor, of course).

So the most important goal of today’s urban policy is to mobilize the city space as an arena of market-oriented economic growth. Roll-out neoliberalism has established some flanking mechanisms and modes of crisis displacement such as local economic development policies and community based programs to elevate social exclusion and it has introduced new forms of coordination and inter-organizational networking among previously distinct spheres of local state intervention, so that ultimately, social, political, and even ecological criteria have become intertwined and at the same time redefined in an attempt to promote economic competitiveness. Social infrastructures, political culture, and ecological foundations of the city are being transformed into an economic asset. Already with the deregulation and the dismantling of the welfare state in the 1980s, the conditions of the urban conflict began to change dramatically. Distributive policies were increasingly replaced by measures of reinforcing urban competitiveness; as a consequence socio-spatial polarization intensified whereas wealth and economic opportunities became more unevenly distributed.

During the roll-out phase of neoliberalism in the 1990s, new discourses on reforms (dealing with welfare dependency, community regeneration, social capital, and the like) and new institutions and modes of delivery such as integrated area development, civic engagement, public-private-partnerships, urban regeneration, and social welfare emerged. So there are a huge number of non-state actors involved today in all those fields of activity originating from the early 1990s which was determined as the starting point of the roll-out phase of neoliberalism by scholars such as Adam Tickell, Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore. Even though you may find, especially in the more advanced capitalist countries such as the US and the UK, that already in the mid or late 1980s such programs came into existence. These new discourses and partnering programs reinforce but also instrumentalize communities and other social networks and in this sense create and maintain the competitive and revitalized urban growth machine. Moreover, such developments eroded the foundations upon which generalized resistance might be built and as a consequence, spaces of contestation became limited. Borrowing here from Margit Mayer, there are at least four frontiers along which activist mobilization is still concentrated challenging, in one way or another, the neoliberalization of the urban governance process.

»Within the Fordist growth model, municipal policies had focused on expanding the urban infrastructure and managing large-scale urban renewal. In contrast, the growth-first approach to urban development, with which many cities reacted to the decline of inner-city middle-class population and business commitment, put social investment and redistribution second. This public sector austerity went hand in hand with a limited urban policy repertoire, emphasizing place promotion, supply side intervention, central-city makeovers, i.e. the rebuilding and expansion of down-towns into up-scale, attractive service centers or world-class conference and hospitality destinations.
With so-called mega-events, cities began to engage in subsidizing zero-sum competition, not only via large-scale projects (such as waterfront redevelopment schemes, train station make-overs, or efforts to attract expositions, conventions, Olympics, etc.), but also via theme-enhanced urban entertainment centers. Succeeding in this competition depends to a large extent on the packaging and sale of urban place images, which have therefore become as important as the measures to keep the downtowns and event spaces clean and free of ›undesirables‹ and ›dangerous elements‹ (such as the youth, homeless, beggars, prostitutes, and other potential ›disrupters‹). Such ›undesirable‹ groups have not only been relocated to marginal areas, where they could be fenced off as a wild zone, but urban renaissance initiatives have also been ambivalent about urban diversity: where cultural diversity can be marketed for cultural consumption, it may very well be promoted – at the same time as social controls limiting diversity are promoted« (Mayer, 2007: 94, emphasis in original)

According to Mayer (2007), the first frontier challenges the growth politics that have come to dominate the municipal repertoire. In resistance to growth politics various movements emerged that fight the new downtown developments, contest the incongruity patterns of investment and disinvestment transforming city centers, and resist the entrepreneurial ways in which cities market themselves and compete on regional and global scales. A local example that we came across yesterday and now comes to my mind is the »The Bronze Soldier« monument, obviously strongly impregnated with ideology that in the contemporary situation of tensions between the ethnical Estonians and the Russians living in Estonia triggers a clash of interpretations. In my view this monument is constructed to commemorate the defeat of fascist Germany and hence, the Soviet victory which also makes it a powerful symbol of the already rejected Soviet dominance and oppression. It is not quite clear what is the rationale behind tearing down the monument. Is it meant as an end of history? Is it meant as a symbolic encroachment on Russians? And in my view it may well be the case that such an ideological reading of its destruction is only disguising essentially different motivations. If we relate this to the agenda of redeveloping cities it might turn out that the destruction is not about Russophobia or about ending history but about someone having the economic power to appropriate this inner city space for establishing a shopping mall, a new hotel or some other commercial enterprise. That would ultimately erode or at least substantially redefine its function of a major plaza. And yesterday it looked to me as a vivid public place – it was around 9 o’clock in the evening and there were a lot of people around, some of them bringing flowers, some of them taking pictures – unlike all the other inner city places where basically nobody was around except the police and a private security company’s van. So it seems a really interesting place to investigate how activism deals with the restructuring of urban spaces.

The second frontier are poor neighborhoods which have long been the turf of community based or neighborhood orientated activism but, at least on the EU level, it has been increasingly incorporated within, or even absorbed by, the frameworks of territorially oriented programs such as the programs I mentioned – the New Deal for the Communities in the UK, the Socially Integrated City program in Germany, and the Big Cities program in The Netherlands.

The third frontier stirs up mobilization against the neoliberalization of social and labor market policies, against the dismantling of the welfare state and pro social and environmental justice – and all those issues came to the forefront of urban activism over the last decade. Social justice in particular became the realm of many advocacy NGOs and workers’ right organizations, many of which in more and more countries appear to converge into a new type of broad coalitions. Through all those social movements the old-style unionizing gets fresh blood but also becomes more open and that is especially promising in the US context but also in some parts of (Western) Europe as it might lead to broader coalitions’ building. One widely known example is the constant negotiation process carried out between Attac and parts of the unions which try to confront the new workfare policies and the immense growth of the low wage labor sectors.

And finally, the forth frontier is contested by the so-called anti-globalization movement which in my mind is a very incorrect term because none of those organizations is confronting globalization per se but rather the kind of neoliberal globalization that is taking shape today. The interesting aspect of the anti-neoliberal globalization movements during the last five to ten years is their discovery of the local level as an important ground for their successful operation. So these movements are increasingly focused on localities at the scale where global neoliberalization touches down, to make itself tangible and where global issues become localized. That happens especially in Europe where networks that are part of this trans-national movement are accommodating their repertoires and goals of the global protest to the local issues at stake. And they are often working in collaboration with the social justice alliances characteristic of this fourth frontier.

»During high Fordism, neither labor regulation nor welfare provision were regarded as tasks of the third sector, rather, the sphere of civil society was seen as detached from that of the labor market and the institutions regulating it; it was seen as an unpoliticized sphere of associational activity. During the early phase of neoliberalism, urban zones of concentrated poverty and exclusion were ignored, but with its roll-out phase, such areas have become penetrated by a panoply of programs addressing crime, welfare dependency, worklessness, and other manifestations of social breakdown. The neoliberal approach to (re)regulating the labor market and the social sphere is through territorializing strategies, which seek to govern in and through ›communities‹. At the same time, neoliberal urban governance seeks to ›economize‹ formerly neglected social zones, turning them into fields for entrepreneurial calculations« (Mayer, 2007: 97, emphasis in original).

To sum up, I will go back to the question what are the reasons and the incentives for the growing importance of cities? First, the hollowing out of the nation state leads to a transfer of its responsibilities to the local level. A number of scholars describe this shift of responsibilities as a concept of »governing at a distance« that stems out of this so-called process of devolution of the nation state. Of course, this does not leave the city completely independent in its decision-making; its autonomy from the nation state differs in extent from country to country and yet the respective nation state has a say in the urban policies. When it comes to global cities the headquarter economy is the key to their growing importance which is apparent in the data on financial transactions, global distribution of goods and even global distribution of people. If we take an extremely rich and powerful city like Los Angeles the data reveals that it is the third largest economy in the world (to be more precise, this is the case for California) but at the very same time it has a huge amount of urban poor who make this kind of global city work – so it is one of the poorest cities as well. Such cities are overloaded with new technologies that acknowledge and enable this process and ultimately, facilitate the fine-tuning of the urban economy. So these cities are dominated by profit optimizing economic arenas and business friendly entities supplemented by workfare regimes. This coupling is a decisive factor for the transformation of a city into an entrepreneurial city, for its operation as an entrepreneur. It means that the city policy is no longer conditioned on elections and other kinds of public decision-making but is rather run like a company with a limited number of CEOs who decide on what will be the city policies for the next years or months. That leads to revanchist city politics, Zero Tolerance, gentrification, return of the middle classes, pluralization of policing, and emergence of gated communities (Eick et al. 2007).

The growing importance of cities can be interpreted as a process fuelled by the »hollowing-out« of the nation state, an attempt of national governments to »govern at a distance« (devolution), the growing importance of centrality (while, at the same time, space-time compression becomes even more important) as can be seen by a headquarter economy in which global cities are key. New technologies – especially transport and communication – have to be seen as important as an enabler for this process; finally, cities allow for a fine-tuning of the economies.
These processes lead to cities interpreted (solely) as economical arenas that have to be economically efficient and business-friendly; processes leading to the ›entrepreneurial city‹ and cities as entrepreneurs, organized along the lines of workfare regimes, controlled by ›revanchist‹ city politics (zero tolerance, gentrification, return of the middle classes, pluralization of policing), and phenomena such as gated communities.

Neoliberal Crime Policies: ›pluralization‹ of policing
Let us refer to the example of neoliberal crime policies. Never before has crime prevention been such an important topic as it is under neoliberalism (Eick et al., 2007). It is no longer the case that the main task of the police is to persecute crime but moreover, it is now to prevent crime in its very possibility. That leads to complicated crime prevention measures (not even related to crime) such as the Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) orders in the UK that restricted tremendously the activities allowed in public space. For example, you are no longer allowed to wear sweaters and a hood in some shopping malls in the UK, because it is recognized as a dress code of youngsters who are troublemakers. An example from the US is the so-called »three strikes and you are out« concept: Let’s say you are using public transport but you did not buy a ticket, so then if they catch you that will be your first strike. Then you get into trouble with your girlfriend or boyfriend and beat her or him up and got by the police, so this might be the second strike. And because you are so angry that you have been caught for the second time, you forget to buy a ticket again and then if you get caught again this will be your strike number three – which leads to imprisonment with a lifelong sentence. In California, three years ago, that regulation was changed to »one strike and you are out« in regard to people who live in public housing.

The second example of neoliberal crime prevention policies is linked to socio-spatial orientation. In this regard the new development is the introduction of numerous special police units aiming at specific areas and/or targeting specific groups within the city space (see Eick et al. 2007).

The actors involved in policing are more and more diversified – what Adam Crawford and Stuart Lister (2004), citing the London police, call »the extended policing family« – and include state police, federal police, financial police or customs (that has specific domestic functions in Germany), the so-called civil society kind of policing (civil wardens, militias, neighborhood watch schemes, etc.), commercial police (rent-a-cop, detectives, bodyguards, bouncers, plant security and mercenaries, given that we still have several on-going wars). And all these employees of the state, »civil society«, and commercial police units are wearing different kinds of uniforms or so-called uniforms (see Eick, 2006a, 2006b, 2007a).

The third aspect of neoliberal crime prevention policies is the new penology. Its objectives and effects are evident already in the incredibly high numbers of prisoners today that are rising in parallel with the processes of neoliberalization. There are new forms of cooperation and technological prevention/tracing such as CCTV and Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFID) which were invented initially to facilitate tracing goods all over the world. For those of you who are football fans, it may be interesting to know that in the next international football tournament RFID tags will be placed inside the footballs so that the audience could know with absolute certainty if the ball stroke a goal or not. Implementation of such RFID tags into human bodies is under way in the US – and some discotheques even offer this as a VIP special guest service.[2]
It is obvious that policing strategies and tactics, tendencies of militarization as well as those of ›community-rization‹ have an impact on research and activism as have new technologies such as surveillance technologies mentioned above.

Capitalist Challenges: activism, atavism, aspiration
What are the challenges for research and activism, though? A (meaningful) critique has always been a proxy persons’ politics as it goes with the perception of ›undesirables‹ as being voiceless and helpless – the homeless worldwide might be an intriguing example, and the ›integration‹ of them into the labor market a disturbing kind of ›empowerment‹ (Eick, 2006a). Another challenge is obviously the attempt to create a ›career‹ for oneself, either by turning into a professional or by taking ›advantage‹ out of political work for one’s own purposes – a debate being present, for example, within the (basically German) urban movement of Inner!City!Action!-groups (Grell et al., 1998; Grothe, 2005). Another confrontation for researchers as for activists is the urban elite’s quest for integrating, co-opting, and assimilating of critical researchers and activists – the specificity here lies in the danger of promoting enhanced neoliberalism. One well-know example with respect to gentrification processes are the so-called ›pioneers of gentrification‹ such as students and artists taking advantage of, for instance, state- or city-subsidies (e.g. temporary use of vacant space for lower rents; Broedplaatsen concept in Amsterdam; Lower Eastside Manhattan/New York City). As Iris Marion Young (1990), among others, has shown, for the sake of a just, or »unoppressive city« one always has to fight against economic exploitation, marginalization of individuals and social groups, the production of powerlessness by state and non-state entities, discrimination and exclusion of ›non-norm‹ individuals and groups, the execution and threat of state violence, and, finally, the calibration traceability. One of the broadest challenges in addition lies in the (missing) capacity to find a ›language‹ to understand each other – especially when it comes to coalition-building (Abramsky, 2001; Doderer, 2003).

There are other issues that come to mind if one refers to research and activism. One concerns the question to whom to talk and with whom to work. The plethora of (new) social movements shows the different strategies and tactics applied to reach one’s goals. A current coalition, for example, against the massive surveillance measures brought into place by the German government see a coalition ranging from the comparatively conservative Liberal Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) to militant autonomous and anti-imperialistic groups,iii whereas the two latter groups seldom go for coalition-building. Other coalitions, including religious sects, can be observed within the, falsely named, anti-globalization movement. Coalition-building might be framed by the respective aims of researchers and activists. Doing research on right-wing militias or police might be as challenging in terms of being pocketed by the research subject/object, Rigakos’ book on the Toronto-based rent-a-cop company Intelligarde might be a good example (Rigakos, 2007) as might be the experience of Steve Herbert whose research on policing strategies found an abrupt halt since his findings did not comply with the expectations of the police (Herbert, 2006; personal communication). More generally, coalition-building as activism are framed by attempts of a concrete change of and progress in a given matter, or by an attempt to go for more ›symbolic‹ politics – the ›big critique‹. Dangers exist, especially in but not limited to, groups claiming to be ›avantgardist‹ – therefore, such groups might encounter the trap of self-referentiality.

Finally, as mentioned above, the (non)anticipated role of arts, ›alternative‹ lifestyles (and ›progressive‹ politics) in gentrification processes (e.g. Inner!City!Action!) might even lead to unintended consequences. A typical (non-asked) question might be: Is the use of vacant or ›sleeping‹ space a meaningful/substantial/material intervention/issue, or not? What further political means, goals, activities are necessary to succeed in making the city more just? Italy’s Centro Sociale (Social Centers) might be perceived as a convincing answer to such challenges as they are – in the majority of cases – are to work together with the neighboring community. Of course, this raises further questions: Who is ›the neighborhood‹, the community? What are their/it wants? What are those of the researchers and activists?

It is here, where Nikolas Rose’s statement has its specific meaning for activists and scholars alike – as such crime prevention measures and technologies mentioned above are linked with a discourse of ›community‹ and new methods of (urban) governance. Between the lines, one can read here about the respective challenges that come with ›community‹ in a contested terrain:

»[The current neoliberal programs] attempt to ›empower‹ the inhabitants of particular inner-city locales by constituting those who reside in a certain locality as ›a‹ community, by seeking out ›community groups‹ who can claim to speak ›in the name of community‹ and by linking them in new ways into the political apparatus in order to enact program[ ]s which seek to regenerate the economic and human fabric of an area by re-activating in ›the community‹ these ›natural‹ virtues which it has temporarily lost« (Rose, 1996: 336, accentuation in original).

Activism, atavism, and aspiration are confronted with – and are part of – community, crime, and capitalism. The city, from its very beginning, remains contested terrain. Could be worse…

Three Forms of Neoliberalization
(proto, roll-back, roll-out)
Mode of intervention State withdrawal Governance
Market regulation Deregulation‹ Experimental re-regulation
Political style Ideological conviction Pragmatic learning
Change agents Vanguardist politicians Technopolis
Front line Economic policy Institutionally embedded
Taxation Selective givebacks Systemic regression
Monetary policy Cold-bath‹ monetarism Prudence
Public expenditure Cuts Fiscal responsibility
Labour-market regime Mass unemployment Full employability
Employment relations De-Unionization Flexibility
Social policy Retrenchment Workfare
Financial regulation Liberalization Standards and codes
Development ethos Structural adjustment Social capital
Sources: Jessop (2002); Peck/Tickell (2007).


Four Forms of Neoliberalism

[in an attempt to ›sustain‹ the neoliberal project]

  • Neoliberalism

  • Neostatism

  • Neocorporatism

  • Neocommunitarianism

»Schumpeterian Workfare Post-National Regimes/SWPN« (Bob Jessop)

»Adjusting Neoliberalism«

  • Neoliberalism

  • Liberalization – promoting free competition

  • Deregulation – reducing the role of the law and the state

  • Privatization – selling off the public sector

  • Market proxies in the residual public sector

  • Internationalization – free inward and outward flows

  • Lower direct taxes – increasing consumer choice

»Adjusting Neoliberalism«

  • Neostatism

  • From state control to regulated competition

  • Guiding national strategy rather than planning top-down

  • Auditing the performance of the private and public sectors

  • Public-Private Partnerships under state guidance

  • Neo-Mercantilist protection of core economy

  • Expanding the role of new collective resources

»Adjusting Neoliberalism«

  • Neocorporatism

  • Rebalancing competition and cooperation

  • Decentralized »regulated self-regulation«

  • Widening the range of private, public, and other »stakeholders«

  • Expanding the role of Public-Private Partnerships

  • Protecting the core economic sectors in an open economy

  • High taxation to finance social investment

»Adjusting Neoliberalism«

  • Neocommunitarianism

  • Deliberalization – limiting free competition

  • Empowerment – enhancing the role of the third sector

  • Socialization – expanding social economy

  • Emphasis on social use-value and social cohesion

  • Fair trade instead of free trade; »think global, act local«

  • Redirecting taxes – citizen’s wage, carer’s allowances

Neoliberal crime policies

  • (crime) prevention

  • (socio) spatial orientation

(special police units aiming at specific spaces and targeting groups of »undesirables«)

  • new penology

(»punitive state«, intensified incarceration rates)

  • new forms of cooperation

(›police-private partnerships‹ with rent-a-cops, non-profit organizations, ›third parties‹ [e.g. insurances, airline companies], other state entities)

  • techno prevention/tracing

(CCTV, RFID, GIS, GPS, On-line email surveillance etc.)


Pluralization of Policing:

Selected state and non-state (in)security and (dis)order personnel


Civil society‹


State police Nonprofits Rent-a-cops
Federal police Civil wardens Detectives
Financial police (customs) Militias Body-guards
Municipal order service Neighborhood watch Bouncers
Security watch Security partners Plant security
Order partnerships Voluntary police service
German Employees (rounded off):State police: 265,000; federal police: 40,000; customs: 4,000 (clandestine employment) Source: Eick (2007b)

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[[3]]See for an overview: http://www.vorratsdatenspeicherung.de/index.php?lang=en [28.11.2007].[[3]]

   (↵ returns to text)

  1. The paper is a slightly revised version of key note I gave at the 4th annual Urban Studies Days in Tallinn/Estonia, April 25, 2007. I am thanking the organizers for the invitation, and I am thankful to Elitza Stanoeva for her support on this paper. The usual disclaimers apply.
  2. See, for further examples, http://www.spychips.com/, http://www.nocards.org/.