Finding transformative potential in the cracks? The ambiguities of urban environmental activism in a neoliberal city

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This article analyzes a unique case of local environmental activism to think through the puzzle of how to interpret the transformative potential of the forms of small scale collective action that have recently emerged in neoliberal cities of the Global North. In response to the call by J.K. Gibson-Graham and others for research that is less driven by abstract theory and more attuned to context and ambivalent possibilities, I present the findings of research co-produced with ‘Upping It’, a small activist group that uses innovative tactics to clean, green and rehabilitate stigmatized neighbourhoods in Moss Side, Manchester. By enacting forms of interstitial politics, Upping It makes a tangible difference in the lives of ordinary people and creates conditions necessary for politicization, while also participating in unfair and unsustainable local systems. Their story offers rich material for considering the strengths and limitations of two theoretical framings that appear to dominate the literature on micro-political movements: the post-political and new environmentalism framings. These frames, and the criticisms that have been made about them, help to identify two key insights from Upping It that are useful for better capturing the ambiguities and tensions of their kind of struggle in the current conjuncture. These relate to the importance of including justice-oriented activisms, which in this case might be seen as a form of defensive everyday environmentalism, in the emerging picture of new urban movements. Another is the value of finding modest transformative potential in the cracks and on the margins of urban politics.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 Jul 2019