The post-political trap? Reflections on politics/political, agency and the city

; (). The post-political trap? Reflections on politics/political, agency and the city. Urban Studies, 54, 1. 31-43. Peer reviewed.


This commentary reflects on the influence of the post-political critique on urban studies. In this literature (e.g. Swyngedouw, 2014), the default position of contemporary democracies is post-politics – the truly political is only rare, random and radical. The ‘post-political trap’ refers to the intuitively convincing, yet ultimately confining account it provides of contemporary urban governance. We identify three shortcomings. First, the binary understanding of the real political/politics as police negates the in-betweenness and contingency of actually existing urban politics. By so doing, secondly, political agency is reduced to the heroic and anti-heroic. Thus, the plurality of political agency in the urban sphere and multi-faceted forms of power lose their political quality. Third, the perceived omnipotence of the post-political order actually diminishes the possibilities of the urban as a political space of resistance and emancipation. On these grounds we argue not for a rejection of the notion of the post-political per se but for a more differentiated approach, one more alert to the contingencies of the political and of depoliticisation in the urban realm.