Toward a History of Urban Social Movements
There is a striking gap in the historiography of social movements. Over the past few years, historians have started to lay bare the roots of various social movements that fought for the protection of the environment, the rights of women, or global peace. Against the backdrop of present-day mobilizations against high rents and neighbourhood displacement, historians have also begun to explore past movements that centred on or actively engaged with cities. Studying the conservationists, squatters, students, and ordinary residents who struggled for access to and control over urban space, these historians have shown that urban contention became a central element of social mobilization in post-war Europe and North America. But in so doing, they have contributed to the widely shared impression that urban social movements appeared out of nowhere in the rebellious 1960s. Thus, despite the growing interest in the urban movements of the second half of the twentieth century, there has been very little research so far into the historical evolution of these movements. This paper explores the reasons for this lack of attention. In so doing, it suggests why long-term historical analysis will prove fruitful for research on past and present urban mobilization alike.