Urban Ethics

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New York City: The “just city” and the violence of ethics in political protest (2018 - 2021)

In current protests, especially those against right-wing populist and authoritarian movements and governments, what is the role of cities, of the urban, and of urban ethics, understood as visions of good and just urban practice? In such urban protest landscapes, what interactions and dynamics can be said to develop between protests that have different, sometimes contradictory demands – such as protests that aim at new political leadership and those that primarily have demands for social justice, for example in labor struggles or local urban initiatives? And in what ways does urban life figure as a normative resource in such debates, in a positive or negative sense?

These questions guide the research group’s New York City project, which builds on results from the same team’s work in Moscow in the previous research cycle (Moscow: Urban Ethics of Protest and the Violence of Ethics).

Pursuing a dialogic ethnographic approach, the project is concerned with a variety of protest actions, groups, and the people involved. Initially, there are four main research foci which hopefully will allow us to grasp a wider (cultural, social, and political) conjuncture:

- Tactics and strategies that help establish the “common” and consensus, and related questions of “inclusive” (and, in that sense, “ethical”) protest – i.e., protest that is accessible and attractive to inhabitants of the city despite their differences

- Ways of dealing with dissent and with tensions that are hidden, overcome, repressed, or pushed into the background in the process of establishing “ethical” consensus within protest movements and coalitions. Such processes can exemplify the potential “violence of ethics”, but they also refer to societal contradictions and their preconditions, which may correlate with experiences and subject positions in protest groups and become manifest in moments of crisis

- The ways in which people in protests and protest movements negotiate the critique of “privileged urban liberals” (often: populist, sometimes also “progressive”) and more broadly the role of cultural figures and figuration in these conflicts

- Explicit and implicit visions of a good and just city: interpellations, imaginations, and constructions of New York City as a center, island, or safe haven of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion, as well as critiques of such visions.

The project is planned as an ethnographic case study and will mainly highlight specificities of this urban situation. At the same time, following an extended case method, the analysis continues methodological and theoretical lines of inquiry and diagnoses from other projects within the research group, especially the Moscow project from the first round, and thereby aims to contribute to wider questions of conjunctural analysis.