Social Justice and the City – the latest issue of the Annals AAG

The latest issue of the Annals of the American Association of Geographers is a collection of papers addressing the theme of “Social Justice and the City”. It has a wonderful set of contributions that have global coverage, including cases that range from Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul, Bucharest to London, St.Louis, Chicago and Esmeraldas in Ecuador. Altogether, 26 papers, including my own (see below), are included in this special issue, addressing those themes that require urgent attention by critical scholars. Following is an excerpt from the editorial introduction led by Nik Heynen who was instrumental to the production of this special issue:

Myriad questions related to social justice have shaped urban geographic scholarship, among which two things remain clear: geographers maintain fidelity to the idea that the discipline should keep working to understand unjust processes within urban life and simultaneously seek solutions to make cities more just. Beyond this, few geographers today would come to the same set of defining characteristics of what a just city would look like, or agree on the right questions to ask toward its realization. What the concept of social justice lacks in terms of facilitating intellectual and political consensus, it makes up for in centering heterodox efforts at generating relevant theory and practice that can change the social circumstances of people living in cities, regardless of how these terms are defined.

It is out of these enduring commitments, demands, and possibilities that the theme of this special issue emerged: Social Justice and the City.

It is my pleasure to have made a contribution to this issue, which is entitled “Urban Movements and the Genealogy of Urban Rights Discourses: The Case of Urban Protesters against Redevelopment and Displacement in Seoul, South Korea”. It traces the evolution of the urban rights discourses in Seoul, situating them in the rich history of South Korea’s urban social movements and democratisation, and appreciates the contributions made by the alliance of urban displacees and social movement groups in the midst of fighting speculative urbanisation. Up to 50 copies can be downloaded by clicking this link*:

Below is an abstract of my own paper for your information:

Despite significant contributions made to progressive urban politics, contemporary debates on cities and social justice are in need of adequately capturing the local historical and sociopolitical processes of how people have come to perceive the concept of rights in their struggles against the hegemonic establishments. These limitations act as constraints on overcoming hegemony imposed by the ruling class on subordinate classes and restrict a contextual understanding of such concepts as the right to the city in non-Western contexts, undermining the potential to produce locally tuned alternative strategies to build progressive and just cities. In this regard, this article discusses the evolving nature of urban rights discourses that were produced by urban protesters fighting redevelopment and displacement, paying particular attention to the experiences in Seoul that epitomized speculative urban accumulation under the (neoliberalizing) developmental state. Method-wise, the article makes use of archival records (protesters’ pamphlets and newsletters), photographs, and field research archives. The data are supplemented by the author’s in-depth interviews with former and current housing activists. The article argues that the urban poor have the capacity to challenge the state repression and hegemony of the ruling class ideology; that the urban movements such as the evictees’ struggles against redevelopment are to be placed in the broader contexts of social movements; that concepts such as the right to the city are to be understood against the rich history of place-specific evolution of urban rights discourses; and that cross-class alliance is key to sustaining urban movements.

Figure 3. Protesters in 1991 demanding the right to housing, Seoul. Source: The Kyunghyang Shinmun (Park, Yong-Su), provided by the Korea Democracy Foundation (