In urban studies, Henri Lefebvre is known for his humanist critique of urbanism. Similar to Althusser, Lefebvre is also interested in ideology. According to Lefebvre, “any representation is ideological if it contributes either immediately or ‘mediately’ to the reproduction of relations of production. Ideology is therefore inseparable from practice.” For Lefebvre’s understanding, what makes ideology visible is the practices. The practice of ideology also contributes to the reproduction of dominance of the hegemonic class.
On the other hand, Lefebvre distances himself from orthodox marxist views since he states that “Marxism is not a science”. He thinks that all theory is a mixture of truth and error; therefore there is no sharp distinction between science and ideology. The borders between truth and falsity are blurry. Lefebvre’s Marxist thought suggests that Marxism is “political theory of socialist practice” rather than being merely a science.
One might further suggest that while Marxism develops a critique of capitalist society, it offers an alternative mode of relations of production by means of replacing bourgeoisie economy with a proleterian one; which makes new forms of oppression possible within newly established economic, cultural, social relations. Besides, one might also argue that as Max Weber was critical to the fact that urban policy is determined not by inhabitants but for the inhabitants, he would definitely agree with Lefebvre’s critique of Marxism since they both point out and stay critical the infrastructure of capitalist mode of relations and the capitalist urbanization for their humanist intentions, without suggesting new ways of urbanization and social progression.
On the other hand, for Althusser Marx did make a science but he never wrote how he made it. So he just wrote about “theory of theoretical practice”. According to him, science doesn’t come out with observations but from existing conceptual generalities and knowledge can never be derived directly from experience. Althusser implies two kinds of realities; first, there are the ones that exist outside of thought, remains unaffected by theoretical practice. Second, there are realities that exist as a product of theoretical practice. Moreover Althusser claims that ideology is everywhere present; and the point is, it’s a practice since it refers not to ideas about reality but to the very way in which we live in and experience that reality.
Now, about Urban Studies: The commonality between the ideas of Lefebvre, Althusser, Castells is that ideology is functioning in the city. However, Lefebvre’s and Castell’s cities are quite different from each other. An Althusserian Manuel Castells emphasizes the concept of “structure” and added to this idea that the city itself functions for reproducing class relations. Castells develops an Althusserian urbanist approach as he states that while the city functions for capitalism, it becomes more functional for capitalism. However, at this point Lefebvre suggests something conflicting with Castells; for him, the city threatens capitalism more while it functions for capitalism.
Lefebvre argues that space is political and the production of space can be likened to the production of any particular merchandise. Then what is needed, for Lefebvre is not to make a science but to see how space is constructed and possessed. Lefebvre refers to Gramscian notion of hegemony, while explaining the ways in which space is instrumentalized for the dominance of the opressive class. Besides, Lefebvre’s urban consists of three concepts: space, everyday life and reproduction of capitalist relations.
On the other hand, Lefebvre’s city also contains multiplicity of everyday life; it is lively, productive, with the inhabitants, interacting:
“The city – a place where different groups can meet, where they may be in conflict but also form alliances, and where they participate in a collective oeuvre. A town where every place is interesting and moving and has its religious, political and aesthetic pulsations. Singing and dancing, mural paintings, counter cultures. Fascination, pleasure and liveability… Contrast… The multiplicity of roles and relations… Tourism… Differences… The city has an autonomous reality. It has a life, an existence which cannot be reduced to the distribution of land or space, the street, the square, meeting places, fêtes; … The complexities and richness of urban life, especially of everyday life…”
By the way, Lefebvre offers a radical pathway for the urban crisis; the need of self management which “necessarily entails the abolition of central domination altogether.” Once self management is achieved, individuals would have the opportunity to free their lives from capitalist mode of relations, hence the space will be experienced by and for the masses (and meybe Weber’s critique will be actualized). In this sense Lefebvre’s positions is far from Marxism since it is anarchist, so to speak. And humanist when compared with Althusserian antihumanism.
According to Lefebvre, there are three stages that determined development of humanity; agrarian, industrial and the urban society. In Lefebvre’s urban space, there is always something happening and moving. The urban is the foremost point humanity has achieved until today. On the contrary, Castells’ city doesn’t have a creative funciton, but it has the ability to make assemblages:
“And that is what the essence of the urban is in the last resort. For the city creates nothing, but, by centralizing creations, it enables them to flower.”
Social Theory and the Urban Question / Peter Saunders
Metromarxism: a Marxist tale of the city / Andy Merrifield
The Urban Question: A Marxist Approach / Manuel Castells
Urbanism as a Way of Life/ Louis Wirth
The City/ Max Weber
picture retrieved from http://celinemeisser.deviantart.com/art/city-30249271