3.1 From urban theory to the problematisation of urban living
Each of the three ways of thinking tells us something important, without necessarily telling the whole story of the agency of urban places and urban-based processes and practices.
The first way of thinking contains the germ of the idea that places are not contained or bounded, but that they overlap and are open to all sorts of influences from elsewhere: from other cities, but also from non-urban areas. And that it’s not only urban areas that are affected by urbanisation processes.
The second approach is open to the objection that there is no singular urban community, but multiple forms of urban experience and therefore a plurality of forms of collective associated with urbanisation processes.
The third idea of urban agency is open to the objection not only that all the members of a place do not have a single, collectively shared interest that ‘the city’ can pursue, but also that any agency that places do have might well be dependent on the relationships of dependence and autonomy they are tied into with other scales of authority, legitimacy and sovereignty.
So none of these three strands of urban thought and spatial theory provides a watertight, all-inclusive definition of the urban – the city – or of place.
But perhaps we shouldn’t think of disciplines or theoretical traditions as needing to provide such definitions or explanations in the first place. It might be better to think of different ideas of what defines a city, or what the urban is, as reflecting different ‘problematisations’ of spatial issues (see Cochrane, 2007). By this, all we really mean is that these different strands of urban theory might be better thought of as representing attempts to respond to recurring problems associated with some aspect of urbanisation processes. Some theoretical traditions are better than others at helping us grasp what is at stake in some aspects of urban processes, depending on just which aspect is the focus of concern.