Castells, M. (1983). _The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements_. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press.

Arguing upfront that sociologists and urban studies experts know much about what constitutes city form and the city’s problems, but nothing about the cause of social change, Castells sets about elaborating “a provisional, theoretical framework” (xvi) of how social change happens. Taking a express departure from Marxism’s preoccupation with production, he reasserts the city is a social social product and a site for collective consumption. Moreover, its innovations generally arise from grassroots efforts, the most successful among them, “urban social movements.”

The book comprises two sets of case studies, one historical and the other contemporary. The former demonstrates that “the socio-cultural meaning of urbanism is a product of history” (p. 70). The latter encompasses examinations into: Paris’ Grand Ensembles, San Francisco’s Latino and gay movements (this is considered one of the great researches), Latin America’s squatter settlements, and Madrid’s Citizen Movement. Taking the partial successes and/or failures of the first three with Madrid’s triumphs, Castells devises an analytical model and proposes the following goals/criteria for wholly effective urban social movements:

  1. organization around “collective consumption use value” (as opposed to capitalism);
  2. construction of cultural identity, “community” (as opposed to technocracy); and
  3. formation of decentralized units for self-governance, “citizen movement” (as opposed to statism)

Urban social movements are more than symbolic. They are symptoms of societal contradictions and can potentially overcome such contradictions. Agents of successful urban social movements must:

  1. articulate the three aformentioned goals;
  2. know they’re organizing urban social movements;
  3. connect their mission to society through operators, especially the media, professionals, and political parties; but
  4. not align with any one particular party; and
  5. understand the first condition commands all others.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Research Fields


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