Iris Marion Young on City Life

Source: Understanding Human Mobility Patterns

“I propose to construct a normative ideal of city life as an alternative to both the ideal of community and the liberal individualism it criticizes as asocial. By ‘city life’ I mean a form a social relations which I define as the being together of strangers. In the city persons and groups interact within spaces and institutions they all experience themselves as belonging to, but without those interactions dissolving into unity or commonness. City life is composed of clusters of people with affinities — families, social group networks, voluntary associations, neighborhood networks, a vast array of small ‘communities.’ City dwellers frequently venture beyond such familiar enclaves, however, to the more open public of politics, commerce and festival, where strangers meet and interact (cf. Lofland 1973). City dwelling situates one’s own identity and activity in relation to a horizon of a vast variety of other activity, and the awareness that this unknown, unfamiliar activity affects the conditions of one’s own.

“City life is a vast, even infinite, economic network of production, distribution, transportation, exchange, communication, service provision, and amusement. City dwellers depend on the mediation of thousands of other people and vast organizational resources in order to accomplish their individual ends. City dwellers are thus together, bound to one another, in what should be and sometimes is a single polity. Their being together entails some common problems and common interests, but they do not create a community of shared final ends, of mutual identification and reciprocity.”

— Iris Marion Young in Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

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