polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Happy Mai (68) Day Archive

by Hector Fernando Burga

May Day commemorates the accomplishments of laborers worldwide. It also conjures the memory of Mai 68, when the city of Paris became a primary protagonist in the ever-evolving civilizational drama linking social change and built form.

During the events that sparked the Mai 68 uprising, university students joined forces with union workers, intellectuals, and everyday professionals to challenge the political status quo and reshape the values that came to define postwar France under the dominant influence of Charles de Gaulle.

Echoes of this utterly modern narrative of urbanism, people, and protest, persist today in the democratic revolutions transforming countries in the Middle East. Yet they also play out in political arenas closer to home. The recent battle for collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and the midwest reverberates with the echoes of insurgent urbanisms. Public spaces, streets, and symbolic monuments are appropriated by people to claim a new and arguably revolutionary civic life.

What can the Mai 68 tell us about social re-imagination, the possibility of effervescent politics, the contradictions of political claims, the frailty of grassroots mobilizations, and the pragmatism of enabling inclusive change?

How do the barricades of Paris 1968 serve as a point of reference for contemporary insurgent urbanisms? Or should we ask, instead, how contemporary insurgent urbanisms force us to re-evaluate the myth and romanticism of Mai 68?