no. 43, March 2017

Urban nostalgia: between radical and reactionary imaginaries

a cura di / edited by // Nick Dines & Cristina Mattiucci


Nostalgia – the yearning for the past as a sense of loss in the face of change – is usually considered to be a reactionary sentiment; one that repudiates modernity and progress, is steeped in myth-making, exclusivity and sentimentality, and, as such, is invariably deemed to be fraudulent and politically objectionable.

In the city, one could point to those trite instances where self-proclaimed ‘indigenous’ residents lament the disappearance of an imagined close-knit and homogenous community, as the thinly veiled premise for rejecting the social and cultural diversity of the present. Nostalgia is also often spun into the visions of urban planners, who are deft at legitimating structural changes to the built environment through pledges to recovering the cleanliness, safety, order, greenness or conviviality of a bygone era.

However, nostalgia is not just politically conservative, nor is it a smoke screen for those in power (albeit very often an ineffective one). As the geographer Alastair Bonnett insists in his 2010 book Left in the Past: Radicalism and the Politics of Nostalgia, nostalgia has also been ‘an important but rarely acknowledged aspect of the radical imagination’. The rhetoric of loss is, in fact, frequently implicated in the everyday strategies for the ‘right to the city’, such as the acts of resistance against gentrification and displacement that are mobilised in defence of working-class and popular histories.

Meanwhile, critiques of, and responses to the deleterious impact of neoliberalism, crisis, labour precarization, etc. upon urban life are often underpinned by a pining for a (slightly) better past. This gives rise to broader questions about the possible roles that nostalgia might play in a radical, future-oriented, urban politics and the ways in which this is articulated and inscribed in the fabric of the city.

This special issue wants to explore how nostalgia shapes, distorts and reconstitutes the ways in which people perceive, experience and/or struggle in the contemporary city, be this for emancipatory or regressive ends. In doing so, it seeks to interrogate the underlying ambivalence of nostalgia and how it relates to contemporary urbanism. We welcome short articles that critically engage with nostalgia theoretically and empirically in relation to urban contexts.


Papers in English, French or Italian are welcome.

Please send your proposals to

Contributions expected word count | up to 2,500 words

Deadline for contributions | 31 January 2017

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