The Cosmopolitan Contradictions of Planetary Urbanization

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This paper explores the empirical, conceptual and theoretical gains that can be made using cosmopolitan social theory to think through the urban transformations that scholars have in recent years termed planetary urbanization. Recognizing the global spread of urbanization makes the need for a cosmopolitan urban sociology more pressing than ever. Here, it is suggested that critical urban sociology can be invigorated by focusing upon the disconnect that Henri Lefebvre posits between the planetarization of the urban – which he views as economically and technologically driven – and his dis-alienated notion of a global urban society. The first aim of this paper is to highlight the benefits of using ‘cosmopolitan’ social theory to understand Lefebvre's urban problematic (and to establish why this is also a cosmopolitan problematic); the second is to identify the core cosmopolitan contradictions of planetary urbanization, tensions that are both actually existing and reproduced in scholarly accounts. The article begins by examining the challenges presented to urban sociology by planetary urbanization, before considering how cosmopolitan sociological theory helps provide an analytical ‘grip’ on the deep lying social realities of contemporary urbanization, especially in relation to questions about difference, culture and history. These insights are used to identify three cosmopolitan contradictions that exist within urbanized (and urbanizing) space; tensions that provide a basis for a thoroughgoing cosmopolitan investigation of planetary urbanization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)476–496
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number3
Early online date4 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016, London School of Economics and Political Science. This is an author produced version of a paper published in British Journal of Sociology. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.Embargo period : 24 months


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Henri Lefebvre
  • centrality
  • conflict and reconciliation
  • planetary urbanization
  • urban diversity

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