The populist eruption and the urban question
Generalizing the recent experience of the United States, the common wisdom associates today’s ‘populist explosion’ with a deepening urban-rural divide, in which small towns and rural regions are seen as reservoirs of populist anger while large cities in the most prosperous areas are portrayed as strongholds of multicultural coexistence and liberal democracy. In challenging this representation, this paper underlines the ‘urban roots’ of today’s populist phenomenon in Western societies, using Italy as illustrative evidence. It is argued that cities – far from being pacified enclaves of happiness and democracy – are central to the contradictions of contemporary societies and their degenerations, reflecting an ambivalent relationship with the nation-state: potential sites of post-national democracy, on the one hand, but also spaces contributing to the current populist-white-revanchist wave sweeping Western societies, on the other hand. In doing so, the paper shows how the intersected housing and refugee crises have fomented impulses of ethnic-majority revanchism within Italy’s cities and towns in a context of late neoliberalism.
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