Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

James M. Jasper

Committee Members

Sharon Zukin

Philip Kasinitz

Jan Willem Duyvendak

Subject Categories

Civic and Community Engagement | Politics and Social Change | Urban Studies and Planning

Keywords

housing strategies, strategic interaction, urban politics, urban renewal, Moscow

Abstract

In summer 2017, residents of thousands of socialist-era apartment buildings in Moscow were invited to vote and decide whether their building should be included in the demolition and relocation program proposed by the Mayor’s Office. Renovation is an ongoing urban renewal plan, first announced in Moscow in February 2017, to demolish whole neighborhoods of socialist-era, five-story buildings and replace them with high-rises. The vast project affected more than 5,000 buildings with approximately a million inhabitants.

This dissertation addresses general questions of political agency and the possibility for diverse people in urban neighborhoods to produce change: to achieve desired policy outcomes, transform the rules of political interactions and the configuration of players in the urban political field. Inevitably, the interests, aspirations, and strategies of these people differ. In this thesis, I explore how these different aspirations and different life experiences clash, overlap, and develop into collective strategies, which can transform the relationships of the urban political field. To connect the experiences of Moscow residents facing urban renewal with the longstanding sociological debates, I synthesize theories of agency and strategy, theories of strategic interaction in social movement research, and urban scholarship on citizenship.

Housing is a fundamental human goal, and ways of achieving and keeping a proper home shape a person’s housing strategy. Renovation soon turned into a housing struggle. The reason it sparked a high degree of mobilization in a relatively politically apathetic society is the thing it targeted: housing is literally the issue closest to home, able to provoke even politically indifferent people to act. I seek to demonstrate that political action partly grows out of individual strategies, motivations, aspirations, and feelings. These personal strategies, too, result in turn from earlier social and cultural processes.

Renovation pulled Muscovites into the urban political field, a configuration of interactive arenas where decisions about the city in general and its specific parts can be negotiated. Setting foot in one arena could also motivate citizens to further explore the outlines of the field, and engage in interactions in further linked arenas, such as municipal elections. Previously, not many Muscovites had used or even known about the different arenas of urban and local politics, but the shock of potentially losing their home in Renovation exposed those structures to more citizens than ever before. People learned and tried out individual arenas, learned about the connections between different political arenas, and created new arenas, for example, homeowners’ assemblies or meetings of the new activist communities.

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