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Series "The Habitation" (Part II): The Urban and the Glocal

Rogério Dalla Riva

The importance of habitation, as outlined in the first fragment of this series, lies not only in its understanding as a singular force but also in the multilateral relationship it establishes with other forces and its correlation with similar concepts. In the course of the current stage, we will attempt to dimension this correlation and uncover as much as possible the main threads of this network, adopting the theoretical framework of the works of H. Lefebvre, Milton Santos, and others.

For a proper explanation of the proposal, we need to seek support from some parameters established by Milton Santos in his work Technique, Space, Time, where he teaches that the Urban and the city should not be confused. He states that the former is "the abstract, the general, the external," while the latter is "the particular, the concrete, the internal." They are not only concepts but also distinct "entities" — so to speak — although complementary (SANTOS, 2008, p. 66). Similarly, Habitation relates to human space, the home, or the community. The concepts then intersect, overlap, and complement each other, both concerning habitation and the occupied/utilized space, and regarding the Urban and the City, in a parallel that can also be understood as we add to this link the concepts of local, global, and "glocal." This multilateral correlation is the subject of this point in our study.

Another point that makes Habitation, in Lefebvre's view, similar to the Urban, in this reading of Milton Santos of the Lefebvrian category, is the congregating nature of both. Human union in the Urban stems from its nature as a congregating and aggregating force, from the gathering of differences, from simultaneity, according to Lefebvre himself (2006). Habitation, similarly, arises from the relationship of individuals with the place of their living in its simplest relation, from the attractive force that the desire to create exerts on people, leading them to invent and bond with the space they exist in. Habitation also brings together the persona and the space it creates.

onsequently, we can also draw a parameter between the cited Lefebvrian concepts and the notion of glocal and glocalism, a relationship we will attempt to better address in future essays, but which we discuss here as necessary. In this sense, the correlation of Habitation with the Urban goes in the same direction as observed by Roland Robertson in Glocalization: time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity (ROBERTSON, 1995):C

"Without denying that the world-as-a-whole has some systemic properties beyond those of the 'units' within it, it must be emphasized, on the other hand, that such units themselves are to a large degree constructed in terms of extra-unit processes and actions, in terms of increasingly global dynamics."

This parallel between Habitation and the Glocal is still visible when authors working on this category describe their concerns about the centrality of human life in the place of its living, in the problems, demands, and interests directly or indirectly linked to this space or the people who occupy it. In this sense, the problem of Habitation as a focus of study approaches what was observed by Victor Roudometof (2019) in Recovering the local: From glocalization to localization based on the same studies:

"(...) the entry point of the current discussion is Kennedy’s (2007) insightful observation that it is necessary to pay more attention to the lives of ordinary people, for these lives continue to be determined by affiliations, affections and obligations constructed around place; most people live ‘local lives’ that are largely dependent on co-presence and interpersonal sociability (see also Perkins and Thorns, 2011: 2)."

In turn, Robertson, reinforcing the idea of a systemic conception, argues that the units that compose the whole, the local and the many locals, are themselves formed of elements directed towards their exterior and, therefore, are not autarchies, closed in themselves. There are components in these places that pertain to the relations between them and are more than a fragment, an essential part of what underpins the existence and individuality of the place. From there, the author begins to work on the concept of glocal, by conceiving the local in its relationship with the global and the latter as dependent on the existence of the identity of each of those. Starting from this same perception, it is possible to perceive Habitation, community, and the Urban as parts and whole, simultaneously, in multilateral relations of individuals with them, among them, and through them. Not as parallel and linear two-dimensional segments but as a three-dimensional network of interconnected and interwoven threads, whose parts overlap and confuse at certain points.

This notion also leads to the perception that, as both a product and simultaneous producer of the global, even under the yoke of capital, the local, the habitation, is never completely subjected. There is also a simultaneous relationship of cooperation/dependence and adversarial/resistance. The smaller entities act as the larger ones, but their nature opposes it. The many regional identities that compose the city fight not only among themselves — a natural conflict, as will be explained — but against the system itself and its segregationist intentions. The relationship the individual establishes with the — Right to — Habitation resists the homogenizing pressure of capital.

Along this path, it is important to reinforce that there are more common elements between Habitation, in a local conception, and the Urban, the City, on a broader scale. They are not, thus, distinct conceptions but different levels and forms of the same element. It is emphasized, however, that as much as we can speak of the Right to Habitation inherent to a single individual and the place of their living, we cannot speak of the Right to the city as an individual right, precisely because it is a right that "demands a collective effort and the formation of collective political rights around social solidarities" (HARVEY, 2013, p. 32). This does not make them distinct and incommunicable elements, but reinforces their view as layers of the same notion. The city is composed — and it itself fosters a habitation — of the many habitations perceived in the collective nature of its connection.

This relationship of the human with space and their experience in it reverberates in human relations themselves. Milton Santos also establishes, in the work referred to in the previous essay, that "it is impossible to imagine a concrete citizenship that dispenses with the territorial component" (SANTOS, 2007, p. 144), since popular culture — as a counterpoint to mass culture, homogeneous and uniform, detached from socio-spatial elements — has roots in the land it is part of, "symbolizes the man and his surroundings," with a clear direction towards the future and change, but without disconnecting from the past. This culture is delimited and composed precisely by the relations of man with the environment he inhabits.

In this sense, the very nature of the Urban, being something continuous, dynamic, not of suppression or rise and fall, but of absorption, evolution, fosters the development and sedimentation of new ways of thinking about certain rights, such as the Right to Habitation and the encouragement of civic practice contained in the confrontation of differences. The Urban is formed, in a simple conception, of an aggregating and centralizing force of the city and identifies itself in this same power. Lefebvre describes the centralizing nature of the Urban as follows:

"The city attracts to itself everything that is born, from nature and work, elsewhere: fruits and objects, products and producers, works and creations, activities and situations. What does it create? Nothing. It centralizes creations. And yet, it creates everything. Nothing exists without exchange, without approximation, without proximity, that is, without relations. It creates a situation, the urban situation, where different things come from each other and do not exist separately, but according to differences. The urban, indifferent to each difference it contains, is often considered indifference that is confused with that of Nature, with a cruelty of its own. However, the urban is not indifferent to all differences, for it precisely gathers them. In this sense, the city constructs, highlights, liberates the essence of social relations: the reciprocal existence and manifestation of differences arising from conflicts, or leading to conflicts. The city, the urban, are they not the reason and sense of this rational delirium? Relations (social) always deteriorate according to a distance, in time and space, that separates institutions and groups. Here, they reveal themselves in the (virtual) denial of this distance." (LEFEBVRE, 1999, p. 111)

The author continues to explain that, although the Urban has a centralizing nature — and is, in itself, a centralizing movement — it does not deny differences, but exalts them as it is a creative force of new centralities. Milton Santos follows the same direction in the above-mentioned work, establishing that the multiplicity of spaces, inherent to the multifaceted city, composed of an amalgamation of superimposed times crystallized in it, resists homogenization and tries to preserve each individuality, each particularity incorporated into it, respecting the nature of each of these local identities and the reach of each in the space and society that inhabits it.

A real right to habitation, then, does not only concern the use and the right to respect the human connection with space, but, in terms of the concept of "freedom of the city" adopted by David Harvey in his article The Right to the City, part of the book Rebel Cities, "it is the right to change the city more according to our hearts" (HARVEY, 2013, p.28). This right is not, according to the author, abstract, but rather "inherent in our daily practices" and, thus, is absolutely linked to the civic practice of seeking and fighting for changes in the city. One of the dimensions in which the Right to Habitation should, in this sense, be conceived is that of a local and concentrated manifestation of the aforementioned conception, as the right to create and transform our habitat according to our hearts. The right to the city, the right to habitation, must be taken through political struggle and consequently through living citizenship. The human being and the space they occupy thus form, together, a unique entity and identity.

In The Urban Revolution, Lefebvre teaches that "in this new era, differences are known and recognized, considered, conceived, and gain meanings" (LEFEBVRE, 1999, p. 44). These differences pertain to both space and population; they are "spatial and temporal." Thus, urban thought gathers data established and separated by history—and here the concept again approaches Milton Santos's lessons in the book Technique, Space, Time, since there the city is also seen as the sum and concentration of different historical processes diffused over time, an "unequal accumulation of times," in Milton Santos's words.

Additionally, Lefebvre elucidates in another passage of his work:

[...] Whoever says "difference," says relations, therefore, perceived and conceived proximity-relations, thus insertion in a dual space-time order: near and distant. Separation and segregation break the relationship. They constitute, by themselves, a totalitarian order, which aims strategically to break the concrete totality, to shatter the urban. Segregation complicates and destroys complexity. Resulting from the complexification of the social, the urban presents practical rationality, the link between form and information. The sought-after synthesis? It manifests in practice, insofar as practice invokes the freedom of information, that is, the possibility, for each place, for each event, to inform others and to receive information from others. Difference is informing and informed. It gives form, the best form resulting from optimal information. As for separation and segregation, they break the information. They lead to the formless. The order they constitute is only apparent. Only an ideology can oppose it to the disorder of information, encounters, centrality. Only a limited rationalism, industrial or statist, mutilates the urban by dissociating it: projecting on the ground its "spectral analysis," the disjointed elements, whose reciprocal information becomes impossible. (Ibid., p. 124)

Herein lies the importance of a thought that recognizes these differences and prioritizes their communication and promotion of citizenship rather than segregation. The Right to Habitation, as recognition of the singular connection of the human being with their place of living, strengthens identities, gives life to civic practice, and fortifies not only the urban process but also the very formation and reaffirmation of already recognized or imminent rights.

This is not about a human gathering devoid of purpose, like a city united only in the name of industrial productivity. It is about recognizing in the differences of each habitation the potential as an instrument of reproducing life, culture, and all the richness of human activity, not just the economic. Promoting these singularities is seeking a "space that can unite men for and through their work, but not to then divide them into classes, into exploiters and exploited; a space of inert-matter that is worked by man but does not turn against him" (SANTOS, 2007:2, p. 41).

The recognition and promotion of these differences are fundamental to the notion of citizenship, and it is in the perception of one's own identity and rights that their real meaning lies. Thus, the thought of a strengthened Urban, promoting the clash, conflict, and relationship of identities—whose formation is also nourished in this process—shows great potential to reforge a civic living in society.

We thus resume the correlation of these two categories of concepts with glocality precisely in the tensions between forces of union and differentiation. It is also in this direction that this latter concept develops, exposing the ambiguous relationship of interdependence between the local and the global. According to it, much of what is said to be local, or even national, is essentially a reproduction of a general recipe. This observation by Robertson is visible in elements of institutionalized nationalism in various parts of the world. This aspect is nothing more than an indication, a revealing symptom of the general idea presented by Robertson: the local only exists in perspective with the global. One cannot speak of the part without considering the notion of the whole implicit in the former.

Even the proposal that attempts to singularize ends up using transnational and general concepts to propose itself. In our view, this is perceptible in the elements chosen as "identity facade" of these singularizations, such as flags, anthems, coats of arms, etc. Even nations that emerged outside the context from which such concepts arose often adopt them to be recognized in the general context. In the words of Robertson (1995):

[...] it neglects the extent to which what is called local is in large degree constructed on a trans- or super-local basis. In other words, much of the promotion of locality is in fact done from above or outside. Much of what is often declared to be local is in fact the local expressed in terms of generalized recipes of locality. Even in cases where there is apparently no concrete recipe at work—as in the case of some of the more aggressive forms of contemporary nationalism—there is still, or so I would claim, a translocal factor at work.

The author points here to the inevitable relationship between the local and the global, in such a way that there is never a full distinction between them. In the same sense as was just observed, even elements of pure localism are derivations of situations/elements influenced by external situations/elements, for no human culture has developed in an environment hermetically and absolutely isolated from others.

In another sense, but still along this same line of reasoning, even the most extreme scenario, through which we can also touch on the theme of the environmental crisis, would be that of a tribe isolated and free from any prior contact with other human cultures and their processes, modes, and life cycles. Even in this context, this isolated community is today influenced by the effects of the climate crisis, a consequence of the unbalanced actions of humans in their relations with the biosphere. This community has and will have to face extreme or unpredictable climatic events within its traditional systems. The problems it will face henceforth will be largely aligned with those of the general community from which it might be presumptuously separated in an initial analysis.

Therefore, there is no Local without Global, no isolated Habitation without considering the community in which it flourished, without also thinking and perceiving the City in which it is inserted, without perceiving the Urban. To act locally with effectiveness, it is necessary to think globally. Also, one can only perceive the whole when we insert ourselves and consider the singularity to which we belong. More than that, to devise feasible strategies for civic emancipation, it is necessary to take into account the limits and possibilities concretely considered in each community and in the general context of globality, as any project blind to this perception will result in empty, sterile, and ephemeral attempts. Empty as they lack the interest and participation of the people, the community they concern. Sterile as, even if populated by some sort of specific factors, they will not have the strength to reverberate in a global context. Finally, ephemeral as, deprived of popular strength, of human will in their existence, they will perish in the succession of generations or even in the torrent of problems that daily life presents to the human being, always intoxicated by the sense of urgency that mortality imposes on us, needing to stay alive to be able to live.


LEFEBVRE, H. O direito à cidade. 4a ed. São Paulo: Centauro, 2006.

ROBERTSON, Roland. Glocalization: time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity. In: FEATHERSTONE, Milke; LASH, Scott; ROBERTSON, Roland (ed.). Global Modernities. Londres: Sage Publications, 1995. p. 25-44. Disponível em: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/ Acesso em: 30 maio 2024.

ROUDOMETOF, Victor. Recovering the local: From glocalization to localization. Current Sociology, 2019, 67(6), 801-817. Disponível em: Acesso em: 30 maio 2024.

SANTOS, Milton. O espaço do cidadão. 7 ed. São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, 2007.

SANTOS, Milton. Pensando o espaço do homem. 5 ed. São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, 2007

SANTOS, Milton. Técnica, espaço, tempo: globalização e meio técnico-científico-informacional. 5 ed. São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, 2008.

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