Struggles over needs and aspirations: debating a social reproduction framework for investigating urban lives and livelihoods

    Activity: Talk and presentationAcademic presentationAcademic


    Since 2022, soaring inflation and rapidly increasing energy prices have put extensive pressure on urban inhabitants to make ends meet. Rising costs of living push populations struggling with austerity policies and high rents over the edge. This conjuncture forces inhabitants, third-sector organisations, and public institutions to adapt to regulatory and financial pressures and the evolving needs of urban populations. In this discussion, we explore how a decade of austerity urbanism transformed social reproduction landscapes and nestled itself in everyday urban life and spaces. We hope to inspire a renewed engagement with questions of sustaining urban livelihoods in the context of rising living costs, retreating welfare states, and increasing housing costs.
    We foreground a social reproduction perspective to discuss people’s livelihood practices and struggles to define, negotiate and meet material (e.g. food, shelter, health) and immaterial (e.g. worth, rights, entitlements) human needs in contemporary cities. Social reproduction entails both the unequally-laden practices, responsibilities, obligations and relationships that sustain life daily and intergenerationally (Brenner & Laslett, 1991), and the power differentials which enable and disable specific ways of living (Bhattacharya, 2017; Federici, 2018). On the other hand, human needs designate necessities of physical survival and aspirations and hope conducive to a ‘good life’ (Heller, 1976; Soper, 1981; Doyal & Gough, 1991). The ambivalent standpoint of human need emerges as a suitable site to investigate survival and struggle in the urban landscape without being oblivious towards power, inequality, oppression and differentiated patterns of obligations and responsibilities.
    This discussion explores practices of survival and struggles for a worthy livelihood (Narotzky & Besnier 2014) in contemporary cities across different contexts. It stresses the political relevance of normative moralities underpinning people's struggles to jointly fulfil their material and immaterial needs and define their value and social legitimacy. We will open this discussion by presenting a social reproduction framework to investigate contemporary urban lives, illustrated by empirical and conceptual examples from our work on austerity in Portugal, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Together with participants, we hope to explore how urban social reproduction is embedded in culturally specific normative realities and socio-economic histories of social welfare. Ultimately, we aim to develop grounds for a research agenda centring social reproduction in cities, creating the required sensitivities to the relations between places, scales, and actors in ‘actually existing social reproduction landscapes’, and constructing a research politics that imagines alternative cities as sites of possibility to guarantee social reproduction for all.
    Event titleWhat makes urban life worth living? (Re)evaluating the value of urban life
    Event typeConference
    LocationLisbon, PortugalShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • social reproduction
    • urban life