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Interrogating ‘urban social innovation’: relationality and urban change in Berlin

McFarlane, Colin; Langley, Paul; Lewis, Sue; Painter, Joe; Vradis, Antonis

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Sue Lewis

Antonis Vradis


The relationship between the city and ‘innovation’ is long and varied, but in recent years there has been a new focus on the potential of innovation to catalyse economic, social, and environmental change. This has led to a debate around whether and how innovation might be progressive, and the extent to which it is captured by – indeed driven by – neoliberal thinking and processes. Our argument is that a useful route to understanding and evaluating the forms and politics of innovation in the city lies in critically examining how the ‘urban’, the ‘social’, and ‘innovation’ are differently understood, put to work, and brought together by different actors. Exploring how these terms are relationally co-constituted is different to existing approaches. We do not seek to identify principles of what makes good urban social innovation, and we go beyond separating out different cases as ‘neoliberal’ or ‘progressive’ (though we keep a hold of that useful critical focus). We show that a relational focus enables an understanding of the constitutive elements through which ‘urban social innovation’ differently proceeds. This approach can help nuance, diversify and broaden how we understand the forms and potentials of initiatives presented to us as ‘urban social innovation’.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 20, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 9, 2021
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Oct 21, 2021
Publicly Available Date Mar 1, 2023
Journal Urban Geography
Print ISSN 0272-3638
Publisher Bellweather Publishing
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 44
Issue 2
Pages 337-357
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Published Journal Article (768 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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