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

McFarlane, Colin and Langley, Paul and Lewis, Sue and Painter, Joe and Vradis, Antonis (2021) 'Interrogating ‘urban social innovation’: relationality and urban change in Berlin.', Urban Geography .


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’.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher 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.
Date accepted:20 October 2021
Date deposited:21 October 2021
Date of first online publication:09 December 2021
Date first made open access:28 January 2022

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