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Article

Топонимический активизм и "право на город": социологические заметки

Names of streets, squares and other territorial units play crucial role in everyday interactions with urban environment. They make the city space intelligible and governable, available for utilization in practices of social communication. At the same time toponymic nomenclatures set the navigation system not only in physical, but also in sociocultural space, inscribing certain commemorative and political agenda into urban symbolic landscapes. This fact makes them an object of undiverted control from the direction of local and federal authorities and a theme of intense discussions in public sphere, which are often accompanied by various forms of civic activism. The article examines toponymic activism through the prism of the "right to the city" concept, which was proposed by French sociologist Henri Lefebvre and developed in social geography. Two constituents of “right to the city” are distinguished - the right to participate and the right to appropriate. In accordance with the research focus civic initiatives on the (re)naming of territorial units are treated as a weapon in the struggles of inhabitants for the right to participate in the production of urban space (right to participate) and to appropriate symbolically the urban objects (right to appropriate). Based on the analysis of semi-structured interviews with the activists in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg some empirical implications of the proposed model are demonstrated. Three orders of discussion maintenance are distinguished – political, historic-cultural and pragmatic. It is noted that they form three largely autonomous field of debate; however the unifying principle for all orders is the recognition of higher value of the opinions of those people who are direct users of the objects or spaces, in comparison with the opinions of other people, actors or institutions. Accordingly toponymic activism is examined as an attempt to rescale the present structure of power relations in the sphere of urban (social) space production with the transmission of decision-making right from city authorities to inhabitants, for whom the city space is lived. The struggle for the right to appropriate is manifested in the form of competition between social actors and institutions that offer various toponymic agenda aimed at the symbolic appropriation of certain objects or spaces. This right assumes the assertion of the different social actors’ right to (re)name city objects, which allows them to designate a physical presence in urban space.