Introduction: how rights control contemporary perceptions of what


The recent decades have witnessed the rise of neo-liberalism,
which has spread across the globe like a “vast tidal wave of institutional
reform and discursive adjustment, entailing much destruction” (Harvey, 2006:
145), substantially affecting the evolution of cities. However, these
neo-liberalist agendas have become subject to a number of contentions, most
commonly in the form of urban social activities, campaigns, and movements,
encompassing Henri Lefebvre’s notion of the ‘Right to the City’ at the core of
their claims and struggles. Having said that, while the ‘Right to the City’ has
become a popular debate among academics, with a great deal of focus on the
working class, the homeless, the youth and the immigrants. While the disability
rights movement can be deemed and recognized under each of these groups, there
has been minimal allusion to the plea of this movement specifically being
victims of urban exclusion, alienation and marginalization. In retrospect,
Lefebvre’s concept has extreme contemporary relevance to the disability rights
movement, who continue to struggle for their recognized space and place in the
city, and in asserting their fundamental rights (Pierce, Williams and Martin,
2016). Therefore, the disability rights movement will cover the ‘whose rights,’
London will cover the ‘what city’ and ‘what rights’ will be further explored in
this case study.

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definition of a ‘right’:

In its most
rudimentary form, a ‘right’ can be defined as “a moral or legal entitlement to
have or do something” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018). This, however, extends to
how rights control contemporary perceptions of what actions are legitimate and
which institutions are fair, and signify inherent aspects of governments, laws,
and morals (Wenar, 2005). Rights can be categorized into natural entitlement
and legal entitlement, in which the former embodies rights which originate from
human nature, or God-granted, and are not dependent upon the laws, customs,
beliefs of a certain society, hence they are universal and unchanging over time
(, 2018). The latter embodies human rights, which originate from
human laws, customs, or statutes, and are constructed by man, with citizenship
regarded as the foundation of legal rights (, 2018).


rights can be individual or group, where individual rights are generally
associated with the natural right of being human, while group rights are
generally associated with the rights of a nation or self-determination for a
group (Wenar, 2005). Ultimately, rights constitute an integral part of
civilization, the backbone of society and culture, where the government’s purpose
is to preserve these rights, which spans from the right to vote to the right to
work and education. These are all innate across all races, sexes, ethnicities
and religions.


The concept
of the ‘Right to the City’:

The concept of ‘the Right to the City,’ (RttC) conceived by Henri
Lefebvre in his 1968 book ‘Le Droit à la ville,’ has become frequently
exploited within debates of contemporary urban and political geography. To
Lefebvre, the idea of the RttC parallels his deep-rooted fascination for urban
life under capitalism, and signifies the events transpiring at the time, in particular
the May 1968 events in Paris, characterized by student demonstrations and
workers’ strikes (Attoh, 2012). Lefebvre asserts that the RttC can exclusively
be understood as “a cry and a demand” (Lefebvre, 1996 1968: 158) and “a
transformed and renewed right to urban life” (Lefebvre, 1996 1968: 158). In
essence, Lefebvre’s concept perceives the city and urban space as an ‘oeuvre,’
a collaborative artwork of all city dwellers and their daily routines (Boer and
Vries, 2009), or simply, the right to not be alienated, excluded or
marginalized from the spaces of daily life (Mitchell and Villanueva, 2010). The
‘oeuvre’ conceptualization emphasizes how the use value of space is the matter
of the greatest importance, especially the social interactions and exchanges
that take place. Nonetheless, Lefebvre uses the RttC notion to stress this era
as being the turning point in the city as an exchange value starting to
overwhelm the use value (Fraser, 2017), as a result of privatization,
commodification and production, products of capitalism (Smith and McQuarrie,


On the contrary, in recent years, the RttC has developed into a slogan
embraced by the youth, the lower classes, and the individuals and groups
globally who are experiencing alienation, exclusion or marginalization from
present urban life. Additionally, the catchphrase has been adopted by human
rights activists and development workers (Boer and Vries, 2009), with a
geographical perspective concentrated on the resistance to urban
neo-liberalization, in which Mitchell (2003) accentuates that it has denied
certain individuals and groups access to public spaces in the city. David
Harvey has even gone to the extent of elaborating Lefebvre’s theory as “not
merely a right to access what already exists, but a right to change the city
after our heart’s desire” (Harvey, 2003: 393). The RttC has evolved into an
urban social utopia, symbolizing a united claim for movements internationally
(Isensee, 2013).