Beyond Cooptation or Resistance: Urban Spatial Politics, Community Organizations, and GIS-Based Spatial Narratives


Correspondence: Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona, 409 Harvill Bldg Box 2, Tucson, AZ 85721, e-mail:


The roles, relationships, and strategies of state and civil society institutions in urban planning, problem solving, and service delivery are in flux. In trying to understand how these changes affect community organizations, grassroots groups, and local-level institutions of civil society, existing research has tended to conceptualize these roles through a series of oppositional dialectics, such as cooptation or resistance. This article shows instead that community organizations shift their technological, institutional, and spatial approaches to urban planning and problem solving in creative and multifaceted ways. They produce a variety of spatial narratives to advance their agendas by strategically enacting multiple roles vis-à-vis a diverse set of actors and institutions. Information technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) can play a central role in this approach. Community organizations apply their own interpretive frameworks to GIS-based maps and images to produce spatial narratives of local needs, conditions, and assets that may be adapted to the diverse roles and relationships they negotiate in urban spatial politics. These arguments are developed from ethnographic research carried out with two inner-city Chicago community organizations pursuing a range of neighborhood improvement activities.