Cafés, cocktail coves, and “empathy walls”: Comparing urban and exurban everyday life through a Lefebvrian lens

Jason Luger*, Tilman Schwarze

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article utilizes a Lefebvrian framework – specifically, his notions of “implosion and explosion”, the triad of
the production of space, and his conceptions of “everyday life” and “oeuvre” – to comparatively engage two case
studies alongside each other: urban South Chicago, and exurban North Carolina. Drawing from ethnographic (inperson
and digital) observations and anecdotes, we suggest that these concepts are dynamically and flexibly applicable
to the shifting terrains of urban and exurban relations and offer ontological pathways for productive
comparison across difference.
Conceptually, the article is also undergirded by Hochschild' (2016) notion of the “empathy wall”, a sociological
barrier which divides polarized and socio-spatially- segregated geographies, within the context of recent urban
and anti-urban insurrections and demonizations of one and other. These divides are viscerally evident in
post-Trumpian America, but extend to many global contexts; thus, our comparison speaks to wider relevance.
We argue that oppositional geographies like urban and exurban are inextricably linked and mutually constitutive,
despite representing different sides of the “empathy wall” (in a political and cultural sense), and inhabiting
distinct urban morphologies, geographical settings, historical lineages and political borders and boundaries. Furthermore,
we suggest that such a relational pairing of urban alongside exurban is vital to overcome the seemingly
insurmountable ontological, cultural and political borders between them.
By reflecting on everyday life and social formations around ephemeral centers and sites such as cafés, backyard
barbeques, lake parties and gyms, we offer some areas where dialogue and political solidarities might
emerge across, and despite, the “empathy wall’s” steadfast insurmountability.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 20 Oct 2021


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