Cities can be understood as spaces of friction, because of the diversity of (groups of) people that inhabit it. It is a setting where people have to be able to agree to disagree. This characteristic of urban life is most clearly conceptualized in the notion of agonism. It emphasises the potentially positive aspects of certain (but not all) forms of political conflict. It accepts a permanent place for such conflict, but seeks to channel this positively. Political theorist Chantal Mouffe uses the concept of ‘agonistic pluralism’ to think about democracy as different from the traditional conception of democracy as a negotiation among interests. According to Mouffe, most thought on democracy has in common the idea that the aim of the democratic society is the creation of a consensus, and that consensus is possible if people are only able to leave aside their particular interests and think as rational beings. Mouffe argues that is a paradox because of the desire of an end to conflict and a simultaneous desire for people to be free. Therefore, democracy must allow for the possibility that conflict may appear and provide an arena where differences can be confronted.
Last week, I visited the Louvre in Paris, where Michelangelo Pistoletto had a carte blanche to intervene in the museum with his installations. One of the works was located in a corridor in the basement of the Louvre. It stated ‘love difference’ in all kinds of languages, written in bright glowing neon letters. The work can be seen as a superlative of agonism. Love differences, or at least agree to disagree.