The Subject and the City

This seminar takes as its premise that a history and theory of the city cannot be known without an accompanying history and theory of the urban dweller. We will begin by interrogating the subject – the urban dweller as subject and the city as subject. Subjectivity is typically understood as confined to and determined by the physical, psychological, and sociological structures of contemporary life. Here, however, we will interrogate the subject not as a transcendental universal consciousness but as a body and being co-produced by urban social environments. Drawing initially on theories of subjectivity articulated by Bourdieu and Foucault, we will articulate a theory of reflexive spatial practice which we will then examine in various urban environments. Reflexive spatial practice is a dialectic between the subject and the city that reveals new understandings of both the disciplinary practice of space and the practitioners of space.

Topics to be covered in the course include: definitions of subjectivity; techniques of the body; maps, memories, and other forms of spatial recollection; theories of spatial practice; the role of private bodies in public spaces; urban morphology as cultural history; the rhetorical city versus the city\’s historical reality; the \”after\” city; the romance of resistance narratives; and the persistence of urban myths, legends, and rumors.

Close analysis of theoretical readings is essential to the course. Additionally, a theorizing of spatial practices will emerge from critical reflection of contemporary modes of inhabitation, urbanism, and modern living. Thus discussion and critical engagement with one\’s peers are also essential to the course. Students are required to present on the readings throughout the course, in preparation for developing a research paper on a related topic. Grades for the course will be assessed from class participation, the presentation of the course readings, and the final paper.