Ethnographic Explorations of the City

The details
Sociology and Criminology
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 28 June 2024
26 May 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA LL36 Social Anthropology,
BA LL3P Social Anthropology (Including Year Abroad),
BA LL6P Social Anthropology (Including Placement Year),
BA LL37 Social Anthropology with Human Rights,
BA LL38 Social Anthropology with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad),
BA LL39 Social Anthropology with Human Rights (Including Placement Year)

Module description

In the past few decades an unprecedented demographic change has taken place. For most of human history that vast majority of the world`s population lived in rural areas. Now, over half of the world's population lives in cities, and the United Nations predicts that this proportion will increase to over 70% by 2050.

This development raises a fundamental challenge to ethnographic practice and anthropological theory, which has historically focused on the life ways and societies of rural areas. Increasingly anthropologists have to come to terms with highly complex urban assemblages that are, paradoxically both longstanding and deeply unstable.

Cities are contested spaces. They are sites of intense social, political and economic struggles, which are waged by coalitions of actors representing a wide variety of sometimes complimentary and sometimes contradictory set of interests, with battle lines being continually drawn and redrawn in relation to a shifting social terrain.

By utilising a wide range of readings and examples including both the global north and the global south, this module will ask how we are to understand these developments anthropologically. We will pay particular attention to:

1. the ways in which cities have been understood as ethnographic sites,
2. the past, present and future of cities, and
3. the social, political and economic role of cities and how this shapes emerging forms of inequality.

Students will come to understand how anthropologists see the city, the methods they use, the data they cultivate, the topics they address, the hopes and possibilities they see contained there, and the ways that condensations of culture and power are visible in both infrastructural, representational, and social practices.

Module aims

The module aims to:

1. Explore different anthropological and theoretical approaches adopted in the study and conceptualisation of the city
2. Provide students with an understanding of the complex organisation and contested nature of urban social, economic and political processes
3. Equip students with the skill to critically engage with the materials presented
4. Equip students with the skills to examine how the topics discussed in a variety of global settings affect local urban processes.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should:

1. Be able to critically and analytically read texts and articles pertaining to urban anthropology
2. Learn key concepts, ideas, theories and themes in the field of urban anthropology.
3. Be able to communicate ideas and formulate arguments about these key concepts, ideas, theories and themes in urban anthropology—both verbally (through in-class debates) and through written work.
4. Through analysis of ethnographies and case studies, understand how anthropologists have used their methodologies to contribute to key themes, ideas and theories in urban anthropology.

Module information

Autumn Term

Week 2 Introduction, Theorising the city

Low, S. (2005) Introduction: Theorizing the City. In Theorizing the City: the New Urban Anthropology Reader, ed. Setha Low. Pp. 1-33. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP

Week 3 Historicising Cities of the Global North

Childe, V. G. (1950) "The Urban Revolution." Town Planning Review 21:3-17

Engels, F. (1845) "The Great Towns." In Condition of the Working Class in England.

Week 4 Colonial and Post-Colonial Cities

Bissell, W. (2011) Urban Design, Chaos and Colonial Power in Zanzibar. Indiana University Press. (Introduction pp. 1-21).

Robinson, J. (2006). "Ordinary Cities. Between Modernity and Development". Oxon, Routledge. (Chapter 1, Postcolonialising Urban Studies, pgs 1-12)

Week 5 Film, The Battle of Algiers

Week 6 The Social Life of Urban Infrastructure

Larkin, B. (2013) "The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure," Annual Review of Anthropology. 42: 327-343.

Week 7 Urban Social Diversity

Fainstein, S. (2005) "Cities and diversity should we want it? Can we plan for it?" Urban Affairs Review 41(1): 3-19.

Week 8 Urban Politics and Exclusion

Appadurai, A. (2000) "Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai" in Public Culture. 12(3): 627-651

Week 9 The Modernist and Post-National City

Ferguson, J. (1999) Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life in the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.(Chapters 1 and 3)

Week 10 Securing the City

Glück Z (2017) Security Urbanism and the Counterterror State in Kenya. Anthropological Theory 17(3): 297-321.

Week 11 Seeing the City, Urban Ethnography
Whyte, W.F. (1969) Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Appendix A)

Spring Term

Week 16 The Socialist and Post-Socialist Cities

Alexander, C. (2007). "Soviet and Post-Soviet Planning in Almaty, Kazakhstan." Critique of Anthropology 27(2): 165-181.
Berdahl, D. (1999). "(N)Ostalgie' for the Present: Memory, Longing, and East German Things". Ethnos 64 (2): 192-211

Week 17. Film, Goodbye Lenin

Week 18 The Neo-Liberal City

Sassen, S. (2012). Cities in a World Economy. 4th Edition. Sage. (Chapter 1)

Sassen, S.

Week 19 Enclaving

Appel H. (2012) Walls and white elephants: Oil extraction, responsibility, and
infrastructural violence in Equatorial Guinea. Ethnography 13(4): 439–65.

Caldeira TPR. (1996) Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation. Public Culture 8: 303-328.

Week 20 Readin Week

Week 21 Urban Informality

Roy, A. (2005) Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning. Journal of the American Planning Association.71 (2) 147-158.

Week 22 Legal and Illegal Urban Economies

Roldán, M. (2003). "Wounded Medellín: Narcotics Traffic Against a Background of Industrial Decline". In Wounded Cities: Destruction and Reconstruction in a Globalized World. Jane Schneider and Ida Susser, eds. Oxford, UK: Berg. Pp. 129-148.

Week 23 The Divided City

Amit, I., & Yiftachel, O. (2017) Urban Colonialism and Buffer Zones: Gray Spaces in Hebron and Nicosia. Geography Research Forum. 36, 143-159.

Week 24 Dystopian Cities

Marr, S, Slouching Towards Dystopia in Lagos and Detroit: Narratives of Apocalypse and Making the New Urban Periphery (April 19, 2013). Available at SSRN:

Week 25 Cities and Nature

Knuth, S. (2016) Seeing Green in San Francisco: City as Resource Frontier. Antipode 48(3):626–644.

Please click on the link below to download the Introduction to SC210 PowerPoint presentation

Learning and teaching methods

Teaching approach As there are still restrictions related to COVID-19 in place, some of the teaching on most modules will take place online. Most modules in Sociology are divided into lectures of around 50 minutes and a class of around 50 minutes. Some are taught as a 2hr seminar, and others via a 50-minute lecture and 2-hr lab. For the majority of modules the lecture-type content will be delivered online – either timetabled as a live online session or available on Moodle in the form of pre-recorded videos. You will be expected to watch this material and engage with any suggested activities before your class each week. Most classes labs and seminars will be taught face-to-face (assuming social distancing allows this). Please note that you should be spending up to eight hours per week undertaking your own private study (reading, preparing for classes or assignments, etc.) on each of your modules (e.g. 32 hours in total for four 30-credit modules). This module [SC210] will include a range of activities to help you and your teachers to check your understanding and progress. These are: Film Reviews, Group Presentations (either oral or by powerpoint depending on the situation) and urban observations. The lectures provide an overview of the substantive debates around the topic of the week, while the classes will give you the opportunity to reflect on your learning and actively engage with your peers to develop your understanding further. The weekly classes will take place face-to-face (unless there is a change in the current COVID safety measures). You are strongly encouraged to attend the classes as they provide an opportunity to talk with your class teacher and other students. The classes will be captured and available via Listen Again. However, if you want to gain the most you can from these classes it is very important that you attend and engage. Please note that the recording of classes is at the discretion of the teacher.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Participation     10% 
Coursework   Overall mark for Film Review    50% 
Coursework   Observation - Week 7    20% 
Coursework   Film Review - week 11     
Coursework   Observation - Week 16    20% 
Coursework   Film Review - week 24     
Exam  Main exam: In-Person, Open Book, 180 minutes during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: In-Person, Open Book, 180 minutes during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Jason Sumich, email:
Dr Jason Sumich



External examiner

Dr Umut Erel
Open University
Senior Lecturer
Dr Aneira Edmunds
School of Law, Politics & Sociology
Senior Lecturer
Dr Paul Gilbert
University of Sussex
Senior Lecturer in International Development
Available via Moodle
Of 42 hours, 42 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Sociology and Criminology

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