Ethnographic Explorations of the City
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 28 June 2024
26 May 2023
Requisites for this module
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/24/who-owns-our-cities-and-why-this-urban-takeover-should-concern-us-all
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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2253798
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
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.
Low, S.M. (ed.) (1999) Theorizing the City. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Bach, J. (2010) ‘“THEY COME IN PEASANTS AND LEAVE CITIZENS”: Urban Villages and the Making of Shenzhen, China’, Cultural Anthropology
, 25(3), pp. 421–458. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40785345
Pontecorvo, G., Haggiag, B. and Morricone, E. (2018) ‘The battle of Algiers.’ [U.K.]: Cults. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpn4Htfrv88
The Pitfalls of National Consciousness by Frantz Fanon
(no date). Available at: https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/fanon/pitfalls-national.htm
Bissell, W.C. (2010) Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar
. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. Available at: https://muse.jhu.edu/book/189
Holston, J. (1989) The modernist city: an anthropological critique of Brasília. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Larkin, B. (2013) ‘The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure’, Annual Review of Anthropology
, 42(1), pp. 327–343. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-092412-155522
Appel, H.C. (2012) ‘Walls and white elephants: Oil extraction, responsibility, and infrastructural violence in Equatorial Guinea’, Ethnography
, 13(4), pp. 439–465. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138111435741
Nielsen, M., Sumich, J. and Bertelsen, B.E. (2020) ‘Enclaving: Spatial detachment as an aesthetics of imagination in an urban sub-Saharan African context’, Urban Studies
[Preprint]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098020916095
Michael Herzfeld (2010) ‘Engagement, Gentrification, and the Neoliberal Hijacking of History’, Current Anthropology
, 51(S2), pp. S259–S267. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/653420
Davis, M. (no date) ‘Planet of Slums, NLR 26, March–April 2004.’ Available at: https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii26/articles/mike-davis-planet-of-slums
MacClancy, J. (ed.) (2002) Exotic No More. The University of Chicago Press.
Berdahl, D. (1999) ‘“(N)Ostalgie” for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things’, Ethnos
, 64(2), pp. 192–211. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.1999.9981598
Alexander, C. (2007) ‘Soviet and Post-Soviet Planning in Almaty, Kazakhstan’, Critique of Anthropology
, 27(2), pp. 165–181. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0308275X07076787
Sturken, M. (2004) ‘The aesthetics of absence: Rebuilding Ground Zero’, American Ethnologist
, 31(3), pp. 311–325. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.2004.31.3.311
Appadurai, Arjun (2000) ‘Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai’, Public Culture
, 12(3), pp. 627–651. Available at: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/26210
Roy, A. (2005) ‘Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning’, Journal of the American Planning Association
, 71(2), pp. 147–158. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01944360508976689
Lombard, M. (no date) ‘Informality as structure or agency? Exploring shed housing in the UK as informal practice.’ Available at: https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.uniessexlib.idm.oclc.org/doi/full/10.1111/1468-2427.12705
Schneider, J. and Susser, I. (eds) (2003) Wounded Cities: Destruction and Reconstruction in a Globalized World
. Taylor & Francis Ltd. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003087465
Amit, I. and Yiftachel, O. (2016) ‘Urban Colonialism and Buffer Zones’, Geography Research Forum
, 36, pp. 144–159. Available at: https://grf.bgu.ac.il/index.php/GRF/article/view/501
Glück, Z. (2017) ‘Security Urbanism and the Counterterror State in Kenya’, Anthropological Theory
, 17(3), pp. 297–321. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1463499617729295
Davis, M. (1999) Ecology of Fear. London: 1999.
Knuth, S. (2016) ‘Seeing Green in San Francisco: City as Resource Frontier’, Antipode
, 48(3), pp. 626–644. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12205
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
||Overall mark for Film Review
||Observation - Week 7
||Film Review - week 11
||Observation - Week 16
||Film Review - week 24
||Main exam: In-Person, Open Book, 180 minutes during Summer (Main Period)
||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.
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Jason Sumich, email: email@example.com.
Dr Jason Sumich
Dr Umut Erel
Dr Aneira Edmunds
School of Law, Politics & Sociology
Available via Moodle
Of 38 hours, 38 (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).
* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.
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