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. We will interrogate the subject not as a transcendental universal consciousness but as a body and being co-produced by urban social environments. The city then is positioned as a key component in the modern project concerning the “culturation of the self.” Drawing initially on theories of subjectivity articulated by Bourdieu and Foucault, we will examine these culturations of the self by articulating a theory of reflexive spatial practice.

Topics for class sessions include: Avoiding the Subject; Techniques of the Body; Theorizing Spatial Practice; The Industrious City; Publics and Privates, Pt. 1 (or, Sex in the City); A City of One’s Own, Pt. 1 (or, The Other City); The Disembodied City; Publics and Privates, Pt. 2 (or, The Defensible City); The After City; The Sensible City; The Rhetorical City (or, Urban Legends). Although the topics covered are broad, we will reflect on examples of North American urban conditions in the early and middle part of the twentieth century. In this way, the course offers a general perspective on the co-production of subjectivities and cities while more specifically revealing essences and aspects of modern American urbanism.

Close analysis of theoretical readings is essential to the course, in addition to a theorizing of spatial practices that emerges from one’s own critical reflection of inhabitation, urbanism, and modern living. Thus, discussion and critical engagement with one’s peers are also essential to the course. Course assignments include weekly response papers and a final research paper on a topic of your choice.