Thinking the Low

This urban theory course will examine a diverse body of social, literary and cultural theory in order to assemble a set of concepts that can be used to understand, analyze, and utilize the social and cultural category of the \”low.\” This category includes popular culture, folk culture and cultures of the working class, poor and marginal social groups. Readings will include works by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, anthropologists Mary Douglas, Michel deCerteau and James Holston, literary critics Mikhail Bakhtin, Peter Stallybrass and Allon White and cultural critics Dick Hebdidge, Susan Stewart and Constance Penley, We will examine economic, social, political, cultural, esthetic and spatial practices Rather than emphasize simple hierarchy inversion (i.e. the low is good; the high is bad), we will focus on zones of interaction between the two realms such as the ideas of symbolic inversion and transgression used by Stallybrass and White and Homi Bhaba\’s notion of hybridity. The goal of the class is to use these concepts to illuminate urban phenomena that might otherwise resist interpretation. Although the bulk of the class will be devoted to reading and discussion, students will be expected to develop a research or design project to which this mode of analysis can be applied.