The city has been the center of political-economic life since the first agricultural surpluses allowed the emergence of an elite no longer bound to subsistence farming. Cities are humanity's most intensely symbolic places, where the life-making activities of human collectivities overwhelm all but traces of the non-human. They are where we can come closest to materially inhabiting an entirely human-made world.
Yet our early-21st-century capitalism poses new questions for the city, or as Omar Hamilton asked not long before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, "What happens to a city when it is not built for living in?" Vast disparities in wealth make urban property ownership possible for only a small segment of the population. New concerns about sociality and changes in work in response to the coronavirus have changed patterns of mobility and access. Climate change, meanwhile, presents new risks to lives and structures and promises further changes in the arrangement of city life.
In this course we consider the past, present and future of the urban center as a site of production, meaning and power. We read theoretical and literary texts from Omar Hamilton, Hannah Arendt, Deborah Cowen, Jorge Luis Borges, Teju Cole, Donna Haraway, James C. Scott and others.
Plan of the class
"Capital, Class and the Emergence of the City" (Harman 2008)
"City and Symbol" (Arendt 1998; Haraway 1991; Cole 2020)
"Administration" (Scott 1998; Borges 1962)
"Logistics and Circulation: Gilets Jaunes to COVID-19" (Hamilton 2019; Cowen 2014)
Arendt, Hannah. 1998. The Human Condition. Second. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Borges, Jorge Luis. 1962. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Cole, Teju. 2020. “City of Pain.” Level. https://level.medium.com/city-of-pain-1f77a5eae1e9.
Cowen, Deborah. 2014. The Deadly Life of Logistics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Hamilton, Omar. 2019. “Irreversible Shift.” N+1.
Haraway, Donna J. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–82. New York: Routledge.
Harman, Chris. 2008. A People’s History of the World. London: Verson. Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.