© 2016 Joseph Heathcott

GRADUATE SEMINAR IN URBAN THEORY

Urbanists face a peculiar challenge: to study the very thing that surrounds us from day to day.  Like a fish in water, we struggle to describe the medium in which we swim.  Theory is the apparatus that helps us describe that medium.  Since the whole of the city is unknowable, we search for it through its parts--those traces, movements, patterns, fragments, and encounters that tell us something about the urban.  Over time, we build up a picture.  We apply a theory to make sense of it all.  We hope the theory suffices, at least for a while.  Eventually what we thought we knew turns out to be partial, misleading, or wrong.  So we start again, building a new conceptual framework to help us understand where we went astray, and how we might do better.  That is the work that theory does in the world.  It is indispensible.

This course considers the city that surrounds us through the apparatus of urban theory.  To do this, we must grasp the first rule of urbanism: every city is simultaneously real and imagined.  The city is at once a place of real stuff--concrete, brick, asphalt, land, bodies; and at the same time a dreamscape, haunted by ghosts of the past, apprehended through manifold imaginaries, described in discursive and poetic terms, and constantly remade by aspirations large and small.  In grappling with this axiom, we will ask four overarching and intertwined questions:  how do we make the city (the material question); how do we imagine the city (the ideological question); how do we understand the city (the epistemological question); how do we experience the city (the phenomenological question).  Each of these questions, moreover, intersects with crucial modes of analysis, including the temporal, the spatial, the scalar, the relational, the sensory, and the representational.  At the end of the course, students will reckon the state of the field by posing a final question: do urbanists only borrow from other disciplines and fields, or has 'the urban' produced theory in its own right?