Changing Places: Social/Spatial Dimensions of Urbanization


The concept of space will provide the thematic underpinning and serve as the point of departure for this course. Space can be viewed in relation to the (human) body, social relations and social structures, and the physical environment. In this seminar, we will examine the material (social, political, and economic) and metaphorical (symbolic and representational) dimensions of spatial configurations in urban settings. In our analysis, we will address the historical and shifting connotations of urban space and urban life. Moving beyond the historical aspects of urbanization and its transformations, we will turn our attention to the (re)theorization of the very notion of spatial relations itself. Here, emphasis will be placed on representational practices and processes, whereby social “space” is created, gendered, revisioned. “Space” will no longer be seen simply as physical space but also in terms of the construction of meanings that affect our use of and relation to both physical and social settings. While economic factors will continue to be implicated and invoked in our analysis, we will move beyond the economic to extra-economic categories and constructs, such as notions of power, culture, and sexuality. The focus will also shift, as the semester proceeds, from macro-analyses to include an examination of everyday life. Through our exploration of these issues, we will attempt to gauge the practices and processes whereby social space is gendered, privatized, and sexualized and distinctions are established between “inside” and “outside” domains and between public and private realms. Particular attention will be paid to attempts by scholars and activists to open up space both theoretically and concretely. Although the theoretical/conceptual questions examined lend themselves to an analysis of any city, our focus in the course will be largely, although not exclusively, on New York City. Students should feel free, however, to extend the analysis to other places that are of interest to them. This applies particularly to conference work.