Christian Siener

Undergraduate Discipline


BA, Hobart College. MA, Hunter College. PhD (expected September, 2018), Graduate Center, City University of New York. Research interests include political economy; infrastructure; 20th century US urbanization; race, class, and gender; consciousness, social movements, and social change. Siener's dissertation, From Prison to Homeless Shelter: Camp LaGuardia and the Political Economy of an Urban Infrastructure, analyzes the political geographies of New York City’s extensive homeless-shelter system in historical perspective, demonstrating it as a crucial aspect of the carceral state and its management of social and economic dislocation. SLC, 2018-

Undergraduate Courses 2018-2019


Critical Cartography: Mapping Social Justice

Open , Seminar—Spring

Have you ever wondered about the political and social origins of maps? This course introduces students to the histories, theories, and practices of digital mapmaking. By the end of the semester, students will understand the concepts and assumptions that undergird Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and become proficient in the fundamental skills required to use it. They will learn to create and analyze maps and to explore how GIS technology can be useful in uncovering and representing geographic and spatial relationships in society at many scales. The course will be both discussion- and lab-based. Students will read and discuss key foundational theoretical texts in critical cartography and apply those ideas and techniques to designing their own research projects. From the production of redlining maps in the federal government’s New Deal agencies to the US military’s use of GIS visualization for operations in Iraq, spatial representation and rationalization has been critical for the reproduction of economic and state power. While much of the course will be technical in nature, students will think about maps as narrative. What worlds do maps represent? What stories do they tell about power? Whose stories do they tell? We will analyze and critique different types of maps in order to understand the complex social processes and scales that have combined in their production. We will, therefore, study maps and mapmaking in historical and political-economic context. We will examine many historical and contemporary examples of these types of spatial analyses and representation with the goal of producing different kinds of research projects that critique and seek to undo those relationships. A map consists of acts of translation and interpolation. It is the object of a particular resolution of the tension between space and place. While cartographic and GIS practices have often been generated within colonial and neocolonial settings and politics, they can also be used differently. In general, the course will encourage students to think through how the power of maps can be harnessed toward liberatory ends. What other stories can we tell using maps? What other stories are people currently telling? What other topographies and patterns have they identified? In contrast to the presumed objectivity of maps, students will work to create different narratives about unequal relationships of power and how to transform them. Conference projects will, therefore, center on identifying the spatial patterns of particular vectors of inequality in New York City or illustrating the spatial aspects of a social or environmental problem or issue. Students will find and/or create datasets to analyze within their own direction of interest. Students will be encouraged to continue their ongoing research or political engagement by adding a GIS/spatial component, using the theory and techniques learned in this course. Connections to organizations engaged in social, economic, and/or environmental justice work will be welcomed.


Foundations of Urban Political Economy: Geographies of Crisis and Resistance

Open , Seminar—Fall

What are the processes driving social change in contemporary cities? How are urban spaces structured in power? This course introduces students to the main concepts, theories, and ideas of contemporary scholarship in urban political economy with a focus on the history and institutions of New York City. It is intended to be an open course with no expectation of previous student background in the subject area. We will approach urban politics and economy from a geographic perspective in order to arrive at some consensus conclusions about how urban spaces and places are made. While the primary focus of the course will be New York City, we will also read case studies and history on other cities: Thomas Sugrue on Detroit, Clyde Woods on New Orleans, and Bobby Wilson on Birmingham. Throughout the course, the structural implications of class, race, and gender will be emphasized. If geography is the territoriality of relationships of power, then an understanding of scale is central to an understanding of power. The first weeks will be dedicated to foundational theoretical pieces, including essays by David Harvey, Harvey Molotch, Saskia Sassen, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Bobby Wilson, and Clyde Woods. These readings will be complemented by the work of Neil Smith on geographic scale in order to give students a theoretical groundwork for dissecting the interrelatedness of the various levels of engagement that constitute urban places and environments. This will provide transition for subsequent readings about the major changes and events influencing New York City’s urbanization over the course of the 20th century, including federal housing policy, urban renewal, the 1970s fiscal crisis, neoliberalism, and gentrification. The remaining weeks will be dedicated to reading studies by scholars who use political economic frameworks to analyze particular infrastructures, policies, or issues in contemporary cities. These case studies in urban political economy and uneven development will be thematic, consisting of recent work in housing and gentrification, environmental justice, immigration, schools, tourism, policing, labor, homeless shelters, and prisons. We will discuss the implications of the upcoming election on the political geography of New York City. These themes will help students continue to situate their own research, as well as to hone their ongoing research conference projects. The starting point for conference projects will be urban politics and inequality. Students will choose an instance of inequality in New York City and study it, in depth, from a political geographic perspective, drawing on the theory and case studies that they have read throughout the semester. Alternatively, students may choose a neighborhood and combine a variety of observational, historical, and neighborhood-level data in a comprehensive analysis of the processes impacting that neighborhood today. Projects exploring these themes using a variety of media—including film, podcasts, or others—will be considered. Students will be encouraged to use the GIS lab for creating maps and analysis of these issues and/or neighborhoods and will be introduced to citywide GIS datasets maintained by New York’s Department of City Planning, as well as other sources, for these purposes. Students will also be encouraged to attend the Geography film series in the spring, at which themes and ideas relevant to urban politics and justice will be screened and discussed.