Critical Urbanisms: Theories and Methods


Kenny Cupers, Manuel Herz, Sophie Oldfield, Ginger Nolan, Marie-Laure Allain Bonilla

Course Description:

This course introduces students to theories and methods of what we call critical urbanisms. Critical urbanisms start from the premise that today’s urban and environmental challenges call not only for new ways of doing but for new ways of thinking. Imagining alternative futures means rethinking the present and the past. Instead of seeking to solve problems as they appear, this course interrogates their historical making, their political unfolding, and the ways in which they are represented.

Discussing key texts from a wide variety of disciplines, including urban studies, geography, history, anthropology, architecture, and the arts, this course focuses on relationships between theory and practice. Rather than providing a survey of dominant approaches to urban studies or planning, however, this course focuses on the various ways in which theoretical constructs, explicit or tacit assumptions, and inherited and new ways of seeing bear on concrete urban practices and lived experience. What is the work of theory and how does it help us understand ‘real city worlds’ around us? Why is interdisciplinary work on cities critical to imagining alternative futures?

With examples from Cape Town to New York, from world systems analysis to the Situationists, and from street vending to architectural forensics, the course explores how urban conditions are problematized and addressed in practice, from planning and policy to art and urban activism. How is theory mobilized to reinforce or question material or social interventions in the city? How do urban practices and spaces become marginalized or institutionalized, and how does their interpretation change over time? How do alternative visions of the urban present and future emerge, and how do they inform activist projects? How are dominant assumptions about urban life contradicted by new actions and experiences?

Format and Learning Objectives:

This seminar aims to introduce students to foundational ways of understanding the urban condition, by interrogating the complex relationships between urban theory and practice. Its goal is to forge a common vocabulary for students interested in urban studies who are coming from a diverse set of disciplinary backgrounds.



Part of Module:

Critical Urbanisms: Introduction

Type:  Seminar
Semester:  Fall
Credit Points:  2 CP
Location:  Spalenvorstadt 2
Language of instruction:  English
Scale:  Pass/Fail