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PhD course

The Global City and the Nature of the Urban: Anthropological Perspectives

  • ECTS credits10
  • Teaching semesterSpring
  • Course codeSANT905
  • Resources

Course description

Language of instruction


Course content

What is the urban?

Are cities increasingly becoming similar all over the world?

How is it possible, as anthropologists, to grapple with the complexity of urban sociality?

In this course, we will look closely at cities as a global phenomenon and explore the nature of the urban from a range of anthropological perspectives.

With now 50 per cent of the world's population living in urban settings and the numbers increasing with what has been called the rise of 'planetary urbanism', there is a need to recognise that the urban comprises sites of 'metabolic exchanges that are global in reach and extent' (Wakefield and Braun 2013). In this there is a paradox: On the one hand, with global urbanization and scalar compositional complexities increasing, the notion of the 'the city' becomes problematic and fuzzy. On the other hand, in many instances precisely such a notion of 'the city' is retained on an ideological hegemonic political level, as well as in notions of identity, in popular discourse or as an idea. This course will deal with this paradox between the centrist notion of 'the city' - a term Lefebvre saw as a fetish and as politically stale more than conceptually useful - and other approaches emphasising sprawling and mutating urban, suburban and peri-urban forms. Furthermore the course will emphasise how urban orders transcend being merely spatial containers or demarcations for human activity but are also sites for imaginaries, loci for politics and, in short, constitute laboratories for present and, especially, future human formation.

Increasingly, one has come to view the urban as a site for neoliberal forms of capital, as the locus for rampant gentrification and financialisation of formal and informal properties and settlements and, lastly, as domains for the exercise of statecraft, including violence and exclusion, often under the guise of security. On the other hand, however, there are perspectives in anthropology that highlight the city's multidimensional potential-for open-source architecture, broad-based citizen-led initiatives, forms of collective occupation and redefinition (spatial, symbolic, artistic), or as the very context in which forms of utopian longing is instantiated. Also, as urban theorist AbdouMaliq Simone argues, in Southern cities, a myriad forms of connection and collectivity-on both an imaginal and concrete plane-unfolds under the cover of darkness beyond the much fetishized social movements, hinting to hidden forms of protest, dark and illicit economies, informal ways of exercising belonging or invisible forms of care.

Drawing on these and a number of other perspectives, in this course, we therefore invite PhD students in anthropology to consider what the conceptual, analytical, ethnographic or theoretical status of the city and the urban is from the vantage points of their distinct research projects. The aim is for the course to generate broader understandings of how one, as an anthropologist, can engage and open up the understanding of the urban at a global level.

Examples of issues to be considered during the course (illustrated by case studies):

  • What are the relations between notions of security, policing and differentiated citizenship?
  • How may notions such as "autoconstruction", private cities and smart/ automated / resilient cities help us in understanding the (trans)formation of the urban?
  • Which concepts and approaches may we use to grapple with urban politics of contestation, inclusion and exclusion?
  • Is it meaningful to differentiate, globally, between "Southern" and "Northern" urbanism?
  • Which are the domains where we, as anthropologists, may identify and understand the city as imaginary, aspirational, utopic or object of desire?
  • In what ways are infrastructure, materiality and forms of governance entwined in urban contexts?
  • How can we approach the ways in which urban orders are related to identity, gender, race and class?
  • In what ways are concepts of public space and the commons used or altered in recent urban developments?

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course the participants should be able to:

  • Formulate and express arguments about the global city clearly and cogently, both orally and in writing.
  • Articualate an understanding of the city that go beyond formal and mainstream understandings of these, including urban planning approaches.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of critical and experimental approaches within both theory and methodology when it comes to the domain of the urban.
  • Show a reasonable understanding of the particular contributions anthropology may make into debates on the global city; and to demonstrate an understanding of how anthropological analyses and perspectives may overlap, complement or contradict analyses and perspectives on the nature of the urban found in other social sciences.
  • Identify, analyze, and juxtapose various analytical and theoretical positions on the nature of the urban and the global city specifically drawing on the literature assigned to the course.
  • Prepare and present an essay/thesis chapter that engages one or several of the issues of the course and which makes use of one or several case studies.
  • Receive and provide constructive criticism on the texts/thesis chapters

Study period

November 2nd - 5th 2020

Credits (ECTS)


Specific terms

Course registration and deadlines

Application deadline is February 1st, 2020

Participants apply for admission here

There is a limit of 15 participants in the course.

Compulsory Requirements

  • Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for pre-circulation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme.
  • Each PhD student must also familiarise himself/herself with the course literature and overview of lectures before the course (see separate document)
  • Each PhD student must also act as a commentator of another PhD student's paper during the course.

Form of assessment

Essay. 7000 Words +/- 10 percent, including footnotes.

Deadline for submission is within two months after the course.

Who may participate

PhD students in anthropology, history, political science, human geography, sociology etc, either before or after conducting qualitative fieldwork in an urban site.

Addtional information


The programme runs for three and a half days starting in the morning 2 November and ending mid-day 5 November. The programme is designed to alternate between lectures, PhD students presenting and discussing their papers and excursions into the urban order of Paris. A detailed programme, including a list of titled lectures and slots for PhD students, will be assembled closer to the date.

In the course seminars, each paper will be allotted ca. 45 minutes, beginning with the PhD student presenting a 15 minute summary of the paper's contents. This is followed by a 10 minute commentary from one of the other PhD students (selected in advance), after which she or he will chair an open discussion on the paper for approximately 20 minutes.

Course programme


Anne-Kathrin Thomassen (Anne-Kathrin.Thomassen@uib.no)

Academic responsibility

Knut Rio and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, University of Bergen


Yasmeen Arif - University of Delhi

Sian Lazar - University of Cambridge

Morten Nielsen - National Museum of Denmark

Knut Rio - University of Bergen

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen - University of Bergen

Reading list

Course litterature

Course location

The Centre Universitaire de Norvège à Paris (CUNP), 54 Boulevard Raspail.

Study period

November 2nd - 5th 2020