Urban Change and the Right to the City

Academic Year: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
SOCL 5015
Course Description: 

The focal point of this course is the globalizing city and the changes associated with urban restructuring. Its aim is a complex understanding of the contemporary urban condition, its method is the historicization of current urban change. The class starts with the construction of the modern city and the main elements of urban life and culminates in the analysis of various models of contemporary urban transformations textured by global capitalism. There is an overall emphasis on divisions in the urban project, the uneven production of space, the politics and inequalities of city-building and –dwelling, and the differential rights to the city.

 Parallel to these themes and emphases runs the introduction of the conceptual staples of urban studies from a critical perspective interrogating the biases of urban theory, which has privileged the modern European city. The course is therefore comparative temporally, spatially and conceptually. There is no prerequisite for the class but you are expected to have some background in the social sciences and a willingness to read and think beyond your discipline.

 This is not a lecture course or a free-floating seminar; rather, a genre in-between—a seminar with structured summaries and background information provided by the instructor. Active and informed participation is essential and will count as part of your grade. Each of you will be asked to initiate a class discussion at least once, which should not be a mere summary of the readings but a problem-oriented analysis of the themes of the class, or a further explication of a theme of your choice (from among the topics of the week) that relies on additional sources. Depending on class size, it can also be a group project.

Learning Outcomes: 

You are expected

  • to form a theoretically and historically grounded understanding of contemporary urban change;
  • to identify both the forces that generate similar conditions and those producing difference in urban restructuring;
  • to see the city both as a collective enterprise and a divided one;
  • to develop serious doubts to the generality of urban theory;
  • to stop thinking that every city is inferior to Paris yet understand why we all tend to think so;
  • to go beyond your own region, and place it in a broader framework;
  • to go beyond your discipline and see how the framing of urban questions varies with your starting point, and how a par excellence multi-disciplinary area, urban studies, can be approached;
  • and finally to go beyond your politics and challenge your ‘natural’ use and claims to urban space as well as ideas of what the ‘good’ city should be like.



You are required to write a term paper, approximately 4000 words. It can be a critical analysis of an aspect of urban life, the politics of urban space, recent changes in a city of your choice relying on urban theory gained from the readings, or a study of theoretical and methodological issues of comparing urban change across time and space. Other genres that deal with the city in a novel and intelligent way also qualify. You are to hand in the title of the paper along with a 100-word abstract by the eighth class. Papers are due TBA

Your grade is a combination of 3 elements: class participation (30%), term paper (40%) and in-class presentation (30%).