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Literature Seminar: Controlling the City: Biopolitics and the Wall


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA Urban Studies programme.


The seminar focuses on 20th-21st c. scholarship of particular relevance and significance to the field of Urban Studies. The seminar is premised on the conviction that the study of current urban issues benefits from a familiarity with landmark theoretical works and other major studies which traverse established disciplines. Accordingly, the purpose of the seminar is to inform and deepen your understanding as students of urban issues and to enable you to situate your knowledge in a broader intellectual context.

The seminar flips the classroom, making you co-creators of the course’s outcomes. This is first enabled by its modular structure; before the start of the term you will be given the opportunity to indicate (via Qualtrix) your order of preference for one of the three thematic units of the course: i. walking, ii. controlling and iii. worlding the city. You will in turn join a group of a max. of 8 participants, in which you will pursue your own research interest within the thematic unit chosen. The research undertaken will be individual, but you are strongly encouraged to exchange ideas and form connections in the group that will mutually aid the realisation of your project.

The second way in which the literature seminar flips the classroom is by eschewing instruction on specific topics, aiming rather to enable and guide you to conduct independent research by providing you with a comprehensive theoretical framework to do so. You will accordingly be able to further or explore a new interest in a topic relevant to your studies, within the scope of the thematic unit chosen. Numerous threads of contemporary issues run across all three units (e.g. mobile-phone surveillance during the covid-19 crisis), yet each unit engages with a distinctive problematic and offers a certain perspective from which an issue can be examined.

Through the plenary and individual sessions, you will be able to home in on your topic, establish your research question and receive support and guidance in the thematic development of your project. The literature that the seminar provides, forms a framework with a distinctive scope and logic for each thematic unit, from within which your research can be undertaken, but it is neither exhaustive, nor restrictive. It enables you to conduct your own research, applying its outcomes to a specific urban issue.

Controlling the City: Biopolitics & the Wall

This unit explores the exercise of power and modes of resistances in the city. It does so by drawing on the work of authors such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Achille Mbembé to examine the way in which power-structures invest the planning, delineation and regulation of life in the city, in territorial forms of biopower. It presses moreover, on the particular ways in which modes of division and exclusion, along with their counterpart modes of inclusion, are set up in the form of thresholds. Here, Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben’s reflections on Kafka’s Before the Law are paramount, as well as Wendy Brown’s work on walls which thematises the physicality of barriers and the symbolic performativity that they effect.

Course objectives

General learning outcomes

See tab Additional information for the overview of the programme's general learning outcomes. In the assessment methods below is outlined which general learning outcome will be tested through which method.

Course objectives, pertaining to the Literature Seminar

At the conclusion of the course you will have acquired the ability to:

  1. Analyse and evaluate important fiction and / or non-fiction texts with the goal to situate Urban Studies in a larger academic and societal context.

  2. Give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on the insights gathered through the critical engagement with these works, that are relevant to current issues and challenges of urban society. The instructor may give specific directives with respect to the content of these reports.

  3. Provide constructive feedback to and critique constructively the work of others and to evaluate and incorporate such critique and feedback on one’s own thinking.

  4. Participate in advanced intellectual debates on theoretical and empirical issues that are of importance to the study of urban life.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Students and instructor work on an individual (one-to-one) and a plenary basis. Two individual and two plenary meetings are scheduled:

  1. Plenary meeting. Introduction to the course, including instructions on written assignments and presentations.
  2. Individual meetings. Discussion of the literature, of specific approach, research question, etc.
  3. Individual meetings. Update on progress on written assignment.
  4. Plenary meeting. Presentations by students to fellow students and staff. a) Students are divided into groups of max. 8 students (3 groups in 2020-21). b) Depending on the number of students, each group has two or three two-hour slots for presentations and feedback during which students present to and are reviewed by their peers and by the instructor. c) Student presence is mandatory at all plenary and individual meetings.

Assessment method


  • An essay applying the theoretical insights that you have developed during the study of your selected literature on a contemporary or historical urban issue. The length of the assignment is 3,500 words (+/-100 words), excluding bibliography and footnotes. An evaluation rubric can be found at the end of the syllabus (appendix).

  • A presentation for and discussion with Urban Studies faculty and students which demonstrates the ability to clearly and succinctly present the outcomes of the literature study and to reflect on the theoretical and empirical relevance of the knowledge and insights gained.

  • Attendance at all plenary meetings is required to pass the course.


Partial grade Weighing
Written paper 70%
Oral presentation and discussion 30%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note of the following:

  • The end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.

  • The grade for the Written Paper needs to be a 6,0 or higher.


To pass the course, the paper should be graded 6.0 or higher. If the course is graded as a fail, the paper needs to be revised. No resit for the tutorial grade is possible.

Faculty regulations concerning participation in resits are listed in article 4.1 of the Faculty Course and Examination Regulations.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Indicative Bibliography:

Agamben, G. (1998). “The Paradox of Sovereignty”, “Form of Law” and “Threshold”. In Homo Sacer, Sovereign Power and Bare Life, 15-29, 49-62 and 63-67. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Agamben, G. (2000). “What is a Camp?”. In Means Without End: Notes on Politics, 37-45. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Aureli P. V. and Giudici, M. Sh. (eds.). (2016). Rituals and Walls. The Architecture of Sacred Space. London: AA Publications.
Ballon, H. (2012). “Introduction.” In The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, 11–15. New York: Museum of the City of New York/Columbia University Press.
Brown, W. (2010). Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books.
Calame, J. and Charlesworth, E. (2012). Divided Cities: Belfast, Beirut, Jerusalem, Mostar, and Nicosia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Cauter, de L. (2004). The capsular civilization: on the city in the age of fear. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2005). “1227: Treatise on Nomadology:—The War Machine”. In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 351-423. London: University of Minnesota Press.
Derrida, J. (1992). “Before the Law”. In Acts of Literature, 181-220. London: Routledge.
Devroe E., Edwards A. and Ponsaers P. (eds). (2017). Policing European Metropolises, The Politics of Security in City-Regions. London: Routledge.
Escobar, A. (2009). “Planning.” In W. Sachs, The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, 145-160. London, United Kingdom: Zed Books.
Fainstein, S. (2010). “New York.” In The Just City, 87-112. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Foucault, M. (1978). “Right of Death and Power over Life”. In History of Sexuality, Volume I: The Will to Knowledge, 135-59. Penguin: London.
Foucault, M. (2009). Security, Territory, and Population. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Hoch, C. J. (1992). “The Paradox of Power in Planning Practice.” Journal of Planning Education and Research, 11(3), 206–215.
Mbembé, A. (2000). “At the Edge of the World: Boundaries, Territoriality, and Sovereignty in Africa.” Public Culture. 12(1): 259-284.
Mumford, L. (1961). “Citizen Versus Ideal City” and “Hellenistic Absolutism and Urbanity.” In The City in History, Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects, 158-200 and 201-204. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, A. (2015). Spatial Justice: Body, Lawscape, Atmosphere. London: Routledge.
Pugh, E. (2014). Architecture, Politics, and Identity in Divided Berlin. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Turner, B. S. (2010). “Enclosures, Enclaves, and Entrapment.” Sociological Inquiry, 80(2), 241-260.
Stuart, E. (2013). The Birth of the Territory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weizman, E. (2017). “The Forensic Turn” and “The Era of the Witness”. In Forensic Architecture, Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, 78-80 and 80-84. New York: Zone Books.


Registration occurs via survey only. Registration opens 14 December:

  1. On 14 December you will receive a message with a link to the survey.
  2. Indicate there which Literature Seminar has your preference, and your reasons for this preference.
  3. Based on preferences indicated by 30 December the Coordinator of Studies will assign you to a specific Literature Seminar by 20 January.
  4. Students will then be enrolled for the specific groups by the Administration Office.
  5. All students are required to enroll for their group in Brightspace to access all course information.
    Students cannot register in uSis for the Literature Seminar or be allowed into a Literature Seminar in any other way.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. G. Tsagdis