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Literature Seminar: Theorising the City


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 is driven firstly, by your close engagement with the literature and secondly, your participation in classroom discussions, both of which converge into the composition of fortnightly assignments. The aim of the seminar is not to instruct you in a specific subject, but to outline a series of theoretical ideas, presented under the headings of the seminar’s three units: i. walking, ii. controlling and iii. worlding the city. 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. The hope is that you will be able to utilise one or more of these perspectives in the research and writing of your thesis and that the ideas of the course will resonate with you in the future, whether you pursue further study or embark on a career.

Desciption of the three streams:

Walking the City: Psychogeographies, Mobilities and Everyday Space

This unit theorises modes of experiencing, appropriating and transforming the lived city. It has its point of departure in Michel de Certeau’s reflections on the practices of everyday life that contest the habitation of space as well as in Henri Lefebvre’s reflections on the ‘right to the city’. The creative playfulness and later political militancy of psychogeography condensed in the practice of dérive (drifting), pronounced and practiced by Guy Debord and the Situationists offers the background of Certeau’s and Lefebvre’s theoretical investigations, setting the stage for an examination of contemporary regimes and practices of mobility in and through the cityscapeboth as expressions of the lived city and as forces that lead to its reconfiguration.

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.

Worlding the City: Global Futures and the Post-Metropolis

This unit queries the future of the city as the world becomes increasingly global. Cities remain, while the empires and nation-states they belong to, change; yet cities are unavoidably also transformed in the process. Setting out from Walter Benjamin’s pioneering reflections in his Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century, this unit draws on Zygmunt Bauman’s liquidity, Jean Braudrillard’s hyperreality as well as Bruno Latour’s actor-network-theory, in order to offer insights into the future of metropolitan space in the highly interconnected, material, post-capitalist world. The unit also draws on Jacques Derrida’s key notions of cosmopolitanism and hospitality, which form an integral component of the discourse on the ethics of globalisation.

Course objectives

General learning outcomes

See tab Additional information for the overview of the programme's general learning outcomes.

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 theoretical texts, in order to better situate Urban Studies in a larger academic and societal context.
  2. Give a clear and well-founded written account on the insights gathered through a critical engagement with a series of seminal texts, with an abiding relevance to current issues and challenges of urban society.
  3. Provide constructive feedback to and critique constructively the work of others through classroom discussion and being able, in return, to evaluate and incorporate such critique and feedback into your own thinking.
  4. Participate in advanced intellectual debates on theoretical and empirical issues that are of importance to the study of urban life.
  5. Reflect on and apply these key insights to your own interests in Urban Studies.


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

The course takes place in a condensed, intensive form within a total of six weeks of instruction.

Students and instructor work on a plenary and small group (

Assessment method

Assignments & Assessment Criteria

  • For the successful completion of the course, you need to compose four short assignments, 700-800 words each. The first and last are pass/fail, while the second and third will receive marks, the average of which will constitute your grade for the course.

i. First Assignment (PASS/FAIL): Summarise Henri Lefebvre’s chapter “Spatial Architectonics” (see below for bibliographic details). The challenge here is to offer a fair account of the most important points and the supporting arguments of a long and dense text, in a very brief amount of space. There is little room for evaluation or critique, but if you can accommodate such elements as well, all the better. The quality of the writing is also important.

ii. Second Assignment (MARKED): Summarise, evaluate and critique Michel Foucault’s “Right of Death and Power over Life,” (see below for bibliographic details). Here you are called to present Foucault’s thesis and its supporting claims, assess their theoretical validity and their historical relevance both at the time of Foucault’s writing and at present. The use of further literature is not mandatory, but may assist and strengthen your account.


Writing, Style, Title: 2/10
Summary: 2/10
Evaluation: 3/10
Historic Relevance: 3/10

iii. Third Assignment (MARKED): For the third assignment you are called to offer a brief summary and evaluation of Marc Schuilenburg and Brunilda Pali’s essay “Smart city imaginaries: Looking beyond the techno-utopian vision,” (see below for bibliographic details), before you proceed to apply the latter in specific contemporary urban context that you are familiar with. It is advisable that you focus on one or two examples and to use further topic-specific literature to provide actual information about them.

Writing, Style, Title: 2/10
Summary: 2/10
Evaluation: 2/10
Application: 4/10

iv. Reflection (PASS/FAIL): Choose two short texts (two journal articles, two book chapters) or a long text (full book, extensive article or book chapter >40 pages), from one of the three branches, offer a critical summary and explain their relevance to a topic that is already of interest to you, ideally, your thesis. If you are using two short texts, one of them must be from the reading list. In your reflection, offer full bibliographic information of your text(s) at the outset. The aim here is to show both the capacity to summarise and assess texts, as well as to relate the latter to a topic that is already of interest to you. If, perchance, your thesis does not lend itself for this assignment, contact me to request an alternative topic.

  • Attendance at four out of six meetings is required to pass the course. You must attend at least two of the three plenary meetings and two of the three small group meetings.


Partial grade Weighing
First Assignment & Reflection PASS/FAIL
Second Assignment 50%
Third Assignment 50%

End grade, Late Submissions and Resits

To pass the course, each of the two marked assignments should be 6.0 or higher and the other two assignments should receive a pass. Any assignment that is marked below 6.0 will have to be resubmitted.

The timely delivery of your assignments is integral to their assessment. Barring extenuating circumstances late submissions up to 24 hours will receive a penalty of 1/10 marks, while beyond 24 hours the essays will have to be submitted as a resit, also with a penalty of 1/10 marks. A submission up to 24 hours after the resit deadline will incur a further deduction of 1/10 marks.

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 organized.

Reading list

To be announced.


General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Student Affairs Office for BA Urban Studies


All other information.