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Case Studies in Diversity: Public Spaces


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

The Social Theory in Everyday Life course is required for CHS students. The Infrastructure, Art & Culture course is recommended, though not required.


Who could imagine empty public spaces? And who can afford not to occupy a public space? During Covid many cities experienced emptied streets, and at the same time, it became evident how the streets were a refuge for those living in conditions of violence, or a source of income for those living in poverty or vulnerable conditions. Public spaces are a window to the societies we lived in; this course is an invitation to learn to read that window.

The course departs from a definition of public spaces as a social form. As such, they are material, in their physical and concrete capacity to shape the city (streets, squares, malls, museums, libraries, markets, etc.). Public spaces are also symbolic, in as much as they invoke (and invite) a specific representation of ‘the public’ (as manifested in the figure of the citizen, the people, the demos) and the struggles to be part it. From its original conceptualizations and manifestations in the Greek city-spaces, to its contemporary expressions in the form of the smart or the green city, public spaces have influenced the development of expectations about urban life. This course investigates various conceptual and empirical expressions of the public in space, and the spaces different publics take in the city. While examining the literature on this field, taking ques from various disciplines in the social science and humanities, we will critically look at cities both in the global north and south as a laboratory to explore and understand the importance of public spaces in the sociability of today’s societies.

Course Objectives

This course aims for students to develop an understanding about public space and its core conceptual components (public & space) from various disciplinary perspectives and looking at different types of evidence (scholarly debates, photography, activism, artistic interventions, planning, etc).

In terms of content, upon completing the course you will:

  • be familiarized with scholarly debates about public spaces in disciplines such as anthropology, geography, philosophy and sociology;

  • identify key elements in the definition of public spaces that are of contemporary importance in terms of urban development and the policy rhetoric of social inclusion.

  • be able to critically think about public spaces and their practical and political implications, for the kinds of sociability we experience in contemporary cities.

In terms of skills, upon completing the course you will:

  • be able to elaborate and express a sound argumentative position regarding issues related to the course content;

  • learn to communicate this argumentative position in speaking, writing and visual forms;

  • develop skills to work with others (negotiation, adaptation, personal and collective response-ability) and present your findings of a group research in a compelling and persuasive manner.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course will be taught as a seminar in person if the regulations allow it. As a 300 level course, the course is run as a seminar, highly dependent on students participation. This means your critical engagement with the readings and weekly material is essential part of the course and its developments. The sessions are fundamentally organized based on the student’s discussion of the scholarly work assigned for that session and their applicability to daily examples.

Assessment Method

  • Participation: 15%

  • Two critical photo-notes: 20% (10% each)

  • Case-studies research & presentation: 30%

  • Final Essay: 35%

Reading list

A reading list is designed and available to all students prior the beginning of the course via the syllabus and if needed Brightspace.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar,