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Case studies in Diversity: Public Spaces


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Social Theory in Everyday Life (for HD: CHS students)


Empty, threatening, but yearned for, needed and prized. That, among other things, is how public spaces have been described during the COVID pandemic. In spite of the 1.5mt distance regulations, public infrastructures, like parks and public squares, remained a beacon of hope and sociability during the pandemic. Urban segregation was also highly visible during the pandemic, with infectious numbers indicating clearly which zones in a city suffer from precarious living conditions and public spaces accessibility, racial stereotyping and ethnic profiling of populations shaping how security was implemented, and gender inequalities defining the (in)accessibility to use and be visible in public space. COVID made evident the importance public spaces play to articulate social life. This course is an invitation to examine and think about how that happens.

The course departs from a definition of public spaces as a social form. As such, they are concrete, in their physical and material capacity to shape the urban fabric (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 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 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 the cities we inhabit as a laboratory to explore and understand the importance of public spaces in the sociability of today.

Course Objectives

This course aims for students to develop:

  • a theoretical interdisciplinary understanding about public space and its core conceptual components (public and space), while also

  • developing the practical skills to identify, visualize and potentially intervene in contemporary public spaces.

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 in a compelling and persuasive manner.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course will be taught ideally in person depending on the regulations. We will be meeting twice a week during the course time. Each class includes a lecturing component and a discussion of the assigned session material led by the students. Discussion leaders are responsible of kicking the discussion and make connections to concrete case-studies. All students are expected to actively participate and take part in the class proceedings. There is going to be a Teams site of the course to support online exchange.

Assessment Method

  • Participation: 15%

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

  • Case-studies group work: 25%

  • Individual final essay: 40%

Reading list

A reading list is designed and available to all students prior the beginning of the course via the course syllabus and Team’s site of the course.


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