City-Centric Diary

Find the diary of events on this page, and follow the tab: ‘CURRENT READING’, for readings relevant to the upcoming session. We advise you to read these before the group. Additional materials, past readings, and relevant publications from our session hosts, can be found by clicking onto the ‘We’re Reading’ tab.

The snapshot:

Autumn while Winter
21.10.14_ Beyond Panopticism (Adelina Ong, CSSD)
27.11.14 _ Metropolitan Landscapes (Flora Pitrolo, QM)
04.12.14_ Walking Tour : Classification territories and acts of power in the urban space (Aliki Kylika, Performance.Cities)

Spring while Summer

29.04.15_ Night Ethnography (Rachel Humphris, Oxford, and Can Yildiz, KCL)
25.05.15_ Council Housing Estates, Regeneration and State-Led Gentrification in London (Paul Watt, Birkbeck)

The detail:

Tuesday 21st October

Foucault interpreted Jeremy Bentham’s ‘panopticon’ as a visual and spatial model that describes how power functions in all relationships involving the discipline of one group by another (Foucault 1977: 205. 2008: 207). Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life proposes that ‘the art of composing a path’ or ‘tourner un parcours’ can function as a diversionary tactic (‘la perruque’) that causes disruption from within the ‘panopticon’ (de Certeau 1984: 100, 25). Given that Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother, has often spoken against what he terms ‘the surveillance and control mania’ in London I decided to test de Certeau’s theories in London (Doctorow 2008: 2). I thought that perhaps subversion of panopticism would involve environmental interventions that break down barriers between residents, encouraging critical engagement with these symbols of surveillance and an embodied knowledge of their limits. What I’ve encountered since then is a highly complex politics of mobility that does not seem to indicate panopticism. Geographer Nigel Thrift has suggested that misanthropy is ‘a natural condition of cities, one which cannot be avoided and will not go away’ (Thrift 2008: 209). People gain pleasure from misanthropy: it is deeply pleasurable, especially when shrouded in terms of ‘identity’, ‘community’ and ‘belonging’, excluding those who do not conform. This presentation will reflect on the politics of mobility I’ve encountered in London and explore how ‘places’ of identity might be reimagined to create more compassionate cities.


Inspired by the ‘place-making’ performances of skateboarding, parkour, graffiti and ‘breaking’ (commonly known as breakdancing), Adelina Ong is a practice-based researcher, developing a theatre practice particularly suited for work with vulnerable young people. This work resists materialistic definitions of success, including the obsession with becoming a ‘brand’ (through fame/celebrity) and the overconsumption/acquisition of status goods. Ong has 17 years of experience learning as a theatre practitioner; on stage, television and film. As project director ofPulp (2003), Ong has collaborated with the2ndrule, an urban creative guerilla magazine, to organise an urban arts festival. Ong also supported experimental digital art projects created bythe2ndrule, including Digital Compassion 02 (publicity coordinator) and TGV(performer).

Thursday 27th November 

Some of the dominant discourses arising from and around Italian experimental performance in the early 1980s had to do with the notion of the ‘metropolitan’: ‘metropolitan landscapes’, ‘metropolitan imagination’, ‘metropolitan aesthetics’. Although the strict meaning of the adjective is always opaque in the writing of the time, its atmospherical, aesthetic sense is always quite luminously clear: what is described is a fascination with a shift from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial city, a willingness to be ‘soaked’ by its scenography, a desire to understand and interfere with its structures and infrastructures. What is described, it seems, is a will to renew the theatre by understanding how images circulate in the metropolis, and to renew the metropolis (or even invent it) through the aesthetic experience of making, watching, doing performance. Critic Carlo Infante described the metropolitan theatre as ‘fast-paced and alluring… perfect for those years’. Let us wonder what that means.

In this session we will think about how and why the theatre spoke to and even for the city in the early Italian 1980s – we will watch some metropolitan theatre, read some of the texts from the time and set them side by side with other critical interlocutors. Could the metropolitan have been the city as it was imagined and as it was never to be? What remains, and what can be garnered, now, from the metropolitan landscape?

SESSION HOST: Dr. Flora Pitrolo (Queen Mary, University of London)

Flora Pitrolo has recently completed her PhD in the department of Drama, Theatre and Performance at Roehampton University, London and is currently teaching at Queen Mary, University of London. She is interested in performance, in images and representations, and in the undersides of postmodernity.

Thursday 4th December 

This session explores the relationship between classification, surveillance and territoriality within the urban space, through the lens of their effects on the use and design of space. The session particularly focuses upon the artistic and everyday practices that radically challenge the forms, uses and characteristics of the urban space. It ends with an investigating Walking Tour that identifies within the actual environment of the city these notions.

The design of cities is a sophisticated process that involves variable aspects and parameters, executed by specialist architects and urban planners. Within this process the voice of the citizens is reduced to responding to classificatory surveys; a questionable method of participation. Planning as a science has emerged and evolved alongside the the welfare state from the 18th century, pervading until today. The existence of the welfare state requires a bordered locus, the nation-state territory, where specific borders and rules protect the safety and wellbeing of its citizens and their culture, as well as the development of a liberal financial market. The existence of the territory enforces categorization between inside and outside, and defines notions of society and citizenship. ‘Territoriality is [defined as] a form of behaviour that uses a bounded space, a territory, as the instrument for […] securing the construction of a social organisation.’ The control of the territory requires surveillance, of its subjects, who voluntarily submit to it in accordance with the general demand for territorial safety and security. Within the urban environment, territoriality is evidently formed in the divisions between private and public space, suggesting public space as the common space for citizens. This highlights the importance of public space as the absolute democratic space, which makes evident the importance of public participation in its design. Towards this process, the geographical map that the urban planners use, is understood by sociologist Michel De Certeau as a dominating act upon the practicing bodies of the urban dwellers, who radically shape the urban space by the everyday activity of walking. Similarly to the walkers, youth urban subcultures appropriate the urban space by radicalizing its use, divisions and legal structures and suggesting their individual geographies of the urban space. Furthermore artistic practices in the urban space explore and suggest relations of the space with the individual and citizen bodies.

The session investigates these ideas by physically engaging with the space of London. Following preliminary discussions of the above ideas within the educational institution, King’s College, London, we will exit the safe territory of the building, finding ourselves in a space that is charged with the notions discussed. The form of this investigation is a Walking Tour from Aldgate to Fleet Street, whereupon crossing the borders of the ancient city we will end our tour in the ‘public house’, namely the pub.

SESSION HOST: Aliki Kylika (Performance.Cities)
Aliki Kylika is an architect and a performance designer. She holds a MArch from NTU Athens, Department of Architecture and Urbanism and a MA in Performance Design and Practice from UA London Central Saint Martins College. Since 2007 she has been working internationally as an architect in private architectural and design projects and as an artist producing self-initiated work.  In 2012 she set up Performance-Cities as a platform for the performativity of the urban space. Her work and research have also featured in conferences (ESAP ‘Dramatic Architectures: Places of Drama, Drama for Places’, November 2014), art venues (Somerset House London, June 2014), exhibitions (V&A ‘Friday Late’, March 2014) and publications (Jaws #2 June 2013).
Wednesday 29th April 

Night Ethnography

London is a migrant metropolis where 37% of the population is ‘foreign born’ and 44.9% of Londoners do not identify themselves as White British. A recent study estimated that there are about 36,000 Roma migrants living in London. They constitute the majority of the homeless in Westminster sleeping rough in Marble Arch and Park Lane. They are subject to regular surveillance, targeted by the Met Police and Home Office officials for begging, rough sleeping and suspected criminal activities. Drawing on our recent night ethnography in Marble Arch, we will reconstruct how moral panic has been created about Eastern European Roma migration. This session examines the public performance of civil servants, police and media regarding the presentation of ‘expelling Roma’ from Marble Arch, city and country. Doing so, we explore the ways in which the performativity of homeless Roma migrants intersect with everyone’s lives in this city with different but interrelating consequences.
SESSION HOSTS: Rachel Humphris (Oxford) and Can Yildiz (KCL)

Can Yildiz holds an MA in Migration, and is currently a PhD student in the Cities group at the
Geography Department, King’s College London. Her doctoral research focuses on
mobility, racialization and foreign-ness from the standpoint of Eastern European
Roma women offenders in a London prison.

Rachel Humhpris is a third year PhD student at the Institute of Social and Cultural
Anthropology and COMPAS, University of Oxford. Her main research interests
include new migrants and their relationships with front line public service
providers within the context of changing legal and welfare structures. Her
doctoral research focuses on how new migrants from Eastern Europe
(including Roma) establish themselves in diverse urban areas in the UK,
examining everyday encounters, transnational connections and belonging.

Monday 25th May
Council Housing Estates, Regeneration and State-Led Gentrification in LondonThis paper sets out an analytical framework for understanding how state-led gentrification has occurred in London with reference to council housing estates and urban regeneration policies. It argues that council housing played a key role as a ‘buffer’ against gentrification in London from the 1960s to 1980s, with certain inner London councils such as Camden and Islington, using the municipalisation of private housing as a deliberate policy strategy to counter gentrification. However since the 1980s, this buffer role has been diminished under various phases of neoliberalism. Firstly by the 1980 Right-to-Buy policy, but more recently by regeneration policies, notably stock transfers to ‘not-for-profit’ housing association, plus the direct sale of estates (or estate land) to the private sector. The latter has increasingly involved the demolition of council estates and the displacement of their former residents. The paper develops the notion of a ‘state-induced rent gap’, arising from the manner in which council housing has been disinvested in and subsequently inadequately maintained while land values have risen. Finally, the paper examines how the diminution of public housing is negatively impacting on London’s low-income population and is exacerbating social and spatial inequalities. The paper draws upon a range of data sources, including fieldwork and interviews undertaken at several estates undergoing regeneration.

SESSION HOST: Paul Watt is a Lecturer in Urban Studies in the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies


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