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Space, the city and social theory

Watt, Paul (2009) Space, the city and social theory. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 33 (3), pp. 880-881. ISSN 0309-1317.

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As the author states in her introduction, Space, the City and Social Theory is not intended to be read as an overview of either urban sociology or urban studies, but is instead concerned with providing an account of how social theory has encountered and illuminated the city. It takes its cue from two main bodies of literature. The first is the Chicago School of urban sociology, especially the work of Robert Park and Louis Wirth, while the second is European social theory and, in particular, the contributions of Simmel, Benjamin, Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and Roland Barthes. As can be seen from this list of authors, the book has a tendency to focus upon small-scale social interactions and how the city is subjectively experienced, for example via the urban archetype of the flaneur as discussed at length in chapter 6. The book contains seven substantive chapters beginning in chapter 1 with the quintessential urban dialectic of community and solitude. Chapter 2 concerns itself with socio-spatial divisions and differences, focusing on such well-worn themes as the ghetto and social disorganization, but also including a useful discussion of social capital. The politics of urban space is examined in chapter 3. This is done, first, via a discussion of urban social movements, largely based upon a reading of Castells and Lefebvre, and, second, via an examination of the 'micro-politics of urban life', focusing upon the street as a site of social encounters and contestation. Chapter 4 deals with gentrification, whilst chapter 5 considers the embodied nature of the city in relation to gender and sexuality, themes which tend to be marginalized in traditional urban textbooks. Chapter 5 includes topics such as prostitution, lesbian and gay geographies, and women's dual sense of urban freedom and fear of violence. Chapter 6 provides a sustained discussion of the subjective experience of the city via an analysis of Simmel, Benjamin and de Certeau. The latter reappears in chapter 7, which examines the ways that the spatial order of the city can be disrupted. This is seen with reference to Foucault's concept of heterotopia, Barthes' semiology of the city and de Certeau's notion of spatial tactics. The latter is very nicely illustrated by a discussion of urban graffiti and skateboarding.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Book Review
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Geography, Environment and Development Studies
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2011 14:57
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:18

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