SE Concepts and critiques of space production


Urban culture and public space – Concepts and critiques of space production

SE 280.039 by  Sophie Watson and Tore Dobberstein

TISS: Link.

Virtual seminar room: Link.

General information

This seminar “Urban culture and public space – concepts and critiques of space production” takes place in the course of module 11 “Urban culture, public spaces and markets: Economy and Innovation” which is offered during three three-to-four-days block events by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR) in Vienna and Budapest. The Budapest workshop will take place between 08th and 13th of May 2011. Financial support for travel and accomodation expenses (partly) will be granted by Vienna UT.

Master students (late Bachelor or early PhD), international students as well as students working interdisciplinarily are warmly welcome. This course is held in English language, therefore english language skills are required, readings will be groupwise in English and partly German. Participants of this course are highly recommended to take part in the other courses of module 11, namely 280.032, 280.033, 280.038, 280.040. Please register for module 11 via TISS registration (registration at VU 280.038) until 7th of March 2011 and send a short 1A4 page statement of motivation to Single-course registration directly at the Kick off Meeting on 8th of March (starting 4 pm) or personally at SKuOR office after 7th of March.


– Kick off Meeting: 8th of March 2011, 4-6 pm, Sem 268/1, Karlsgasse 13/1.

– 1st Intensive Teaching Block: 21st to 24th of March 2011

– 2nd Intensive Teaching Block: 09th to 13th of May 2011 (excursion to Budapest)

– 3rd Intensive Teaching Block: 27th to 30th of June 2011

– Final presentation: 30th of June 2011


Subject of the course

Cities are now where more than half of humanity lives. In the context of an increasingly globalised world the rates of growth, diversity of population and complexity of their activities, as well as the scale of the problems and the possibilities they pose, are breathtaking. In this maelstrom of change and flux, the role of public space is of increasing significance and salience, not only to the residents of the city, but also to governments and commercial and private interests. This seminar is thought to deeper investigate the notion of public spaces and tries to investigate how economic actors and institutions deal with public spaces in Budapest and Vienna.

When it comes to economic interests in public spaces, skepticism naturally occurs against possible motives of privatization, commodification and fragmentation of one of the most important social spheres in contemporary cities: public space.  The roles and effects of economic actors, however, are many and various, ranging from informal to formal interventions, with both intended and unintended consequences of market actions.  Public spaces in the city are produced in a myriad of complex and often unforeseen ways. In the context of growing social, cultural and ethnic diversity, increasing segregation and social segregation and/or exclusion in many cities of the world, it will be important to consider new perspectives and approaches to thinking public spaces in the city and the roles of different players in constituting them.

The seminar will be based on readings of the key theorists of public space. In groups of three the students will be expected to read the selected text, give a 10- 15 minute presentation of the key ideas, and consider these in relation to contemporary cities known to the students. Students will then be asked to identify, contact and interview players involved in public space production processes in Vienna and Budapest, thus linking theory and practice.

How can students further develop insights gained from scientific papers and book articles published in the field of critical urban studies to phenomenological knowledge „on site“ in both Budapest and Vienna. How does this challenge common neglected problem definitions and normative strands within planning and design practice?


Aim of course

In this course we consider the role of markets both informal and formal in supporting, creating and constraining public spaces.  Such an understanding will enable students, practitioners and policy makers to intervene in urban public spaces in beneficial and innovative ways.

Besides theoretical inputs on “Urban culture, public space and markets: Economy and Innovation” from both learning field critical urban studies (Sophie Watson) and exploratory planning (Tore Dobberstein), the SKuOR team aims at stimulating students’ critical analysis reflection: Get acquainted with different theoretical positions, take them as a particular lense to investigate current urban development processes in Budapest and Vienna, exchange ideas with individuals who are active in the public spaces, and finally, write yourself an essay combining theoretical positions, empirical findings, shared experiences in order to develop your own professional positionality.


Skills to be provided during the course

– research and analysis skills in understanding the city as a social process,

– practicing considerate and innovative urban research

– practical exchange and experience with players in public spaces

– written and verbal communication skills



Written essay – related to two additional pages activity profile portraying the actions and views of a player in the relevant public spaces (related to the interviews).

– 80% for individual paper presentation (ppt/pptx and doc/docx or pdf)

– 20% for active participation in debates during the seminar course



Key positions in theory

Walter Benjamin “The Arcades Project” (chapter 12) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Le Corbusier “The City of Tomorrow and its Planning” (chapter 38) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Mike Davis “City of Quartz” (chapter 21) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Michel De Certeau “Practice of Everyday Life” (chapter 11) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Richard Sennett “The Public Realm” (chapter 28) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Georg Simmel “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (chapter 10) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Sharon Zukin “Landscapes of Power” (chapter 32) In: Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (2010) Blackwell City Reader 2010

Case studies

Hunt, S. (2009): Citizenship’s place: The state’s creation of public space and street vendor’s culture of informality in Bogota, Columbia. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 331-351.

Kelly, M. (2003): Seeking authenticity in the marketplace. Journal of Popular Culture, 37(2), 220-243.

L’Hote, L. and Gasta, C. (2007): Immigration and street entrepreneurship in Alicante, Spain. International Journal of Iberian Studies, 20 (1), 3-22.

Maisel, R. (1974): The flea market as an action scene. Journal of contemporary Ethnography, 2(4), 488.

Marcinczak, S. and Van Der Velde, M. (2008): Drifting in a global space of textile flows: Apparel bazaars in Poland’s Lodz region. Euorpean Planning Studies, 16(7), 911-923.

Olsson, T.C. (2007): Your Deklab Farmers Market. Food and ethnicity in Atlanta. Southern Cultures, Winter.

Pena, S. (1999): Informal markets: Street vendors in Mexico City. Habitat International, 23, 363-372.

Shepherd, R.J. (2009): When Culture Goes to Market: Space, Place and Identity in an Urban Marketplace. New York, Peter Lang.