Urban Anthropology

For open discussion related to the anthropology of cities and urban space.

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Urban anthropology addresses the social and cultural complexities of cities and urban life. Although generally seen as a subset of socio-cultural anthropology, urban anthropology overlaps with many other areas, such as economic, political and environmental anthropology, human geography, architecture, globalization, transnationalism, immigration, urbanization, and development studies. Due to their expansive size, population density and often multicultural nature, urban spaces provide distinct methodological challenges for anthropologists and ethnographers.

It is hoped that this group will foster beneficial discussion to enrich the practice of urban anthropology and to highlight the importance of understanding human societies of any scale. Please feel free to join and contribute.

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Comment by Samantha Hyler on March 21, 2014 at 4:15pm

Hi all, I have another question. I've read different kinds of literature related to social sustainability, urban transformation, planning, etc often from related disciplines, but I'm now seeking urban ethnographies specifically. Any tips or leads in this direction, particularly ones related to urban transformation, visions, integration, or social sustainability (broadly defined)? Or perhaps I should ask my question more broadly, how are anthropologists writing up their urban research these days?

Comment by Samantha Hyler on November 16, 2012 at 4:07pm

Thanks everyone, for your responses! Eeva, thanks for the link and suggestions. I think they are actually quite helpful!

Comment by John McCreery on November 3, 2012 at 5:00pm
Eeva, thanks so much for the link to Dark Matter and Trojan Horses. Have read just under half of it so far but am finding it very stimulating.
Comment by Eeva Berglund on November 2, 2012 at 10:44pm

Hi Samantha,

Hope this isn't completely off the mark for you, but I'm finding that folks who incorporate the words design, strategic and/or urban into their professional titles have things to say about the planning process (of cities and other things) that might be construed as anthropological or sociological. At least in urban design/planning there are pretty sophisticated efforts to proceed in a way that "goes beyond the object" - one example might be this ebook by the folks at Helsinki Design Lab The other thing though is whether the short-term projects and collaborations or the highly thought-through ideas that do endless circuits of power points and (sometimes outrageously expensive) meetings, have the impacts they claim they do. So, here's work that's continuous with anthropology but could also be subjected to anthropological analysis.

For a different but definitely anthropological take, see the issue of the journal Focaal No. 61, 2011, with a section edited by Simone Abram and Gisa Weszkalnys, on planning.

Comment by Hannah Knox on November 2, 2012 at 10:22pm

Hi Samantha,

If you are interested in looking at planning from an anthropological perspective one good place to start would be James Scott's Seeing like a State. You might also find it useful to look at the anthropology of development literature. Whilst not exactly about urban planning it should give you a sense of what perspective or angle you might want to take on understanding urban planning from an anthropological perspective.

I haven't worked with architects or planners before but I have done anthropological fieldwork with people trying to develop cities through economic regeneration in Manchester, UK; with road engineers and local government officials in charge of local economic development in Peru and am currently doing fieldwork with people who are trying to tackle climate change through urban development policies back in the UK. I'm also supervising a PhD student who's working on the experiences of people living in a community which has undergone 'regeneration' - contact me off list if you'd like me to put you in contact with her.

Comment by Michael E. Smith on November 2, 2012 at 5:54pm

I'm not a planner and I am not deeply involved in that field. I only feed around the edges of the planning literature, but I have seen lots of material that seems relevant to what you are asking. Try searching on terms like "participatory planning", "charettes", "informal planning", or "generative planning". And, if you want to get into a literature that is very big and (much of it) quite clueless anthropologically, try "social sustainability" "community resilience" or "urban resilience". For some anthropological work, maybe some of the papers in City and Society 4(2) and 5(1) (on generative planning) are relevant

Comment by Chelsea L. Booth on November 2, 2012 at 5:10pm


There was a PhD student at Rutgers doing very similar research (although her project was based in southern France). Send me a personal message and I'll give you her name.



Comment by Samantha Hyler on November 2, 2012 at 5:07pm

Hi -- thanks for your link John.  Michael, I'm posting it here because I am an anthropologist working with urban issues and have worked with urban planners before. I think that in terms of 'sustainability' projects, which are quite common in urban development now, the social dimensions are often not fully developed (also was and is my work). I think that anthropology has a lot to contribute to urban planning, and the cooperation between urban planners, architects, and anthropologists (among others) is quite fruitful to realize many of the visions of sustainable, multicultural, and tolerant cities (how do we plan a 'sustainable future' without talking about the social aspects?). Anthropology of course has a very different perspective to cities than urban planning, so I am curious is there is any other similar research going on. Though I think this kind of collaboration is still few and far between. I would be happy to hear of any research being done or published by planners or other practitioners, Michael.  I'm reading from urban studies, geography, as well as cultural perspectives. I'm very much interested in a multidisciplinary perspective, so any relevant literature would be very helpful for my research.

Comment by Michael E. Smith on November 2, 2012 at 4:35pm

Samantha - There is a HUGE literature on this, but you have to get outside of anthropology. Why are you posting on an anthro site? Get in touch with planners - they are the ones doing this research.

Comment by John McCreery on November 2, 2012 at 3:59pm

Samantha, you might be interested in the way in which the Yokohama Graduate School of Architecture (Y-GSA) presents itself.


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