2023-2024 Monthly Seminar Series

Urban Ethnography and Theory

Organized by
Italo Pardo and Giuliana B. Prato (School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, UK) on behalf of the International Urban Symposium-IUS.
In partnership with
Department of Sociology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Greece) and City, University of London (UK)
Endorsed by
Centre for Ethnographic Research, University of Kent (UK)

SEMINAR SCHEDULE – October 2023 – March 2024
16.00-17.30 British standard time (GMT)
Please note, in Winter, GMT is the same as UCT (Coordinated Universal Time)

12 October – James Rosbrook-Thompson and Gary Armstrong (City, University of London), A Stroll in the Park? Tactics and Goals in the Ageing Process.
Scholars of Urban Planning have considered the relationship between population ageing and urban change, focusing primarily on spaces/places of ageing and related processes of marginalisation. Anthropologists have used the ethnographic method to investigate how experiences of ageing are shaped by the socio-cultural specificities of respective cities. Following their lead, this paper seeks to document the impact of urban change in London – captured in concepts like ‘the global city’, ‘conviviality’ and ‘superdiversity’ – on experiences of ageing, illness, and broader health concerns. We do so through a preliminary examination of two ethnographic sites: a mixed-occupancy housing estate and an over-50s ‘walking-football’ club. Focusing on the relationships and interdependencies that exist and develop in both sites, the paper considers how these might shape the lived realities of ageing while reflecting (to varying degrees) wider ongoing changes at economic, political and demographic levels.


9 November – Subhadra Mitra Channa (University of Delhi, India), People’s Conceptualization of Government, Governance and Legitimacy: Some Reflections based on Urban Delhi.
Governments are not necessarily viewed in exactly the same way everywhere, there being local variations based on indigenous cosmologies, history and the culture of a people. In India the government in people’s imaginary takes on the hues of nurturance and care symbolized in parental terms and consequently the expectations are derived from a moral universe of kinship rather than the formal legal-political structure that is normative in the Western concepts of governance. Strict imposition of rules may be resented and chaos preferable to too much order. I bring in some reflections from the daily lives of Delhi residents to illustrate this cognitive perception and its translation into both people’s concept of legitimacy and the local state’s practice of popular governance.


14 December – Robert Williams (The University of Akron, USA), Becoming Urban? Seeing Amish Legitimacy versus Technocapitalism.
With culture theory’s traditional view that internalized individual beliefs and norms constitute culture, the notion that power and culture are fundamentally linked might seem counterintuitive. While human agency has long been acknowledged to simultaneously include ‘choices of culture shared values legitimating different patterns of social practices’, the concept of legitimacy nevertheless remains a rather muddled concept and, although not the only way to think about culture, requires further enquiry (Wildavsky 1987: 5; see also Pardo 2000 and Pardo & Prato 2011). The dynamics that constitute legitimacy for human agency can generate effects upon morality and trust, and therefore authority, with wide variation in ‘localisms’ (Pardo & Prato 2011: 11). Further, the money economy serving the military-industrial complex, combined with the specialized division of labour to support the neoliberal system of rationality, has led to increasing objectification in culture and a shallowing of individual experiences, subjective meanings, and human values. Relying upon ‘ethnographic seeing’ of Amish rural landscapes within an ever-urbanizing Midwest state in the USA, this paper explores questions and positions of Amish legitimacy within wider Ohio economic life. It is also an enquiry into choices that are simultaneously choices of culture-shared values legitimating different patterns of urbanization of the rural to ultimately serve technocapitalism. In noting the longstanding phenomenon of the rural adapting to the aims of an ever-urbanising wider society, this paper explores the limitations and obstacles Ohio’s Amish face from urban expansion and urbanized cultural logics that legitimate, limit, or delegitimate their sustainable off-grid approach to an agricultural subsistence lifestyle. It also explores how Ohio’s Amish maintain legitimacy and solidarity in the face of an often-hostile neoliberal technoscape. Comparisons to England’s early nineteenth century Luddites are also explored to expand upon the questions we ask when thinking of technology’s role in Amish society and its notable effects upon traditional subsistence farming and associated notions of sustainability, “off-grid” cultural logics, and changing notions of socioeconomic relations under observable features of urbanising acculturation.

Pardo I. ed. 2000. Morals of legitimacy: Between agency and system. New York: Berghahn Books.
Pardo, I. and Prato G. B. eds. 2011. Citizenship and the Legitimacy of Governance: Anthropology in the Mediterranean region. Farnham: Ashgate.
Wildavsky, A. 1987. Choosing Preferences by Constructing Institutions: A cultural theory of preference formation. The American Political Science Review, 81(1): 3–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/196077


11 January 2024 – Erin Lynch (Concordia University, Montreal, Canada), Sensing the Augmented City: Locative Tours, Haunted Streetscapes and Imagined Futures.
Seeking to differentiate themselves from a parade of spectacular cities and enliven their streets as cultural destinations, cities around the world have begun offering augmented reality tourism applications for mobile users. Marketed as a form of self-directed urban exploration, these apps are a type of “locative media” – a genre of site-specific platforms that use location-aware mobile technologies to enable interplay between digital content and “real” geographies. Drawing from my recently-published book Locative Tourism Applications: A Sensory Ethnography of the Augmented City (2023, Routledge), this paper offers a taste of how cities are using locative tourism apps to reenchant the urban by layering images, audio, video and written narratives – alongside the promise of more novel sensory experiences – over the streetscape. While these applications may seem at first glance to “script” the street, guiding the tourist through a series of digitally-augmented signposts, the journey of locative tourism is less straightforward than it might appear. Because they rely on the city, its inhabitants and tourists to animate them, locative tourism apps must take on board some of the living city’s mess, its splendour, its dynamism and resistance, and its histories and cultures, seen and unseen. Locative media’s cartographies are not only overlaid but “entangled” with locations and their existing representations, weaving a narrative of the city that is set on a shifting stage. The discussion considers the emergence of locative tourism as a particular way of sensing the city, and reflects on the value of a sensory ethnographic approach for studying locative media (in particular) and urban rhythms, sensations, and mediations (more broadly). Beyond urban tourism, I will also look to the future of locative media in the city – namely, the critical potential for locative apps to produce multi-sensory, intimate, and place-based knowledges of urban change and environmental harm.


25 January 2024 – Liora Sarfati (Tel Aviv University), Globalization, Urbanization, and the Cosmopolitanization of Korea’s Vernacular Religion.
Cosmopolitanism has often been used to discuss religions that had been institutionalized, canonized, and then transmitted globally through premodern cultural flows. In contrast, vernacular religions have maintained their local uniqueness in terms of pantheons, belief systems, practices, and ritual objects—even into the 21st century. This talk discusses the cultural and societal conditions that have enabled the vernacular traditions of Korean shamanism (musok) to travel globally in real and virtual worlds. Not all Korean shamans (mudang) work with foreigners, but the four ethnographic case studies that will be examined are cosmopolitan practitioners. They assert that spirits can communicate beyond spoken languages, that mudang clients do not have to be Koreans, and that media depictions are a vehicle for making the practice available to more people in Korea and worldwide. Such international activity has become an easily achievable task in hypermodern conditions. The vernacular is flexible in meaning and usage because institutions do not supervise it and it is often an undocumented oral tradition. Mudang constantly recreate musok practices from their personal interpretation of the religious experience. Thus, when musok goes global, it is reinterpreted and transformed to fit the cultural understandings of the target audiences.


8 February 2024 – Adriana Hurtado-Tarazona and Malena Rinaudo-Velandia (Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia), Ethnographies of Urban Change.
Ethnographic work in urban settings has the potential to advance our understanding and theories of contemporary urban conditions. In this paper, we show how an ethnographical approach has proven useful in advancing theoretical insights into processes of urban change. By theorizing urban changes and crises as crucial moments in which the implicit becomes explicit and the ethnographical encounter as a sphere that helps urban dwellers make sense of their own conditions, we illustrate two instances of ethnographically generated theories of urban change. The first is the moment in which lower-income urban households achieve their “dream of homeownership” in peripheral social housing in two Colombian cities, after facing long-term insecurity of tenure, violence, and displacement. The second is the uncertainty and potential major changes in residential conditions that residents in a central area of Bogotá are facing during an urban renewal process. In both processes, residents make explicit their previously implicit ideas, values, preferences, and aspirations regarding housing, neighbourhoods, and the city. These insights “from the ground” become crucial to generating theoretical understandings of residential preferences and satisfaction, urban sociality and communities, and forms of citizenship in simultaneous processes of urban change (rapid peripheral urbanization and gentrification of city centres).


11 March 2024 – Manos Spyridakis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece), Precarious Employment and Social Exclusion in times of crisis: The Case of Athens.
Although the precise meaning of precariousness and social exclusion is rather blurred, combined, these words refer, in general, to the creation of insecure and uncertain conditions of existence as the result of remote decisions made at the expense of ordinary people’s lives’ trajectories. Hence, they encompass not only non-standard employment and worse labour conditions but life itself. They are strongly connected to a status of vulnerability where people cannot schedule their future lives, and tend to be socially isolated and materially deprived. Doing short and dead-end jobs, they are forced to find recourses on social programs schemes in order to make a living. Far from being a homogeneous group, precarious people on the verge of social exclusion can be seen as “second class” citizens. Against this background, based on extensive ethnographic research in Athens, the chapter focuses on the life that precarious people experience in the antisocial situation in which they live.


SEMINAR SCHEDULE – April 2024 – June 2024
16.00-17.30 British Summer Time (UTC+1hr)
(Please note, British Summer Time starts on Sunday 31 March 2024 –
You can check the Time Zone & Clock Changes here; and the Time Zone Map here

18 April – Iraklis Vogiatzis and Manolis Patiniotis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), The Deterritorialization of Labour in the Digital Era.
Digital labour is increasingly defining the developments in the sphere of production. The phenomena of digital nomads, delivery and transportation platform workers, micro-workers and “click-slaves” that train Al point towards structural changes in the ways people earn their daily income around the world. The infrastructure that underlies most of these new forms of labour is the digital platform. Platforms de-territorialised labour in the sense of “freeing” it from the spatial, temporal and cultural restrictions. To achieve this, they create intricate networks of interfaces that function as gates to the shared non-space of digital labour. Digital labour is closely related to the process of outsourcing that allows capital to liquify the centres of production and relocate labour to any place or social category is cheap and readily available. At the same time, platforms treat labour outside their local legal and cultural contexts, creating islands of intense exploitation within a deregulated labour market. This new way of subordinating human productive activity to capital redefines both labour relations and the urban landscape, as the new technological monopolies erode the distinction between private and public around which urban life is organized. The examination of digital labour along with the new value chains that span the globe can provide an entry point for critically evaluating both the deep social transformations that take place in the era of platform capitalism and the new affordances made available for the emancipation of human labour from the limitations of the capitalist valorisation.


9 May – Nathalie Boucher (Organisme Respire, Montreal, Canada), Alone, Together and in Public. Australian Beaches and Pools as Public Spaces.
In 1979, anthropologist Robert B. Edgerton published an ethnographic work on a beach of Los Angeles, titled “Alone Together: Social Order on an Urban Beach”. This paper answers Edgerton’s work by reflecting on the publicness of aquatic public spaces such as beaches and pools. On the one hand, aquatic public spaces are understood as places of freedom (through the bodies devoted of any status) and of hedonistic activities (through the highly sensorial experiences of water). On the other hand, the emphasis on the self and the proximity of social and sexualized bodies brings the attention of scholars on the norms, the unspoken rules and the social orders that fail to prevent riots and troubles related to religious and gender causes, thus challenging the pertinence of beaches and pools as public spaces.
Much in line with research on public life in Montreal, my previous work on the social life of public spaces calls into question the idea that public spaces are/should be open to all, all the time to all activities. Here, I offer an analysis of aquatic public spaces that shed light on their capacity to host acts of sociability, foster a sense of appropriation, generate representations and allow conflicts. Cases in point are an aquatic centre, a public pool, a public natural beach and a private artificial beach in urban Australia. Fieldwork undertaken in 2016 includes observation and interviews with bathers and managers. Considering that the value of aquatic infrastructures is more pertinent than ever, the closing of aquatic facilities during the COVID pandemic resulted in a strong evaluation of those costly infrastructures and their utility for public health.


23 May – Jerome Krase (Brooklyn College of The City University of New York), The Dramaturgical Community, or How to be Recognized as a Community.
This paper is intended to make the reader aware of an interesting and useful perspective for analysis of neighbourhood community organizational behaviour in modern urban society in which claims of authenticity and legitimacy are crucial issues. I take the position that much of the activity of neighbourhood community organizations is the cynical presentation of community via rituals or routines to obtain legitimacy in the eyes of authorities and other audiences on the urban scene. The rewards for attaining such recognition are variable. One reward is simply the positive moral value of being a community, or community leader, or having community member status, which is not a taken for granted reality today; it must be “proven.” Other rewards are contingent on accomplishing this initial task. Contingent rewards are for example, funding for local programs, input into decision-making machinery, that effects, localities, and respect and admiration for filling culturally defined roles. The stakes in this community game can be personal or collective. People can play the game for personal rewards or to make gains for significant collectivities. Often the game is played for a combination of both types of reward. One way of describing the game is to use a theatrical analogy. Those desiring community status are actors and those who can bestow the status are audiences. Most often the audience is composed of governmental authorities, private foundations, the public at large and local publics. All these audiences have the power to certify the successfulness of performances by actors. The actors, most often, are local individuals and groups who have a practical or symbolic need to be defined as community. It is also possible however for those defined as “audiences” above, to become “actors” in the community theatre. For example, authority-sponsored community programs play the game of trying to convince local communities that they are either part of the community or operate in the interests of the local community.


13 June – Ipsita Pradhan (SRM University, Andha Pradesh, India), The Spectacular Shopping Mall and the Mundane Workplace: Towards an Understanding of Layered Spaces.
This paper reads the spectacular shopping mall as a workplace, emphasizing its nature as a multi-layered workspace, rather than only a predictable site of consumption. In doing that, it uses the concept of ‘layered space’ to understand the nature and processes of stratification and exclusions, that the shopping mall reproduces in the city. The work draws from ethnographic work conducted in Mosaic shopping mall in Hyderabad, India, between 2014-2016, relying on observations, in-depth interviews and secondary data comprising mostly of e-layouts and instructional videos. The concept of layered space is useful in understanding the characteristics of a space which is shared by people of different social strata, yet there are differences and hierarchies in the nature of their relation to that space. It is in this context, that taking account of the nature and development of Cyberabad, the area within Hyderabad where Mosaic is located becomes pertinent. Focussing on the shopping mall, there are layers formed, that are fluid with varied acts of constructing physical and social boundaries, under the overarching structure of the rules of the mall. These are manifested in the relationship that the retail shop- floor employees have a) with the customers, visible in the starkly different customer areas and employee areas within the mall b) amongst themselves on the basis of position in the job hierarchy, caste and gender. Talking from the perspective of women’s experiences as employees in the shopping mall, the paper shows the gendered nature of the layers within the the mall as well as the larger city of Hyderabad.


27 June – Lakshmi Srinivas, (University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA), Cinema Hall to Multiplex: an ethnographic reading of loss and change.
This paper examines the changing landscape of cinema in the South Indian city of Bangalore. Starting in the early 21st century, Bangalore’s iconic single-screen theatres, many of them which had screened films since the pre-Independence era, began to be replaced by multiplexes, a shift that took place during a period of exponential growth when the city was morphing into the IT capital of India. By 2020 hardly any single-screens in the city remained, most demolished to make way for shopping centres and malls. The erasure of each cinema hall generated an emotional farewell in local newspapers; residents wrote in with fond remembrances of past movie outings, and blogs and social media sites devoted to old cinema halls, have multiplied since. This paper interrogates the expressions of loss that greeted the disappearance of cinema halls and what this shift and responses to it reveal about urban practice in a city experiencing constant flux and change.