Urban Life Across the Globe - Provincializing 'the Western Metropolis'

Convened by: Rasmus Chr. Elling & Manpreet Kaur Janeja. 

The purpose of this mini-seminar is to inspire debates on how we can conduct nuanced and truly global studies of urban culture and politics. This can involve comparative urbanism, cross-regional and transnational perspectives as well as multi-disciplinary approaches – all aspects that we are seeking to nurture at the department.

For this purpose, we have invited two internationally recognized scholars as keynote speakers: Jennifer Robinson from University College London and Martina Rieker from The American University in Cairo.

Prof. Robinson is employed at the UCL Geography Department and has  published widely in the field of urban studies, development and political geography. Prof. Rieker is the Director of AUC’s Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies and has worked on urbanism, gender and poverty. We have also invited senior scholars from Danish universities to contribute with interventions.


The format is open and discussion-based. Following the keynote speeches on the first day there will be time to discuss pre-circulated texts selected by our keynote speakers. On the second day, we will discuss projects, ideas and questions presented by scholars at TORS and other institutes in Denmark.

We call on PhD Students and TORS scholars at all levels to give a brief presentation (15 min.) of their research projects for discussion with our keynote speakers and participants. The presentations should preferably contain questions and issues that relate to the mission statement of the mini-seminar (below).

As there are only a limited number of seats available, we also invite all colleagues, research students and MA students to register as regular participants before April 1st.. We will circulate texts for discussion in early April.


The city as a geographical unit stands at the centre of 21st century cultural, economic and political life. In many ways, cities define and shape the world we live in: the world of cities. Indeed, it has been suggested by scholars like Warren Magnuson that in order to understand modern societies and politics, we need to “see like a city” rather than “see like a state”. While the figures of urban life, from the flâneur and the homeless, to the yuppie have been iconized, the processes evolving beyond Paris, London, New York and Chicago have been less prominently focused upon. In light of this, studies of urban environments have also been critiqued  over  recent decades for uncritically applying Euro/American  theories or premises in the study of cities outside Europe and North America.  This seminar aims at exploring “the urban”, its figures and processes, as it unfolds beyond “the West”.

 “The urban” has also often come to define capitals or megacities. Yet, as the recent uprisings in the Middle East have also shown, the Metropolis is not necessarily where public uprisings, trends and new forms originate. Smaller, and lesser-known cities, lesser-known at least to the Euro/American scholar, have become starting points for conflict. These cities often lack the possibilities and potentialities that larger cities may have, and  are often home to people uprooted from more conventional  lifestyles and family patterns, yet not completely associated with life as it unfolds in the Metropolis.  

Furthermore, with little concern as to what kinds of non-western urban forms and practices  are evolving, yet expecting the universal acknowledgement of the canons of western scholars such as Walter Benjamin and Georg Simmel, the social processes emanating  from the slipstream of rapid urban expansion – and decline for that matter – may involve markedly different themes beyond those focused on European cities and the theories they have inspired.  

This does not mean that Euro/American  case studies or theories are not relevant, on the contrary. However, in this seminar, we wish to question un-nuanced applicability, and inspire a discussion of the interplay between such theories and those that address cities beyond Europe. In short, this seminar explores how urban cultures and politics, past and present, can be addressed in broader interconnected global frames.