"Approaches to Social Theory and the Culture of the City", York University, March 10, 2003
A discussion at York University, Monday, March 10, 2003, 11:30 am ET
This talk was posted as a York University event:
- Approaches to Social Theory and the Culture of the City
- with Professor Alan Blum, Professor Kieran Bonner, Mervyn Horgan, Saeed Hydaralli, Stefka Lubenova, Paul Moore, Tara Milbrandt and Anja Schwanhauser.
- Alan Blum is professor in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, York University, and the director of the Culture of Cities Project: Berlin, Dublin, Montreal, Toronto.
- Kieran Bonner is professor of sociology, as well as dean and vice-president of St. Jerome's University of the University of Waterloo.
- Mervyn Horgan, Saeed Hydaralli, Stefka Lubenova, Paul Moore and Tara Milbrandt are PhD candidates in the Graduate Program in Sociology, York University.
- Anja Schwanhauser is a visiting postgraduate student from Humboldt University, Berlin.
This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. These should not be viewed as official
transcripts of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be
directed to the originator. These notes have been contributed by David Ing (email@example.com) at the IBM Advanced Business Institute ( http://www.ibm.com/abi ).
A panel discussion, introduced by Lorna, director of the program
Alan introducing the panel
- Panel should reflect some trends in critical theory, and current work
- Mini-narrative on development of interests
- Connect to the Culture of Cities program
Evolution of interests: a narcissistic literary exercise.
How it stimulates the project
The Culture of Cities project
- Studying the city from social theory, phenomenology, hermeneutics, political economy.
- The city as a site of meaning
- Make this vivid in stories
- Collective existential problems at particular sites and places
- Kieran Bonner, professor of sociology at St. Jerome, Waterloo
- Irish, and one of four cities studied was Dublin (in addition to Toronto and Montreal)
- Most of students are sociology people
- Anja: postgrad student from Humboldt, school of ethnography, studying ethno-rave culture
- Stefka from Bulgaria, started doing work on immigration, now talking about train stations
- Mervyn Horton, international student from Ireland: waterfront in Dublin
- Saeed local person, developing not only research, but also visual culture, e.g. cinematic
- Tara Milbrandt, student on street life, security, public spaces in Toronto
- Most of these people are Ph.D. people
- Been at York U. for a long time.
- Graduate work at U. of Chicago.
- At that time, it was well known as the Chicago school: George Mead, Dewey, influences of Peirce
- Symbolic interaction and pragmatism: social processes
- Social phenomenon as problem-solving activities
- Philosophical voices, where you wanted to come.
- The year that Alan got there, a pogrom, where all of the good guys were arguing, and going.
- Empirical momentum at that time.
- Young turks from Columbia and Harvard were hired at the professor level.
- Forced the Anselm Strauss and others to go, and they went to California.
- Hubert Blumer went to Berkeley, and started hiring other people.
- Meanwhile, the Chicago school couldn't define themselves
- Thus, the man was at the wrong place at the wrong time
- Had to learn to manoever in this situation
- Empirical research going on.
- Was a subversive element in the graduate program
- Category, classification: e.g. population size
- Weber, Durkheim and Simmel: Can't let a category be self-evident
- e.g. bachelor is a relation to the world
- e.g. admission policy is social relation, or Weber a course of action
- e.g. size of a city is a social relation, e.g. scarcity, density
- Categories get into issues of categorization and typifying
- Creates a plurality of practice
- Used Weber and Durkheim to criticize the empiricists
- Not examing the lifeworld
- e.g. bachelor, can speak ethnographically, organization of time and space, what a life is.
- Such a plurality creates an issue of how to study this.
- The interest of the subversives in the middle of empiricists to characterize phenomenon
- Social life as interesting as a describer.
- Problem: the describer is part of what he's describing.
- Sociologist in California, who was exotic talk in the wilds: there's someone in UCLA doing something different.
- Would say: don't worry about Goffman
- Goffman's innovation (Chicago, Canadian, went to Shetland Island)
- The ritual structure of social occasions
- Sacred and profane.
- Also, the movement of Garfinkel.
- Empiricists an attempt to focus on how the relationship is put together.
- Garfinkel said this was a practical accomplishment.
- Became a problem of social order, and how they're put together.
- Goffman focused on the rituals: interaction, sustaining face, cooperatoin
- Then Foucault began to describe discourse, as the positioning of speakers and voices
- Thus, in response to intuition, language has to be translated, and objective and subjective have to be combined, the Californians began to develop processes and policies
- Necessary as a movement
- Focus on social order had left out a lot that Alan was interested in
- Inquirer is part of the inquiry.
- Inquiry needs to solve this problem, or make it an issue.
- McLuhan, Marx: more than just social order.
- Marx: social order is an instance of collectivization that is a movement towards freedom, that is a dialogic move.
Began to be influenced by some philosophers
- Wanted deeper understanding of meaning
- Goffman, Garfinkel and Foucault
Could imagine Wittgenstein and Heidegger recommending the same lecture in two different ways.
- All of the academics in California are attacking problems
- The problem solving is one around putting to together social order.
- Wittgenstein: The form of a life, ambiguity
- Heidegger: Being
- Can't be descriptive of being, but can be provocative
- Goffman, Garfinkel and Foucault don't address meaning, and given limited picture of order
So, whatever we're studying (rent disputes, waterfronts), our topic is contestation over fundamental social problems
- Want to make that collision vivid.
- The Greeks did this with tragedy.
- You can understand social if you understand the way issues were contested, e.g. parent-child
- Can you do this, and find the fundamental ambiguity in human life?
- Dramatizing this topic, we show our own involvement
- We anticipate a dialogic response to the topics
Interest became not in solving problems, but disclosing them
- Dealing with policy people: doesn't solve problem, presents more problems.
Eventually will become a book
- The ethical collision
- In the city, it's the issue of place, time, mortality, nihilism (of passing scenes) and how they're solved as problems.
- We know that the problems are never solved.
Not an urbanist.
- Studying the city because that's where nihilism comes out
Published a special issue of "Public" on scenes
- Special issues of Canadian Journal of Urban Research: problem space and place
Book will be on Toronto, but it's actually broader.
Paul Moore should be introduced:
- Systematic research into cinema, from a sociological problem.
- Cinema in the city.
- Will show the power of social theory.
- Work in institutionalization and economics, film theory.
- What does Alan think about becoming a historian?
- Thought could study a whole urban area (e.g. Toronto as Oshawa to Hamilton) just by looking at the cinemas
- Thought would just start by taking pictures, and how they were demolished
- A history of the city, not of cinema
- The more he did it, the more he became interested in origins and real historical development
- Spends hours going through microfilm
- e.g. 1912 is an important year in Toronto
- Bizarre, because not a historian, because it's nihilist problem of seeking out origins, and knowing that you'll never really find the origin
- Worries may have lost the theory impulse, waiting to see if it will come out in the writing
- Planning on giving paper at the visual sociology project, on taking pictures of nothing
- Took pictures of empty lots where cinemas used to be.
- Why is this visually interesting? Why does it provoke?
Stefka: Eastern Europe
- Studied in Bulgaria, Sofia University
- Interested in phenomenology, and the sociology of everyday life.
- Did a study of high school teachers of history, studying everyday logic, as compared to formal logic, e.g. everyday painting
- Came to Canada 3 years ago to enrol in the M.A. program.
- Decided to use the situation as a newcomer and a stranger, to think theoretically about this.
- This is how the interest in immigration started.
- Not immigration in general, but the process of learning and routinization that make practical possible.
- Bridging situation (from ethnomethodology)
- Knowledge formation is experienced
- Interviewing Bulgarian immigrants
- Treating talk as deeper structure of social life
- Different patterns through the critical situation
- Topic of research paper for M.A.
- At the beginning of this year, wanted to find a situation to talk about the city, and art and architecture and history
- Less experienced in this area, looking for a learning experience.
- Chose the topic of the train station, related to a project in the Center.
- Toronto Union Station
- History, architecture, the representations in film and literature
- The place of stations in the life of the city.
- The image of the cities are reflected in the train station, because it says something about the size of the community, the social range of citizens, and their taste in architecture.
- Filmmakers find train stations fascinating
- A place of congestions and crowds
- A lot of adventure stories
- Trying to argue that train stations are more than place of building, or are more than non-places as Eno says (e.g. airports, waiting rooms)
- Toronto Union Station is now going through a debate
- City Hall vs. Toronto citizens
- Talk about train stations
- Looking at Hitchcock movies
- Part of the mythology of the city: journey, arrival and departure.
- Got into the study because people said they're romantic, then went to the Montreal train station which is underground, and there's no one on the platform.
- Different from images in Europe of soldiers and wives
The relationship between public space and the city.
- Strangers coexisting in a face-to-face relationship.
- What difference do public spaces make?
- How does the spirit or soul of a city show itself in public spaces, and contested and debated.
- Intuition: the spirit or soul of Toronto discloses itself through the tensions, contests in the streets
- Took lots of courses for Alan
- Got a summer job pulling a rickshaw.
- Got to understand street life.
- Tourists talk about Toronto having aggressive solicitors.
- A lot of street life is organized around street life, e.g. when tourists will come out of the Phantom of the Opera
- Tourist images versus fears and anxieties in the street life.
- In the summer of 1999, a lot of talk around the "Safe Streets Act" to deter panhandling
- Police, councillors presenting the walker on the city of Toronto being afraid of the aggressive solicitor.
- Do people really feel unsafe? What is public space?
- Occupying common space with strangers
- Have read a lot of critiques on the contemporary city, and the decline of public space
- A provocation: how can streets be said to be in decline? What does this mean?
- Reclaiming the streets?
- Use the debate to understand the being of public space
- Looking for ordinary tensions, where these issues become topical.
- Go to street festivals, look at the way the spaces are looked at
- e.g. discussion on postering
- Some places where the meaning of public space shows itself
- Toronto as a world class city.
- The visibility of the homeless person on the street
- The idea of the streets: the out of the city, as well as the in
- Being out in the city -- but the homeless person disturbs this idea of being out.
- The mayor thinking that the homeless should be jailed, but this part of being produced by the city.
- Bloor Street West, where the shop owners contest people selling on the street
- Billboards and poster debate
- Toronto as a clean city, versus the tattered posters as part of the city life
- Sanitizing the city may violate what makes the city an interesting place to be
- Security and surveillance in the city
- Toronto prides itself as being a safe city.
- Worry of the virtue of the city being lost.
- Toronto targets hot spots with visual surveillance
- Crowds create tensions
- How to talk about the tensions and public life, with a celebration of life and danger.
- Always a tension of the public realm being violated.
- Thus, a question as to the sacred
- Public space as the city in decline, as a provocation
- Tara has worked with Jim Porter in political demonstration
- She comes from Alberta
Anja can't speak, lost her voice in New York
- Wanted to talk about Berlin
- She came from the grace of Lorna's office
- Difficulty with administering short stays
- Project is mandated to bring in projects for creative flow
- All of the problems at the local and immigration level.
- Experience is always good.
- Anya was studing the rave scene in Berlin, and was interested in studying it here.
- The use of technology by the hippies in the fringe in Berlin.
- Tracked them down at events
- Would like to find out what she found out about New York.
- Got a Berlin fellowship, and a fellowship in Vienna at the IFK.
- Anya's friend Martin is here
Saeed can talk about the Center
Friday afternoon speaker series (try to have them every 2 weeks), from e-mail list
- e.g. next week, U. of Toronto historian
- The talks are enjoyable for more than content
- Talks happen on Bloor Street, in the Annex
- Guest speaker isn't on the hot seat
- Wine and cheese afterwards
- Reinforces the center as a public space
- It's an index of the project to inciting interdisciplinary: comparative literature, urban planning, sociology, etc.
- From Berlin, Montreal, Toronto
A film project that is going on
- The city can and should be refracted through various media
- Artist-in-residence: Allan
- Documentary "Vinyl" which has shown on TVO
- Has created a documentary "Dupont and Bathurst"
- Will help students create a film, focused on the city
- Some short films in process:
- "The Mattress", based on a true story
- Late, one November evening, a man spots a mattress while riding past, to home
- He leaves the bicycle, returns to the mattress
- Tries to drag the mattress 2 km home
- Mattress absorbs rain, getting heavier
- Some help offered, some sneering, some taunting
- Toronto is unique for alleyways, rear entries into residences
- Alleys perceived as dark, children not to play there even in daytime.
- A scene for relief -- peeing in public
- Called "Walking the Dog"
- Set at York U., contrast between daytime buzz and evening/weekend ghost town
- The debris left behind
- Film may be called "Night and Day"
- The dialectic between space and place
- Mervyn doing a film on bicycles
- Another example of the Center being a resource
Didn't know were doing these films
- There's power in cinema
- Interest in how visualization is becoming so powerful in culture
- There's a focus on objects
- Finding an interest in urban life and material culture (as compared to economy).
- Ethnographic study, not just of capitalist city, but also the material that the city produces
- Some studies in cultural studies, on the material objects themselves.
- Some people are trying to get a bead on the material of the city, more than just the architecture
- Mattresses, bicycles, etc.
- The city excels in producing a lot of waste, detritus for analysis.
Used to want to be a psychologist
- Had a positivist, empirical bent
- Master's while working in a homeless center
- The home as a disciplinary continuity: Foucault
- How homeless try to make sense of the world, when they have no private places.
Celtic Tiger: Ireland's booms
- Car crashes
- Visual communications
- Transformation of Dublin
- Car crashes: reconstructed scenes
- First major presentation: challenged, because weren't trying to solve the problem, but understanding them.
- Met Alan in Dublin, just as the project was getting underway
Proposed building of a conference building on Dublin's docklands
- See this as an interpretative conflict.
- What does it mean for a city to "need something"?
- The conference center as an ethical collision
- Interpretative conflict: what a conference center is, why we need it, what it means for Dublin.
- Want to make it polyphonic, finding multiple voices
- Filling a need, as the future of the city
- Claims to globality (which might erase localness)
- Ontological insecurity of the global Dublin comes about.
At the moment, using the built environment to study different processes
- Nature in the city -- city parks
- Toronto Music Garden
- Tries to block out the city, face the lake.
- How the city makes a place for solitude
- Solitude needs to be grounded in the material life of the city.
- Kieran is dean at a Catholic university
Did Masters and Ph.D. at York U., only back twice since 1987
- Relationship between space and place
- The city: a place that is there, a connection between the past and future
- Interested in the notion of endless transformation: no sense of permanence
- Excitement of possibilities
- Need to have a place for desire.
- Names are different, sociology department was over in the Ross building
- The tension between space and place
- Memories are located not only in the head, but in the actual places
Recent issue of Canadian Journal of Urban Research
- Memorials in Berlin
- The amalgamation of Montreal, compared to the amalgamation of Toronto
- The movement of hockey from the Forum to the Molson Centre
Embraces many disciplines, has an interpretative center
- Architecture, memory
- What does this mean, to the city?
- Do Montreal and Toronto mean nothing more than site?
- Become different things with multicultural immigration
- Theoretical problem: concern with how to bring different disciplines together
- The ambiguous nature of the project
Trajectory of the own biography
- From Trinity College Dublin, in 1974, a new kind of ethnomethodology
- Came to York U. for 2 years
- What is required to think about an object
- Took a job in Alberta for 12 years
- Started a sociology program, wanted to make it interpretative
- Introducing students to the discipline, but as well as a particular representation of the discipline.
- Had to place the other work: phenomenology, hermeneutics, Hannah Arendt
- Plato, Socrates, Aristotle was introduced (when thought would be getting Heidegger)
- Developed the notion of phrenesis, Gadamer from Aristotle
- How are you fair to the situation, and the object
- To the actual phenomena
- Is it all futile? Does it connect to a universal.
- Through interpretative sociological research, try to provide an understanding of the object (i.e. the city of Montreal) to address the particularly, but with the penetration of any language, that
it will eventually connect to a question of what it means, what is its value, and what does it really mean?
- Understanding Toronto and Montreal
- Brings together many people from many disciplines
- Develop an image of different projects, e.g. the empty lot and the relation to nothing
- The control of techne, and the abstract universality, where you get into the question of nothingness, e.g. Sartre
- Case study of parent-child relationships
- What it means to develop a notion of power
- Compared to the Hobbesian notion of power: the tyrant may look powerful, but only by giving in to the fantasies of omnipotence.
- Foucault, Hobbes
- After 12 years, worked with this trajectory
- Alberta as a great place to raise kids
- Why? Why would we ask that question? How do we make this a manageable research project?
- Phrenesis developed a reflexivity
- e.g. literature review with reflexivity
- Became Dean at St. Jerome
- At U.Waterloo, got an extra sociologist without having to apply through the dean
- Now, his work has become part of the sociology department at U. Waterloo
- Trying to be true to the object
- What it ultimately means
- e.g. the mattress, parking lot, street
- Sociology should be prepared to respond, and not say that it belongs in philosophy or another area
Panel on Urban Ethnography, March 28 will give a different perspective.
Cinema in cities:
- In Toronto, they're booming, but there's a challenge of the next level down (Waterloo, etc.) becoming WalMart-ized
- Harder for mid-size cities to keep urban cores: cinemas, stores
- Kitchener, Waterloo, Halifax: will they sustain an urban core?
Survey work at the U. of Pennsylvania
- Volatile definition of a downtown.
- In Berlin, you don't know if you're downtown or uptown
Views of the city from the inside, and the outside?
- The imagined structure of the city.
- Urban / rural debate around modernity
- Urbanization of social life
- There are rural sociologists who portray imperialism of urbanism
- e.g. Columbine trenchcoat mafia -- who in rural Alberta were perceived, with yes, they had something similar, but it's only 5 people
- Urbanity at risk?
The structure of cinemas: Cineplex
- Decline of the single-film cinema
- Implications on showing of films
Choice of cities? Why not New York?
- Primary cities (New York, Toyko, London) aren't interesting
- Second-tier cities
- Good relationship with Berlin, wall coming down
- Good ties to Dublin
- Ties to Toronto
- Montreal complements
- In the first draft, rejected, had Milano, which totally confused them
- In the end, the Italians didn't send in their c.v.s
- Also, rewrote for a year between the two proposals.