Spectral Cities

(PhD Seminar, ASCA Cities Project)


Cultural theory has undergone something of a spectral turn over the last few decades, with thinkers as diverse as Jacques Derrida, Arjun Appadurai, Giorgio Agamben, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writing on ghosts and haunting in relation to issues such as history, memory, intimacy, hospitality, dwelling, politics, and poverty. Against this backdrop, this PhD seminar explores to what extent - and in what ways - spectrality is a relevant and productive concept within contemporary urban studies. How can spectrality - and related concepts such as vacancy, absence, ruination, trauma, and disembodiment - help us to understand the culture and transformation of cities? 

Engaging with such questions, the seminar considers the spectral in its varied urban manifestations: traces of part trauma, violence, or inequality which may become manifest in derelict spaces, colonial heritage, or collective urban memories; the glossy and transparent aesthetics of corporate architecture, infusing a sense of disembodiment into the built environment; or the application of new technologies in urban life, planning, and governance, transgressing the limits of embodied experience and blurring the distinctions between geographical presence and absence, urban reality and its "augmentation".

The seminar analyzes such examples of urban spectrality by exploring a diverse set of geographical contexts and case studies. From China's vacant ghost cities to Beirut's volatile space of buried trauma, and from the politics of (in)visibility in Iranian street life to the uncanny economics and corporate ruins of the global financial city, the seminar aims to bring concrete urban case studies into dialogue with cultural-theoretical work on spectrality.