Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2018

Urban Culture in Global Cities

This course is cancelled.

Professor Wendy Griswold, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University, USA

Course dates: 23 - 27 July 2018

Main disciplines: Sociology,
Cultural Sociology

Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants

Course objectives / learning outcome
“Without culture, there is no Europe.”  French President Emmanuel Macron open the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair with these words, and his ringing connection of culture and place applies to cities as well. Without culture, there is no Berlin.  No Shanghai. No Chicago.  Through culture, cities articulate their distinctiveness, foster internal solidarity, and claim external attention.  An urban culture can be thought of as an aestheticized expression of a city’s particular combination of geography, history, demography, and economics.  It is effective to the extent that it becomes meaningful to residents and/or to outsiders.  While place cultures are never altogether stable, they tend to become institutionalized.  Collective and individual agents establish boundaries and imbue what’s inside with meaning.

Beginning in the late-twentieth and accelerating in the twenty-first century, cities of the developed world have undergone a series of related shifts: from industrial to postindustrial economies, from manufacturing to service jobs, from centers of production to centers of consumption.  These shifts have brought urban culture from the margins to the foreground in the minds of urban planners, developers, visitors, residents, and, not least, sociologists. Of particular interest are cities that have lost their industrial base, for they especially look to culture not only as a vehicle for attracting investment and tourism but also as an assertion of their unique characteristics.  They promote themselves as they compete for attention within regional, national, and global fields; they designate, preserve, restore, or invent their urban attributes, especially ones they can claim as heritage, making them both attractive and accessible. While the roots of a city’s cultural development lie in its natural, economic, and demographic characteristics, to succeed requires input from the market and the state. 

Urban culture depends on selection, investment, and promotion along five dimensions: scenes, architecture, institutions, experiences, and products. This course will examine these five, drawing examples from European cities as well as Asian ones (esp. Harbin, China) and North American ones (especially Detroit, Michigan, USA); we will briefly consider cities in developing countries as well.  We will develop and consider the implications the conceptualization of urban culture as memory crafted by ambition, and we will consider implications for social policy.

Background readings:

  • The Blackwell City Reader, 2nd ed.  2010.  Edited by Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson.  This is a useful collection and we will draw a number of readings from it.  As background, read the chapters by Ash Amin, Saskia Sassen, Sharon Zukin, and Harvey & Molotch.
  • Florida, Richard.  2002; paperback edition w/ new preface 2004.  The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life.  New York: Basic Books.
  • Glaeser, Edward.  2011.  Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.  New York: Penguin.

Other useful readings if you have time:

  • Davis, Mike.  2007.  Planet of Slums.  London: Verso.
  • Lefebvre, Henri.  (1970); 2003 (English translation).  The Urban Revolution.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Lukin, Sharon, Philip Kasinitz, and Xiangming Chen.  2016.  Global Cities, Local Streets: Everyday Diversity from New York to Shanghai.  New York: Routledge.



Lecture 1: Thinking about culture


  • Borer, Michael Ian.  2006.  “The Location of Culture: The Urban Culturalist Perspective.”  City and Community 5: 173 – 197.

Lecture 2: Thinking about cities


  • Glaeser, Edward.  2012.  “Viewpoint: Triumph of the City.”  Journal of Transport and Land Use 5: 1-4.  4 pages
  • Amin, Ash.  “The Economic Base of Contemporary Cities.”  Ch. 6 in Blackwell, pp. 60 – 71.  11 pages
  • Zukin, Sharon.  “The Mystique of Public Culture.”  Ch. 7, pp. 259 - 294 in The Cultures of Cities.  Cambridge, MA and Oxford: 1995. 35 pages.

Lecture 3: Thinking about scenes


  • Silver, Daniel, Terry Nichols Clark, Clemente Jesus Navarro Yanez.  2010.  “Scenes: Social Context in an Age of  Contingency.”  Social Forces 88: 2293 – 2324.  31 pages
  • Ocejo, Richard J.  2014.  “Weaving a Nostalgia Narrative.  Ch. 3, pp. 86 – 116 in Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. PDF  30 pages

Lecture 4: Thinking about diversity


  • Brown-Saracino, Japonica.  2015.  “How Places Shape Identity: The Origins of Distinctive LBQ Identities in Four Small U.S. Cities.”  American Journal of Sociology 121: 1 – 63.  PDF  63 pages
  • Schiermer, Bjørn.  2013.  “Late-modern hipsters: New tendencies in popular culture.”  Acta Sociologica 57:167 – 181.  14 pages

Lecture 5: Thinking about architecture


  • Ren, Xuefei.  2011. Building Globalization: Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  Chs. 2, “Transnational Architectural Production” pp. 19 – 59 and 4, “History, Cosmopolitanism, and Preservation,” pp. 99 – 139.
  • Jones, Paul. 2011.  The Sociology of Architecture.  Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.  Chs. 1, “Architecture, Power, and Identities: Surveying the Field,” 11 – 26; 2, “The Public Discourse of Architecture: Socializing Identities,” 27 – 48; 6, “Iconic Architecture and Regeneration: The Form Is the Function,” 115 – 140; and 7, “’European’ Architecture: Politics in Search of Form and Meaning,” 141 -165.

Lecture 6: Thinking about cultural institutions


  • Van Alst, Irena & Inez Boogaarts.  2002.  “From Museum to Mass Entertainment: The Evolution of the Role of Museums in Cities.”  European Urban and Regional Studies 9: 195 – 209.  14 pages
  • The Economist.  2013.  “Temples of Delight – Museums.”  Special report, 5 sections.  December 21.  30 pages.
  • Bomey, Nathan.  2016.  Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back.  New York: Norton.  Ch. 8, “Pills Over Picasso,” 113 – 128; ch. 9, “You Can’t Eat Principles,” 129 – 161; ch. 10, “Haircuts,” 162 – 175.

Lecture 7: Thinking about spaces and places


  • Sennett, Richard.  2006.  “The Open City.”  Urban Age: Berlin.  [Sennett had given a variety of lectures on this theme.]  14 pp.
  • Greenberg, Miriam.  2008.  “Branding and the Neoliberal City.”  Ch. 1 in Branding New York: How a City in Crisis Was Sold to the World.  New York & London: Routledge. 

Lecture 8: Thinking about experiences


  • Simmel, Georg.  1948.  “The Metropolis and Mental Life.”  Ch. 10 in Blackwell, pp. 103 – 110.
  • Weinberger, Michelle F., Jane R. Zavisca, & Jennifer M. Silva.  2017.  Consuming for an Imagined Future: Middle-Class Consumer Lifestyle and Exploratory Experiences in the Transition to Adulthood.”  Journal of Consumer Research 44: 332 – 360.

Lecture 9: Thinking about consumption


  • Zukin, Sharon.  “Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World.”  Ch. 32 in Blackwell, 293 – 302.
  • Chapter(s) from Zukin & Kasinitz, Global Cities, Local Streets.

Lecture 10: Thinking about culture and regeneration


  • Evans, Graeme.  2005.  “Measure for Measure: Evaluating the Evidence of Culture’s Contribution to Regeneration.”  Urban Studies 42: 959 – 983.
  • Griswold, Wendy. 2018.  “Making Lemonade: Urban Culture in the Global Rustbelt.”

The lecturer
Wendy Griswold is Professor of Sociology and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University.  She has taught at Harvard University, University of Chicago, and as visiting professor at IMT-Lucca, Italy,  and University of Oslo, Norway; she is affiliated with cultural sociology programs at Cattolica University in Milan and Erasmus University in Rotterdam.  She is a cultural sociologist and author of many books, including American Guides: The Federal Writers’ Project and the Casting of American Culture (2016), Cultures and Societies in a Changing World (4th edition 2014), Regionalism and the Reading Class (2008), and Bearing Witness: Readers, Writers, and the Novel in Nigeria (2000).  Her current research includes a study of urban cultures in Harbin, China, and Detroit, USA.


Tags: Sociology, Cultural Sociology, Summer School, PhD, Globalization, Urban Studies, Global Cities
Published Dec. 13, 2017 12:19 PM - Last modified Aug. 30, 2018 9:05 AM