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Unit information: Understanding Urban Society in 2015/16

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Unit name Understanding Urban Society
Unit code SPOL30023
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Bridge
Open unit status Open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit focuses primarily on how cities develop and change, how scholars have theorised and explained these changes, and how urban studies is in many ways the study of the obvious - but looking deep below the surface. What does it mean when you walk past an abandoned house, a gentrified terrace, a drop-in centre for the homeless, a waterfront loft apartment, a red-light district, a group of people sipping latte outside yet another Starbucks? While urbanisation is of course a global phenomenon, in this unit we will zoom in on Western cities, with particular reference to Europe and North America and East Asia. Urban studies is at root an interdisciplinary field of inquiry (indeed, this is what makes it so fascinating and vibrant), and readings will be drawn from, among other subjects, sociology, political economy, anthropology, psychology and philosophy. The course begins by introducing the richness and diversity of urban theory, before grounding those theories in topics that show the numerous ways in which cities are visualised, experienced and understood, how the spaces within them are used and sometimes contested, and how they are governed. In short, this unit is as much about key issues in cities as it is about the contemporary analysis of cities.

Key topics included in this unit are: theories of urban change (Chicago School, urban Marxism, theories of difference) cities and globalisation; cities and structures of housing provision; housing and social exclusion; neighbourhood change and gentrification; the public realm of cities; social movements, civic participation and urban governance. The aims of the unit are:

  • To introduce students to theoretical interpretations of the urban process; the social structure of cities; urban life and urban problems; and urban governance and politics.
  • To facilitate an understanding of the application of theoretical and policy approaches to current urban problems both nationally and internationally.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course students will have acquired an understanding of the key elements of urban theory and elements of urban geography, sociology, and politics as they apply to an appreciation of major social issues in cities.

Teaching Information

This unit is taught by a series of 10 lectures, and a one hour class each week, each including exercises, discussions, and consideration of key texts.

Assessment Information

3rd year students are required to sit a 3 hour examination, and a 1 hour timed essay.

Reading and References

  • Bridge, G. and Watson, S. (eds) (2011) The New Companion to the City (Oxford: Blackwell).
  • Harding A and Blokland T (2014) Urban Theory: A critical introduction to power, cities and urbanism in the 21st century London Sage
  • Chen, Xiangming, Orum A, Paulsen K (2012) Introduction to Cities Wiley Blackwell
  • Pacione, M. (2005) Urban Geography: A Global Perspective (2nd edition) (London: Routledge).
  • LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (eds) (2003) The City Reader (3rd edition) (London: Routledge).
  • Badcock, B. (2002) Making Sense of Cities (London: Arnold)
  • Knox, P. and Pinch, S. (2000) Urban Social Geography: An Introduction (4th edition) (Harlow: Pearson Education).
  • Fainstein, S. and Campbell, S. (eds) (2002) Readings in Urban Theory (2nd edition) (Oxford: Blackwell).
  • Dear, M. (ed) (2002) From Chicago to L.A.: Making Sense of Urban Theory (Thousand Oaks: Sage).
  • Leach, R. and Percy Smith, J. (2001) Local Governance in Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave)
  • Davies, J. and Imbroscio D. (eds) (2009) Theories of urban politics. (London: Sage)