RC21 Aesthetics: Making Sense of the City

RC21 Urban Sociology Conference ‘Sensing and Shaping the City’, Antwerp, 6th – 8th July 2020

Session Conveners: Amy Barron & Joe Blakey (The University of Manchester)

Paper Presentation Session


This session asks what it means to think through an aesthetics of the city.  Understandings of aesthetics are diverse, referring not only to art or art theory, but also the “ensemble of techniques, performances, and intensities of experience that shape the materialities and practices of everyday life” (Hawkins and Straughan, 2016: 28).  In its most general understanding, aesthetics is about “the way the sensual world meets the sensate body, and with the affective forces that are generated in such meetings” (Highmore, 2010: 122; Koren, 2010).  Aesthetics, therefore, invariably figures in how we make sense of the city and ourselves.  As Latham and McCormack have argued, the “aesthetic is part of the generative, distributed expressiveness of the city” (2009: 260 – 261).  Aesthetics is bound to how we experience urban life imaginatively, materially, socially and politically.  It is bound to the policing of the city and politics surrounding it (Dikeç, 2015; Walby and Lippert, 2012). As Dikeç has argued, “aesthetics is linked to politics as a form of perceiving the world and a mode of relating to it” (2015: 35).  But aesthetics is not solely a political question, it affects the very sensory fabric of, around and about our cities and how they are differentially experienced.  Aesthetics, therefore, prompts us to consider the affective and more-than-representational dynamics that shape, and are shaped by, how we sense and make sense of the city (Highmore, 2010).  Aesthetics is intrinsically interdisciplinary, bringing together urban, cultural, political and social theorists.

This session takes stock and assesses potential avenues for work on aesthetics, the sensory and the city.  We welcome papers which may consider (but are not limited to) the following questions:

–          How can aesthetics be understood and used in relation to the ‘city’ and why might this matter?

–          How is difference lived in the city and how might aesthetics work to delineate or challenge such difference?

–          In what ways do aesthetics of the city link with the more-than-representational, theories of affect, politics and ‘the political’?

–          In what ways do aesthetics affect our experience of the city and in turn how can one affect aesthetics?  How do different individuals make sense of the city?

–          How might aesthetics help us to consider the temporal and spatial production of identities and subjectivities?

–          How might an aesthetics of the city relate to more-than human approaches?

–          What are the methodological challenges to research on aesthetics and the city?

Please submit your abstracts of no more than 250 words through the conference website: https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/conferences/rc21-sensing-the-city/call-for-papers/submit-your-abstract/. Abstracts which are not submitted through the conference website cannot be selected for presentation at the conference.

The deadline for abstracts is 15 March 2020.

Further conference details: https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/conferences/rc21-sensing-the-city/

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the session conveners:

Amy Barron: amy.barron [at] manchester.ac.uk

Joe Blakey: joe.blakey [at] manchester.ac.uk

Best wishes,

Amy & Joe


Dikeç, M., (2015). Space, politics and aesthetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Dixon, D.P., (2009). Creating the semi‐living: on politics, aesthetics and the more‐than‐human. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers34(4), 411-425.

Hawkins, H. and Straughan, E., 2016. Geographical aesthetics: Imagining space, staging encounters. London: Routledge.

Highmore, B., (2010). Affect, food, and social aesthetics. In M. Gregg and G.J.  Seigworth (Eds), The affect theory readerDurham, NC: Duke University. 118-37.

Koren, L., (2010). Which” aesthetics” do you mean?: Ten definitions. Imperfect Pub.

Latham, A. and McCormack, D.P., (2009). Thinking with images in non‐representational cities: vignettes from Berlin. Area, 41(3), 252-262.

Walby, K. and Lippert, R., (2012). Spatial regulation, dispersal, and the aesthetics of the city: conservation officer policing of homeless people in Ottawa, Canada. Antipode, 44(3), 1015-1033.