A JOINT COURSE IN URBAN ETHNOGRAPHY
The course consists of two joint and integrated modules in Urban Ethnography and in Urban Survey and is targeting students enrolled in the Master of Science in Urban Planning-Policy Design the Master of Science in Architecture.
GENERAL FRAMEWORK AND AIMS OF THE COURSE
Places resist in time: they are material evidences and witness of the state of the art, the kind of relations, of social and spatial assets that architecture, urban planning and social practices produce. Too often the concrete life of places seems to be out of sight: in the recent years the representation of urban spaces is often given trough purified images more similar to a rendering than to the reality where there is no trace of the actual use of the spaces. Moreover, urban policies, planning tools, architectural design are frequently avoiding any confrontation with practices, uses and users of the spaces they produce.
The course aims at developing competences in understanding the city through observing, describing, interpreting and representing urban space in its material and social configurations and changes. In this respect, ethnography is assumed as a relevant field of research and practice which can offer important contributions to how urban spaces are understood, the material, symbolical and social contexts in which projects are designed and implemented.
The course aims to develop students’ skills in ethnographical approaches to the city and neighbourhoods. Ethnography is based on a qualitative approach to urban survey that implies direct involvement of the student/researcher in a field research in a specific place. This approach involves actions such as observing people living in a place, getting involved in their lives and activities, gaining the trust of a local community, trying to understand ways of living, problems and opportunities of specific neighbourhoods, developing new intellectual skills related to the complexities and opportunities of urban life.
THEMES AND TOPICS
A main focus of the course will be set on the interpretation and transcription of the city from a visual point of view.
Along with references to the tradition of ethnographical studies, students will learn the logic of direct and participant observation, the analysis of social practices, forms of interviewing and other approaches to social and spatial analysis which can support the understanding and interpretation of the way urban space is organized and results as the combined product of human and non-human actors.
Through the analysis of various case studies and collective exercises (in class and in the field) the course aims at developing an ethnographical approach to interpret and decode a given reality.
Specific attention will be given to how ethnography might be helpful in fostering a critical understanding of the cities with explicit focus to planning and policy outcomes. Different means and “tactics” to develop ethnographical approaches as well as to represent their outcomes will be explored, with a particular attention to photography.
The course is organized in:
- a first module consisting of: LECTURES: Theoretical contributions, readings and discussion of papers and articles as well as class exercises (role playing, etc.) and presentation and discussion of case studies / FIELD VISITS will be organized in selected urban spaces and projects / SEMINARS: a set of open seminars given by invited scholars and professionals on the course topics will be jointly organized with some other cooperating and partner courses.
- a second module consisting in a FIELD EXERCISE (to be developed individually or in pairs) and consisting in an exploration through direct observation and photography, producing a description and representation of a selected place in the city of Milan. A final seminar will be organized for the presentation and discussion of the field exercises.
You may view the final report of year 2013-2014 at:
Materials, documents, texts and references presented in class will be made available online to the participants.
The here under is a first draft reading list of the books among which students will make a choice in agreement with the Professors:
Bianchetti C. (2014), Territori della condivisione. Una nuova città, Editore: Quodlibet, Macerata.
Cefaï D. (2013), “¿Qué es la etnografía? Debates contemporáneos Primera parte. Arraigamientos, operaciones y experiencias del trabajo de campo”, in Persona y Sociedad, 27 (1): 101-119 (available online in Spanish and in French).
Christiaanse K. (2009), Open City: Designing Coexistence, Catalogue Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Sun Architecture.
Madden R. (2010), Being Ethnographic. A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Ethnography, SAGE, London.
Tonkiss F. (2014), Cities by Design. The social life of urban form, Polity Press.
Semi G. (2010), L’osservazione partecipante. Una guida pratica, il Mulino, Bologna.