Engendering the City
Crafting New Narratives through Visual Essays
Instructor: Dr. Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe
University of Basel, Fall Semester 2020
Module: The Urban across Disciplines, Projects and Processes of Urbanization
Image: A. Tschoepe,2019
Cities are engendered - produced and provoked - through the interaction of various contesting actors. These negotiate and continuously change culturally constructed hierarchies that determine the distribution of roles in a community and in urban space, and the forms of power and exclusion that operate within it.
There is an urgency to think about and create knowledge of invisible and routine, persisting and emergent discriminatory practices in urban space. With a focus on current debates, we will discuss texts that engage with interdisciplinary questions of Gender, Body, Space, Architecture, Landscape, and Geography. Students relate readings to events of their interest, discuss and workshop together toward the final assignment, a visual essay.
Gender is a central domain of social and political life. It is a category of experiencing space and performing identity. At the same time, it is a label for bodies, infrastructural and architectural spaces (aesthetically and programmatically) that influences normative and nonconformist everyday practices. It is a constructed category, real only when it is performed, and can be deconstructed on this basis.
Urban space is, in many ways, the physical manifestation of power dynamics in the built environment, architectures, infrastructures and objects. It is the space on which one can analyze who has access to public space and commons, to transportation, spaces of leisure, safe neighborhoods, and clean air and water. The city is both a stage for the (dis)play of power structures, gendered and intersecting forms of discrimination, as well as emancipatory practices toward more inclusion and diversity. Concurrently, it is an actor itself who distributes resources and enables or disables access amongst other human and non-human actors.
Emancipatory practices are manifold and creative. They reach their peak in visibility and voice when taken to urban space, into the streets. The current political climate has in many ways heightened the nature of public space as a contested sphere along the lines of contemporary urban gender issues.
Questioning categories of gender and sexuality is the first step in deconstructing the spatial and political regimes which manifest these categories.
Second, we will unveil how uneven power structures and intersectionality (gender, class, race, ethnicity, ability, age, color, etc) play out in architecture, landscape and urban space.
Third, we will construct narratives of gender and space through our visual essays. This will help us grapple with the fluent, porous and contested nature not just of gender as a category, but also cities and bodies, which undergo constant redefinition and negotiation.
This course has a theoretical and inquiry-based as well as a methodological component. It is intended to bring students together through an interdisciplinary approach to complex, intersectional issues, and to constitute a platform for exchange and critical reflection. To explore various narratives that engender the city, we will take a tour through Basel in the first meeting; further explorations on your own while taking the necessary pandemic precautions are encouraged and will be supported through the fieldwork kit.
Coming out of my collaborative work in urban ethnography (urban-ethnography.com), the “fieldwork kit” students receive is intended as an instrument to facilitate visual ethnographic research; it can be changed and expanded, represent process or become part of research representations.
As part of this course, explorations include spatial and participant observation, mapping, creative writing exercises, visual communication. We will critically consider the interaction of ethnographic content and visual form in multimodal projects, discuss research ethics and consent.
This will be useful toward the final visual essay. We will explore this genre as an alternative to text-only formats, and a way to craft new narratives in the context of visual material. Hereby, we will critically consider images beyond their illustrating, documenting capacity, and grapple with their potential and role as actors that shape and craft narratives, form relations within and inbetween them and other elements of the visual essay. We will revisit forms of story-telling and explore creative writing techniques, as well as opportunities for publishing this format.