Cities and the Political Imagination

The Sociological Review Annual Lecture 2017

How can we recognize the political in the city? How might social scientists engage with forms of politics outside of established sites of research such as those associated with representative democracy or collective mobilizations?

This presentation suggests that new perspectives on urban politics might be enabled by revisiting the connections between sociology and cultural studies, and specifically by combining long-term urban ethnography and cultural analysis. Reading forms of creative expression in relation to power struggles in and over urban space can direct our attention towards negotiations of authority and political belonging that are often overlooked within the social sciences. I explore the possibilities of such an approach by focusing on the idea of the political imagination, and in particular on how everyday practices are informed by imaginations of urban rule and citizenship.

Expressive culture generates both analytical and normative frames, guiding everyday understandings of how power works, where and in whose hands it is concentrated, and whether we see this as just or unjust. Such frames can legitimize or delegitimize specific distributions of resources and risks, and can normalize or denaturalize specific structures of decision-making.

Through a discussion of popular music (hiphop, reggae and dancehall) and visual culture, I consider how these forms of the imagination allow new political subjectivities and actions to emerge and consolidate.

Time: 5:45pm – 9:00pm, Friday 28th April, 2017

Location: Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL

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