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2010/1 Module Catalogue
 Module Code: ELI3014 Module Title: WRITING ON THE METROPOLIS
Module Provider: English Short Name: ELI3014
Level: HE3 Module Co-ordinator: ASHFORD DM Dr (English)
Number of credits: 20 Number of ECTS credits: 10
Module Availability
Semester 1
Assessment Pattern

Unit(s) of Assessment


Weighting Towards Module Mark( %)


Coursework Essay (3000 words)




Psychogeographical Project (20 minute talk)




Module Overview

In this option students explore the history and evolution of the modern metropolis, tracing the ways in which urban space has been represented & reimagined across a wide range of exciting material.



Beginning with the rejection of the modern cities that had become prevalent in the west after WWII by the Situationist International and related theorists the module equips students with a theoretical framework for their subsequent exploration of the metropolis, representing the approach to writing on the city currently favoured by the very best theorists operating in the field of cultural geography.



In the first part of the course students chart the rise and fall of the modernist city in fiction, film and graphic art, examining the profound impact that such products of the imagination can have upon a real physical space: rather than mere representation, students will find that such material emerges as an active agent in the constant transformation of the city.



In parts two and three students build on this insight; surveying the history of strategic planning from its origins in the Enlightenment through the grand schemes of the Victorian Period to the Modernist proposals for the re-ordering the city examined in previous weeks; and then tracing the submerged history of small-scale, tactical resistance, on the part of the individual city-dweller, to such totalising plans, culminating in May 68.



Students learn about the power of image and word to make things happen: to fashion plans that might re-order entire cities, or to subvert such strategies, to rewrite the meanings that have been imposed on the metropolis. The methods of assessment reflect this emphasis upon the conflation of theory and practice, ensuring that each enriches & supports the other. No ordinary module on London Writing, this module sets out to empower students: helping them to gain an understanding of pre-existing writing on the city, but also those practical skills required to make the city their own.


Module Aims
  • Introduce and explore connections between urban space and cultural “texts” representing or re-imagining it;


  • Introduce a range of terms and ideas formulated by Situationist International and related theorists;


  • Explore how theoretical debates over urban space relate to key debates in literary studies;


  • Develop skills in the close analysis of visual and verbal texts of contemporary and historical provenance;


  • Develop the ability to work in groups effectively;


  • Develop the ability to work independently on a research-driven essay;


  • Provide enabling knowledge for students wishing to undertake further study of city-writing, or to engage themselves in an active capacity with urban space.


Learning Outcomes
  • Demonstrate an in-depth critical understanding of the connections between urban space and the cultural “texts” representing or re-imagining it;


  • Demonstrate and enhanced cultural awareness of concepts derived from Situationist International and related theorists;


  • Gather, organise and deploy evidence and information from a range of primary and secondary sources;


  • Construct a reasoned argument, synthesise relevant information and exercise critical judgement;


  • Apply theoretical and conceptual frameworks to the empirical analysis of cultural texts;


  • Form effective arguments;


  • Organise workload to meet deadlines;


  • Present research findings in writing and speech;


  • Make appropriate use of information and communications technology;


  • Communicate and present ideas effectively in speech or writing;


  • Work effectively with a group;


  • Work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organisation and time-management;


  • Knowledge and skills necessary to effect semiotic sabotage in the urban environment.


Module Content




Theories of Urban Space




Week 1.


This introductory seminar examines urban theories to emerge from Situationist International and the events in May 1968; focussing on extracts from texts by Guy Debord, Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebrve. Together this material present a paradigm shift from the then prevalent modernist plans for the city. Students consider the case made against that earlier functionalist metropolis and reflect on the potential problems in these proposals for transforming the city into a space for play. Certeau’s distinction between the overarching strategy of town-planners and the tactics employed by the consumer will be considered in detail since this provides the theoretical basis for everything that follows the first section of this module on the rise and fall of the Modernist City .








Rise and Fall of the  Modernist City




In the first section students trace the rise and fall of the modernist city that Situationist International and subsequent theorists of urban space were reacting against.



Week 2.  


In this session students consider pre-modernist urban decay as presented in texts by pre-eminent modernist writers; space which town-planners and architects in the modern movement had hoped to transform. Paris, London and Vienna appear frequently in such texts as symbol for pronounced urban decay but none receive so much attention in this capacity as the city of Venice , nor provoke such radically differing reactions from modernist writers. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice provides the basis for discussion; examined in conjunction with photocopied extracts from material by Ezra Pound, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and FT Marinetti.




Week 3.


In this session students survey fantastic visions of the future of the metropolis set out in film and literature by writers, artists and architects. Students compare and contrast pictures of the Futurist Citta Nuova by Antonia Sant-Elia, the films Metropolis by Fritz Lang and the HG Wells inspired Shape of Things to Come; the bold urban fantasy set out in Le Corbusier’s architectural proposal The City of To-morrow & Its Planning, together with panels showing the London of the late-C20 from 1950s comic-serial Dan Dare. Information is provided on how the modernist aesthetic was popularised after WWII; offering the physical basis for a new social order, but also incorporating problems fundamental to the Modernist Project into the very fabric of contemporary urban space.



Week 4.


In this session students consider the failure of the modernist utopia in JG Ballard's dystopian novel High-Rise; in relation to extracts from earlier pre-war visions of the modernist city by Zamyatin and Aldous Huxley and the real-life story of Robert Moses the “Master Builder” of mid-twentieth century New York in Marshall Berman’s classic critique of modernism All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (1982)







An Overview of Strategic Planning



The second part of the module goes right back to the origins of the Modernist approach to urban planning in the theory and literature of the Enlightenment in order to establish what went wrong. Examining promises and aspirations set out by the champions of strategic-planning, together with contemporary voices opposed to those changes effected, students chart the evolution of the PLAN through the Victorian Period to the Modern Era.



Week 5.


In this session students uncover the origins of urban planning in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. Plans for a City of Light by Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor are set beside the classic fictional exposition, from this period, of man’s rationalist ordering of the natural world, produced by Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe, a text which features prominently in contemporary psycho-geographical accounts of London . But the key text is Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat, a poem on Hawksmoor’s Seven London Churches.



Week 6.


In this session students examine the redevelopment of Paris by Baron Haussman in the Second Empire . The production of the orderly, rational space of shopping arcade and boulevard is shown to realise a wide-spread faith in circulation as the universal panacea for the societal ills generated in the densely populated cities of West Europe . But this transformation came at a cost, eliminating the brash and vibrant street-life celebrated by Charles Baudelaire & Walter Benjamin. The creation of the Parisian Arcades spelt the end for the figure of the flaneur, the wandering metropolitan poet in search of the forgotten and magical. The street became a corridor - no longer a place in its own right. 




Week 7.


From the hanging gardens of celestial Babylon, the Garden City has long been a recurring trope in plans and fantasies of town-planners; but in late-nineteenthcentury such dreams received fresh impetus with the creation of the first Garden Cities, Bedford Park , Bournville and Hampstead. In this session students examine extracts from a manifesto by Ebenezer Howard (a major influence on Corbusier), but will focus on William Morris’ novel News from Nowhere, in which a similar vision receives particularly powerful expression. The failure of this new utopia, as depicted in fiction by Elizabeth Bowen and by Julian Barnes, are also considered.







The Secret History of Tactical Consumption



Having charted the evolution of the strategic planning favoured by the modernists in this final part of the module students uncover the secret history of small-scale tactical resistance to such grand totalising visions of the metropolis on the part of the city-dweller; the playful misappropriation and misuse of space that has increasingly come to define attempts to reimagine the contemporary city.



Week 8.


In this session students engage with groundbreaking research by R.Bowlby which has established that, while the creation of arcades, boulevards and department-stores in Paris and London spelled the end for the solitary male flaneur, the newly functional, consumerist metropolis proved to be a force of liberation for women; a fact that became increasingly obvious over the course of the next century as the new consumer economy and the push for female emancipation went together from strength to strength. This session focuses on the text that has perhaps done more than any other to highlight the liberating potential of tactical consumption: Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City.



Week 9.


In this session students explore the misappropriation of public space and resulting transformation  of the metropolis effected by immigrants to the UK after WWII - in the fiction of Sam Selvon and Colin MacInnes, an innovative and intoxicating celebration of multiplicity, mixing and movement that heralded the emergence of Britain’s new pop culture. Hanif Kureishi’s film-script Sammy and Rosie Get Laid provides the key text for this seminar: pitting the pop culture that had transformed functional spaces of the modern city into a play-ground, against plans for regeneration unleashed upon the capital in the eighties.



Week 10.


In this final session an aggressive phase of urban regeneration initiated in the eighties by resurgent capitalism is shown to have provoked renewed interest in the theories and tactics of the Situationist International, on the part of writers and filmmakers in London seeking to resist what they perceived to be an oppressive redevelopment of the Capital. The Nineties saw the resurrection of the London Psychogeography Association - and forceful, innovative writing dedicated to challenging the virtual realities of the post-modern city.



Week 11.


Consultation Session: students can air ideas for their Coursework Essay and Psychogeographical Project and receive peer and tutor feedback.



Christmas Break.


Students should take advantage of the Christmas Break to research and write up their coursework essay (3000 words-long) in order to leave the Assessment Period free for the Psychogeographical Project.


Essay Due: 12pm Wednesday 12th January 2011



Week 12





Week 13


Exams/ Assessment



Week 14


Exams/ Assessment



Week 15


Exams/ Assessment



Assessment Period:  completion of the Psychogeographical Project. Production of a 20-minute talk for assessment. At the end of the Assessment Period students on the module present their talks in a lecture-hall over the course of a day.



Assessment Day: tbc
Methods of Teaching/Learning

Seminars / class discussion / student-led work / independently organised fieldwork in the capital


Selected Texts/Journals

Introduction: Theoretical Material on Architecture & Urban Space



Marc Auge, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (Verso 2009)


Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Beacon Press 1992)


Rachel Bowlby, Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping ( Columbia University Press, 2002), Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing and Zola (Routledge 1985).


Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (Vintage 1997)


Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfont, Subway Art, ( Thames & Hudson 2009)


Merlin Coverley, Psychogeography (Pocket Essentials, 2007)


Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Rebel Press, 1992)


Kerry Downes, Hawksmoor (Thames & Hudson, 1987)


Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press 2002)


Simon Ford, The Situationist International: A User’s Guide (Black Dog Publishing 2005)


John H. Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Beacon Press 1992)


Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Verso 1992)


Ken Knabb, ed. Situationist International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1982)


Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Wiley Blackwell 1991), Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (Continuum International Publishing Group 2004)


Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (MIT Press 1960)


Lewis Mumford, The City in History (


Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (Penguin 2008)


Tom Porter, Archispeak: An Illustrated Guide to Architectural Design Terms (Routledge 2004)


Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (MIT Press 1999)


Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Verso 2006), A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Canongate Books 2006)


Edward J. Soja, Postmodern Geographies (Verso 1989)


David Trotter, Circulation (Palgrave MacMillan 1998)


Raoul Vaneigem, Revolution of Everyday Life (Rebel Press, 1983)


Robert Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas (




Part One: The Rise and Fall of the Modernist City



The Essential Reading :



1) Thomas Mann, Death in Venice ( Dover Thrift 2009)


2) Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (Penguin 2007)


3) J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (Flamingo 1998)



Alternative Primary Material:



T.S. Eliot, “Burbank with a Baedeker; Bleistein with a Cigar”, Collected Poems (Faber 2002)


Henry James, The Aspern Papers (Penguin 1994), Wings of the Dove (Penguin 2008)


Ezra Pound, Cantos I-VII, XVII-XXX, A Draft of XXX Cantos (Faber


F.T. Marinetti, “Founding & Manifesto 1909”, Umbro Apollonio, ed. Futurist Manifestos (Tate 2009)




Le Corbusier, The City of To-morrow and Its Planning (Dover 2008)


Fritz Lang (dir.) Metropolis ( Eureka Entertainment 2008)


William Cameron Menzies (Dir.), Things to Come (E1 Entertainment 2009)


HG Wells, A Modern Utopia (Penguin 2005)



J.G. Ballard, Crash (HarperPerennial 2008), Concrete Island (HarperPerennial 2008)


Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (Penguin 1988)


Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Vintage 2007)


Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (Avon 2003)




Part Two: An Overview of Strategic Planning



The Essential Reading :



4) Iain Sinclair, Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (Granta 2002)


5) Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil (Oxford World’s Classics 2008)


6) William Morris, News from Nowhere (Oxford World’s Classics 2009)



Alternative Primary Material:



Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor (Penguin 2002)


Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (Wordsworth 1992)


Alan Moore, From Hell (Knockabout Comics 2008)


Thomas De Quincey, Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts (OUP 2006)



Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project ( Harvard University Press 2002)


Charles Dickens, Bleak House (Penguin 2003)


Edgar Allen Poe, “The Man in the Crowd”, The Collected Tales and Poems (Wordsworth 2004)


Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Penguin 2003)



Julian Barnes, Metroland (Vintage 2009)


John Betjeman, Metro-land (DD Home Entertainment 2006)


Elizabeth Bowen, The Collected Stories (Vintage 1999)


Ebenezar Howard, Garden Cities of To-morrow (Dodo Press 2009)




Part Three: The Secret History of Tactical Consumption



The Essential Reading :



7) Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City (Atlantic Monthly Printing, 1996)


8) Hanif Kureishi, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), in Collected Screenplays Vol.1 (Faber, 2002)


9) Stewart Home , Mind Invaders: Reader in Psychic Warfare (Serpent’s Tail 1997)



Alternative Primary Material:



Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (Oxford World’s Classics 2009)


George Gissing, Eve’s Ransom (Hard Press 2006)


Darren Star (Creator), Sex and the City, Season 1 (Paramount Home Entertainment 2008)


Emile Zola, Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Delight) (Penguin 2006)



Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (Penguin 2006)


Colin MacInnes, The London Novels (Allison & Busby 2005)


Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia (Faber 1991)


Mieville, King Rat (Tor 1999)



Peter Ackroyd, London : The Biography (Vintage 2001)


Will Self, Psychogeography ( Bloomsbury , 2007)


Iain Sinclair, “Art of the State” and “The Isle of Doges” in Downriver (Penguin 2004)


Chris Petit, Robinson (Granta 2001)


Last Updated
5 July 2010 JG