Urban Scenes — RC21 conference Delhi 2019

Urban Scenes — RC21 conference Delhi 2019

RC21 – 2019 – New Delhi  — Session P35

Urban Scene Investigation: The development of urban amenities and cultural consumption, and the concomitant proliferation of urban identities, life styles and the urban commons

Levent Soysal and I are organizing a session titled ‘Urban Scene Investigation’ for the September 18-21, 2019 RC21 Conference in Delhi, India. The session is about the development of urban amenities and cultural consumption, and the concomitant proliferation of urban identities, life styles and the urban commons.

Aims and objectives:

The transformation of the manufacturing economy to the—what Allan J. Scott (2008) would label—cognitive‐creative economy, and the concomitant concentration of the ‘new middle classes’ in urban centers has led to the proliferation of new forms of urbanism. Primordial loyalties and attachments have lost their significance, and urban individuals are now seeking social identity, connections and belonging through lifestyles and cultivated sensibilities with regard to, for example, food and foodways, fashion, musical styles, entertainment, and shopping. Indeed, a wide array of amenities are emerging and they offer a platform for the development of new life styles and communities: specialty coffee bars, hot bakeries, chocolate architects, olive oil specialists, craft beer breweries, ‘ethnic’ home decoration stores, street food treks, and hot yoga studios are popping up like daisies, all drawing the attention of the new middle classes (Bridge and Dowling 2001; Ernst and Doucet 2014; 2010; Shaker Ardekani and Rath 2017 and 2018; Zukin 2010).

As has been argued by Silver and Clark (2016), clusters of amenities constitute scenes, i.e. settings that structure shared cultural consumption. They join the various forms of consumption together, permitting a range of seemingly diverse activities—from sipping coffee to listening to music or engaging in urban farming—to be analyzed as part of one social process. These social and cultural processes—manifested through and driven by cultural consumption—do not only impact the way city dwellers identify themselves and how they position themselves vis-à-vis others, but also affect in  more general terms the sense of place, the sense of belonging and eventually the right to the city for all. The latter is not self-evident and this problematic situation is aggravated by the fact that municipalities and other public and private institutions (such as housing associations and developers) seem to favor middle-class consumption behavior, middle-class lifestyles, and middle class political articulation.

What was traditionally conceived of as ‘the public’ is evidently in retreat: public services are under pressure, public housing is being sold off and public space is increasingly no such thing. In such a (neoliberal) climate, the commons seem to offer an alternative to the battle between public and private. The rise of urban scenes and the concomitant sense of belonging, purpose and public accountability might give a new impulse to the urban commons. At the same time, there is obviously a risk that the same processes contribute to the further erosion of the urban commons.

Interesting questions then are: how do new forms of bridging and bonding emerge, how are membership and status within a scene determined, how do distinct types of scenes (clusters of amenities, spatially and temporally) differentially affect urban development, in which contexts are they embedded, how about the aesthetic and ethical symbolisms and about the political drivers? Also—more generally—what is in the character of a particular scene that speak to broader and more universal themes, notably the maintenance and enhancement of urban commons? In the current panel, scenes are used as a lens to look at structural economic, social, political and cultural dimensions of the urban commons.

Jan Rath, Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, rath@uva.nl
Levent Soysal, Faculty of Communications, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, levsoy@khas.edu.tr

Conference website: https://rc21delhi2019.com/