Urban Citizens

Urban Citizens

A Series of 6 Lectures and Discussions
led by Richard Sennett and Carlo Ratti
November - December, 2021
MIT {and Harvard by cross-registration}

"Urban Citizens" explores how political participation is shaped in the city. Not a survey, the course presents a set of difficult problems, which the lectures lay out; discussion in each session focuses on answers, if there are any.

The main requirement is your engagement; we want to stimulate you to do work long-term on citizenship. The paper you will write is about your own future work, hopefully stimulated by, but not limited to, our concerns.

Because of the climate summit COP 26 in which Richard Sennett is involved, we have been obliged to compress the course into six weeks. The first two meetings of the six will be live with both of us; the middle two will have Sennett on Zoom, though the classroom discussion will be live; the last two will have everyone together.

Here’s the territory we want to explore:

Week One (November 9) Two Spaces of Participation
We argue that there are two fundamental forms of urban political space: agoric and pnyxic. We try to show how they mold participation in different ways

Week Two (November 11 ) Liminal Ghettoes
We explore new ways that segregation and isolation are appearing in cities, in contrast to classic territorial ghettoes. We ask how the new ghetto-ization might be contested politically.

Week Three (November 16) The City-State
We explore the city as a self-governing polity. How much can people in cities be masters of their own fortunes? And who are "the people" -- do they include people temporarily in the city, like tourists or refugees? What are their obligations, and their rights?

Week Four (November 23) The Politics of Impersonality
We take up the classic proposition advanced by Hannah Arendt that citizenship should transcend identity politics; citizenship is impersonal. Was Arendt right? Can people practice citizenship beyond the confines of self, class, race, or group identity? Is impersonality a form of equality?

Week Five (November 30) The Problem of Surveillance
We present ways in which new technologies of surveillance are affecting urban life. The issues they pose cannot be reduced, we argue, to a simple opposition of surveillance versus freedom.

Week Six (December 7) Cities and Climate Change
We try to work out how climate change will affect citizenship, and in particularly whether climate change can be dealt with democratically.