Urban Humanities at UCLA

The UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative presents
Design Knowledge: Making Urban Humanities

Friday and Saturday, November 14 – 15, in the Decafe (Perloff Hall, Room 1302).

For more information: http://www.urbanhumanities.ucla.edu/?/event/design-knowledge/



Eric Cazdyn
Lev Manovich
Christian Philipp Müller
John Pickles
Sarah Whiting
Karen Tei Yamashita

Anthony Cascardi
Jon Christensen
Michael Dear
Ursula Heise
Miwon Kwon
Peter Lunenfeld
Jasmine Nadua Trice
Jennifer Wolch

Robert Chi
Jonathan Crisman
Dana Cuff
Yoh Kawano
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris
William Marotti
Todd Presner
Sarah Walsh

As the world grows increasingly urban, so grows the imperative to more fully comprehend the space of our collective life. Nowhere is this more urgent than in the context of intensely interactive, rapidly expanding cities of the Pacific Rim. Urban humanities offer an emerging paradigm to explore the lived spaces of dynamic proximities, cultural hybridities, and networked interconnections. The complexity of such spaces calls for new intellectual and practical alliances between design, the humanities, and urban studies for the advanced tools that each brings to bear on its objects of investigation.

In practice, this paradigm is guided by “working knowledge”: a set of provisional methodological models that orient how we work, how we do projects, and how we teach. Can we be intentional about these models, designing them to be critical, projective, urban, and interdisciplinary? Can the practice of these models produce new forms of knowledge about the urban? Can they bridge disciplines in productive ways which overcome conventional tropes of interdisciplinarity? In other words, to what extent can “urban humanities” be defined by methodology—and what are the methods fundamental and unique to urban humanities?

That an action-oriented methodology could serve as a disciplinary basis for urban studies would seem to be an unpopular notion: positivism and empiricism have been seen as incapable of providing a means to understand the city. We argue that such statements ignore the potentials of a new humanist methodology at the nexus of the humanities, design, and urbanism—one that is reinvigorating the public role of design and the humanities, and their place at the heart of understanding our contemporary, urban world. This symposium will investigate epistemologies of making and action, to reclaim the empty terms “urban” and “interdisciplinary, and to recuperate the status of method.

We propose the following as “working knowledge models” for this new humanist methodology at the nexus of design, urban studies, and the humanities:

Working Knowledge Models for an Urban Humanities
Transgressing Media. Urban projects are, by default, unable to be constrained to any one medium because of the complexity of urbanism. Therefore, the construction and creation of multi-model documents which describe and speculate about urban space—transgressing mapping, writing, and image making—serve not only as products but as a means for thinking through urban issues.

Artistic Research. To be comprehended, the complexities of urban space require a marriage of quantitative and qualitative analyses with non-empirical modes of knowing. Artistic research allows for methods of working through these non-empirical epistemologies to produce urban speculation through poetics.

Operative History. Manfredo Tafuri, writing about architectural history, criticized what he called “operative criticism” which concealed fact with ideology, projecting history into normative futures. History, however, always has political and cultural entanglements. The cosmopolitan enterprise of urban understanding only benefits when these entanglements are acknowledged and there is a move toward praxis such that debate and discussion are possible.


Speculative Literature. In the same way that artistic research incorporates the scientifically knowable with non-scientific modes of knowing, so too can speculative literature integrate this binary within texts and narratives. Often produced as science fiction, speculative literature can provide insight about contemporary urbanism by depicting its logical extreme.


Critical Cartography. Space plays a primary role in understanding cities and mapping is a means through which various phenomena can be spatialized in comparison to one another. Drawing upon Clifford Geertz’s notion of “thick description,” new practices of critical cartography can lay a similarly thick understanding of spatial phenomena into a cartographic platform of thick mapping.


Participation Reconfigured. The socio-political issues integral to collective life are at the core of urban inquiry. A middle ground between top-down and bottom-up modes of civic engagement has the potential to push conventional, often unproductive modes of socio-political participation toward the production of new knowledge, novel pedagogical forms, and public-oriented roles for scholars.

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