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Urban constellations: reading contemporary cityscapes with Benjamin and Baudrillard

Thompson, Zoë (2010)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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This thesis seeks to contribute to the literature on Walter Benjamin and Jean Baudrillard, but not to merely retread old debates. It is concerned instead with a re-evaluation of the work of both thinkers in a particular context: the experience of the new cultural spaces, of twenty-first century post-industrial cities, and in relation to each other. I argue, following Benjamin, that these spaces function as contemporary ‘dreamhouses’. Deploying a constellation of Benjamin and Baudrillard’s ideas to read such spaces illuminates the experience of the contemporary cityscape around the themes of spectacle, distraction, interactivity, simulation and consumption. The thesis examines how these iconic architectural projects, the technological body of the cityscape, mediate our experiences of art, nature, personal and collective memory, and notions of public culture. I argue that we must read Benjamin again after Baudrillard in order to assess the value of both thinkers’ contribution to the understanding of contemporary cities organisation of space and culture. The contingent proximity that is uncovered when reading the theorists both together and against each other, is one which ultimately argues for the persistence of certain ‘messianic’ moments; traces or interruptions which can be uncovered against the notion of Baudrillardian ‘simulation’. This is to take seriously, rather than dispense with, Baudrillardian ideas. Both Benjamin and Baudrillard, together, are necessary to understand the experience of contemporary urban culture. Taking the form of four empirical encounters between the theoretical concepts and the cultural spaces themselves, I set out to locate these messianic possibilities. Each of the analytical chapters focuses on a different cultural space: The Lowry, Salford; The Deep, Hull, The Sage, Gateshead; and The Public, West Bromwich.

Type of Work:Ph.D. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Abbinnett, Ross and Gilloch, Graeme
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
Department:Department of Sociology
Subjects:GV Recreation Leisure
HT Communities. Classes. Races
NX Arts in general
HM Sociology
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:1188
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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