Urban constellations: reading contemporary cityscapes with Benjamin and Baudrillard

Thompson, Zoë (2010). Urban constellations: reading contemporary cityscapes with Benjamin and Baudrillard. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.


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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: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Other
Other Funders: The University of Birmingham
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/1188


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