[URBANTH-L] ANN: Making Sense in the City Conference (Ghent University, Belgium)

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Wed Nov 22 19:11:26 EST 2006

"Making sense in the city"

Culture, community and identity in an urban world
Ghent University, Belgium

Date: 17-20 December 2006

This symposium focuses on the impact of global urbanisation on those 
cultural, religious and other ways which generally give human beings meaning 
and direction in their lives. We refer to these as 'sense-making' processes. 
It is a fact that now over half of the world population lives in urban 
contexts, varying from historical cities (of the European and Asian type) 
with heritage character to the new continuously changing urbanised areas 
with multimillion concentrations of people in the so-called Third World. By 
2030 estimates are that over 70% of the world's population will live in an 
urban context (Castells, 2002).

Contemporary social and cultural frames of reference of most of humanity 
have derived from those of village and rural life. However, meaning and 
sense-making processes are likely to be inadequate, when held on to in the 
semi-structured context of urban and suburban life. Life in a city, and 
certainly in a metropolis, seems to involve other ways of building 
relationships, of community building and of sense-giving than that in a 
village. Religions and other types of 'Weltanschauung' have become more 
privatised, and are confronted with competitors of all kinds (e.g. the 
attraction of Buddhisms, New Age, NRM's, etc. in formerly Christian areas). 
At the same time relationships between people are becoming increasingly 
complex, while diversity of all sorts (e.g. gender, religious and ethnic 
identities, leisure groups, life style, etc.) is turning into the rule 
rather than the exception. Both globalisation and urbanisation has 
considerable impacts on cultural phenomena, including the shifts in 
'Weltanschauung', we claim. Although the relationship between globalisation, 
nationalism, transnationalism and urbanisation has been dealt with in 
important work (and is the core business of e.g. the Society for Urban, 
National and Transnational Anthropology, SUNTA of the AAA), so far the link 
with sense-making processes is only marginally addressed. For this symposium 
we invite speakers on the following topics:

Theory formation on urban contexts: is the urban context by necessity the 
only format for modernity, and what does this imply for the urbanised 
citizen in terms of world view (religious or otherwise)? In what ways can we 
describe and theorize the shift from a tribal-village-community perspective 
towards a network-urbanised-individual perspective on life and sense making?

Religion and 'Weltanschauung': from foundations to private resources; the 
emergence of extreme right movements and fundamentalisms as urban 
experiments? The Enlightenment idea of privatization of religions may be up 
for reconsideration in the light of McJihad, Opus Dei and other religious 
formats, or is it?

Inclusion and individualisation, a contradiction? Does the urban context 
induce inclusive rather than exclusive ideologies, or the other way around? 
Linked to this question: what will be the meaning of individual rights, 
sovereignty and the like?

On these topics we invite theoretical reflections as well as case studies 
and comparative analyses from various disciplinary (including non-academic) 
perspectives around the world.


The aim of the symposium is to stimulate a deeper dialogue on urban 
sense-making processes. To this end we have invited participants coming from 
different perspectives, research and background. As a metaphor for the theme 
of the symposium we will be holding the discussions in the city theater, not 
at the university. Several artists will be invited to perform and to present 
their work during the discussion slots. The city theater will prepare a 
dramaturgical scenery to enhance the dialogue during the symposium.
The structure of the symposium will revolve around the seven papers of the 
keynotes and the art interventions, which will be communicated to all the 
invited participants by the end of September. This communication will allow 
for a thoughtful preparation of the discussions during the symposium. We do 
not ask of the discussants and the young scholars necessarily to present 
their own research, rather to discuss in depth the themes introduced by the 
papers of the keynotes and the art interventions that will be presented 
throughout the symposium.

The paper 'What to Make of Life When You Are an Urbanite. Religion or 
Secularisation: the Meaning of Life as a Modern Predicament' by Rik Pinxten 
and Lisa Dikomitis kan be viewed online: 

For more information, contact: makingsense at UGent.be


Sunday 17 December
12.00-15.00: Welcome and registration of participants at the University Aula
15.00 : Opening of expo at the Aula by Minister of Culture Bert Anciaux
Visit of the expo and reception

Trajectory from Aula to NTGent
17.00: Welcome by Dean of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy Freddy 
Opening performance by Chancelor of the University of Ghent Paul Van 
Cauwenberge, musicians Peter Vermeersch & guests
17.45: Opening speech: 'Making sense in the city' by Rik Pinxten and Johan 
20.30: Brandhaarden: Seats of Fire, performance (NTGent production with 
Nieuwpoorttheater and Victoria Deluxe)
Monday 18 December
9.30: The urban context and its community building features
Keynote: U. Hannerz
Intervention by C. Navarrete
Discussants: F. Moulaert, E. Corijn
Public discussion
12.00: lunchbreak
14.00: The urban context and/versus traditions of sense making
Keynote: M. Arkoun
Film by Jivanmukta Swami Ganapati (Siddashiva)
Discussants: G. Corm, Jivanmukta Swami Ganapati
 Public discussion

16.30: coffee break
17.00: The urban context as a cosmopolitan and a cultural phenomenon
Keynote: P. Bacchetta
Discussants: M. Affaya, T. Fenster
Public discussion

20.30: Brandhaarden: Seats of Fire, performance (NTGent production with 
Nieuwpoorttheater and Victoria Deluxe)
Tuesday 19 december
9.30: Individual workshop: Urban media communities
Keynote: F. Ginzburg
Intervention by Hassan Darsi
Discussants: V. Kortun, B. Keunen, A. Marmarinos
Public discussion

12.00: lunch break
14.00: Urban context as built environment and power structures
Keynote: A. Simone
Presentation by A. Branzi
Discussants: F. De Boeck, P. Hervik
Public discussion

16.30: coffee break

17.00: Individual workshop: Discussion slot by organizations from the field: 
Humanistic association, Sociumi, Sufi Ruhaniat International, Siddha Shiva 
International, Jivanmukta Swami Ganapati, Buddhist Union of Belgium
AT THE AULA: 19.00: performance by the Swallows.

Walking dinner (seperate reservation)
Wednesday 20 December
9.30: Urban context and inequality or empowerment
Keynote: L. Wacquant
Discussants: N. Räthzel, J. Gundara
Intervention bu Minerva Cuevas (artist)
Public discussion

12.00: lunch

15.00: Conclusions of the symposium
Closing address by L. Nader
20.30: Performance Meta-bo
21.00 Festive announcement of Award for best student work
21.30: reception/ party: Stop Making Sense / A night of Industrial 
Neuro-Tech (including Meta-bo LIVE and film projections) at NTGent (D. 

Themes for keynote speakers on 'Making sense in the city':
Proposed line of discussion throughout the conference:  we conceive of the 
problem area (urban and sense making) as a complex we can 'unpack' from 
different perspectives:

The urban context and its community building features: (its constraints and 
their effects on sense making):
The physical, social and political characteristics of the urban context have 
a certain impact on community building in cities and in megapoles: the 
number of people living together in an anonymous way yields a new type of 
sociality. People are led to live with each other and use the public spaces 
in a way which is good for all, and at the same time knowing that the space 
is not the property of anyone in particular. Anxiety will increase in this 
context, but opportunities grow equally.
Keynote Ulf Hannerz: 'At Home with Uncertainty: Reflections on Living with 
Diversity and Danger'.

The city context and/versus traditions of sense making: islam, 
evangelical/pentacostal missions:
One way the urban context works is by shifting the whole context of meaning 
of life transfer. The general links are not anymore the family or the small 
peer group. Rather, personal networks and relatively 'shallow' religious 
experiences are essential for the urbanized way of life. Religious 
organisations (churches , congregations and the like) are somewhat 
bewildered by this development, be it in Islam, in Christendom or in any 
other large religious tradition.
Keynote Mohammed Arkoun.

The urban context as a cosmopolitan versus a cultural phenomenon (e.g. India 
and the West):
Urban ways of life are sometimes dubbed 'subcultural'. At the same time, 
they appear to be the same or very similar around the world. So what is 
happening? Is it the case that the urban context in itself is producing or 
at the very least inducing a 'new' type of religiosity, and then what is the 
relevance of the heightened cultural identity movements around the world? 
Keynote Paola Bacchetta: 'Producing the Hindu Nationalist City: The RSS and 
its Women's Wing'.

Urban context and media/types of communication:
The former pope John-Paul II was known as a man who introduced modern media 
techniques in the processing of religious messages around the world. 
Lifestyle and media-visibility are more and more important in the world we 
enter in this era. How important are the media constraints and features and 
how do they impact on the messages and the processes of sense making? 
Keynote Faye Ginsburg: 'Black Screens and Cultural Citizenship'.

Urban context and inequality or empowerment:
The urban context produces other (and maybe more) outcasts, and subcultural 
subjects. This poses the problem of empowerment and disempowerment in and by 
the urbanizing processes. Criminality, opting out, loosing power and control 
over life, and so on are typical products of the shift from traditional to 
urban life. Keynote Loïc Wacquant: 'Territorial Stigmatisation in the Age of 
Advanced Marginality'.

The urban context as built environment and power structure: triggering 
conflicts on making sense:
The urban context is also a built environment. But building construction in 
the city is less and less a question of free choice and vision. Great 
interests and lots of money and power are involved, and the conflicts that 
go with them. Political, communicational and cultural features are relevant 
Keynote Abdou Maliq Simone: 'The Unrelenting City: Practices and Times of 
Urban Change in the Global South'.

Individual workshop: Discussion slot by organizations from the field
Life-stance organisations and socio-cultural workers are confronted with 
great challenges nowadays: traditional membership and commitment are fading 
away, commercial considerations and governement interference are becoming 
more and more apparent... And are people still interested in sense-giving 
and social action anyway? In this session we will discuss some projects and 
actions of social-cultural and life-stance organisations and engage in a 
debate with the public on the role and meaning of life stances and fieldwork 
in contemporary urbanised society. 

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list