EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS50. City Walks as Critical Engagements in Urban History (all periods)

Coordinators: Ragnhild Claesson (, Pia Olsson (, Per-Markku Ristilammi (

This session aims to bring together elaborations on the city walk as a mode of critical engagement in urban history, i.e. the city walk as a mediator; as a method of inquiry; and as a performative act. The overarching question is: what role can city walks play for creating spatial and critical engagement in urban history?

City walks are popular ways of encountering a city’s history, commonly arranged by tourist agencies, museums, municipal departments, schools, and place marketing businesses. As a method for mediating knowledge and narratives, city walks appear in several forms, sometimes including also interactive elements as role play and food tasting. However, city walks may also be used to question and challenge official or marketed narratives, and to explore marginalised or unknown territories and narratives. Such explorative walks have for example contributed to acknowledge and include queer spaces and histories of labour, migration, homelessness and poverty into public history. City walks may also have a performative force of legitimising certain perspectives of the city through the situatedness and repetition of walking bodies that claim space and narratives. Such processes have been investigated as spatial practices and spatial tactics by for example Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau. A strong example discussed by Guyatri Spivak and Judith Butler in “Who sings the Nation-State? Language, Politics, Belonging” (2007) is when so called illegal Mexican American citizens in Los Angeles performatively made themselves part of the American story by walking the streets while singing the American anthem in Spanish. Demonstrating activists who use walking as a political act to make claims and statements is the obvious example of how walking and narrating through urban space can have a performative force. But also the small museum or association who repeatedly commemorates certain events through city walks can be understood as perfomatively investing in these narratives through spatial practice.

This session welcomes contributions that address city walks from various perspectives and raise questions about possibilities and limits of the city walk as a critical narrating practice and method. Suggested (but not limited to) focuses are:

• elaborations on the city walk as a method to explore and critically engage in city narratives (for example old, new, unknown, alternative, dominating or marginalised narratives)
• the city walk as a way to performatively make, contest, claim or sustain spaces and narratives
• theories and discussions of city walks as critical, spatial and narrating practices
Keywords: City walk; method; narrating; spatial practice; performativity