EAUH Conference 2018


Session M27. Longing & Belonging: Historicising the Emotional Topographies of Urban Life in the 20th Century

Coordinators: Joachim Häberlen (, Christiane Reinecke (

In the 20th century, debates on urban life abounded with emotions. Historical actors associated particular urban quarters, architectural styles and general living conditions with specific feelings. In 1960s Western Europe, for example, both leftwing and conservative writers blamed modernist high-rise estates for causing loneliness or fear, while old neighbourhoods became increasingly associated with trust and a sense of belonging. The urban built environment seemed to require specific coping mechanisms and emotional practices. And while urban experts stressed the effects of modern cities on the psyche and the individuals’ sense of belonging, they also recommended various practices of how to deal with the rapid transformations that characterised urban life in the 20th century. Nevertheless, urban scholars have only begun to integrate the relevance of emotional phenomena into their analyses of urban subjectivities and forms of communal living.

This session’s aim is to examine the transformation of urban lifestyles and milieus in the 20th century from a history of emotions perspective. In order to develop a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which historical actors experienced and dealt with the fundamental changes in their urban environment over the course of the 20th century, it seeks to explore how urban spaces and lifestyles came to be associated with particular emotions and how a variety of actors tried to shape the urban environment in order to produce specific feelings.

Referring to recent academic debates on emotional geographies, affective spaces, emotional styles and practices, we invite papers that investigate the emotions attached to particular spaces and situations in both European and non-European cities. We also propose to explore how historical actors attempted to transform their urban environment and forge urban communities with the help of emotional practices. Possible questions include:

(1) How did specific urban spaces come to be represented or mediatised as arousing certain emotions or requiring specific emotional practices? What role did different urban actors (experts, architects, activists, local residents) play in this process?
(2) How was a city’s emotional topography interconnected with its social topography and the boundaries drawn by race, class, gender, sex, or age?
(3) What did urban actors do to create or avoid a specific emotional geography? Papers might explore, for example, what local residents, authorities, or urban experts did to dispel a sense of fear in certain neighbourhoods, or how social movements campaigned for for different urban atmospheres, emotional styles, and forms of living together.

Keywords: history of emotions; urban subjectivities; urban communities; urbanization; urban modernism; urban lifestyles