Joshua Barker

Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto


ANT 347: Metropolis: Global Cities, 2007-08

Please note: On-line material for this course is available on Blackboard through the U of T Portal. Participate in the course blog at

Sometime this decade a statistical landmark will be passed: for the first time in human history more than half of the world's population will live in cities. The tremendous growth of cities around the world poses a challenge to anthropologists, whose discipline originated in the study of small groups and villages. This course addresses this challenge by examining attempts by anthropologists and others to make sense of the socio-cultural aspects of urban life.

The first half of the course takes a global view of cities, drawing out some of the main problems and questions that orient anthropological research on city life. How are we to define and categorize cities? How do we understand the relation of cities to the world economic system? How does life in the modern and postmodern city differ from other modes of life? To help work through these questions, students are introduced to some of the theoretical and methodological tools anthropologists have developed for studying cities: theories of space and place, the idea of spatial practices, the methodological focus on social groups and subcultures, and the flaneur's technique of studying fragments of everyday city life. Throughout the term, students will be encouraged to reflect upon the cultural and social significance of specific sites in the metropolis: the mall, the intersection, the home, the street, the park, the billboard, etc.

The second half of the course focuses on two full-length ethnographic studies of urban life. One of the things that distinguishes socio-cultural anthropology from related disciplines is its dependence on ethnographic fieldwork as the basis for its knowledge. Yet by virtue of their size and complexity, cities would seem to defy use of ethnographic methods. This portion of the course thus examines some of the techniques ethnographers have developed for making sense of urban complexity. It also focuses on the specific theme of criminality and policing in two very different urban contexts: Harlem, New York and Sao Paulo, Brazil.


        Street Vendors, Cicadas, Bandung. Photo by Andar Manik