Media and film studies

Performing the Urban: postcolonial perspectives

Module code: P4101
Level 6
30 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

Performance cultures provide a unique insight into urban and social transformation. Addressing urban dance, music and language scenes, among other things, this module opens up a range of debates on the relationship between performance cultures and the urban. This in-depth exploration engages critically with theoretical perspectives on performance and and addresses the main frames through which performing the urban can be understood. You will, for example, consider the history of urban performance cultures and how they are made in different places. Developing these intellectual tools, you will enter into a series of applied discussions on performance culture’s relation to youth politics, multiculture and cosmopolitanism, and cultural technologies whilst considering the intersection of these topics with race, class and gender. You will consider how we might understand contemporary urban politics and perhaps even counter stories of its demise. You will discuss the multicultural and diasporic formation of urban performances, and how the use of YouTube by urban musicians might be similar or different to the use of sound systems or pirate radio. In the final session, you will look out to consider the future of performance cultures in the context of the urban, and indeed how the weeks’ prevision discussions prefigure different futurities.

This module will engage with a range of materials of interest to UK, EU and international students. Discussions on the relation of time to performance culture will draw on examples of changing language use in urban places. Analyses of space will engage with performances of the ‘hood, ghetto and post-code. The evaluation of struggle will consider the politics of riots/uprisings in addition to more mundane expressions of racialised, classed and gendered resistance drawn form urban ethnographies. The analysis of multiculture and cosmopolitanism will engage with the biographies of singer songwriters such as Prince, MIA and Wiley in addition to South Asian dance music. The analysis of transforming relationships between performance culture and technology will include a comparative exploration of sound systems, pirate radio and online music videos.

The module’s engagement with music, digital media, film, and everyday cultural practices, will be of interest to undergraduate students in cultural studies, media and communications, and music and film, in addition to students from wider social science and humanities disciplines. In particular it will build on MFM second year modules on ‘culture, race and ethnicity’, ‘digital cultures’, ‘gender, space and culture’, ‘media, memory, history’ and ‘sound culture and society’; and joint second-year cultural studies modules such as ‘cities and urban lives’ and ‘culture and performance’.

Overall, the module will provide you with the substantive, historical and theoretical means to analyse and engage with the complexities inherent in performing urban culture.

Subjects covered include:

  1. An introduction to urban performance culture, including an outline of foundational studies on urban culture.
  2. Key theoretical perspectives through which urban performance culture has been addressed, in particular focusing on ‘performativity’, vernacular and dialogue.
  3. A discussion of performance cultures in time, their relation to the past and the creative transformations they undergo.
  4. An evaluation of how performance culture is constituted in space (in particular urban space).
  5. An critical discussion of performance culture as a site of political struggle and how this intersects with class, race and gender.
  6. An analysis of performance culture as a manifestation of multiculture and cosmopolitanism.
  7. An analysis of the transforming relationships between urban culture and technology.
  8. An evaluation of the future of urban culture.

Module learning outcomes

  • Evaluate key substantive transformations in performances of the urban.
  • Analyse historical debates on urban performance cultures.
  • Synthesise and develop theoretical tools for analysing performance cultures in the context of the urban.
  • Create in written work an original and independent analysis of aspects of performance culture in the context of the urban.
  • Evaluate in group presentation the arguments of two or more theoretcial approaches to performing the urban.