2023-2024: Material Cities

Image: Alex Shuper (2023)

The 2023–2024 ASCA Cities seminar will approach the city through the lens of materiality. Taking up the theme of ‘Material Cities’, we are interested in how making the city is both a material and immaterial process. From ‘natural’ construction materials to the traces of technological infrastructures, we will consider how larger questions of care, belonging and community, but also of access and power – quite literally – materialize in the urban. 

Expanding on last year’s emphasis on the urban as complex assemblage of human and more-than-human inhabitants, we are interested in how the material fabric of the city mediates these relations. In what ways does the ‘form’ of the city play with (or against) imaginaries of urban life, urban identity and urban culture? Understanding the built environment as “something that comes from within the materials, a form that we tease out of those materials as we allow them to have their say in the structure we create” (DeLanda 2004, 21) shifts our attention to the affective charge of the objects and infrastructures around us. How can we – as inhabitants and researchers – trace the past, present and future of the city in and through its material presence? Bringing together recent discussions on the materiality of media (cf. Diecke, Lameris and Niebling 2022) with urban studies further points us to the intersection between mapping, sensing and mediating the city, often in nested and deeply historical ways (Parks 2015, Mattern 2015). Tracing the tension between the tangible and touchable and the atmospheric and ephemeral raises larger questions about the ‘matter’ of media (Furuhata 2020) in as well. How does the material presence of media infrastructures around us – from cables to satellites and data centers – complicate our understanding of digital information and data as immaterial and intangible (Taylor 2023)? 

Engaging with and expanding on such questions, the seminar seeks to bring together perspectives from environmental humanities, media studies, cultural geography, anthropology and technology studies as well as architecture and design research. 


Fri. 9 Feb. 2024: Introduction/Reading and Discussion Session, Location: room 0.16 (E-lab), Turfdraagsterpad 9, Amsterdam, Time: 3-5pm.

Fri. 16 Feb. 2024: Letizia Chiappini (Universiteit Twente), “The Urban Digital Platform: A Glitch between Digital Login and Urban Logout”, Time: 3-5pm, Location: room 0.16 (E-lab), BG1 Media Studies, Turfdraagsterpad 9, Amsterdam, Time: 3-5pm.

Fri. 15 Mar. 2024: Joseph Heathcott (The New School), “Lava and Concrete: Spatial Production in the Pedregal de Santo Domingo”, Time: 3-5pm, Location: room 0.16 (E-lab), BG1 Media Studies, Turfdraagsterpad 9, Amsterdam, Time: 3-5pm.

Fri. 19 Apr. 2024: Maria Vélez-Serna (University of Sterling),Infrastructural and tactical cinema practices: A view from Scotland”Time: 3-5pm, Location: room 0.16 (E-lab), BG1 Media Studies, Turfdraagsterpad 9, Amsterdam.

Fri 31 May 2024: Yuriko Furuhata (McGill University), “Self-Portraits of Coral: Visual Archives and Radiation Ecologies in the Anthropocene”, Time: 3-5pm, Location: room D1.08, Oudemanhuispoort (OMHP), Amsterdam.

Co-organized by Carolyn Birdsall, Linda Kopitz and Alex Gekker. For more information and registration, please contact Linda Kopitz (l.kopitz@uva.nl


Delanda, Manuel. 2004. “Material Complexity.” In Digital Tectonics, edited by Neil Leach, David Turnbull, and Chris Williams, 14–21. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Academy.

Furuhata, Yuriko. 2022. Climatic Media: Transpacific Experiments in Atmospheric Control. Elements. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mattern, Shannon. 2015. “Deep Time of Media Infrastructure.” In Signal Traffic, 94–112. Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures. University of Illinois Press.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2023. “Concrete Clouds: Bunkers, Data, Preparedness.” New Media & Society 25 (2): 405–30.

Parks, Lisa. 2015. ‘Stuff You Can Kick’. Toward a Theory of Media Infrastructures. In Between Humanities and the Digital, edited by Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg, 355–73. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.