Not available in 2022/23
GY432      Half Unit
Urban Ethnography

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Gareth Jones S506


This course is available on the MSc in African Development, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Environment and Development, MSc in Environmental Policy, Technology and Health (Environment and Development) (LSE and Peking University), MSc in Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research), MSc in Regional And Urban Planning Studies, MSc in Urban Policy (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in Urbanisation and Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The course considers the role of ethnography to how we understand cities. We will look in detail at different types of ethnography and compare with other means of representing the city such as the novel and film. Specific themes will cover walking the city, the flaneur and ethnographer; n ieghbourhoods, intimacy and hustle; the 'ghetto' and abandonment; street ethnography; time, waiting and hope; bodies and sex; infrastructure and labour; gates and the middle class; the gang, drugs and violence. The course considers the role of ethnography in the global south and north. The course offers an opportunity to reflect on everyday life in cities in ways which do not reduce them to arenas for technical, policy-driven interventions , and so as to consider the urban experience more broadly. The course will raise issues of methodology and writing, and most weeks involve seminar discussion based on suggested readings.


In the Department of Geography and Environment, teaching will be delivered through a combination of seminars, pre-recorded lectures, live online lectures and other supplementary interactive live activities.


This course is delivered through a series of seminars across Lent Term.


This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Lent Term.

Formative coursework

A 1,500 word essay or review of readings on a chosen topic from class list.

Indicative reading

There are some useful Readers on urban ethnography such as: 

  • M. Duneier et al., The Urban Ethnography Reader, 2014;
  • S. Low, Spatializing Culture: The Ethnography of Space and Place, 2016;
  • The course is based on key ethnographies for each week supplemented by articles.
  • J.A. Alves, The Anti-Black City: Police Terror and Black Urban Life in Brazil, 2018;
  • J. Auyero, The Patients of the State: the politics of waiting in Argentina, 2012; 
  • J. Auyero & D. Swistun, Flammable: environmental suffering in an Argentine Shantytown, 2009;
  • T. Belmonte, The Broken Fountain; 2005;
  • P. Bourgois. In Search of respect: selling crack in El Barrio, 2003;
  • P. Bourgois and J. Schonberg, Righteous Dopefiend, 2009;
  • M. Di Nunzio, The Act of Living: Street Life, Marginality, and Development in Urban Ethiopia, 2019;
  • G. Feltran, The entangled city: crime as urban fabric in Sao Paulo, 2020;
  • L. Fernandes, India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform, 2006;
  • A. Goffman, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, 2012;
  • D. Goldstein, Laughter out of Place: race, class, violence and sexuality in a Rio Shantytown, 2003;
  • E. Harms, Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon, 2016;
  • C. Jeffrey, Timepass: youth, class the politics of waiting in India, 2010 ;
  • P. Kelly, Lydia's Open Door: inside Mexico's most modern brothel, 2008;
  • D. Mains, Hope Is Cut: Youth, Unemployment, and the Future in Urban Ethiopia, 2011;
  • D, Mains, Under Construction: Technologies of Development in Urban Ethiopia, 2019;
  • B. O’Neill, The Space of Boredom: Homelessness in the Slowing Global Order, 2017;
  • L. Ralph, Renegade dreams: Living through injury in gangland Chicago, 2014;
  • L.A. Ring, Zenana: everyday peace in a Karachi apartment building, 2006;
  • E. Tarlo, Unsettling Memories: Narratives of India's 'Emergency' in Delhi, 2003;
  • S. Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a Day, 2008;
  • L. Wacquant, Urban Outcasts, 2008;
  • J. Wolseth, Jesus and the Gang: Youth Violence and Christianity in Urban Honduras, 2011;
  • L. Zhang, In Search of Paradise: Middle-class Living in a Chinese Metropolis, 2010;
  • T. Zheng, Red lights: The lives of sex workers in postsocialist China, 2009.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Geography and Environment

Total students 2021/22: 20

Average class size 2021/22: 19

Controlled access 2021/22: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills