MA in World Cities and Urban Life

Cities continuously provide new challenges for understanding what is to be done with human and non-human life. Cities have always demanded new ways of thinking about the intersections of people, things, places, signs, feelings, and practices.

About the department
Sociology

Length
1 year full-time or 2 years part-time.
Funding
If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants.

Kirsty McColl Scholarship

Fees
See our tuition fees.
Further information

This course covers the following disciplines: geography, anthropology, architecture, cultural studies, fine arts, media and communications

Contact the department
Contact Anja Kanngeiser
Visit us
Find out about how you can visit Goldsmiths at one of our open days or come on a campus tour.

Increasingly, no matter how we, as persons of certain backgrounds live, we live at the level of the world – simultaneously within and beyond neighbourhoods, cultures, workplaces, identities, and institutions. We know this "world" primarily through the experience of living within and between cities.

How do we understand this experience; what do we do with it in terms of making new forms of social life, new ways of living with others?

Particularly, how do we draw upon the experience of urban residents from across the world to rethink the conditions for effective and just urban lives.

This programme emphasises how to bring together social analysis, design, activism, and inventive methods for engaging various dimensions of urban work – from planning, policy making, research, cultural intervention, to the management of social programmes and institutions.

  1. The organisation of contemporary urban economies, including the production of built and virtual environments, physical and social infrastructure.
  2. The ways in which different forms of economic accumulation and economic practices impact upon cities, and how any city reflects a particular set of constraints and possibilities.
  3. The proliferation of technical systems, media, and practices of interpretation and organisation that change our notions about the proper" use of things and bodies. These changed notions generate new opportunities for individual and collective life, but also potentially diminish the capacity of people from different walks of life to take each other into consideration.
  4. The intersections of finance, governance, ecology, and culture in producing multiple forms for assessing urban futures-particularly calculations of risk, sustainability, productivity and creativity. How to work with different institutional sectors, national and regional contexts, and transnational organisations, as well as circuits of migration and knowledge production.
  5. How teachers, researchers, professionals, activists, planners, entrepreneurs, and artists – all possible constituencies for this programme – can conceptualise and operationalise work, projects, and careers that take them across various geographical locales, institutional domains, discourses, and social networks.

What you study

The programme consists of three core courses:

  • Remaking Urban Life: from Lusaka to Tijuana
  • Navigating Urban Life
  • Inventive Methods for Researching the City

a specialist Sociology option course drawn from the Department’s extensive list of option courses offered at MA level and a Dissertation.

Teaching

One hour lectures address the core themes of each course, followed by one hour seminars in small groups (under 20). You will be encouraged to attend dissertation classes that help to prepare the basic principles of dissertation preparation, research and writing. You are also assigned a dissertation supervisor that you can expect to be available for a limited amount of contact time throughout the period of writing the dissertation (approximately one hour contact time / month).

Assessment

Essays and dissertation.

MA granted on the completion of 180 CATS (all coursework and dissertation); Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education granted on the completion of 120 CATS (all coursework without dissertation); Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education granted on the completion of 60 CATS (the completion of two core courses).


Applying and entrance requirements

You can apply directly to Goldsmiths via the website by clicking the ‘apply now’ button on the main programme page.

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have: 

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments.
  • The email address details of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference.
  • A personal statement. This can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online.
  • If available, an electronic copy of your educational transcript (this is particularly important if you have studied outside of the UK, but isn’t mandatory).

You'll be able to save your progress at any point and return to your application by logging in using your username/email and password.

When to apply

We accept applications from October for students wanting to start the following September. 

We encourage you to complete your application as early as possible, even if you haven't finished your current programme of study. It's very common to be offered a place that is conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

If you're applying for funding you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for UK/EU students and international students. 

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available.

Selection process

Admission to many programmes is by interview, unless you live outside the UK. Occasionally, we'll make candidates an offer of a place on the basis of their application and qualifications alone.

Entrance requirements

You should have (or expect to be awarded) an undergraduate degree of at least second class standard in a relevant/related subject. 

You might also be considered for some programmes if you aren’t a graduate or your degree is in an unrelated field, but have relevant experience and can show that you have the ability to work at postgraduate level.

We also accept a wide range of international equivalent qualifications, which can be found on our country-specific pages. If you'd like more information, please contact the Admissions Office.

English language

If your first language isn't English, you need to demonstrate the required level of English language competence to enroll and study on our programmes. 

Please check our English language requirements for more information.

Find out more about applying 

Contact us 

Get in touch via our online form

UK/EU

+44 (0)20 7919 7766
course-info@gold.ac.uk

International (non-EU)

+44 (0)20 7919 7702
international-office@gold.ac.uk

Core courses

The programme consists of three core courses

SO71093A Remaking Urban Life 30 CATS

From Lusaka to Tijuana we are faced with cities that defy the sense of urbanity and urbaneness that lies at the root of the “urban” and the city as the cauldron of civilization (even as it seethes with the excess of economy). Instead the city becomes an anti-city, an “un-urban” assemblage that serves as multiple sites and portals, a disjunction more than a destination. Within this context the question arises of how core assumptions about urbanization and core practices of actors are transforming in ways that escape much academic research into cities. This applies as well to spaces that are not “spaces-formerly-known-as-cities” but technically non-cities, such as refugee camps and special economic zones that similarly challenge assumptions and practices.

What do cities look like which do not necessarily look like cities as they have been conventionally understood?  How are core assumptions about urbanization themselves “urbanised”—subjected to a thickening of intersected ideas, preoccupations and discourses—by examining cities that are an exception to the usual sense of cities?  What do various actors, from states to local organizations to transnational networks do to stretch, take apart, and reassemble ways of urban life in ways that are not conventionally rural, urban, peri-urban, regional, and so forth?

If many cities experience an intertwining of various agendas, extractions, interventions, infrastructure, individual calculations and livelihood practices, how are such meshworks perceived and navigated by those who find themselves both entrapped but also able to to use these neighbourhoods and districts as platforms for their own mobility—however constrained it might be?  If the multiplication of divides, borders, jurisdictions and enclaves is a feature of late modern colonial occupation, how are their particular instantiations lived through by those subjects of “occupation”—e.g. the urban poor—in ways that the imposed architectures of control cannot fully specify or predict?

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Course convenor: Anja Kanngeiser

SO71042B Navigating Urban Life 30 CATS

This course addresses significant issues in the contemporary organisation of urban landscapes, urban life and connections between cities as well as the interface between human and architectural fabric. Drawing on specific empirical examples in based in China, Hong Kong, the US, London and parts of mainland Europe this course examines key debates in urban sociology and research. There is a strong focus on visual apprehension of cities and ways of accessing and researching cities through photography.   The following sessions have been offered in previous years: 

  • A tour of 'urban theory' from the Chicago School to the present day. This sets up the conceptual basis for the session following which, although empirically focused on specific cities, illuminate different conceptual frameworks for understanding urbanism.
  • Whose City? This examines debates concerned with the social production of space and rights to the city. An examination of ghetto urbanism in the US through Wacquant, Bourdieu, Bourgeois and the research through which this kind of urban knowledge is generated.
  • Pastness and Urban Landscape. This examines discrepant and linear notions of time/interpretations of pastness, collective memory, and how pasts are inscribed within urban landscapes. We will draw mainly on visually-led investigation of Hong Kong and London to explore these themes.
  • Post-Colonial Cities. This session examines the intersections between globalisation and colonialism in Hong Kong and in the lives of ‘skilled’ migrants from the global North. It makes extensive use of photographic narratives of Hong Kong as an iconic city landscape and the use of environmental portraiture to capture migrants’ relationships to the city.
  • Globalisation, Migration and Urban Life. Drawing on visual empirical research on mosques and African churches in London this session examines the impact of recent and current migration on commerce, religion and city landscape. It sets this in broader debates about globalisation and cities developed from the previous session.
  • Material Cultures and Multiple Globalisations. This session draws on some of the more ordinary trajectories of commodities and collaborations composing the global world through small trade between China/Hong Kong and Africa, and Europe and Africa. 
  • Mega-Cities and Non-City Zones. This session is set in China. It examines architecture, the generic city, land speculation and the dynamics between mega-cities and economic and technical development zones through some of the lives that are lived in them.
  • Urban Regeneration. This session examines the politics, debates, conceptualisation and social divisions generated and sustained in urban renewal projects. Who benefits from these projects? How do they reconstruct cities? We will draw specifically on Olympic-related redevelopments in Athens, London, and Beijing.
  • Architectural and Planning Politics. This session examines ways in which political and military decisions are embedded in architecture and planning. It draws on Weizman’s Hollow Land and asks questions about whether this involves a radical re-conceptualisation of space.
  • Mobilities. This session is concerned with movement and routes as well as the infrastructure and technologies of mobility such as bridges, roads, airports, stations, tunnels, trains, motor transport, and shipping. It asks critical questions about whether these approaches to space generate information about social morphology or social life more generally.

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Convener: Anja Kanngeiser

SO73002B Inventive Methods for Researching the City 30 CATS

This course focuses on how analyses of urban life constitute an arena for new forms of research. As such, the course primarily deals with methods for engaging and analyzing life worlds where narrowing and expansion, ambiguity and precision, dissipation and concrescence, embodiment and digitalization, movement and stasis are all intensified.  So instead of the research process being enacted on one scale versus another, one defined group versus another, one sector versus another, or one process versus another, it increasingly must look at the spaces and times in-between, and how different zones are modulated in their relationships with each other.  Our main emphasis therefore is on how to broaden the possibilities of research to study the contemporary city. 

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Course convenor: Alex Rhys-Taylor

SO71121A Dissertation 60 CATS

In the summer term you complete a major practical project consisting of any media and addressing a specific sociological problem. You will meet for individual supervision with a member of the Sociology staff. 
The dissertation is a substantive piece of research in which you develop a visual, inventive or experimental approach to a topic of your choice.

Option courses

Students select one option course drawn from the Department's extensive list of option courses offered at MA level.

SO71088A Gender Affect and the Body 30 CATS

This course examines the place of affect and the body in feminist theory and feminist practice. It will first examine and engage the place of the body within the field of arts, culture and representation; feminist theatre practice; gender, passing and ethnicity, in feminist writing; and in feminist film theory. Secondly it examines and critically engages the field of emotion, the politics of ‘happiness’, contemporary feminist scholarship on affect, and also the politics of science, technology and transformation in women’s/human bodies. Third it will consider the issues which arise from old and new flows of migration and other kinds of bodily movement; and finally examine the role and value of narrative in feminist writing. This course therefore offers instruction in cutting edge issues in contemporary feminist cultural theory.

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Course convenor: Sara Ahmed/ Yasmin Gunaratnam

SO71096B Mapping Capitalism 30 CATS

Taking its cue from Fredric Jameson’s concept of ‘cognitive mapping’, this course explores contemporary efforts to provide social and political ‘cartographies’ of capitalist society, with particular attention to the intersection between social theory and narrative aesthetic forms (both literary and visual). Beginning from Jameson’s inquiry into the possibility of visual and theoretical orientation within capitalism as a complex totality, and his understanding of ‘conspiracy theory’ as the failure of such an endeavour, the course will investigate different approaches to ‘mapping capitalism’: Franco Moretti’s use of maps in the study of the social content of the nineteenth-century novel; the analysis of commodity-chains and containerization, as explored in the photographic work of Allan Sekula; the attempt in recent cinema and television to track the conflicts in capitalist economies; the thematisation of landscape as a site of power relations and social transformations; the network as a sociological tool, a political reality, and an aesthetic object. Throughout, we will try to think of how a 'cartographic turn' in contemporary theory, art and political activism challenges our presuppositions about the relationship between social inquiry and aesthetics.

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Course convenor: Alberto Toscano

SO73006B Consumer Citizenship and Visual Media 30 CATS

This course examines visual advertising media and the proliferation of neo-liberal philosophies of consumer citizenship. Divided into five main sections.

Part One, examines reflexive modernity and the linking of postmodern visual media with citizenship as part of the development of political consumerism.

Part Two, is informed by Michel Foucault's 1978-1979 lectures at the College de France, in conjunction with Miller and Rose (2008), so as to provide a critique of the Neoliberal entrepreneurial self. Central objective of Part Two is to examine the 'governing of humanity', in the context of Neoliberal governmental rationality and market reform of public sector services (with emphasis on recent healthcare market reform).

Part Three, raises pertinent issues about the aesthetics and visual media of NGO international charities. Central objective of Part Three is to illuminate spectacular genre in the multi-modal technologies for advertising humanitarian causes.

Part Four, engages with the embodiment of consumer citizenship; the body as a site of self-discipline; body praxis, life-politics; and cultural political resistance to the commodity-sign.

Part Five, examines Fairtrade branding and the geopolitics of ethical consumerism in the context of global advertising media technologies.

Convener: Pam Odih

SO71108B Cultural Policy and City Branding 30 CATS

Cultural policy, especially at local level, has been called on to play an increasing set of functions in recent decades. Cities, in particular post-industrial cities in the West, have seen in ‘culture’ a lever for regeneration, one that could be harnessed by targeted policies. However, all the main concepts at play – city, culture and policy – have been subjected to increasing scrutiny in social theory and research: expansion but also problematisation of the notion of culture; diversification and renewed centrality of the city as physical, social and political context; reformulation of cultural policy beyond regulations and policy process towards wider issues of governmentality, democracy and participation.

The course will present recent theoretical advances as well as empirical findings on these topics, focusing on key themes such as culture-led regeneration, place branding, cultural taste, and others relevant to the understanding of contemporary cities. These key themes will also be explored through a case study approach, aimed both at providing a space for in-depth investigation, and inspiration for students to identify and select contemporary cases to be developed for their final essay.

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Course convenor: Monica Sassatelli

SO71109B Social Life on the Brink: Disasters and Societies 30 CATS

What are disasters? How can societies anticipate, prepare for and respond to them? Who do they affect and why? And how can we understand disasters and their effects sociologically? These are some of the questions around which this course will operate. Drawing in part on case studies from ongoing research in the sociology department, the course explores a number of deeply interconnected issues. These include the particular methodological challenges that researching disasters might pose, what studying disasters might reveal about the relationships between ‘experts’ and ‘lay’ people, as well as between nature and society and between states and societies. The course will also explore the role of international humanitarian practices in shaping the perceptions and governance of risk and disasters. In so doing, the course will introduce students to a diverse body of literature, including work emanating from Science and Technology Studies, from the sociology and anthropology of disaster, from the sociology of organisations, as well as from international development literature. Throughout, the course will also explore these issues not only from sociological, but also practitioner perspectives.

Assessment: 15 Min Presentation + 4-5,000 word essay

Course convenor: Michael Guggenheim

Student profiles

Corin

"It has given me a solid theoretical grounding to back up my practical observations."

Having spent a few years travelling after my undergraduate degree, I became interested in trying to understand the huge differences in urban lifestyles across the globe. To this end, the WCUL programme has given me a solid theoretical grounding to back up my practical observations. What's more, in the time since I started studying again, I've also found employment with a magazine specialising in coverage of the built environment – which is exactly what I was aiming for in choosing this course. All in all, the decision to come back to the UK for further study at Goldsmiths has definitely paid off.

Alena

"We are free to discuss any ideas, bring our own perspective but also face and be able to produce critical analysis."

I have chosen Goldsmiths because it is the only university which provides this specific Masters programme in sociology, as i was highly interested in urban studies and sociological research. After attending first the welcoming events at the university and then first classes, I felt almost like at home: meeting nice people from around the world in classes and dorms, receiving help and advice from professors at any step of my academic life (it is crucially important when you have been studying in a different education system all your life), walking around the area and finding specially 'my' places to feel comfortable in.

I like our classes, where we have, of course, a guideline and reading list, also we are free to discuss any ideas, bring our own perspective but also face and be able to produce critical analysis. What i also like is being a MA student representative (and the whole institution of representation of students' issues and attitudes), it gives a chance for students to discuss any (academic) issues with professors and the department to guide an MA programme and orient it towards not only formal requirements but also students' preferences and interests.  

Skills and Careers

Skills

Analytical and research skills that intersect basic sociological knowledge with that of architecture, the built environment, cultural and postcolonial theory, geography, planning, digital communications, and ethnography as they apply to the study of cities across the world.

Careers:

The training in this programme is applicable to work in multilateral institutions, NGOs, urban research institutes, municipal government, cultural and policy institutions, urban design firms, and universities.


Suggested Preliminary Reading

  • Amin, A and Thrift, N (2002) Cities, Reimagining the Urban, Cambridge, Polity
  • Amin, A , Massey, D and Thrift, N (2000) Cities for the Many not the Few, Bristol: The Policy Press
  • Benjamin, W. & Tiedemann, R, (1999) The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press.
  • Davis, M (2007) Planet of Slums, Verso.
  • Jacobs, J, (1989) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books.
  • Massey, D (2005) For Space, London: Sage
  • Pile, S and Thrift N (2000) City A-Z, London: Routledge
  • Ross, A (2011) Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, OUP USA.
  • Thrift, N and Dewsbury, J D (2000) 'Dead geographies – and how to make them live' Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 18, p411-432

Content last modified: 20 Feb 2014

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