Writing the good city: coping, restoration and repair in urban environments

Edgbaston Park Hotel
Wednesday 7 December 2022 (10:00-17:00)
drawing of hands and entangled threads

This symposium aims to create interdisciplinary dialogue exploring how the humanities, literary imaginations and historical representations can inform understandings of the diverse character of urban experience, individual and collective responses to the phenomena of ‘urban stress’ and ways of psychological coping, restoration and repair.

Please note the change of date to 7 December 2022.

It is collaboratively organised by the Centre for Urban Wellbeing, Mental Health Humanities Network and Department of English Literature at the University of Birmingham. Registration is free and includes lunch and refreshments.

In this event we will hear from speakers who have examined historical precedents for the paradoxical contemporary representations of cities as both a locus of existential malaise/stress, and as a panacea for addressing global challenges such as the global disease ‘burden’ of mental ill-health. We aim to prompt discussion around questions such as, how are urban environments implicated in shaping mental life, behaviour and personal relationships for specific social groups, how are they seen as risky or ‘toxic’ spaces, and what opportunities do cities pose for cultivating repair and restoration for precarious lives?

While some social science attention has been paid to the mental health impacts of the urban built environment, migrant experience, ‘regimes of attention’ and the spatial politics of mental healthcare access, there is also value in considering the visual, material and emotional cultures of cities, including how they are represented. In what ways do cities confer particular psychological values and virtues and how do specific places and spaces offer environments which are curative and therapeutic? How do and have technological innovations intervene(d) in the space of the city and our multi-sensory experiences of it? Whose subjectivities are represented in the urban landscape, who is excluded, and how are dominant cultural representations of cities shaping our expectations for urban living?

In this symposium we aim to develop insights from literary, historical and anthropological scholarship on attempts to tame, manage and govern the emotions, movement and attention in urban space, and to open up the imagination on what kinds of ‘mentally healthy’ urban worlds are desirable and possible.

Confirmed speakers:

Dr Natassia Brenman, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths University of London
“No dumping!” Threshold work in inner city mental health care'

Professor Des Fitzgerald, Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter
“Save Me: the arboreal politics of urban stress in Sheffield.”

Dr Edmund Ramsden, School of History, Queen Mary University of London
“Stress in the City: Planning for Mental Health in Urban America”

Professor Anna Snaith, Department of English, Kings College London
‘”No Needless Noise”: Regulating the Urban Soundscape in Interwar Britain’

Symposium schedule will be sent to registered participants.

Organising Committee: Jessica Pykett, Jessy Williams (School of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences), Melissa Dickson (Department of English Literature, College of Arts and Law), Rebecca Wynter, Anna Lavis (Institute of Applied Health Research, College of Medical and Dental Sciences), University of Birmingham.

Free registration

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