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The Emerging City Myth And Reality Essay

Three Annual Scott Greer Awards

The Scott Greer Award for Postgraduate Contribution to Urban Affairs is awarded to an alumnus for distinguished civic leadership and community practice.

The Scott Greer Award for Postgraduate Achievement in the Study of Urban Social Institutions is awarded to an alumnus whose postgraduate publication, teaching or professional activities have advanced our understanding of urban social institutions, their history, interrelationship, consequences, and change.

The Scott Greer Award for Outstanding Research in Urban Studies recognizes the recent and ongoing superior research of a current student.

Scott Greer’s Career

Scott Greer was Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at UWM from 1974 until his death in 1996. He was the first director of the doctoral program in Urban Social Institutions at its founding in 1975. Greer was an internationally renowned urban scholar, and a published poet, as well. Some of his best known titles are The Emerging City: Myth and Reality; Governing the Metropolis; Urban Renewal and American Cities; The Concept of Community and The Urbane View. Cities of the Soul, published posthumously, is a collection of poetry, letters and essays.

  • In a letter nominating Scott Greer for inclusion on the Spaights Plaza marker, March 23, 1998, Distinguished Professor Harold Rose wrote:
    “Scott Greer was one of the most distinguished and productive scholars in Sociology and Urban Studies to appear on the American scene in the last half of the 20th century.”
  • USP Director Dale Jaffe, Memorial USP Newsletter, Spring 1996:
    “Scott Greer, an individual whose name is synonymous with urban studies in the United States and whose personal history parallels the field’s maturation… Few can ever hope to achieve the breadth of knowledge and talent that Scott Greer demonstrated during his life time. In addition to authoring or co-authoring 24 books and over 60 articles, book chapters and essays, Scott was a published poet.”
  • William Mayrl nominating Scott Greer for Distinguished Professorship, November 16, 1981:
    “To have [had] one of the country’s most well known and respected urban sociologists on our faculty gives meaning and, indeed credibility to our urban mission.”
  • Chancellor Nancy l. Zimpher October 9, 1998:
    “The Ernest Spaights Plaza marker honors ‘individuals who have made significant, enduring and campus-wise contributions to the growth and development of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.’ Among those honored is Distinguished Professor Scott Greer.”

His Students

  • UWM Post, Requiem for a Thinker, January 29, 1996:
    “Greer’s ideas played such a role in shaping urban sociology that many of his statements today seem like truisms. Most notably he …developed theories of globalization, which he referred to as ‘increasing societal scale.’ He meant the increasing ability of society to subdivide, its loss of common institutions and bonds of trust, and its rapidly increasing complexity … His writings of the late 1950s and 1960s foreshadow most of the concerns with global society that occupy academics and journalists today.”
  • Senior Research Scientist Lois Quinn nominating Scott Greer for inclusion on the Spaights Plaza marker, March 23, 1998 — former student:
    “Much of the preeminence of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has come from its focus on urban issues critical to Milwaukee and other U.S. cities. We are grateful to Scott Greer for his commitment to the University’s urban mission, his years of service in building the Urban Studies program and the Urban Research Center, and his lasting influence as a teacher.”
  • Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Daniel Diliberti nominating Scott Greer for inclusion on the Spaights Plaza marker, March 12, 1998 — former student:
    “Scott Greer’s impact shaped… the careers of many people with whom I have frequent contact in my work in this metropolitan areas. We share a common experience of rigorous academic training and critical thinking skills that have proven invaluable to success in a constantly changing world.”

His Values

  • Distinguished Professor Joan Moore at UWM’s Tribute to Scott Greer, April 25, 1996:
    “Scott wanted researchers to view urbanism as a process that was characterized by an increase in societal scale, which, in turn, left a deep imprint on the character of social institutions and culture … His scholarship can be measured not only in terms of his contribution to new knowledge, but also in terms of a set of provocative questions …[that] continue to supply some critical points of departure for a younger generation of scholars.”
  • Professor Wendell Bell, Yale University, obituary in the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, May 1996:
    “Although getting the facts straight was an important aspect of all his sociological work, Scott Greer typically aimed to make the world — especially the urban world — a better place to live, where ordinary people could exist in peace and have an equal and fair chance of achieving fulfilling lives. For him, sociology not only was the pursuit of knowledge, but was a road to empowerment, so people could live meaningful lives of their own choosing.”
  • Professor Meredith Watts in a letter nominating Scott Greer for inclusion on the Spaights Plaza marker, March 14, 1998:
    “Though he was clearly a rare and gifted intellectual force, he was the most democratic of scholars in his support for good ideas wherever he found them.”


estudos feministas/ études féministes
janeiro/ junho 2006 -janvier / juin 2006


Gender and the Reality of Cities: embodied identities, socialrelations and performativities

Liz Bondi


Gender is an integral, ubiquitous and taken-for-granted aspect of urban life. It is an influential dimension of urban identities, an axis of urban inequalities, and it animates the everyday practices that characterise and constitute cities and city life. Perhaps because it is so familiar and taken-for-granted, gender is also a complex and slippery idea that carries a range of inter-related meanings. Numerous commentators (including, for example, Haraway 1991; Moi 1999; Widerberg 1999) have pointed to problems of translation, even between closely related European languages. In addition, usage within particular languages is far from singular, stable or coherent. In this essay, I do not attempt to engage with issues of translation between languages, focusing solely on anglophone urban studies, but I do wish to acknowledge that, however influential they may be, the meanings of gender in anglophone contexts are also idiosyncratic[1]. Setting these considerations to one side, I explore some of the different ways in which the idea of gender is used in anglophone urban studies to help explore and understand the simple fact that cities are peopled by women, men, girls and boys, drawing especially, but not exclusively, on British feminist urban geography. More specifically, I consider three kinds of gender analyses of urban life, which approach gender through embodied identities, social relations, and performativity respectively. As a dimension of embodied identities, gender focuses on how everyday urban experiences relate to, and are influenced by, the anatomical categories “male” and “female”. While gender is embodied by human individuals, it does not reside entirely within human bodies but is produced at the intersections between human bodies and the milieux that surround them. As a facet of those surrounding milieux, it constitutes a social relation or organising principle of urban life. For gender to be felt as integral to embodiment and as a social relation that precedes gendered embodiment requires human beings to be recruited into gender categories. In so doing, gendered persons activate meanings or scripts of gender, hence the idea of gender as performatively cited in everyday lives. The different approaches to gender on which I focus are not mutually exclusive, but there are important variations in emphasis between them. Cities are vital arenas in the embodiment, contestation, mobilisation, subversion and transformation of all these aspects of gender. In the sections that follow, I explore how each approach to gender informs understandings of urban life and sheds light on the specificity of cities. In conclusion I point to emotion as an important theme for all three approaches to analysing the gendered reality of cities.

Embodied gender and the reality of cities

Early efforts to consider the gendered reality of cities sought to correct the implicitly male-oriented character of existing research by focusing on women’s everyday experiences of city life. Jacqueline Tivers (1985), for example, explored the daily lives of women with young children in south London, UK, focusing on their experiences of socio-spatial constraints. She described how responsibility for the care of young children, which continues to fall primarily to women, is often associated with highly circumscribed everyday geographies, limited by an array of social and physical constraints. Tivers (1985) also documented the detrimental effects of lack of choice on many women’s quality of life, especially those in poorer households and those without access to a car. The language within which Tivers presented her findings is conventionally neutral, dispassionate and objective, and she does not focus explicitly on issues of embodiment or emotion. Nevertheless her study conveys a powerful sense of recurrent features of women’s subjective experience of urban life, including, for example, frustration at limitations that impoverish some women’s lives, and exhaustion resulting from the daily effort to negotiate urban environments designed without consideration of the needs of those carrying infants, pushing buggies, and/or accompanied by toddlers.

A good deal of work concerned with the gendered reality of cities echoes Tivers’ (1985) portrayal of cities as designed by men, for men, and as hostile to women. For example, an extensive body of research explores the geography of women’s fear. In the UK, official crime surveys have repeatedly demonstrated two mismatches in the demographic and the spatial distribution of the fear and the risk of violence (Pain 1991). While older people and women of all ages tend to be much more fearful than others of violent crime, it is young men who are statistically at greatest risk from officially recorded violent crime. Further, while women are at greatest risk of suffering violent crime in private space from men they know, they are most fearful in public space from men they do not know. Researchers concerned with gendered realities of city life have challenged the inference that women’s fears are “irrational”, elaborating how women’s experiences of cities as oppressive relate to daily encounters with gender-specific threats (Valentine 1989). Thus, Rachel Pain (1991) has shown how men’s utterances and gestures foster hostility to women in numerous city spaces, constituting forms of violence that render the geography of women’s fear easily understandable. Indeed Esther da Costa Meyer (1996) has gone further, arguing that cities produce a feminine experience of space that is similar to, albeit less intense than, the condition of agoraphobia.

Approaching the gendered realities of cities through a focus on everyday lives has sometimes entailed treating women as a homogeneous category. In so doing it has also emphasised commonalities in women’s experience across different cities. However, studies have increasingly attended to the diversity of women’s lives and considered men’s experiences too. For example, within work on the gendered geographies of fear, researchers have unpacked how women’s embodied experiences are differentiated by race, class, age and sexuality (Day 1999; Namaste 1996; Pain 1997, 2001); different ways in which men inhabit urban space (Day 2001); and the complex geographies of women diagnosed with agoraphobia (Bankey 2002; Davidson 2003).

The portrayal of cities as hostile to women, albeit to varying degrees, has attracted criticism. Some have sought to counter the implication that women are more or less passive victims of male domination. For example, Hille Koskela (1997) and Carolyn Whitzman (2002) emphasise women’s active and resilient presence in urban space, while Anna Mehta and Liz Bondi (1999) have shown how women and men actively participate in myths about fearful women and fearless men in their ideas about appropriate behaviour in urban space. Moreover, for many women, urban life is rich with pleasures, including opportunities to escape the narrow confines of traditional assumptions about gender and sexuality (Wilson 1990). For example, it is in cities that women have gained entry to male-dominated professions (McDowell 1997), found ways of living in alternative households (Hayden 1981; Rose 1989), or explicitly challenged gender stereotypes (Longhurst 2000). Likewise, notwithstanding the pervasive and limiting effects of heterosexism and homophobia (Valentine 1993a; Myslik 1996), numerous cities contain gay and lesbian neighbourhoods (Adler and Brenner 1992; Forest 1995; Lauria and Knopp 1985; Mort 1998; Peake 1993; Rothenberg 1995) and urban spaces offer extensive possibilities for challenges to dominant norms (Brown 2000; Bell and Valentine 1995; Bell et al. 1994; Duncan 1996; Hubbard 2005). 

Thus, cities are places where embodied meanings and experiences of gender are not necessarily reproduced according to dominant norms, but can be challenged, reworked and reshaped; they are not intrinsically oppressive or liberatory for women but present complex and variable pressures and possibilities for gendered embodiment. Moreover, these pressures and possibilities are themselves geographically patterned in the sense that different cities, and different urban neighbourhoods, are different. In other words, multiple ways of embodying gender are forged within particular geographical contexts.

The geographical specificity of embodied gender identities is complex. Processes of globalisation intersect with others in the constitution of gender, for example, through transnational migration (Yeoh et al. 2000; Pratt and Yeoh 2003), and other forms of recruitment into globalised forms of production and reproduction (Cravey 2005; Gibson-Graham 1996; Hochschild 2000). These intersections contribute to the local specificity of cities, which are manifest in the complex spatialities of embodied identities (Probyn 2003). As Doreen Massey (1994) has argued, places and place-based identities are fundamentally processual and relational, and consequently, even among long-term residents, the embodiment of gender does not vary from place to place in any straightforward way. Nevertheless, the localness of many women’s lives to which Jacqueline Tivers (1985) drew attention, contributes to subtle spatial variations in gender identities and practices (Pratt and Hanson 1994). As Tovi Fenster (2005) has illustrated in relation to “majority” and “other” experiences of London and Jerusalem, complex combinations of movement and emplacement relative to a diverse array of places and complex histories, generate distinctive formations of gendered geographies of urban belonging.

Approaching gender in terms of the embodied experiences of urban dwellers locates gender primarily within subjective experience, and as an aspect of identity attributable to individual women and men. Implicitly, it assumes that gender is produced at least in part through the cultural elaboration of bodily differences. While dominant understandings of the underlying bodily difference draw strongly on the binary, biological categories “male” and “female”, I have illustrated how contributions to feminist urban studies challenge this formulation, unsettling assumptions about the correspondence between gender identities and anatomical sex (Butler 1990). Next I turn to work that actively divorces gender from individual human bodies.

Gender relations and the reality of cities

While gender may be experienced and approached as a facet of embodied identity, it can also be understood as an organising principle of societies, existing outside and preceding the experiences and activities of individual human subjects. Approached in this way, gender is a social relation that “shapes” the forms, functions, structures and governance of cities. Moreover, the urban is a key scale through which gender and gender inequalities are spatialised. In a path-breaking essay, Suzanne Mackenzie and Damaris Rose (1983) traced how gender has influenced the socio-spatial development of cities in capitalist societies. Of crucial significance was the increasing physical separation between home and work wrought by industrialisation in western urban societies. This built upon, and added impetus to, a distinction between public and private realms, which began to emerge in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, with the public realm evolving into the domain of productive activity and formal politics, while the private realm became the arena of reproductive activity including consumption and domestic life (Bondi and Domosh 1998).

Gender has been woven into the distinction between public and private in complex and class-differentiated ways. In capitalist urban societies, the majority of adult women and men have always participated in both productive activity (typically as paid workers), and in daily, generational and social reproduction. Thus, the association between masculinity and the public realm, and femininity and the private realm is not simply the result of the differential presence and involvement of men and women in the two spheres. Instead, the coding of public as masculine and private as feminine owes much to the influence of ideologies associated with the emergence of a new and distinctive middle-class in the nineteenth century. Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall (1987) have shown how English industrial capitalists of the early nineteenth century, including factory-owners, managers and related professional groups, produced a new middle-class identity distinctive from others, including the landed aristocracy and artisans, at least in part through the spatial and gendered relationship between home and work. Choosing to build new homes for themselves away from congested, noisy, unhealthy and sometimes threatening urban cores, but still close to the urban industrial heartlands on which their new-found wealth depended, they initiated the development of suburbs around cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. From their suburban homes, men travelled to urban workplaces, while their capacity to support non-working wives and daughters in gracious living quarters looked after by domestic servants became a hallmark of their social status. Middle-class wives constituted a form of property and a mode of conspicuous consumption. This objectification of women has fostered intense gender inequalities and bound gender relations deeply within class inequalities. It also entrenched heteronormativity within the meanings and practices of middle-classness.

For the new middle-class, principles governing women’s and men’s daily lives were highly differentiated, with respectable middle-class women limited to the private sphere unless appropriately chaperoned, while middle-class men moved freely between public and private. The connection between women and consumption itself reshaped the contours of public space: as Liz Bondi and Mona Domosh (1998) describe, consumer spaces such as the department stores that developed in major cities in the second half of the nineteenth century became extensions of the feminine private sphere. By contrast in most urban working-class households, both men and women engaged in paid work, albeit in different occupations and often in different workplaces, while scope for the development of a private, domestic realm of family life was very limited. Feminine respectability, defined according to middle-class conceptions of gender, eluded working-class women and generated anxiety for middle-classes too (Boyer 1998; Domosh 2001; Skeggs 1997).

From the late nineteenth century onwards, class differences in gender relations tended to decline, partly because of the incorporation of the ideas and practices of the new middle-class into the planning of urban areas and the architectural design of homes for the working classes (McDowell 1983; Roberts 1991). For example, after the first world war in particular, suburban housing became increasingly available to, and sought after by, working-class households. The ideology of separate spheres also influenced British legislation, including for example nineteenth century regulations about working hours of women and children, and the principles underpinning the twentieth century welfare state (Barrett 1980). Moreover, it was actively adopted by working-class groups, for example in campaigns for a “family wage”, that is for wage levels sufficient to enable a working man to support a non-earning wife and children (Mackenzie and Rose 1983). Many working-class men never secured a family wage, and, despite periods in which the workforce participation of married women fell to below 20 per cent, the ideology of separate spheres never matched the reality (Beechey 1986; Rowbotham 1974). Nevertheless assumptions about gender that systematically exaggerated socio-spatial contrasts between women and men have significantly influenced the spatial organisation of cities and urban life. The gap between myth and reality, as well as gender inequalities themselves, have served to contain some of the internal contradictions of capitalist urbanism, as well as rendering gender relations dynamic and contested.

During the twentieth century, middle-class women increasingly transgressed the ideology of separate spheres as increasing numbers entered the waged workforce and continued to participate in the workforce alongside raising families. This followed the disappearance of domestic service in its traditional form, leaving middle-class women to take more direct responsibility for homes and families as well as wage earning. Thus, women across the social classes have increasingly combined employment with domestic responsibilities (Phillips 1987). The spatialities of women’s lives across classes have also tended to converge, with working mothers across the class spectrum dealing with similar issues as they negotiate urban (and suburban) environments and transport systems designed according to assumptions that barely acknowledge their existence, and that contribute to the persistence of substantial gender inequalities in employment opportunities and earnings over all timescales (McDowell 1991).

Class convergence in women’s experiences should not be over-emphasised and important contrasts between “work-rich” and “work-poor” households have also opened up. The class-specific experiences of the “work-rich” households in today’s cities are particularly pertinent. Many disadvantaged working-class households face intense economic stress that is manifest in unenviable “choices” between welfare dependence without paid work, or combining multiple low paid jobs (Bondi and Christie 2000). The latter often involve adult members of one household each holding two or three part-time jobs, combined in ways that cover sequential shifts so that at all relevant times someone is available for childcare (Casey and McRae 1990; Jordan and Redley 1994). The rise of affluent dual-career households has generated very different “work-rich” households within the middle class too, and the career orientation of women and men in these households has stimulated the growth of new forms of waged domestic work (Gregson and Lowe 1994). But what these “work-rich” households share, across the class divide, is the experience of time poverty (Warren 2003).  While men’s and women’s employment opportunities may be becoming more similar, it is women rather than men who continue to negotiate and manage competing, sometimes shifting, hours, times and modes of paid work, at the same time as co-ordinating the myriad activities of social reproduction required for them to “go on” (Jarvis 2002, 340). Meanwhile, the continued association of men with the public sphere persists in that it is men who are substantially more likely than women to “free themselves up” from the work of social reproduction to engage in leisure activities outside the home such as a trip to the pub or participating in sport (Christie 2000).

The housing decisions of different groups of individuals and households also indicate the complex relationship between class, gender and the spatial organisation of cities.  Some dual-career households have participated in selective shifts away from suburban (and ex-urban) living among a variety of middle-class groups who have chosen to live in gentrified neighbourhoods close to city centres. These include neighbourhoods upgraded primarily through the efforts of owner-occupiers, including some whose position within the middle-class is marginal and who pioneer gentrification through the incorporation of their own “sweat equity” into their homes, and others who are far more affluent and generate a market for commercially-driven forms of urban redevelopment (Bondi 1999; Rose 1989; Warde 1991). Women especially are linked with gentrification because inner-city locations make it easier to combine productive and reproductive activities and thus overcome the spatial mismatch between domestic and employment spaces. In addition to expressing locational preferences, these groups are, perhaps, implicitly attempting to reshape assumptions about gender, class and urban space (Bondi 1998). Indeed, some commentators regard gentrification as emancipatory for women precisely because it affords them access to the pleasures and dangers of the city where they can experiment with new identities (Caulfield 1994; Rose 1989; Wilson 1990). The overall impact on cities has been to produce a complex mosaic of urban neighbourhoods, with intensely impoverished neighbourhoods abutting highly affluent enclaves thereby bringing inequalities in the realities of cities into sharper relief.

These contrasts are replicated at other scales, for example in contrasts between cities that have secured command and control positions within global economic flows; those that are economically dominated by back-offices functions, information services, assembly and/or direct production; and those that are economically marginalised. Gender relations are woven into the local specificities and global interconnections of these cities in complex ways that contribute to contrasts in reproductive and well as productive functions. Indeed one of the key contributions of a gender relational approach to understanding cities is to show how the dynamics of production and reproduction are always inextricably linked (England and Lawson 2005).

Approaching gender as a social relation locates gender outside the bodies of individual human subjects, in the environments women and men inhabit and within the organising principles underpinning the development and evolution of these environments. In this sense, gender is something encountered “out there” in the course of everyday lives and transcends the identities and practices of individual men and women. It structures how urban societies work, not by dictating a singular unchanging gender order but through a dynamic interplay with other social relations. In so doing it influences embodied experiences of gender and is influenced by them.

The performativity of gender and the reality of cities

I have argued that the ideology of separate spheres has been encoded within the fabric of cities, which can therefore be “read” for their scripts about gender. In this section I shift my focus from the processes through which meanings of gender are incorporated into urban landscapes, to the processes through which these meanings are activated in people’s everyday lives. On this account gender is produced performatively, that is through the routine, unselfconscious citation or enactment of gender scripts in the ordinary practices of urban life. These processes are as much about the embedding of gender in urban space as in the bodies of city dwellers. Thus, gender and urban space are performed in relation to each other and are mutually constituted (Rose 1999). Performances of gender and space are not unchanging or set in stone, but are recognisable only if they draw upon at least some elements of previous performances. Consequently meanings of gender and space tend to congeal through their repetition, and these routine, taken-for-granted forms constitute dominant or hegemonic versions, or regulatory fictions (Butler 1990).

Dominant gender scripts are like the air that we breathe in that they are ordinarily invisible and unnoticed except in their absence. Consequently, it is often “gender dissidents” whose experiences most easily highlight taken-for-granted ways of doing gender, and, among this group, sexual dissidents – especially lesbians and gays – have been the subjects of most urban research. Gill Valentine (1996), for example, has illustrated the intensely heteronormative qualities of urban space such that a heterosexual couple holding hands or kissing in a street, shop or restaurant is unremarkable, whereas a same-sex couple doing likewise is not. Lesbians and gays have responded to the oppressive qualities of heteronormative space in a variety of ways, often protecting themselves by concealing their sexual orientation and “passing” as heterosexual (Valentine 1993b), and sometimes by working to transform or queer urban space, whether through the creation of gay neighbourhoods (see for example Lauria and Knopp 1985; Rothenberg 1995), or the temporary colonisation of heterosexual spaces in gay pride parades (Johnston 2002; Munt 1995). These latter interventions have the potential to alter the gendered meanings of particular urban spaces whether temporarily or enduringly.

In an essay that highlights gender dimensions of dissident performances, David Bell, Jon Binnie, Julia Cream and Gill Valentine (1994) discuss potentially subversive enactments of exaggerated versions of normative masculinity and femininity by lesbians and gays. These include hyper-feminine “lipstick lesbians” wearing make-up, high heels and conventionally feminine clothes and hair-dos, and hyper-masculine “gay skinheads” with shaven heads, work boots and conventionally macho clothing (Bell et al. 1994, 33). In so far as such performances are recognised as parodies of dominant gender scripts, they have the potential to unsettle assumptions that map heterosexual masculinity and femininity as complementary opposites, and lesbian and gay identities as somehow “twisted”. However, this account is limited by its reliance on the active choices of performers and the recognition of parodic intent by observers (Nelson 1999). The mutual performativity of gender and space, and the power of regulatory fictions, run deeper than these intentional acts and interpretations. Indeed hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine styles are at least as likely to reinforce as to disrupt normative discourses of gender, and those who adopt them are as likely to be pressed into, and to find themselves colluding with, entirely conventional readings of gender and sexuality, whatever their intentions might be.

Gillian Rose (1993) has explored the spatial production of discourses of gender as well as possibilities for their transformation. She argues that dominant conceptions of space privilege binary constructions of gender and press non-dualistic differences back into this form, as I have described in the case of lipstick lesbians and gay skinheads. Thus, while cities are sites in which women and men routinely enact a variety of masculinities and femininities, this diversity generally remains firmly bound within the dominant binary structure, which reduces differences to variations on a theme. Focusing on women’s experiences of space, Rose (1993, 150) describes a paradox in which women are simultaneously “prisoners and exiles”, trapped within oppressive, hegemonic spaces, and yet also unable to access legitimate positions within these spaces. The power of normative readings of gender is also illustrated by Kath Browne (2004) who describes how women whose bodies are (mis)read as masculine are subject to punitive treatment, especially in the gender-segregated spaces of women’s washrooms (also see Namaste 1996).

Such accounts highlight the resilience of dominant, binary gender scripts, and might appear to suggest that these regulatory fictions are unbreachable. But Rose (1993, 1999) does not take this pessimistic view, arguing instead that women’s paradoxical positioning needs to be grasped as an asset that contains possibilities for the tentative articulation of alternative versions of femininity at the edges of available discourses. Stressing the mutual constitution of space and gender, and spatialising Luce Irigaray’s (1993) efforts to re-imagine sexual difference, Rose (1999, 258) attempts to offer “a way of thinking, dreaming and practising other spaces that carry other ways of producing differential relations”. Put another way, transcending the binary structure of gender entails making space for other differences: gender and space are necessarily co-performed.

The performativity of gender is a vital ingredient in the production urban difference. Notwithstanding the power of binary discourses, the enactment of gender necessarily varies in different contexts, and every citation of the available gender scripts contains possibilities for mis-citations through which meanings of gender might shift. These possibilities are suggested in Hille Koskela’s (2005) account of different performances of gendered space. Focusing on women’s experiences of urban streets, she differentiates between spaces experienced as unpredictable and anxiety-provoking, which she calls “elastic”; the boldness and spatial confidence enacted in the “taming” of spaces that might otherwise induce anxiety; and the “suppression” of spontaneity, difference and challenge associated with spaces subject to continuous surveillance by technologies, such as closed circuit television cameras.

The idea of gender as performative is sometimes criticised on the grounds that it neglects pre-discursive practices and materiality. I have sought to articulate an alternative view that avoids opposing discourse to practice or matter, at the same time as acknowledging limits to discourse (Butler 1993). These limits are the limits of legibility and intelligibility, and can be illustrated by considering the troubling effects of gender-ambiguous bodies in urban space. Most of us recognise the gender of others within the terms of the binary model so swiftly and so routinely that our curiosity is swiftly aroused if we are unable, almost instantly, to allocate someone to one category or the other. Whatever our response to such moments – pleasure, outrage, indifference – the point I wish to make is how they illuminate the power and reach of the binary model, which operates beneath conscious awareness, and remains unarticulated most of the time. Only when brought into question is it noticed. At such moments, and in all the unnoticed ones, discourse, practice and materiality are one and the same.

Approaching gender as performative cuts across the distinction between individual embodiment and social relations discussed in the preceding sections, locating gender as simultaneously attached to bodies and transcending them. Performative approaches to gender can therefore serve to enrich consideration of gender identities and gender relations in urban life.

Conclusion: emotions and the gendered reality of cities

In the preceding sections of this essay I have sought to elaborate three ways of approaching gender in urban life. I have drawn attention to contributions made by each to understanding cities, including especially the distinctiveness and specificity of different cities. In conclusion I emphasise the complementarity of these approaches and suggest their relevance to an emerging concern with affective or emotional dimensions of urban life.

Gender is often viewed as an attribute embodied by individuals and experienced as an inextricable part of personal as well as social identity. On this account, gender is closely related to sexual identity, sharing with it a location experienced as arising from within. I have illustrated this approach to gender through studies that focus on the everyday subjective realities of urban life. Such work helps to illuminate the richness and complexity of urban lives and experiences among diverse groups of women and men. While some of these studies treat gender categories as unproblematic, others engage with post-structuralist theorisations of gender to consider the co-constitution of urban environments and gendered experiences. Consideration of gender as a facet of embodied identity is essential to understanding urban experience, helping to forge commonalities among, and differences between, city dwellers whether living and/or working in close proximity or far apart.

Embodied experiences of cities are necessarily inflected by emotions. Questions about gender, urban identities and fear have been subject to extensive discussion, as have issues of sexual desire and city life. However, a more diverse array of urban affects, including excitement, disgust, hope and anger, also merit attention. In this context, theories of subjectivity, such as psychoanalysis offer potentially fruitful ways of deepening understandings of how urban environments are absorbed into people’s embodied gender identities. David Sibley (1995) has drawn on the psychoanalytic theories of Melanie Klein and Julia Kristeva to explore the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in urban space, while Alan Latham (1999) has turned to D.W. Winnicott to explore the personalised, subjective meanings of particular urban environments. However, these perspectives have not yet been applied to questions of gender, emotion and urban life.

Women’s and men’s everyday lives include numerous encounters with structures of gender that bear only an indirect relation to their experiences of themselves as gendered beings. Approaching gender as a social relation provides a means of analysing these structures. The social relations of gender are characterised by persistent material inequalities that intersect with those of class, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and disability. They shape cities in numerous ways, from the planning regulations through childcare provision to the hiring practices of employers. Focusing on British cities, I have shown how gender relations are sedimented within the social and physical fabric of cities in ways that contribute to their resilience, and reinforce interwoven class and gender inequalities. Gender relations are also integral to the complex positioning of cities within global divisions of productive and reproductive labour.

Although the spatial constraints of separate spheres for “respectable” women and men have been substantially eroded, structural inequalities associated with urban gender relations have proved to be surprisingly persistent. While performative approaches to gender have drawn attention to the power of dominant gender scripts, relational approaches to gender also have a part to play in understanding this persistence. Such approaches would locate emotion in the urban environments routinely encountered by city dwellers (Thrift 2004). In this context Arlie Hochschild’s (1979, 1998, 2000) analysis of gendered regimes of emotion within and beyond paid labour has the potential to enrich understandings of gender relations and how they are embedded within particular cities.

Conceptualising gender as performative engages with tensions between persistence and change, and between interiority and exteriority. Like the other two approaches, it recognises the omnipresence and spatiality of gender. It also draws attention to the centrality of everyday urban practices in the constitution and contestation of gender. While gender scripts are profoundly constrained by the power of regulatory fictions, these fictions do not guarantee the faithful reproduction of gender norms. Rather, albeit in unpredictable and non-conscious ways, the edges of gender legibility are unstable and subject to change.

Approaching gender as performative emphasises the non-cognitive, non-rational character of routine everyday practices. It is therefore sensitive to, and offers a useful theoretical framework within which to explore, emotional dimensions of urban life. A performative approach resists locating emotions or gender in either embodied city dwellers or urban environments, insisting instead that they necessarily infuse and reside in both. In so doing, performativity draws attention to the permeability of boundaries between persons and the environments they inhabit, boundaries that are stabilised only through their routine citation. For example, Joyce Davidson (2003) has illuminated the performative interweaving of gender, emotion and urban space in a phenomenological analysis of agoraphobic experience. Interpreting intensely disturbing agoraphobic panic attacks as boundary crises, she shows how predominantly female sufferers seek to protect themselves through an array of strategies designed to reinforce their sense of being securely delimited from their surroundings. These “abnormal” experiences challenge the limits of gender legibility and in so doing provide resources for imagining the spatiality of gender beyond the limits of binary norms. Thus, while restricted in its substantive focus to those whose lives are shaped by agoraphobia, this study suggests ways of exploring how urban space, gender and emotion are performatively constituted.

As I have stressed, the approaches to gender I have discussed are not mutually exclusive but instead offer different lenses on the gendering of urban life. Just as gender is an integral and ubiquitous feature of urban life, so too is emotion. Moreover, both gender and emotion are simultaneously embodied by individual city dwellers, integral to the social relations structuring urban life, and performatively cited in everyday lives. Further exploration of this interweaving is needed in order to deepen and extend understandings of urban commonalities and the specificities of cities.


My thanks to Hazel Christie and Joyce Davidson for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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Liz Bondi is Professor of Social Geography at the University of Edinburgh. Informed by her longstanding involvement in feminist geography, her current research focuses on counselling and psychotherapy
as socio-spatial practices, and on emotional geographies. She is founding editor of the journal Gender, Place and Culture, leading co-author of Subjectivities, Knowledges and Feminist Geographies (Rowman
and Littlefield, 2002), co-editor (with Joyce Davidson and Mick Smith) of Emotional Geographies (Ashgate, 2005) and co-editor (with Nina Laurie) of Working the Spaces of Neoliberalism (Blackwell, 2005).



[1] My failure to engage with issues that extend beyond English-language usage reflects the fact that, like so many other British (and US) anglophones, I am a monoglot, unable to read or converse in any other language. One aspect of my personal trajectory bears particularly poignant witness to the wider trajectory of anglophone imperialism: my father’s first language was German. He moved from Austria to the United Kingdom at the age of 17, never spoke German in the home in which I grew up, and never encouraged any of his five children to learn any language other than English.


estudos feministas/ études féministes
janeiro/ junho 2006 -janvier / juin 2006