“‘Citiness’: Networks, Scales and Hierarchies in Literary Urban Studies”, Orientations 2018

Speaking today together with Jason Finch at the #Orientations2018 conference on narrative and place in Nottingham.

We’ll present some of the ideas that developed within the Association for Literary Urban Studies and in relation to work within the Palgrave series in literary urban studies. Our aim is to emphasize (in the context of literary fiction and literary urban studies) the concept of “citiness”: the elements that are specific to the city and the urban condition, and an awareness of what this “citiness” brings to the source material and what it implies in terms of methodological avenues of inquiry. One approach is to move from quantitative to more qualitative features of the (literary) city experience and, eventually, toward cutting across functional, inter-relational, and scalar complexities.

The City: Myth and Materiality – London, 29 May 2018

Wide-ranging and highly multidisciplinary set of topics in 29 May symposium “The City: Myth and Materiality“, hosted at the Institute of Historical Research.

The symposium is organised by the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS), in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London, with the support of the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS).

Several of the people present have been part of the broader research network connected with the Association for Literary Urban Studies, and this symposium is also a reunion with many highly regarded colleagues I’ve worked with before – a.o. Markku Salmela, Giada Peterle, Richard Dennis, Peter Jones, Jason Finch, Elle-Mari Talivee, and Meeria Vesala, among others – and many new acquaintances.

My own presentation looks at the metaphor of the 6th borough in Vision 2020 and Foer’s text “the 6th borough”.

Thanks to all participants for talks, comments, discussions – and looking forward to continue developing these themes together within literary urban studies, and across disciplines (geography, urban history, literary studies).

Futures of Post-Industrial Cities – presentation at the University of Duisburg-Essen, 24 May 2018

I gave a lecture today at the University of Duisburg-Essen, with as title “Imagining Futures for Postindustrial Cities at the Water: Helsinki and New York City in Fiction and Planning” (24 May 2018). This was a good opportunity to rethink some of my work in the context of postindustrial cities and to get to know other perspectives on similar questions.

Many thanks to prof. Jens Gurr and prof. Barbara Buchenau for the invitation and for the warm welcome. Inspiring also to get better acquainted with the project “Scripts for Postindustrial Urban Futures: American Models,Transatlantic Interventions”, a fascinating, wide-ranging project that promises to bring valuable new insights to the many ways in which urban development of post-industrial cities is narrated.

Thanks also to Lena Mattheis for the kind welcome and moderating the discussion.

Looking forward to continuing collaboration on these urgent and inspiring thematics.

Update: my talk is now online here:


Presenting at the Marine Research Laboratory for Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Turku, 18.5.2018

Presenting my research on future cities at the water across genres, today in Turku, at the Marine Research Laboratory for Humanities and Social Sciences.

The context is Wave Riders (AHAAallonharjalle in Finnish), “an active research and teaching laboratory for the humanities and social sciences at the University of Turku specializing in the study of maritime and other water systems. Its goal is to gather together researchers  whose research is related to the maritime and shipping-thematic collaboration in the University of Turku’s new strategy. Along with participating in various projects and organizing regular research seminars we also conduct commisioned research.”

More on the program here and below (in Finnish):

Meritutkimusseminaari pe 18.5.2018

Turun yliopiston humanistis-yhteiskuntatieteellinen merentutkimusverkosto Aallonharjalle (AHA) järjestää tutkimusseminaarin PE 18.5.2018 klo 9:30-12:00. Tapahtumassa on tarkoituksena paitsi tutustua verkoston piirissä tehtävään tutkimukseen, myös ideoida yhteisiä hankkeita ja viritellä uusia yhteistyömuotoja.  Paikkana on seminaarihuone Pha2 (Pharma City, Itäinen Pitkäkatu 4, Turku).

Tilaisuuden ohjelma:

  • Lieven Ameel:  Narratives of Future Cities at the Water
  • Outi Luova:  Merialueyhteistyön vertaileva tutkimus: Japaninmeri, Itämeri, Karibianmeri
  • Jaana Kouri:  Koettu ja kuviteltu Itämeren vesiympäristöön liittyvä kulttuurinen tieto
  • Laura Seesmeri:  Näkökulmia vedenalaiseen maisemaan, autoetnografiseen maisemantutkimukseen ja kenttätöihin Suomenlinnassa
  • Nina Tynkkynen:  Ilmastonmuutostieto ja Itämeri
  • Lauri Kaira: John Nurmisen säätiön ja Loki-palvelun esittely
  • Keskustelua

Tilaisuuteen on vapaa pääsy, mutta ennakkoilmoittautuminen on kahvitarjoilun vuoksi suotavaa.

Reflections on Montreal – in the shadow of Narrative2018

It’s been a few weeks since I’m back from the Narrative2018 conference in Montreal, where I enjoyed a wide range of presentations and discussions in a variety of fields of the study of narrative – thanks for the inspiring ideas. And thanks, also, to everyone who commented on my paper, which dealt with “Futures of New York – Narrating Environmental Agency in Fiction and Non-fiction.”

As a researcher of cities, I’m glad I also found some time to get to know a bit of Montreal. Some thoughts here on the city and the books that communicated something of its past to me.

A first book I read was Christian Crouch’s Nobility Lost: French and Canadian martial cultures, Indians, and the end of New France (2014). It’s been some time I had been looking for a good, general history book about the Seven Years’ War in North America, and in Crouch’s book I found an eminently readable, fascinating study of the conflict, in particular in terms of different cultural perspectives on violence.

(By coincidence, I read the book immediately after reading a new translation of William of Tyre’s History of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and was struck by some of the similarities – however far-fetched that may seem – between the narratives of violence and conflict in both books, especially in relation to differences between ”settlers” (and 2nd, 3rd generation) and ”newcomers” newly arrived from France; and different perspectives by both groups in terms also of alliances with indigenous / local nations.)

A second book, specifically on Montreal, which I read with great interests, is Ceri Morgan’s Mindscapes of Montreal. My knowledge of Quebec and Montreal was extremely general, and my knowledge of the literature of Montreal basically non-existent. Morgan’s book provided an accessible, well-structured, and continuously though-provoking overview of the literature of Montreal in the period 1960-2005.

Inevitably, a lot about the book reminded me of my own dissertation, about the Finnish-written literature of Helsinki in 1890-1940 – how to deal with literary representations in bilingual cities located at the periphery of continental geographies; what to select, how much to tell about historical and cultural specifities. Mindscapes of Montreal manages to be entertaining and informative to a general reader, as well as delving deep into more detailed analysis of specific novels. And it passed the test of every good literary urban studies book: it gives the reader the desire to go back to the city streets for new strolls, new discoveries; and also the desire to get to the book shops and get to know some of these books first-head. One of the (many) books I really wanted to pick up on the basis of Morgan’s book is Pierre Turgeon’ s Prochainement sur cet écran, which sounds as crazy as it sounds mesmerizing.

After rummaging through a variety of bookshops (some with quite extensive Montreal/Quebec bookshelves and some none at all), I bought Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski, which provided a poetic way to extend my stay in Montreal. Much to cherish here for anyone with an interest in cartography, maps, exile, expulsions, multiple ontological orientations, dirt, and urban archaeologies (the scene with the activist archeologist – several, in fact – practising guerilla dumpster diving is quite unforgettable). There’s also quite a lot that I wouldn’t have been able to relate to without Morgan’s book and Crouch’s book; the expulsion of the Acadians, for example, which features quite largely in the novel; the dislocations caused by the construction of Mirabel airport, which also has relevance; and the October Crisis.

Lovely to note that Montreal seems to have a burgeoning comic book culture, with quite a lot of volumes also set in Quebec and Montreal. Quite haphazardly I bought Paul en apartement by Michel Rabagliati. One of the things that I noticed, especially when reading it next to Nikolski, was the undercurrent in both of these books of Belgian comic book classics – references, in both books to several Tintin classics; and in the Nikolski bookshop passage, with regular references to Bob Morane (the fictional book shops seems to have a whole section devoted to this Belgian French-written classic which also belongs to my youth culture strata).

Hope to get back to Montreal in the future, for now I’ll continue spending time there with the mediation of books.

Helsinki media city – 7 May 2018

I participate today in the “Helsinki media city” panel at the Helsinki University Think Corner (in Finnish), organizd by DiMe -project.

At first I was not too sure how much I could offer to this fascinating theme, but upon second thoughts from imaginaries of Helsinki in literature and in planning documents, from polyphony in urban planning and the possibilities of storytelling through GIS, from parkour videos to an interest in the flâneur, my research has touched upon a range of issues with relevance for thinking the city as media. Looking forward to lively discussions.

Offical programme:

“Helsinki mediakaupunkina – kuka näkyy ja kenen ääni kuuluu?


Mediakaupunki on käsite, jonka avulla tutkijat ja kaupunkisuunnittelijat ovat viime vuosina yrittäneet hahmottaa, miten digitaalinen media ja urbaani elämä kietoutuvat toisiinsa. Kokemus elämästä kaupungissa on medioitunut monin tavoin. Julkiset tilat ovat täynnä mainoksia ja näyttöjä, valvontakamerat seuraavat kaupunkilaisia ja kaupunkilaiset pitävät keskenään yhteyttä toisiinsa yhä enemmän erilaisten digitaalisten laitteiden kautta ja välityksellä. Myös viranomaiset ja päättäjät viestivät keskenään ja kaupunkilaisille eri medioiden välityksellä. Mediakaupungissa taloudelliset, poliittiset ja kaupunkilaisten arjen intressit kohtaavat, mutta myös törmäävät monin tavoin.

Helsinki mediakaupunkina –keskustelutilaisuus haastaa tutkijoita, päättäjiä, viranomaisia, taiteilijoita ja kaupunkiaktivisteja kriittisesti tarkastelemaan, millainen mediakaupunki Helsinki tänään on. Kenen ehdoilla sitä rakennetaan? Kuka nähdään ja kenen ääni kuuluu? Entä mihin suuntaan mediakaupunkia tulisi kehittää?

Tilaisuus etenee skenaarioiden kautta ja päättyy tulevaisuuden mediakaupungin visioimiseen.

Keskustelemassa ovat:

Joonas Pekkanen. Kaupunkiaktiivi ja Helsingin kaupungin Digi Helsinki -hankkeen työntekijä.
Susani Mahadura. Helsinkiläinen radiotoimittaja Ylellä, dokumenttielokuvan ohjaaja.
Pekka Sauri. Helsingin apulaiskaupunginjohtaja 2003–2017. Työelämäprofessori HY:lla.
Anna Jensen. Kuraattori, taiteilija ja tutkija. Interventiotaidetta kaupunkitilassa. Aalto yliopisto.
Johanna Sumiala. Mediatutkija HY:lla ja Diginuoruus mediakaupungissa -hankkeen vastuullinen johtaja.
Lieven Ameel. Kaupunkitutkija Turun yliopistossa. Väitöskirja Helsingistä kirjallisuudessa.

Keskustelutilaisuuden järjestää Helsingin yliopiston, Tampereen yliopiston, nuorisotutkimusverkoston ja Pietarin Higher School of Economics –yliopiston yhteinen hanke Diginuoruus mediakaupungissa. Hanketta johtaa dosentti Johanna Sumiala Helsingin yliopiston valtiotieteellisestä tiedekunnasta. Hankkeen rahoittaja on Koneen Säätiö.”


Futures of New York: Narrating Environmental Agency in Fictional and Non-Fictional Texts

I present a paper on my research project “Narratives of the Urban Waterfront in Crisis – Negotiating Possible Futures of Post-Industrial Harbour Cities” at Narrative2018 in Montreal, at the University of McGill.

How do metaphors emplot the relationship with the urban waterfront? How do different kinds of textual genres narrate agency – the possibility to act? What do such metaphorizations and narrated frames for agency tell us about how power relationships and the possibility to act are shaped in language, through language, and intimately entwined with developments in the material world? I address these questions in an examination of the New York comprehensive waterfront development plan Vision 2020 and Jonathan Safran foer’s story “The Sixth Borough”.

The paper, entitled “Futures of New York: Narrating Environmental Agency in Fictional
and Non-Fictional Texts” is on Friday afternoon 15:30-17:00, in the “Agency and High Stakes Storytelling” panel.

source: https://narrative2018.ca/

Urban and Environmental Justice in “Sybaris and Other Homes”

Speaking today at the conference “Nineteenth Century Studies and Visions of the Future” (Helsinki, 26.1.2018) on one of my favorite books – the little known utopian novel Sybaris and other homes by Edward E. Hale. I wrote at length about its utopian features in my 2016 article “Cities Utopian, Dystopian and Apocalyptic” (Palgrave Handbook of Literature and the City) – today I’ll speak specifically about the ways in which it frames urban and environmental justice.


Towards a Future in Balance: Utopian Visions of Urban and Environmental Justice in Edward E. Hale’s Sybaris and Other Homes (1869)

Lieven Ameel

In the little-known utopian text “My Visit to Sybaris”, in Edward E. Hale’s Sybaris and Other Homes (1869), the protagonist finds himself unexpectedly in an Italian-Greek city preserved from antiquity, whose inhabitants combine highly developed technology with ancient legal practices. The text’s concerns range from the problematics of urban housing and financial reform to urban and suburban planning. A particularly intriguing concept is that of “harpagmos”, a verdict passed for a crime when someone “has taken from a citizen what he cannot restore” (Hale 52). The crime includes the stealing of time, echoing contemporary discussions about labour and currency reform. There are interesting ecological dimensions, too, since the verdict of “harpagmos” can be passed for disturbing the natural and ecological harmony. In this respect, “Sybaris” prefigures later utopian/dystopian accounts concerned with ecological catastrophes. In my presentation, I will examine “My Visit to Sybaris” in its context of nineteenth-century utopian literature, with a particular interest in the environmental undercurrents in the text. My approach is further informed by a concern with how the paratextual elements of the text, its various time frames, as well as the intertextual references (including numerous references to texts from Antiquity) point to particular readings of the text.




Welcome to the SELMA seminar “INTERSECTIONS OF NARRATIVE STUDIES AND URBAN STUDIES”, where I will present ongoing research projects together with Jason Finch, with whom we’ve had a number of inspiring collaborations in the field of literary urban studies so far.

I’ll present my new research project, Jason will be speaking of mediations and representations of mass housing.

More information here.

18. JANUARY, 14.00-16.00, E325 (Minerva, Kaivokatu 12)
Jason FINCH: “Mediations and Representations of Mass Housing: Visions versus Phenomenologies?”
Lieven AMEEL: “Narrating Urban Futures: Cities at the Water in Fictional and Non-fictional Texts.”

A vital dimension of contemporary literary studies is increased engagement with real-world issues such as social policy and planning. Practitioners including urban historians and policy-makers gain understanding of aspects of human experience not readily available otherwise in collaboration with literary scholars. Also, techniques originating in literary studies can be used productively to read texts not conventionally labelled literary, including municipal plans and oral histories preserved in archives. On 18 January, SELMA presents two speakers with links to the Centre who work in this interdisciplinary area, and on the frontier dividing academic and extra-academic social analysis. Lieven Ameel and Jason Finch are founder members of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS), the most recent international conference of which was ‘(Im)Possible Cities’ (University of Tampere, 2017). They have jointly edited two volumes arising from the work of the Association and are editors of the Palgrave series Literary Urban Studies (http://www.springer.com/series/15888).

Starting a new project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies!

Excited to embark on a new research project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, with an affiliation at comparative literature, University of Turku. In this three- year project, I will examine narratives of urban futures, with a specific focus on how the (near) future of cities at the water is negotiated in different textual genres, including literary fiction, future scenarios, and urban planning and policy documents. One of the key issues is the hypothesis that different narrative genres have different abilities (and different limitations) in how they can posit personal and communal choice and agency. At the background of this project is the notion that the stories we tell of the future are in large part responsible for how we see our own possibilities of action towards a possible future.

In this research project, I will focus on Helsinki, New York City, and urban futures in the Low Countries, in the period 1990-2030.

More information here.

If you would like to collaborate or want to hear more, please contact me at lieven.ameel [a] utu.fi – I’m interested in hearing more from other people (academics, policy makers, media) working with similar issues!