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 (

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] – I’m interested in hearing more from other people (academics, policy makers, media) working with similar issues!

Humanities and the City

Very much looking forward to tomorrow’s “Humanities and the City” conference at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, where I will give a keynote on “City Scales and the Urban Humanities”. Thanks to Nazry Bahrawi and everyone at Singapore University of Technology and Design for making this event possible.

“This one-day conference proposes yet another angle that can possibly inject fresh perspectives to discourses about the city. What if we factor in the humanities? Here, we invite policymakers, academics, scientists, engineers and curious city dwellers to think with us how humanities disciplines such as philosophy, literature, history, art, cultural studies, and others can play a role in the constitution as well as the development of a city. Our conference will attempt to rise to that challenge by engaging with international speakers and Singapore-based researchers.”

Conference Programme

  • 8.30am-9.00am Registration with refreshments
  • 9.00am-9.10am First opening address
    Prof. Sun Sun Lim
    Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS)
    Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)
  • 9.10am-9.20am Second opening address
    Prof. Chan Heng Chee
    Chairman, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC)
  • 9.20am-10.50am Keynote Discourse/Roundtable Discussion
    “The Good City: Justice and Technology in 21st Century Capitalism”
    Dr. Paolo Di Leo (HASS, SUTD)
    Dr. John Powers (LKYCIC)
    Dr. Nazry Bahrawi (HASS, SUTD)
    Moderator: Prof. Jane M Jacobs, LKYCIC/Yale-NUS
  • 10.50am-11.10am Coffee Break
  • 11.10am-11.50am “City Scales and the Urban Humanities:
    New Perspectives for Developing and Understanding Cities”
    Prof. Lieven Ameel, University of Helsinki
    President, Association of Literary Urban Studies
  • 11.50am-12.30pm “The Communicative City in Asia”
    Prof. Audrey Yue, National University of Singapore
  • 12.30pm-1.30pm Lunch
  • 1.30pm-3.00pm Film screening at Albert Hong Lecture Theatre
    The Sound of Old Rooms (2011), a documentary set in Kolkata
    Post-film discussion with Dr. Sandeep Ray (SUTD HASS), Director
  • 3.00pm-3.40pm “Maps in Post-Reunificaiton Hong Kong”
    Dr. Elizabeth Ho, Assistant Professor, University of Hong Kong
  • 3.40pm-4.00pm Coffee Break
  • 4.00pm-5.00pm Panel discussion on literature and the city
    Prof. Philip Holden, NUS (on Singapore)
    Dr. Pallavi Narayan, NUS Press (on Istanbul)
    Dr. Nuraliah Norasid, author of The Gatekeeper (on Singapore)
    Moderator: Dr. Rhema Hokama, HASS, SUTD
  • 5.00pm-5.20pm Closing remarks by Drs. Paolo and Nazry
  • 5.30pm End of conference

Moving towards Possible Cities

Moving towards Possible Cities: Future Urban Waterfronts in Contemporary Fiction
Speaking at the Association for Literary Urban Studies conference (Im)Possible Cities about my current research: future urban waterfronts in contemporary fiction, and what literary texts of the waterfront can tell us about the future and about our possibilities to prepare for and act upon the future. From the abstract:
“In contemporary fictional texts describing the urban waterfront under threat, crossing urban borders is conditioned by competing pathways towards the future, which appears in early 21st century literature as a crucial conceptual and ontological border zone for understanding the present. Moving into this border zone thus also entails becoming aware of questions of agency and moral responsibility, as is exemplified by the trajectory of the protagonist in Odds Against Tomorrow, who moves from the question “What was possible? What should we be afraid of?” (Rich 2013: 7) to asking: what would be “the right thing to do” (Rich 2013: 161)?”

Planning for the Future – Narratives of Urban Waterfronts at Plannord2017

Speaking today (17.8.2017) at Plannord2017 on the topic of “Planning for the Future – Narrating crisis and agency in literary fiction and planning narratives of the urban waterfront”

From the abstract:

“What can be known about the future, what is there to fear, and what role is there for human agency, individually or collectively – for acting upon the future? These questions are addressed here from the perspective of narrative frames, with a specific reference to the stories that are told of the near future of the New York waterfront in. Drawing on a range of textual sources, from policy documents and strategy texts to literary novels that dwell on the challenges and possibilities of the urban waterfront, this paper wants to sketch a move, in narratives and research, from knowledge to action, from preparing for the future to acting upon the future. In doing so, this paper also traces the narrative limits of policy and planning texts, and of fictional texts, when envisioning slow-burning crises.”

The paper is part of my ongoing research of future visions of cities at the water: more about that here.

Futures of the Urban Waterfront, 23.5., Jyväskylä

On my way to Jyväskylä for the Finnish Literary Society yearly seminar, this year organized together with the Cultural Studies days, in a themed “Environments” conference.

Speaking tomorrow (23.5.) on the subject of futures of the urban waterfront in literary fiction of New York, with a focus on Ben Lerner’s 10:04 and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds against tomorrow. Examining how knowledge (of the future) turns into experience in fictional narratives, and the importance of assessing present futures and future presents.

Conference programme (in Finnish) below.

Interview with Radio Moreeni – what narratives for urban planning?

I was interviewed (in Finnish) by Radio Moreeni (Tampere/Finland) about my research, and specifically about my research project on urban planning narratives.

A list of my recent publications with immediate reference to my post-doctoral research project on narrative and urban planning can be found here:

The interviewed aired yesterday (19.4.), and is available on soundcloud:



Panel on Music and Urban Transformation at the Kontula Electronic festival, 21.4.

I’m participating in a panel discussion on music and urban transformation at the Kontula Electronic Festival (21.4., 19h, Kontula shopping centre). With Pekka Tuominen, Giacomo Bottà, Inka Rantakallio and Larri Helminen. Fascinating setting and timely subject.

Kontula Electronic: Panel Discussion

Sound & Vision: Urban Transformation in Helsinki

Fri 21.4. klo 19 Museum of Impossible Forms, Kontula Shopping Centre (Keinulaudankuja 4 E 21, by the Central Square, next to Kontulan Huolto)

Helsinki is changing fast. It might be because of special coffee selections and microbreweries or because of district activism; because of electronic music festivals or because of planning politics.

Changes carry consequences. These might be positively affecting all citizens, regardless of their monthly salary slips, or just targeting some lucky Helsinkians, while the others face segregation into real or imagined ‘problem areas’.

What do we know about this? Not much more than you do. This is why we decided to get together and talk about it in this free-form panel.


Pekka Tuominen (facilitator of the panel) is an anthropologist studying urban environments. He is currently the head of research associated with Kontula Electronic and has been studying urban transformation in Istanbul for over a decade. In addition, he has been working in multidisciplinary projects, involving scholars of urban studies, artists and designers, dealing with the questions of future developments of the urban sphere.

Giacomo Bottà is a researcher in urban cultural studies, currently financed by the SKR. He is lecturing in various European universities including the University of Helsinki and Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences. He researches about music cities, in particular post-industrial European ones, like Manchester, Torino, Tampere and Düsseldorf.

Lieven Ameel is University Lecturer of Comparative Literature at the University of Tampere, Finland. He has a PhD in Finnish and in Comparative Literature (University of Helsinki, Finland / JLU Giessen, Germany), and is adjunct professor in Urban Studies and Planning Methods. In his current research, he examines experiences of the urban waterfront in crisis in literary fiction and planning documents.

Inka Rantakallio is a doctoral candidate in Musicology at the University of Turku. Her doctoral thesis focuses on Finnish underground rap, and she also lectures about hip hop culture more broadly. She also co-hosts the weekly Rap Scholar radio show on Bassoradio.

Larri Helminen is the director of Kontukeskus and coordinator of Vetoa ja voimaa Mellunkylään network. He has a long career as a producer for several Finnish festivals (e.g. Pori Jazz, Kontufest) and has been working as an editor for Rytmi magazine. As one of the pioneers of digital culture in Finland, he has also acted as the head producer for the Lasipalatsi Media Centre.


“Narrating the Urban Waterfront in Crisis” – Gothenburg University

Excited to present my research at Gothenburg University 28.2.2017.

Thanks to Linda Karlsson Hammarfelt and everyone at Gothenburg University to make my visit possible!

Narrating the Urban Waterfront in Crisis. Juxtaposing Futures of the Waterfront under Threat in Literary Fiction and Planning

Urban waterfronts worldwide are currently undergoing eventful transformations: in a range of cities, post-industrial waterfronts are being redeveloped to address changing living preferences and working conditions, while new challenges are beckoning on the horizon in the form of threatening environmental change and rising sea levels. How is the experience of the urban waterfront in crisis, and the uncertainty of possible futures, shaped in and by narrative? In this lecture, I will analyse narratives of the waterfront from two distinct perspectives and looking at two specific case studies. My focus will be on recent developments and literary texts set in New York and Helsinki. I will look, first, at the way in which literary fiction frames the experience of a waterfront in crisis, and how it presents possible alternative futures. In the context of New York City, key texts will be Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (2014) and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds against tomorrow (2013), as well as Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (2009). In the context of Helsinki, I will focus on Antti Tuomainen’s Parantaja (The Healer; 2010), Annika Luther’s De hemlösas stad (City of the Homeless; 2011), and Hannu Mäkelä’s novel Hyvä jätkä, a book commissioned by the city of Helsinki to promote the West Harbour development (Good Chap; 2009). Second, and considering narrative and rhetoric models for framing alternative storyworlds, I will examine how, in New York City’s comprehensive waterfront plans (1992, 2011) and in Helsinki’s strategic and detailed urban planning documents, the simultaneous possibility of alternative storyworlds structures policy narratives of the urban future.

My lecture will engage with current debates in literary spatial studies, narrative planning, literary ethics, and environmental criticism. The aim is to foreground the materiality of planning narratives (whose projected futures are intended to be petrified in concrete and glass in due course), while simultaneously drawing attention to the rhetoric and literary antecedents of such narratives. Ultimately, I hope to gain a better understanding of what kinds of paths towards the future are postulated by two very different kinds of texts – planning and fictional texts – and what room they leave for agency and choice in our relationship with our environment.

Futures of the Urban Waterfront at Shifting Grounds, Zürich

Speaking at the Shifting Grounds conference in Zürich (26.11.2016) on the subject of “Futures of the Urban Waterfront: Narrating Diverging Pathways in Literary Fiction and Planning Documents”. With a specific focus on New York waterfront development in city planning and literary fiction – from the city’s comprehensive waterfront plans to literary novels such as Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow. Unfortunately a subject that gets more timely all the time. One of the key questions: how to move from thinking about “[w]hat was possible? What should we be afraid of?” (Rich 7) to “Doing: finally.” (Rich 202)

Book of abstracts here.