At the upcoming SPS seminar Gregory Bracken and Deirdre Sneep will present their work on citizenship and on travel of urban design ideas between East and West. The presentations will be based on chapters from a recently published book edited by Gregory Bracken, entitled “Ancient and Modern Practices of Citizenship in Asia and the West. Care of Self.”  

Ancient and Modern Practices of Citizenship in Asia and the West

Care of the Self, Vol. I

Gregory Bracken (editor)

Amsterdam University Press (2018)

This collection of papers originated at a conference organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden in the spring of 2016. The contributors come from a variety of different disciplines, including architecture, urbanism, philosophy, and history, and their essays make comparative examinations of the practices of citizenship from the ancient world to the present day in both the East and West. While the book’s point of departure is philosophical, its key aim is to examine how philosophy can be applied to the betterment of the everyday lives of citizens in cities in the West and Asia. The papers’ comparative approach, between East and West, ancient and modern, leads to a greater understanding of the challenges facing cities in the twenty-first century, and by looking to past examples, suggest ways of addressing them.

Chapter 1

Citizenship and the Good Life

by Gregory Bracken

This chapter examines concepts of citizenship and the good life as they were understood in the ancient world, both East and West. It begins with the writings of Cicero, which stress political engagement. These are then compared with the non-engagement of Epicureanism, where to live the obscure life (lathe biosas λάθε βιώσας) was seen as the surest way of achieving tranquillity (ataraxia ἀταραξία). It then examines Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings. Plato was concerned with how to conduct the good life, but asked ‘what is good?’ He tries to answer this by positing ideals that are too unattainable. Aristotle, on the other hand, thought that humans could indeed lead a good life and sought ways of how this could be achieved, formulating his famous ‘doctrine of the mean’. The chapter ends with a brief look at Confucius, particularly his concept of the gentleman (junzi ). One thing all of these philosophers had in common was their pragmatism. They were all studying the good life from a practical standpoint because they understand that the human being is basically a political animal (zoon politikon ζῷον πoλιτικόν) therefore the good life is a politically engaged one, active and full of social contact. Good citizens have to cultivate this political and social engagement if they want to enjoy a fulfilled existence and lead a good life.

Biographical note

Gregory Bracken is an Assistant Professor of Spatial Planning and Strategy at TU Delft and one of the co-founders of Footprint, the e-journal dedicated to architecture theory. From 2009-2015 he was a research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) Leiden where he set up (with Dr. Manon Ossewijer) the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) with a 1.2 million grant from Marie Curie Actions. While there he also established the annual IIAS-TU Delft conference series, of which ‘City and Society: The Care of the Self I and II’ were the eighth and ninth. These were the events at which this volume’s (and Volume II’s) papers were first presented. Some of his other publications include Asian Cities: Colonial to Global (Amsterdam University Press, 2015), The Shanghai Alleyway House: A Vanishing Urban Vernacular (Routledge 2013, translated into Chinese in 2015), and Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Amsterdam University Press, 2012).

Chapter 7

by Constructing Each Other

Contemporary Travel of Urban-Design Ideas between China and the West

Katharina M. Borgmann and Deirdre Sneep

The city is a facilitator for constructing stories, images, and ideas of the Other with the purpose of using these concepts to strengthen ideas about the Self. This paper will take a closer look at the construction of images of the Self and the Other between the West (here used to refer to Western Europe) and China through the exchange of ideas about urban design and ideas of urban living. Historically, ideas and concepts about urban planning and architectural design have always influenced cities across cultures. However, when urban aesthetics generated by the Other infiltrate a city that is familiar to the ‘Self’, what then happens to ‘Self’-identity? We take a look at the practice of importing traditional European urban aesthetics to Shanghai and the practice of feng shui (风水 geomancy) in urban living in the West, and find out that a central theme in the travel of both of these ideas is its strong counter-Western aspect. In the case of feng shui in the West, it stimulates a rejection of Western thinking about urban space and of ideas about the human in its environment, advocating principles based on traditional Chinese philosophies. In Shanghai’s case, it is not so much as rejecting European ways of living in a city (rather, it advocates a form based on borrowing from its characteristics), but more about renouncing European power and establishing Shanghai – or China as pars pro toto – as a prominent player on the world stage. With our chapter, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of how imageries of the West and China reflect and shape the relation between each other.

Biographical notes

Deirdre Sneep (Dr.-Phil.) studied Japanese Studies and Asian Studies at Leiden University and her doctoral project in Urban Theory Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where she wrote about the digitalization of space in Tokyo due to mobile phone use, being part of an inter-disciplinary project on innovation in urban systems in East-Asia. Her main research interests lie in area studies, urban sociological theory, and science and technology studies.

Katharina M. Borgmann (Dr.-Ing.) graduated from architecture and urban design. She has gained several years of professional experience during her work as an architect and urban designer in Israel, China, and India. Currently at the University of Duisburg-Essen, her research focus is centred around Chinese urbanization and local contextuality. Her further research interests lie in cross-cultural transfer processes, empirical aesthetics, scenario development, and how international (sustainability) agreements impact cities and city-building professionals.

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