City Publics: The (Dis)enchantments of Urban Encounters, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

City Publics

The (Dis)enchantments of Urban Encounters, 1st Edition

By Sophie Watson


198 pages | 50 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2006-06-22
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Some cities have grown into mega cities and some into uncontrolled sprawl; others have seen their centres decline with populations moving to the suburbs. In such times, questions of the public realm and public space in cities warrant even greater attention than previously received.

Concerned with the borders and boundaries, constraints and limits on accepting, acknowledging and celebrating difference in public, Sophie Watson, through ethnographic studies, interrogates how difference is negotiated and performed. Focusing on spaces where to outside observers tension is relatively absent or invisible, Watson also reveals how the boundaries between the public and private are being negotiated and redrawn, and how public and private spaces are mutually constitutive.

Through her investigation of the more ordinary and less dramatic forms of encounter and contestation in the city, Watson is able to conceive an urban public realm and urban public space that is heterogeneous and potentially progressive. With numerous photographs and drawings City Publics not only throws new light on encounters with others in public space, but also destabilizes dominant, sometimes simplistic, universalized accounts and helps us re-imagine urban public space as a site of potentiality, difference, and enchanted encounters.


Watson has written a sensitive, thoughtful and very real account of the magical complexity of contemporary urban life.

Jane M Jacobs, Chair in Cultural Geography, University of Edinburgh

This is a wonderful book….one of the best books I have read recently.

Tim Butler, Kings College London, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Symbolic spaces of difference: contesting the eruv in Barnet, London, and Tenafly, New Jersey

3 Nostalgia at work: living with difference in a London street market

4 Risky space and money talks: the Hampstead ponds meet state regulation

5 Disrobing in public: embodied differences in bathing sites

6 Invisible subjects: encounter, desire and association amongst older people

7 Children’s publics

8 The (dis)enchantments of urban encounters: some concluding reflections

Appendix: a summary of the primary research methods

About the Author

Sophie Watson is Professor of Sociology at the Open University, UK.

About the Series

Questioning Cities

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ARCHITECTURE / Urban & Land Use Planning
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / Geography
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Human Geography
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / Urban