Monday, February 27, 2012

Methods Practice #3

Interview with a Professor:

Urban sympathy
I wish I had a recorder
who looks at it, dramatists, sociologists, journalists, novelists
how they see it
urban sympathy, shared space

Expanded Notes:
I went in to talk with a professor, who I've taken two classes from now, and who recently agreed to be my primary mentor.  I'm glad I'll be working with him this Spring/Summer but before asking him to embark on primary mentor-ship I wanted to know a little about his research and what he's been working on lately.

After living in several cities, but particularly Boston where he studied, he moved to North Carolina.  He described to me the feeling of walking down a street in Boston, where people surround you constantly, at all times of the day and night, compared to walking down a street in the town where he stayed in North Carolina, which were sometimes empty.  He mentioned that while cities are usually pinned for being dangerous, distant, cold, and lonely, he actually felt these things more often in North Carolina.  It's creepy walking down a street that no one shares with you, he said.  Building off of the feeling that one can feel more alone and distant from others in a rural-scape rather than a city-scape, he became interested in the stories people tell themselves, and others, about the city.

This is where he came across the idea of the city as a place where people share a space, and therefore have interactions based on that space.  Although different from the meaningful interactions we attribute to small-towns where people know intimate details about each other, he expresses these city interactions as valid and meaningful, and seeks to re-evaluate how these interactions can be interpreted as valid.  Curious about what stories politicians would tell to others about a city in order to encourage the passing of housing projects in congress, he began following how those stories and ideas spread.  The idea he found he coined 'Urban Sympathy'--the idea of the sympathy that exist between individuals and the connections that can be built around and in these housing projects that are necessary to urban life, compared to those necessary in rural life.  After researching the idea how politicians go about representing the building of housing projects in congress, he's been following the idea of 'urban sympathy' elsewhere.

Among those who the idea has touched: sociologists, dramatists, journalists, novelists, and back to politicians, etc.  I liked these ideas, though I need to continue asking him about it.  He did mention that each group of people did something new with the idea of urban sympathy, and that it then was shared with others of a similar field, or with the public, and then often went back to those who had shared the idea with that field in the first place, allowing an idea to spill over, so to speak, and be interpreted in many different ways.
Another interesting idea about this method that he's been following is that of course each field interprets the idea so differently, so its not just how an idea influences a field, but how the field influences the idea.  And I think in the end, the idea of there being a valid and meaningful mode of operation in cities that are different, but not inferior to those communications that take place in small, rural towns is an important idea to discuss.  For people in cities believe it, but people outside of cities oftentimes don't.  Whereas the city is considered the den of evil, in many cases, all interaction that goes on in a city is also considered 'lesser.'


As I'm interested in living in a city probably for the rest of my life after Provo if I can help it, I am very invested in this idea.  But on a smaller scale, living in Paris, I think there is a very specific city culture, and a specific Paris city culture which can have interactions and communication that are meaningful if I only look at them that way.  I think my primary mentor will aid me in seeing those interactions and help me interpret them down the line so I might better understand the culture and how it influenced African-American expatriates.


  1. I am really interested in this professor. I've read some things about this when I was doing my literature review of the Pantheon's place in the lives of Romans.

  2. I'm fascinated by this idea. Like you, I hope to live the rest of my days in a city (perhaps with trips to the field or living in the country occasionally interspersed), and I get the most disapproval from some people if this plan ever comes up in conversation.

    But there's something about seeing kids on the subway in NYC that warms my heart, and though kids are a long time away for me, I can't wait to raise children to live in an urban atmosphere.

    I've never heard of this Urban Sympathy concept before, but I would love to find out more about it.