This City Does Not Exist’

Mel Jordan | Artist and Professor in Art & the Public Sphere, Centre for Postdigital Cultures, Coventry University, UK

Gary Hall | Professor of Media and Director of Centre for Postdigital Cultures, Coventry University, UK

For us, the point of a research centre such as Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry (, where we both work, is to provide a space where society’s common-sense ideas can be examined and interrogated.

Since a number of us in the centre are theorists, we’re particularly interested in examining theory – be it feminist, post-Marxist or posthumanist – and our own subjectivities as authors, artists, activists and academics in the context of the digital. This involves us in:

  • Questioning the taken-for-granted norms and codes about how we create, publish and disseminate our work; and in trying to unsettle accepted ideas of authorship, originality, creativity, IP and copyright by experimenting with the some of the new, alternative modes of collaborating on theory and making it public that are made possible by the postdigital.

But the point of a research centre for us is also:

  • To act as a site for imagining and developing new concepts, new subjectivities, new practices and social relations – the kind of thing it’s often hard to explore elsewhere. The digital gift economy, for example, in the case of our work on open GLAM (, ‘piracy’ and the anti-privatized knowledge commons.
  • Still further, institutions such as CPC can help to not just imagine but to actually perform such new concepts, subjectivities, practices and relations:
  1. in places associated with the modernist-liberal humanist ‘white male’space that is higher education (Ahmed, 2014:; Todd, 2016) – e.g. by experimenting with the form of research in the shape of books and journals as we do with Open Humanities Press and its Liquid ( and Living Books ( series;
  2. in the public sphere. Hence our interest in:
  • placemaking and ‘being public’ (one definition of publishing being ‘making public’);
  • offering of a diverse range of more horizontal, collective and commons-oriented alternatives to those galleries, libraries, archives and museums currently being provided by the state and corporate realms. (Evidence our Mandela27 DIY exhibition ( and work with NN Contemporary Art:;
  • helping to build, develop, maintain and care for a wide variety of counter- organisations and communities that help us to perform our subjectivities and ways of being together along more anticapitalist, antiracist, antiheteropatriarchal lines. We’re thinking of projects such as the Radical Open Access Collective ( and Partisan Social Club (

With their emphasis on ontological relationality and intra-active collaboration (of both humans and non-humans), our projects are designed to help us engage in ‘de-liberal humanising’ our theory, our institutions, even our bodies and how we live and work together. In this talk we want to explore the extent to which this ‘de-liberal humanising’ approach can be translated to our cities, towns and neighbourhoods to help transform them and the way ‘we’ are as bodies in urban public spaces. We see this as a means of responding to some of problems faced by cities today, which include unemployment, political polarisation, racist state violence, social and economic inequality, and climate breakdown.

Like the concept of the public, ‘the city’ for us (as for this conference) is not something that can be known in advance and thus taken-for-granted. Each city contains a pluriverse of cities. In this sense, the city does not already exist, having been created by architects and planners, say. Such an approach risks limiting responses to the city to critiquing or otherwise tactically engaging with it – as famously with the flaneur, the derive, and the male citizen who psycho-geographically walks through a pre-given urban space. The city, for us, is neither mass nor abstract, formal nor technical. Instead, we see the city as something that has to be invented and called forth in relation to specific contexts and situations: artistically, practically, theoretically.