Bounded Democracy: Global Workshop on American Urbanisms

March 1-2, 2018
Workshop at the GHI
Conveners: Anke Ortlepp (University of Kassel/GHI Washington) and Bryant Simon (Temple University/GHI Washington)

This two-day workshop will explore the making, unmaking, and remaking of public space in US cities.  Our goal is to look at how the law, built environment, architecture, popular culture, and people on the street created and continue to create real and imagined dividing lines between people and communities. 

The city in the United States is and has been etched with boundaries.  Lines crisscross the map of the nation dividing states and cities and counties, and perhaps more importantly in recent years, suburban jurisdictions and their resources from urban areas.  Gated communities and fortress like buildings inspired by modernist architecture cut off the flow of people and their access to goods, services, and each other.  For most of the nation’s history, formal and legally sanctioned lines of segregation divided whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos and Native Americans.  Race continues to sort people out even after the statues that legitimized these divisions have come off the books.  There are cultural boundaries everywhere, figurative places where people can and can’t go.  There are the lines drawn around sexuality, class, style, and education that keep people apart and sometimes bridge the lines of separation.  And there are dividers in housing and access to high-performing schools that separate even more people.  These boundaries and many others in the United States are built and maintained through law, surveillance, official and extra-legal force, custom, cuisine, religion, culture, invented traditions, and repressed narratives.

Questions we hope to explore include, but are not limited to:

  • Who has the power to make and unmake public spaces?  How does the conception of the public change?  How do place and region and history figure into the formulation of the public and the control over these spaces?
  • What is a democratic public space?  
  • What is the relationship among architecture, the built environment, and public space?
  • What do boundaries look like?  What is the relationship between physical and symbolic boundaries?  Who builds these boundaries and how?  
  • What is the role of the state, commerce, the arts, and popular culture in construction of urban environments?  How does this change over time? 
  • What is the role of power and agency in the making of cities and the making of public space? How is this power and agency exercised?  What is the role of the state?  Does the state’s role differ over time and place, nation and regime?  
  • How can we put these questions into a global and transnational perspective?

We invite papers that engage with these questions. The workshop will be conducted in English, and the organizers expect to be able to cover the transportation and accommodation costs of conference participants.

The deadline for proposals is December 15, 2017.  Please send a short abstract of your proposed contribution (no more than 500 words) together with a brief academic CV in a single PDF file to Susanne Fabricius at  If you have questions concerning the conference, please contact Anke Ortlepp ( or Bryant Simon (