City and Society: The Care of the Self. A comparative examination of Eastern and Western practices from Confucius to Foucault and beyond

City and Society: The Care of the Self’ is intended to be a multi-disciplinary seminar. Contributions are welcome from architecture, urbanism, geography, history, area studies, religious studies, social science, anthropology, etc., but please remember that the point of departure should be the built environment of Asia (East, Southeast, South) and/or the West. (Papers that propose comparative analyses between, or within, these will be particularly welcome.)

Thematic clusters

What informs the thinking behind this project is the understanding that cities are not merely buildings and the spaces formed between them; cities are people and their networks of interaction. Cities are the product of human endeavour and as such are one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Once built they form the generations growing up within them, who in their turn alter the built environment to meet their new needs, thereby altering the environment for the next generation, and so on. A healthy city should enjoy a symbiotic evolutionary relationship with those who inhabit it; a healthy city should embrace change. How best to achieve this change, and make it beneficial, can best be determined by proper examination of the elements that go into the making of a city, and the society that inhabits it. With this in mind some broad thematic categories have been sketched out:

  • The city; what constitutes a city? the Chinese understanding of cheng and/or shi; The Rituals of Zhou; the Western city and the notion of civitas.
  • Society; ethical and political systems for the conduct of public and family life; Confucius’ five relationships; the  concepts of li and ren; tianming (Confucius and Mencius); the Western concept of ius naturale; Aristotle’s oikonomia psuchon; Laozi’s Dao (in combination with de, an ordering principle of nature, society and the individual); the similarity of de to the Greek areté; or, more recently, of the Dao to Heidegger’s Weg.
  • The family; Richard Sennett’s distinction between public and private in the West (with his ‘fall of public man’); the notion of the stranger; what constitutes public domain?
  • The home; the Chinese understanding of jia (as house, home, and family); Gaston Bachelard’s ‘poetics of space’.
  • The care and/or conduct of the self; Confucius’ notion of chun tzu; Michel Foucault’s genealogical relationship between ancient Greek askesis and medieval asceticism.
  • The role of Utopia, from Thomas More to the twentieth-century dystopia (or Plato’s Atlantis from Timaeus and Critias).

These are simply suggestions, intended to lead to potential points of departure for what will ultimately be a bottom-up research endeavour – the seminar’s thematic clusters will be driven by contributors’ individual interests.


Please note, it is intended to gather a selection of the best papers from this seminar into a peer-reviewed publication (with a planned publication date for 2018). This series has an excellent track record with publication: Seminar Two (TU Delft, 2010) led to Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Amsterdam University Press, 2012); Seminar Three (Hong Kong University Study Centre, Shanghai, 2011) became issue 12 of Footprint: ‘Future Publics: Politics and Space in East Asia’s Cities’ (co-edited with Jonathan D. Solomon) (spring 2013); and Seminar Five (IIAS, Leiden, 2013) saw the publication of Asian Cities: Colonial to Global (Amsterdam University Press, 2015). As can be seen, all publications were produced within a two-year period – it is hoped that this seminar, and its publication, will achieve the same result.


Abstracts should be submitted to Dr Gregory Bracken, Theory Section, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands. (gregory[at]

Abstracts should consist of:

  • Title
  • Abstract (300 words maximum)
  • Contributor’s name
  • Academic discipline
  • Affiliation

Please note that neither the IIAS nor TU Delft will be in a position to help fund contributors’ trips to the seminar should they be selected.