Emotions and City Life[Notice]

  • Nicolas Kenny

…plus d’informations

  • Nicolas Kenny
    Simon Fraser University

It is difficult to conceive of cities without imagining the multitude of emotions that animate life on their streets and in their buildings—the excitement of a crowded shopping district, the buzz around town when the local sports team is winning, the romance of an evening stroll when the shine of streetlights glimmers in the falling snow, not to mention the frustrations of incessant traffic jams or occasional power outages, the anger over the cruel displacements on which so much urban development has been and continues to be predicated, or the fears of violence and criminality that have long lurked in many urban centres. Historians are well aware of the extent to which these emotional experiences, subjective, difficult to access, and transitory as they might be, are deeply imbricated in the way people come to interact with and feel at home in their environment. It is through these moments of encounter, when the distinct conditions and atmospheres of urban areas impinge upon the emotions in unique and indelible ways, that the city itself becomes a part of the identity and interiority of its inhabitants. Recent work has told us of the rush of exhilaration felt by a small-town young woman discovering the thrills of metropolitan life in Montreal, of the sting of exclusion and the defiant solidarities that characterized life in immigrant communities in cities like Toronto or Winnipeg, of the profound emotional attachment that informs the way Vancouverites have made and remade Stanley Park. I would even venture that I am not alone among readers of this journal to have first been attracted to urban history at least in part as a result of my own delight in wandering through different cities at home and abroad. We know these associations to be true intuitively, but rarely have urban historians problematized these personal responses to urban life explicitly as emotional experiences. By the same token, the rapidly growing field of the history of the emotions, while offering ever more sophisticated insights into the historical contingencies that shape emotions, have been slow to anchor their work in notions of space, urban or otherwise. This special issue of the Urban History Review, then, offers a timely opportunity for these approaches to meet, and the articles that follow examine the fascinating entanglement of urban environments and the emotional dispositions of their occupants. As these authors demonstrate, the relationship between city life and the emotions is reciprocal. Not only do the particular circumstances of cities in a given period produce distinct emotional responses, as Thompson shows for post-revolutionary Paris, for example, but emotional responses themselves play a significant role in moulding the political, social, and material realities of the urban environment, as we shall see in Gregory and Grant’s article on highway projects in Perth and Halifax. Undoubtedly because this is a discipline that long tended to privilege the objective and verifiable above what was perceived as the intimate and ephemeral, historians have, until recently, afforded little attention to the emotions as historical phenomena, despite a tradition of intellectual inquiry into the emotions dating to ancient times. Yet emotions are central to human existence, and studies showing the extent to which emotions forge identities, inform values and beliefs, and govern social relations are now proliferating. To a considerable degree, much of the preoccupation in the field has been with the challenging task of understanding how emotions function, of figuring out whether they are cognitive processes or social phenomena, or both, for that matter. “Must emotions be either cultural or biological?,” asks William Reddy, whose work on “emotives,” the emotional language and gestures he sees …

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