Modern Literature & Culture Research Centre & Gallery

Congratulations to Jason Wang on successfully defending his doctoral dissertation, “Urban Walking: Configuring the Modern City as Cultural and Spatial Practice.”

Jason Wang’s dissertation is an original exploration of the aesthetics of spatial politics and the politics of spatial aesthetics in urban literature and culture from the early twentieth century to the post-industrial era. It develops a theoretical framework on urban walking by intersecting, among other theories, Walter Benjamin’s concept of flânerie as a form of perambulating social criticism; Guy Debord’s idea of the dérive as the drifting journey without an official map; Michel de Certeau’s city walking as a rhetorical tactic for creative resistance; as well as the theories of walking by New Urbanists and theories of digital flânerie performing urban walking through virtual windows.

The dissertation contends that the experience of the city on foot not only replicates but profoundly shapes social relations and identities, helping with the progressive transformation of space and society. This argument is explored with the help of a diverse corpus including urban literature, paintings, and artistic self-performances including literary works by Theodore Dreiser, James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Jay McInerney, and Joseph O’Neill, and visual art and performance by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Florine Stettheimer, and Teju Cole. The dissertation is framed by the author’s personal and photographic evocations of walking as a practice of acculturation to Toronto over more than a decade. Ultimately, by pivoting between theory and practice, text and visual, the study advances the field of urban walking as a dynamic and underexplored scholarly space for politically engaged interventions responding to the economic, gender, racial, and ecological urgencies of our era.

The external examiner, Dr. Andre Furlani, Chair of the English Department, Concordia University, praised the study by writing: “Jason Wang’s Urban Walking: Configuring the Modern City as Cultural and Spatial Practice is an original and engrossing foray into flânerie, an art of loitering that exposes the political contradictions of social space.” The defense was lively and invigorating.

Thank you to the entire dissertation committee, Dr. Markus Reisenleitner (Humanities, York University) and Dr. Janine Marchessault (Cinema and Media Studies, York University), Dr. Laam Hae (internal-external examiner, Politics, York University), and Dr. Andre Furlani (external examiner, Concordia University). Their contributions were first-rate during the entire dissertation process. Thank you also to Dr. Anne MacLennan for skillfully chairing the defense.

On a more personal note, it has been a special pleasure and privilege to supervise Jason’s study and to witness this pinnacle of achievement! Congratulations to Jason Wang on his outstanding work!

Irene Gammel, Supervisor

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